In Michelle Moran’s latest novel, Marie Grosholtz, known to history as Madame Tussaud, experiences the unspeakable horrors of the French Revolution.
Marie Grosholtz’s uncanny ability to produce life-like human images make her wax museum, The Salon de Cire, popular among scientists and even royalty. However, during a time when political turmoil grips the nation and friend turns against friend, Marie’s talent proves both a blessing and a curse.
Marie Grosholtz and the Salon de Cire
Before the name Madame Tussaud became famous around the world, the famous wax modeler was simply Marie Grosholtz.. Marie learned everything she knew about wax sculpting from her mother’s lover, the man she called uncle, Philippe Curtius. Marie and Curtius’s meticiously created wax figures astounded everyone who laid eyes on them. But Marie’s fate changes when she visits Rose Bertin, Queen Marie Antoinette’s personal milliner and dress maker. Bertin is invited to visit the Salon to view the Salon’s exhibits of the royal family. Marie’s work impresses Bertin enough to bring it to the attention of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.
The King and Queen’s visit to the Salon de Cire mark the beginning of Marie’s destiny. The royals are delighted with Marie’s depictions of the royal family. To Marie’s astonishment, she is invited to tutor the King’s sister, Madame Elisabeth, in wax sculpting. Marie and Madame Elisabeth develop a warm friendship which remains consistent throughout the novel. During Marie’s stay with the King’s sister, she begins to sympathize with the royal family, who are becoming increasingly unpopular with the French people due to a shortage of crops, lack of bread, and increasing poverty.
The French Revolution and the Shifting of Loyalties
As the French people’s plight worsens, the royal family become the target of the people’s rage. The Queen is criticized for her extravagant jewels and expensive dresses when her people are starving. Her foreign birth becomes the topic of increasing discontent as damaging gossip begins to circulate. The monarchy’s increasing debt and the exclusion of nobles and the clergy from taxes, lead many to consider abolishing the monarchy in favor of a republic. Others favor emulating England and creating a constitutional monarchy. As the revolution slowly brews, the Salon de Circe cleverly plays both sides of the political spectrum. Marie and her family change the museum’s exhibits according to the political events of the day. When it seems certain the monarchy will be abolished, the royal exhibits are removed. However, rumors abound that the Queen will appeal to her brother, The Holy Roman Emperor, to provide military assistance. In case the King and Queen should prove victorious, Marie’s family advises her to continue expressing her loyalty to the Queen and Madame Elisabeth. Marie’s family have their own personal stake in the future of the monarchy, since Marie’s three brothers are members of the Swiss Guard, who guard the royal family.
The Reign of Terror
As France’s nine hundred year old monarchy is dissolved, anarchy runs rampant throughout the country. Nobles are stripped of their titles, including the King and Queen, who are now known as Citizen Capet and Madame Capet. The infamous guillotine appears to punish those who are considered enemies of the patriots. Marie’s talent for sculpting becomes a curse when she is repeatedly presented with the heads of executed traitors by the revolution’s leaders. Anyone suspected of being royal sympathizers are executed. Homes are searched for any evidence that families are not true patriots. To the shock of the nation, the revolution’s leader’s declare the Catholic Church enemies of the patriots. Priests are executed by the hundreds and church services are allowed only under the condition that priests declare their allegience to liberty before God. Marie and her family now realize that no one is safe under the new regime. As Marie is presented with the heads of people she once held dear, her ability to remain loyal to the patriots is tested.
Michelle Moran has once again proved herself a master storyteller. Most of the people and events in Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution are real. Moran took France’s bloodiest event in history and told it through the sympathetic eyes of a woman who must choose between staying alive and her loyalty to the royal family she has become fond of. The author successfully captured the chaos, uncertainty, and gruesome details of the French Revolution. Madame Tussaud’s powerful and well-written story has once again secured Michelle Moran’s place as one of the best historical fictional authors in the genre.
- Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran, Crown