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Versailles
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About the Author

As well as having a rich broadcast history, TONY SPAWFORTH is the author and editor of numerous books on the ancient world. He is currently professor of ancient history at Newcastle University in England.

Reviews

This fascinating, immensely readable book will be welcomed by both general readers and those interested in French culture. Using an impressive array of sources, Spawforth (ancient history, Newcastle Univ.; The Complete Greek Temples) re-creates the history of Versailles and its inhabitants, focusing not merely on architectural details but on the many human stories hidden within its lengthy past. Meticulously tracing the growth and changing usages of the palace from the days of Louis XIII to the ill-fated departure of Louis XVI in the upheaval of the Revolution, he offers vivid insights into a vanished world of royal and aristocratic splendor as he describes the clothing, rituals, habits, ceremonies, and entertainments of a social set obsessed with the "fetishes of rank." No detail appears to have escaped his purview as he looks at the court's dress codes, standards of service, etiquette rituals, and sanitary facilities. Even more important are the glimpses he provides into the lives of those servants and townspeople who made life at Versailles possible, individuals such as the "water waiter" who oversaw a kind of underground economy by redistributing leftovers from royal tables. This book thoughtfully analyzes how Versailles has been both a living community and a symbol of many things--royal magnificence, despotism, extravagance, isolation, and, finally, national pride. Most intriguing is the little-known story of what became of Versailles after the Revolution and the key role played by conservators like Pierre de Nolhac in preserving and reconstructing its history. Highly recommended for large public libraries.--Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

British historian Spawforth animates the palace that was home to "the most charismatic monarchy in Europe" for a century, until the French Revolution. The glamour and pageantry of the palace hid a multitude of sins. The clothes-conscious Louis XIV, for instance, created a new office, grand master of the wardrobe, and appointed a duke whom the memoirist Saint-Simon likened to a slave. A handsome aristocratic page to Marie-Antoinette, Alexandre de Tilly, recounted his sexual intrigues at age 16 with a 36-year-old widowed countess, conducted in various palace locations. At Versailles the royals ate publicly, a display that was supposed to humanize them as spectators raced around to watch each member of the royal family dine; the crowd horrified a Russian princess in 1768. Chamber pots on the palace's the upper stories were frequently emptied into the interior courts below; Marie-Antoinette was hit--intentionally, she believed--as she passed under the windows of Madame du Barry, her father-in-law the king's mistress. This well-researched and highly engrossing account conjures a bygone era with all its opulence, deference and perilous insularity. 8 pages of color photos. (Oct.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

"An illuminating portrait." --The New York Times Book Review "Sparkling, elegant prose.... Spawforth brings the palace to glorious life." --Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion "Irresistible to anyone interested in the interactions of power, sexuality, and topography." --Philip Mansel, author of Paris Between Empires

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