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Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie Dillon, Marquise de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution

4.01  ·  Rating Details ·  583 Ratings  ·  92 Reviews
Born Lucie Dillon, to a half-French mother and an Anglo-Irish father, her world was Versailles and the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. She married a French aristocrat, and narrowly survived the French Revolution, escaping to America at the time of Washington and Jefferson. Here, she lived a life of milking cows and chopping wood, having previously been accustomed ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published March 5th 2009 by Chatto & Windus
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Feb 14, 2011 Bonnie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't recommend this biography highly enough. It's brilliant. It reads like a novel and Lucie was a strong, vibrant woman who puts all those anachronistic trying-to-be-tough-and-modern-but-coming-off-as-super-annoying historical fiction heroines to SHAME.

You couldn't make up Lucie's life. Any author that did would be accused of Forrest Gumping through history. Lucie was a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette. She lived through the terror of the French Revolution, in Paris, in exile among the e
Laura C.
Jul 15, 2011 Laura C. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographical
This book, by Caroline Moorhead, is the biography of Lucy Dillon, born February 25, 1770 into French and English nobility. Her mother was a lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette, her father the Colonel-proprietor of the Dillon regiment serving under Louis XVI. She was raised rich but lonely and like so many bright lonely children, she learned to observe. Thank goodness for that, as her story, written at the end of her life is an almost unbelievable eyewitness treasury of the events of her time. ...more
Marie Capet
Jul 30, 2010 Marie Capet is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
So far so good. I was surprised that the book could add more to the subject's actual memoirs which are fascinating (note to Hollywood: This would make an incredible movie). She adds incredible detail that Lucie couldn't (or wouldn't) give herself and explains what other events were transpiring while this spunky Irish girl from the French court was conquering the American frontier.
Dec 27, 2012 Louise rated it it was amazing
Through the Life of Lucie La Tour du Pin, Carolyn Moorehead tells the story of the French Revolution and its aftermath. This may be the most instructive book I have read of this period. Lucie, unlike the subjects of other biographies I've read (Marie-Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette's DaughterNapoleon: The Path to PowerFatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution) to name some recent ones), experienced all the events from Louis XVI to Charles X. She personally knew a ...more
Jun 07, 2010 Ericvann rated it it was amazing
Lucie’s life is recorded from the 1780s to the 1840s. All is set in the harsh realities of the French Revolution, that is the revolution before it, during ( quote; heads fly like tiles),and after.
One thinks of these times as: there where the Jacobines and then Napoleon, not so.
One also realizes why France was culturally at its pinnacle. To give an example: the salons initiated by women, where women held an equal voice to men and when their opinions where sought and respected.
Lucie lived a long
Aug 19, 2009 Alexis rated it liked it
I don't usually read biographies so it's likely most of my criticism stems from my unfamiliarity with the genre. Moorehead does a good job contextualizing Lucie's life events but somehow manages to purge almost any sense of mania while describing the French Revolution. She describes Paris and Bourdeaux as in a frenzy, but it doesn't translate beyond the page. I could not shake the feeling that reading Lucie's diaries and letters would have been more enjoyable. That said, the book did remind me ...more
Apr 18, 2011 Pylgrym rated it it was amazing
Fabulous read. Erudite and entertaining. De La Tour Du seems to be to diarist of the French Revolution what Mary Chestnut was to the War Between the States. She was lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette and a favorite of Napoleon. She even knew Wellington. Her husband served in every government and she was close to the centers of power her entire life. A fascinating picture of the entire era which is usually divided into smaller portions of Revolution,Robespierre and Napoleon. This is an overview ...more
Remy Kothe
Oct 19, 2009 Remy Kothe rated it really liked it
I thought this was an excellent biography and I will read the Lucie Dillon's memoirs sometime soon. The author did a great job providing historical context to the subject's memoirs. I highly recommend this if you are interested in the rise and fall and rise and fall of the French aristocracy before, during and after the French Revolution.
Feb 03, 2016 Jana rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"In an age when rivers mattered, when life unfolded along their waterways and banks, she had lived in the Seine, the Hudson, the Thames and the Garonne, and she died by the Arno."

It seems impossible to have lived so many lives, and it is even stranger to think that history is not actually broken up in shards that you get to play around with, even if they cut you.
Miss Philby
Interesante repaso a la vida de una aristócrata francesa desde los años finales del antiguo régimen hasta la mitad del siglo XIX.
Apr 22, 2016 Colleen rated it really liked it
Shelves: napoleon, history
It was in one of my Madame de Stael books that I first took note of Lucie Dillon, aka Marquise de la Tour du Pin, aka Madame/Contesse de Gourenet--and the multiple names is annoying when I tried to cross reference her later in some of my other books. Nine different variants I found in various books' indexes, most not differentiating that yes, the same person, just lots of titles.

This is an excellent book. If you know very little about the dying age of the Bourbons, the French Revolution, Americ
Apr 07, 2014 Simon rated it it was amazing
First-rate writing about a woman who had the luck (good and bad) to be at the epicenter of French history during the last days of the ancien regime, the Terror, the Directory, the Consulate, the Empire, the Restoration and the reign of Louis-Philippe. When she died in 1853, Napoleon III had just instituted the Second Empire. Lucie de la Tour du Pin knew everyone of the major figures, starting with her service to Marie Antoinette as a lady-in-waiting (she declined a similar position to Josephine. ...more
Mark Lancaster
Jan 08, 2014 Mark Lancaster rated it it was amazing
Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution is a beautifully detailed and extensively researched biography of the eponymous Marquise. I loved it! What a life our adventurous heroine lived! Born into a noble Parisian family in 1770, her mother and herself ladies in waiting to Marie Antoinette, Lucie and her husand lived through perhaps the most turbulent times in modern French history. They also enjoyed one of those rare things of their time and class - a happy ...more
Jenny Brown
Mar 07, 2012 Jenny Brown rated it it was ok
It's not easy to make the French Revolution and the Napoleonic period seem tedious, but this books does just that. Lucie Dillon's life is overwhelmed by long accounts of the political life of the time. The author herself is rarely quoted so we get no feel for her prose style or her inner world. Her husband and children are just names, not brought to life at all.

Throughout the narrative there runs a thread of sympathy that aristocratic French emigres were, oh the horror! forced to work for a liv
Sep 19, 2016 Carrie added it
Awesome story and learned so much about the French Revolution!!
Jun 28, 2014 Angela rated it really liked it
I'd give this book 4.5 stars if I could. It gives a great overview of the revolution from the perspective of an average aristocrat and a woman, although Lucie is not really average. It is interesting from start to finish.

The story starts out with Lucy as a child. Her mother works as a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette. It cover the lives and often deaths of her and her family from the excess of the ancient regime through the revolution to Napoleon's rule including her family's repeated escape
Jul 16, 2012 Sir rated it liked it
I did vacillate over rating this book. Probably a 3.5 if I forgive the errors. When it comes to important dates in history one might regard these errors as typing errors, however when it comes to describing events it can be perhaps debatable due to the numerous opinions that are out there… Can all these add up to merely a faux pas? Perhaps.
I found Moorehead's description of various people attached to the main character bland and uninteresting though she managed to show strength with the narrat
Apr 14, 2013 Laurie rated it really liked it
I very much enjoy reading books written by or about women who endured the French Revolution, whether aristocratic or otherwise, and this book was well worth reading; in fact, I didn't finish it in April 2013. I've read it twice since October 2010, I believe. In fact, I enjoyed the author's work so much, I will probably read the other biographies she's written (Bertrand Russell, Freya Star, Iris Origo and Martha Gellhorn...there's an eclectic bunch!). Lucie and her husband, a diplomat, actually ...more
Stephen Sobey
Oct 31, 2012 Stephen Sobey rated it it was amazing
If you are at all interested in social history in France, before, during and after the revolution you will find this book absolutely impossible to put down. Moorehead guides you through the dying days of ancien regime France and gives just enough political history - without becoming tedious - throughout this most turbulent period of French history. She gives the reader fascinating little vignettes about court life, how the fallen nobles survived the revolution and pieced their lives together ...more
Jan 31, 2014 Humblebee rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A wonderful alternative view of revolutionary France. Rather than the usual dry historical text which focuses primarily on the central instigators and participants (almost all men), this well written biography focuses on a woman who witnessed these events, was affected by them, and who was able to record them for posterity. We are able to witness events first hand through the diaries of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, all the while marvelling at her ability to survive what must have been traumatic ...more
Cynthia Karl
Jan 22, 2010 Cynthia Karl rated it really liked it
What a life - mine is certainly prosaic by comparison for which I am glad. Lucie came of age during the ancien regime and lived through the French revolution, terror, Napoleon and return of the monarchy. A member of the upper nobility she knew influential people in the all the periods. I wasn't completely enamored with the author's writing style; too frequently she interjected character traits about Lucie e.g. Lucie once again showed her strong will and is more interesting to ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 03, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
As memoirists go, Lucie de la Tour du Pin was astonishingly in the right places at the right time--born into the Anglo-French military nobility in the late 18th century, married to a liberal French aristocrat serving the National Assembly, in exile in the Hudson Valley during the Terror, half-sister of the wife of one of Napoleon's marshals, restored favorite of the returned Bourbons and eventually mother of a failed republican revolutionary. I had read the memoirs in abominable Victorian ...more
Sep 23, 2010 Phoebe rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lisa, Kezia, Ann, Sue
This is an amazing biography that I could not put down, it was so interesting. The subject is a French noblewoman who was born in 1770 and lived until 1853 and wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters (as well as a memoir) detailing her life and the historical events happening around her. Beset by an inordinate amount of personal tragedy, she nonetheless kept her chin up and her wits about her. It is a marvelous thing to have an literate, eloquent eyewitness to the horrific violence and wild ...more
Jan 14, 2015 Lauren rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, so much. This is a really great biography of a person who lived an amazing life. Lucie Dillon was part of the royal court of Louis XVI, she had to go on the run and into hiding during the Revolution, came to America during the colonial period, returned to France, where she knew and interacted with Napoleon and Josephine. Her story covers the most important aspects of French 18th and 19th century history and politics. She was also a really wonderful, unique woman in her own ...more
Lucie de la Tour du Pin lived in an extraordinary age and historians have found in her one of the best witnesses to that age. Born to privilege in France, Lucie was to see the world she had known swept away by the Revolution and lose both friends and family to the Terror that followed. In the days of the Empire she and her family were able to somewhat restore their family fortunes under Napoleon, only to eventually lose everything all over again. This book is the story of a remarkable woman who ...more
Sep 05, 2011 Dls rated it really liked it
This biography is worth reading by anyone who is interested in the period of the French revolution. Lucie Dillon grew up an heiress in prerevolutionary France; her mom was one of Marie Antoinette's ladies in waiting. She married a nobleman who sympathized with with the more moderate revolutionaries, lost her father and other family members to the guillotine, lost her estate as much to her great uncle and grandmother as to the revolution, briefly became a farmwife in Albany, NY, lived in England, ...more
Sep 14, 2010 Lori rated it it was amazing
As someone who has read numerous accounts of the French Revolution, I found this doctored version of a first-hand account to be extremely intriguing. While of course it was from a viewpoint of nobility and aristocracy, it truly humanized the realities of the strife encountered as well as some facets of every day life for a noblewoman in 18th and 19th century France. I've never delved much into post-Revolution texts and this one definitely whet my appetite for more. Prior to this book I had a ...more
Rebecca Huston
For me, this was a very enjoyable biography to read, full of little details, and fitting the personal story well into the surrounding times and circumstances. If you like the historical novels where the lovely aristocratic girl has to find a way out of danger, and meets the hero of her dreams, then here's a real life story for you. Well written, very enjoyable and one that I can wholeheartedly recommended.

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Dec 22, 2009 Godlarvae rated it really liked it
Sister Moorehead does an admirable job of putting many disparate facts of this particular age together into a readable biography. My college French did not do much in helping me with the innumerable names of family and friends and other historical characters used to the point that I quite got lost amongst them all. There were many vignettes recounted that gave a real ambiance to the time, giving me a much more in depth feeling of France of the period. What amazed me in many instances was the ...more
Sep 18, 2010 Catie rated it it was amazing
I loved this one, and that's really saying something since I don't really get into history/nonfiction. Not only did I learn all about Lucie de la Tour du Pin, who wrote what is heralded as one of the best memoirs of revolutionary France, I learned so much about French history. She lived in a most interesting time (1770s-1850s, and due to the extreme wealth she was born into, witnessed many of the "big" moments-from the fall of the Bastille and ancien regime, to the rise and subsequent fall of ...more
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Caroline Moorehead has written columns on human rights first for The Times and then for the Independent (1980-91) and has made a series of TV programmes on human rights for the BBC (1990-2000). She has also written the history of the International Committee of the Red Cross (1998) and has helped to set up a Legal Advice Centre for refugees in Cairo, where she has started schools and a nursery.
More about Caroline Moorehead...

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