Thursday, August 4, 2011

Madame Tussaud

Michelle Moran brings yet another fabulous and fantastically researched book, Madame Tussaud. I had heard of her before I read the book, but all I knew was that she liked to sculpt or wax faces. It starts in 1788, Paris, when the revolution is about to begin. Marie is the main character, and she lives in a large house with her mother and her uncle Curtius (who is actually like her father because he is living with her mother). He taught her everything she needed to know about sculpting and wax. They owned the Salon de Cire together, which was held in their home. She sculpted most the faces, and Curtius did the bodies. Sometimes they took live measurements with calipers from the people, or Marie would sculpt them just based off a sketch, or her memory. They worked hard to make the Salon popular, and to get it published in the tourism brochure.

They met once a week with many of their friends at night, including Robespierre, Camille and his fiance Lucille, and Marat. Their neighbors were Jacques and Henri, scientists that worked on hot air balloons among other things. Henri was in love with Marie, even though it took her quite some time to notice it. Theirs was a good life, especially when through a contact, they get the King and Queen to visit the Salon. Rose Bertin, the owner of Le Grand Mogul, a high end clothes shop, was the one who helped invite their royal guests. Rose was the Queen's tailor and stylist, and had many connections. Rose and Marie formed a tenuous, if not professional relationship. When the royal family had visited their Salon, soon business spread like crazy for some time. They had to keep their tableau's updated with the times, and they often found new people to sculpt. Madame du Barry, the former king's mistress, had her own room. They had a room also just dedicated to criminals, killers and rapists. Marie often had the unpleasant task of meeting these people just so she could sculpt their likeness. The people liked to see it, even though it scared them. The Salon de Cire provided the people with the latest in fashion, gossip and politics. Marie Tussaud even sculpted Thomas Jefferson, among other important people.

This book was written about over a 5 year span of time, and it didn't take long for the revolution to start. People were starving and going hungry, while the royal family had plenty of bread and wore jewels and silk. When the King and Queen tried to economize and dress less fancy, they were still criticized. The poor made up about 90% or so of the population, and they were highly discontent. Camille and Jean-Paul Marat both wrote papers igniting the people to action and anger. The King calls for an assembly of the Estates-General, where each class has a representative and vote. This hasn't been done in quite some done, and the hope is to spread out the taxes among everyone and not just the poor people. The classes were clergy, nobility and then the general populace; who made up most of the vote. The deputies of the Third Estate feared they would be overruled by the other two, so they formed the National Assembly, a new way of representation not based on social class.

Curtius, Marie's uncle, was soon called to serve in this National Assembly, and he accepted for the good and safety of the family. During this time, they had to take down their royal family tableau, so as not to anger the people. They were constantly changing and updating their Salon as the times changed, trying to be politically correct but also safe. Marie was sent to serve four days a week at Princess Elizabeth's home, the King's sister. She was to teach her to wax and sculpt as well, as was paid well. This was a hard time for their family, because Marie had to keep one foot in the royal family's door, and another in the National Assembly's door. The family tried to appear to be a revolutionist, while also being a royalist. The 3 brothers all served in the Swiss Guard, serving the King. They just hoped that by Curtius serving in the National Assembly, and by being friends with the top supporters, that they would be kept safe.

Lafayette is the leader of the National Assembly, but soon is no longer able to control them. He works with Thomas Jefferson on trying to write a Declaration, sort of like America had. But France had been ruled by a King for so long, that the change could not be made. Hundreds of discontents storm the Bastille, kill the main guard, and let the prisoners loose. Soon more killings are spread, to people that even breath a word of support towards the royal family. It is a time of discontent, uncertainty and fear. There is no bread to be found or bought, food is becoming scarce and expensive, while the royal family lives as usual. Marie comes to know how sweet the Princess Elizabeth is, and also how the royal couple really do try to please the people. It seems no matter what they do, they are blamed for the wrongs of the country. Even when the Dauphin dies, the people don't even care. Marie and Henri fall in love during this time, but agree not to marry until things become simpler, or the Salon can live without her help.

Events are numerous and swift, so I won't be able to relate them all. But eventually the royal family is forced to move and kept under close guard. The churches are burned or destroyed, and many nuns or popes and priests are either forced to marry or die. The poorhouses suffer, because no one is paying tithes to the church anymore. More deaths follow, more papers circulate, the Salon de Cire continues to change their displays, and Marie continues to balance her relationship with both the royalty and show the appearance of having a patriotic spirit. Soon those not wearing a red, white and blue pin are supposed to be against the revolution, and they are killed. The royal family makes an attempt at escape, but due to many errors of judgement, they don't make it. The King has left quite an incriminating letter behind, and he is immediately put to trial. A device known as the Guillotine is made, and he is the first to be killed by it. Soon the mobs bring Marie the heads of those they have killed, and she is forced to wax them so they can parade the heads around.

After the royal family attempts to escape, the government makes more changes. There is a new calendar, with different names for the months and a new way of counting the years. The practice of any religion was abolished; also the Girondists, the Paris Commune, and the Jacobin Club come to life. The family tries to appear loyal and patriotic during this time, while everyone is going around calling each other Citizen and Citizeness Since their friends are some of the biggest revolutionaries, they need to be even more careful. There is a big mob that attacks on the building where the royal family is kept, and almost all the Swiss Guard dies. When Marie hears of this, she takes a cart to find her brothers to bury them. She finds one's body, but Edmund is still missing. Her brother Wolfgang and his wife and child, decide to board a ship for England along with his wife's father. Henri is going as well, and asks Marie to go with. She refuses and says the Salon still needs her, and she can't leave her parents alone, especially her mother. He leaves and her heart starts to break.

As Marie continues to work on the figures in the Salon, the mob still brings her decapitated heads to sculpt. The Queen is soon imprisoned and put on trial, and found guilty. She soon meets her end with the Guillotine. By this point, anywhere from 5 to 14 are being put to death a day, including women and children. If they do or say anything wrong, or keep material in their homes, they are put to death. As neighbors and people they know die, Marie starts to weaken, but it is too late to leave for London, the ports are closed off. When Marie hears that Camille was murdered, and then his wife as well, she starts to fear for their family. They have kept safe this far, but if their own friends can imprison them, they have no hope. Marie eventually refuses to sculpt anymore dead faces, especially those of her beloved friend Lucille and the Princess Elizabeth, Robespierre, her old friend, comes and puts her and her mother in prison. Each day names are read aloud of those that will be killed that day, and the rest celebrate to live one more day.

Madame du Barry is brought to death, for who knows what reason, and she is the first to struggle and fight. After this, they people start grumbling that it's enough, time to stop. Robespierre is murdered, and soon afterward The Terror is ended. In their fanaticism to spread liberty and equality, the revolutionaries created a tyranny, killing many of their own. Napoleon Bonaparte comes to power after this terrible time. Marie meets Francois Tussaud in prison, and they marry when released. They have a stillborn daughter, and two sons. When they are older, she takes the eldest with her and sails for England. Henri is there still waiting for her after all that time, and they start their own Salon together, combining their talents, and become quite successful. Until her death at an old age, Marie's husband hounds her constantly for money. She was a smart woman though, she made a pre nup before they were married.

Her sons Joseph and Francis continued her work after her death, and today her museums have spread to Berlin, Los Angeles, and Shanghai. Rose Bertin, the dead queen's stylist, went to London as well and continued a successful career of dressing the wealthy women. Marie-Therese was the only member of the immediate royal family to survive, and she died in Austria at the age of 72. After the Reign of Terror, the dauphin Louis-Charles died in prison from some illness at age 10. The royal family was now gone. Marie's mother Anna dedicated her life to raising Marie's youngest son, Francis, and watching over the Salon de Cire. When she died, Francis then joined his mother in England. Curtius died not long after Robespierre's fall, being exhausted and ill from his journeys and hard work reporting on the patriotism of various revolutionary generals and such.

This is not a book for the faint hearted; it is gruesome at times, quite detailed and horrific. I read the book because I love Michelle Moran as an author, and because I was interested in Madame Tussaud's life. There is much rich history in here, vivid, detailed and highly researched. I recommend it if you are interested in this time period, and I warn you, it is highly addictive.

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