When I attended the Catholic Writers Conference last week, I obtained a copy of Trianon: A Novel of Royal France by Elena-Maria Vidal, kindly signed by the author. Reading it on my much delayed flight home I was transported to the places and time of Revolutionary France, almost completely secure within the world of Trianon. Although there were a couple times when the veil opened and I saw the art and intent behind the world Vidal creates in these vignettes, I was otherwise completely present and involved.
As in her most recent novel, The Night's Dark Shade, Vidal achieves wonderful immediacy and versimilitude in historical fiction. These episodes from the life of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette sympathetically and honestly depict the trials, triumphs, sadness, joy, and ultimate sacrifice of this much-maligned couple. They emerge as real people, neither monsters nor angels, but, as we are, mixtures of faults and virtues.
The novel begins with the celebration of St. Teresa of Avila's feast day, honored both at the Carmelite convent and at the French court. It ends with the death of the priest who accompanied Louis Capet to the guillotine as the one surviving member of the royal family, Marie-Therese, waits by his bedside. (Fortunately, her story is continued in Madame Royale.) In between, Vidal depicts how love grew between the royal couple after their arranged marriage of state, the births, growth, and deaths of their children, the rising tide of Revolution and the efforts of the King first to forestall it with reforms and then to survive it with accommodations that sometimes cost him dearly, and finally with the family's capture and imprisonment, the execution of Louis and then of Marie Antoinette, the abuse of the young Dauphin and the sufferings of Marie-Therese. I highly recommend this book, and its sequel.