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The Virgin Blue: A Novel Paperback – June 24, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Chevalier's clunky first novel, initially published in England in 1997, lacks the graceful literary intimacy of her subsequent runaway hit, Girl with a Pearl Earring. In split-narrative fashion, it follows a transplanted American woman in southwestern France as she connects through dreams with her distant Huguenot ancestors. The primary plot concerns the plight of Ella Turner, an insecure American midwife of French ancestry. Her architect husband, Rick, has been transferred from California to Toulouse, France, with Ella accompanying him. Often left alone, she becomes lonely and isolated, and when she decides it's time to have a baby, she begins dreaming of medieval scenes involving a blue dress. In alternating sections of the novel, these details are developed in a narrative about a 16th-century French farm girl and midwife, Isabelle du Moulin, and her eventual marriage to overbearing tyrant Etienne Tournier. Isabelle and Etienne belong to a vehemently anti-Catholic Calvinist sect that overthrows the village's cult of the Virgin, who is also known as La Rousse and depicted in paintings as red-haired and wearing a blue dress. Because of her own red hair and midwifery practice, Isabelle is suspected by her husband of witchcraft and punished accordingly. Ella, with the help of magnetic local librarian Jean-Paul, researches the lives of Isabelle and Etienne, trying to get to the bottom of her strange dreams. Chevalier tries hard to make Ella sympathetic, but her dissatisfaction with Rick is baffling, as is her attraction to the chauvinistic Jean-Paul. Equally difficult to swallow is the heavy-handed plot, which relies on jarring coincidences as it swerves unsteadily from past to present.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“A beautifully crafted story shot with vivid colors.” —The Times (London)

“Such an achievement for a serious writer that you feel it deserves an award.” —The Independent (London)


Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (June 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452284449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452284449
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (218 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tracy is the author of seven bestselling historical novels, including the international hit GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, which has sold over 4 million copies and been made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. American by birth, British by geography, she lives in London with her husband and son and cat. Her most recent novel, THE LAST RUNAWAY, is her first novel to be set in the United States, and she learned how to make quilts for it. Tracy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has honorary doctorates from her alma maters Oberlin College and the University of East Anglia. Her website will tell you more about her and her books.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Virgin Blue is indicative of the author's love of art and history, the plot marginally less sophisticated than her later and more successful novel, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. As a first effort, this novel certainly shows the author's burgeoning talent. In a plot that has become quite familiar in recent fiction, the story contrasts the life of a young woman in France with a distant relative who lived four centuries earlier, under much harsher conditions.
Ella Turner moves to France with her architect husband, Rick. Not far from where the couple settles in Lise-sur-Tarn, Isabelle du Moulin married Etienne Tournier when pregnant with their child, in 15th-Century France. At the time of Isabelle's marriage, France is suffering through the religious upheavals that are scouring the countryside, as strict Calvinist sects wrench themselves away from the Catholic Church, intent upon purifying the religion. Still, there are holdouts scattered throughout the country, mostly in the north, were the fleeing refugees resettle, driven from their lands, their farms and goods burned to the ground.
Known in her village since a child as "La Rousse", Isabelle is now shamed by her flaming red hair, the object of unwanted attention. It is said that the Virgin had red hair, a mark of the Papacy. Isabelle hopes to pass unnoticed among the other villagers, always covering her hair in public. Her husband, Etienne Tournier, a distant and controlling man, has never trusted his beautiful young wife, fathering two sons and a daughter with her, but rigid in the ruling of his family. When Isabelle's daughter, Marie, grows fiery red strands of hair among the brown, her mother is terrified and with good reason.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Emily on January 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Despite having read less-than-perfect reviews, I recently read The Virgin Blue on the recommendation of my English teacher, and was pleasantly surprised. While I have never read Girl With a Pearl Earring or any other of Chevalier's novels (and perhaps it is in comparison to them that many people beleive this novel to have fallen short), I can personally say that I was disturbed, moved, and ultimately satisfied with this book.
The story moves back and forth between Isabelle du Moulin, a young woman in 16th century France abused by her cruel husband, whose family belongs to a strongly anti-Catholic sect, and Ella Turner, her anscestor, a modern-day American midwife whose husband's job had relocated them to France. Both women find themselves horribly unhappy; Isabelle, who still secretly loves the Virgin and has her characteristic red hair, is suspected of treason and witchcraft by her husband Etienne, and Ella finds herself having strange nightmares about the color blue when she and her husband begin trying to conceive. As Ella and her "friend" Jean-Paul, a stubborn, often crass librarian who Ella is striving not to fall for, search for the story of Ella's anscestors, Isabelle's own disturbing fate slowly creeps into light.
While many reviewers have complained of the "coinicences" that lead to the story's chilling conclusion, I believe that it is this slightly supernatural and coincidential force tying the two women together that drives the story. The parallels between Isabelle and Ella are enticing, and only occasionaly (Ella's hair color changing to red being the most notable) are they far-fetched to the point of eye rolling. Although I will admit it lagged at times, the segments of each woman's story ended in precisely the place each time to keep me reading to figure out what befell them.
All in all, I would definitely reccommend this book, despite its luke-warm reviews. The end is well worth the read.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 7, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully written debut novel. Exquisite in its imagery and clarity of language, the author tells two parallel tales. One takes place in sixteenth century France, during the Protestant reformation and religious persecution of the Huguenots (Protestants). The other takes place in present day France. There are historical ties that bind these two stories, as well as a haunting familial legacy that reaches out across time to makes itself felt in the present.

The sixteenth century tale is based around a young woman, Isabelle du Moulin, who marries a boorish lout named Etienne Tournier, the oldest son of one of the more prominent families in their provincial town in France. She is a young woman upon whom the Virgin Mary made a great impression, when she was but a girl. The Tourniers, however, are believers of the new, harsh, Calvinist faith, and so Isabelle must also fully subscribe to it, if she is to survive in her husbands family and in the town in which she lives. When the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre occurs, in which Huguenots are slain without mercy throughout all of France, Isabelle is forced to flee to safety with what remains of her husband's family. Unhappy in her marriage, she goes on to have an event occur in her life that is so tragic that her pain and sorrow is made palpable in the present, touching one of her ancestors, Ella Turner.

Of course, the parallel tale focuses around Ella Turner, a young, married American woman, who moves to France with her husband Rick, in order to advance his career. Ella agrees to the move, because it will take her to the region in France from which she knows her family originated. Once in France, Emma has some difficulty acclimating to life in the small provincial town to which they have moved, as well as to its denizens.
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