The best-selling author of 'Maharanis' recreates the lives of six remarkable women who, in a time of violent revolution, leapt at the chance to exercise their considerable charm, intelligence and acumen to make their mark on history.
Germaine de Stael was an intellectual and an aristocrat, equally obsessed by politics and love affairs. Passionate and fiercely intelligent, she helped write the 1791 Constitution at the salon in which she entertained the thinkers of the age. Her fellow salonniÈre, Mme Roland, was a bourgeois housewife who became a fervent and influential revolutionary, until Robespierre sent her, still defiant, to the guillotine.
While female intellectuals sipped wine in their salons, their working class counterparts patrolled the streets of Paris with pistols in their belts. Theroigne de Mericourt was an ill-treated mistress when she fell in love with revolutionary ideals. She became an ardent anti-royalist until a mob beating by 'sans-culottes' ended her activism. The mob in question was made up of members of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, whose founder, Pauline Leon, agitated for women's rights and sought to push the Revolution to ever greater extremes.
After the sans-culottes came the 'sans-chemises' - the glamorous (skimpily clad) merveilleuses, whose beauty propelled them to the top of post-revolutionary society. Theresia Tallien combined sexual license with the secular amorality of the new Republic and reportedly helped engineer Robespierre's downfall. Her only rival was Juliette Recamier, whose elegance made her salons the most sought-after in Paris.
Writing with vigour and passion, Lucy Moore reanimates these witty salonniÈres, fervent citoyennes and glittering merveilleuses to illuminate the brief, hopeful period in which the Revolution seemed to offer them equality - and the ways in which it failed.