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Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an Era Paperback – July 27, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Educated to wait on Marie Antoinette, the marquise Lucie de la Tour du Pin (1770-1853) instead precariously survived a devastating revolution, an emperor, two restorations and a republic. Drawing on Lucie's memoirs and those of her contemporaries, Moorehead (Gellhorn) uses Lucie's descriptions of both personal events and the ever-changing French political atmosphere to portray the nobility's awkward shifts with each new event and the impact they have on Lucie and her diplomat husband, Fréédric. A woman with both court-honed aristocratic manners and rough farm skills (earned in the Revolution's wake during her rural New York exile), Lucie benefited from passing platonic relationships with Napoleon and Wellington, Talleyrand, and countless salon personalities. Lucie's terror during the anarchy of the Revolution remains palpable in her memoirs centuries later. Moorehead obviously admires Lucie, but she gives a convincing and entertaining portrait of an intelligent, shrewd, unpretentious woman and the turbulent times she lived through and testified to in her memoirs. 16 pages of b&w photos, 19 illus. throughout.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

In 1820, at the age of forty-nine, Lucie Dillon, the Marquise de la Tour du Pin, started writing her memoirs, an endeavor that went on for thirty years and produced one of the great monuments of French history. Lucie began life as an aristocrat, débuting at Versailles at the age of eleven; at the beginning of the Terror, as friends and relatives fell to the guillotine, she fled France with her husband and children. Resilient and resourceful, the family thrived on a farm in upstate New York, where Lucie churned butter, traded with Indians, and played hostess to Talleyrand. A return to France brought Lucie and her husband into Napoleon’s inner circle; in later years, following an exile in London, they found favor with the restored Bourbon monarchy. Moorehead’s biography, drawing on a trove of previously unpublished correspondence, captures the rhythm of the radical contrasts in her subject’s life. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 Reprint edition (July 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061684422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061684425
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #654,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I picked up the book and idly started to peruse the introductory material, such as the list of major characters, only to look up in alarm from it to find that I had immediately become so engrossed that two hours has passed without my even noticing, I knew I had found that rare creature, the nearly perfect biography. (I say nearly perfect only because I'm sure that there must be flaws; I just haven't identified any...)

Beginning with her choice of subject, Caroline Moorehead has delivered something wonderful; a biography and work of history that sets the events of the French revolution and the Napoleonic era in context. By telling them through the life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, born Lucie Dillon in 1770, she makes those events both more fascinating -- we see them as they affect Lucie and her family and friends -- and more understandable (since the discussion doesn't start in 1789 with the fall of the Bastille and stop suddenly with Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815.) Lucie, born into a noble family of Irish and English Catholics (her mother is French), grows up and marries in the final years of the reign of Louis XVI; she becomes a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette. Escaping the guillotine, she and her husband flee to America, where they take up farming in upstate New York, then return to Europe to try and rebuild their lives. Indeed, before she turned 50 and began to write her own life history (a document that Moorehead draws on heavily, alongside extensive and unpublished correspondence between Lucie and her extended family and friends), Lucie has fled into exile on no fewer than four occasions, trying to keep ahead of the political changes that sweep through France.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The most interesting biography I have read in such a long time, this book kept me fascinated and I'm already planning on Re-reading it this coming winter! There is so much information regarding actual historical events and descriptions of aristocratic life in the 18th & 19th centuries, truly fascinating to read about such historical figures in such a personal way. This book puts a very personal touch and perspective on "dry" history, makes the events of the time come alive.
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I am currently reading about the era of the revolution in France: wanting to understand it better. I'd just finished a book about the Duc D'Orleans, a contemporary, called Godfather of the Revolution. I felt that this book would be another good resource as it is a personal account of that time. It seems that Lucie de la tour du Pin and her husband either knew or were acquainted with many of the movers and shakers of their day.

I admire them both for their devotion to one another and for their resourcefulness. They adapted to setbacks and tragedy and moved on. Lucie went from attending to Marie Antoinette at Versailles to making butter in the New World and back again to a very changed France.

I liked this book; I never got bored while reading it. THE END or finis!
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Format: Hardcover
After awhile, if you start reading some of the great books that have come out in recent years, you greet the historical characters as familiar friends...
In this book, Caroline Moorehead covers Lucie's remarkable life, the life of an aristocrat survivor whose wits kept her family alive and afloat.

This book is compelling for many reasons: it well describes the plight of the emigres who escaped to England and America. She was a former lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette, escapes near death by the intervention of Therese Tallien, then Lucie meets up with Talleyrand in New York, and helps host receptions for Josephine. The details and research are a treasure trove of historical and social background--down to the fact the the color of the toiles changed from pastels to darker colors during the upheaval of revolution.

There were a few areas I felt not as strong--Talleyrand is painted with the same brush, and there are a few editing errors (page 53: In the spring of 1794 Lucie turned 14--should be 1784. Also USA (more modern) instead of America or the United States.

Still--if you read this book, you should read books recommended in my earlier reviews. They, too, cover the same era and the reader will appreciate this book, and the others better.
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This is the story of a uniquely placed woman who lived through a uniquely tempestuous time. Bright, resilient, and courageous, her life spanned the Revolution, and the Restoration. Situated within the aristocracy so that at different times in her life she was directly involved with Napoleon, Talleyrand, Josephine, and Marie Antoinette - to mention just a few - she was a mother who experienced the deaths of five of her six children and, for for 51 years, was the devoted and loving wife of Frederic-Seraphim, whose military and diplomatic career in service of the Bourbon monarchy necessitated two exiles (one to upstate NY and one to England)) as well as extended service stays in Holland, Belgium and Italy.

Though born within the highest reaches of pre-revolutionary French society, she was able to flourish in any situation, no matter how dire or deprived. And though scores of her friends and relatives, including her own father and her husband's father, were victims of the guillotine, she and her husband - without treachery or compromise - were survivors.

A loving mother and devoted wife, she had the uncanny ability and good fortune to pass through the very gates of hell without succumbing to disaster.

Based on Lucie de la Tour du Pin's own memoir, as well as hundred of her letters, Caroline Moorehead has given us a harrowing, yet warm tale of an incredible woman who lived through incredibly difficult and dangerous times.
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