Trianon and Madame Royale certainly deserve to be read consecutively but the reader must adjust her expectations. After the poetic and multifaceted episodes of Trianon, offering different people’s views of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Madame Royale is a thorough-composed historical novel telling the story of their one surviving child, Marie-Therese, spanning time and place, with an omniscient narrator unbound by geography or character. The prologue, however, offers a transition in style of sorts, as it depicts a scene that presages the horror to befall the title character’s family—a scene of conspiracy and cruelty taking place while she is an innocent and unaware child.
While Elena-Maria Vidal artfully composes the episodes of Trianon to redress the calumnies against the king and queen consort and tell a sympathetic version of Revolutionary history, she addresses a more complex narrative in Madame Royale. This is a broader canvas—a more expansive scene: Marie-Therese travels the world widely, while her mother’s world was geographically restricted and Marie-Therese crosses the sea and the English Channel, while her mother never even saw the ocean. Such a story requires a more direct narrative approach.
Mother and daughter endure many of the same struggles, however: the family divisions, unhappy (at first) arranged marriages, misunderstanding, revolutions, violence, and flight. Marie-Therese must live with uncles who betrayed her father and slandered her mother while encountering a cousin whose father cast the deciding vote that condemned her father to death. She also accepts poverty, difficult travel, and most of all, takes on the frustrating and emotional effort to find out what happened to her little brother, abused and imprisoned in the Temple.
That narrative thread competes with the patterns of exile and restoration, triumph and defeat, charity and conflict that emerge from the story of the Bourbon court, first in England, then in France, then returning to France after Waterloo, then in Scotland , briefly in Italy and finally in Austria. Throughout these peregrinations, Madame Royale bears the burden of the Bourbon dynasty, encountering both betrayal and loyalty. Some of the best passages in the novel depict the conflict in Marie-Therese’s soul, as when she returns to the scenes of so much tragedy in the French Revolution during the festivities celebrating the restoration of the monarchy after Napoleon’s abdication and first exile. She recalls the suffering of her parents even as she experiences the triumph of her new family.
She is steadfast in her Catholic faith and devoted to the remembrance of her parents and the restoration of the Catholic Church in France, welcoming the Marian apparitions experienced by Catherine Laboure on Rue de Bac in Paris and the children at La Sallette.
Marie-Therese finally accepts a conclusion of uncertainty as to the fate of her brother. Although she never bears a child, she becomes the de facto mother of the heir to the Bourbon throne, Henri, the Comte de Chambord and his sister, Louise. She raises them while their mother, the widow of Marie-Therese’s brother-in-law, the Duc de Berry remarries and briefly fights for her son’s rights.
The drive and devotion of the title character infuse the narrative of Madame Royale, indefatigably following the heroic and amazing journey of Marie-Therese.