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Madame de Pompadour

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3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,370 Ratings  ·  123 Reviews
When Madame de Pompadour became the mistress of Louis XV, no one expected her to retain his affections for long. A member of the bourgeoisie rather than an aristocrat, she was physically too cold for the carnal Bourbon king, and had so many enemies that she could not travel publicly without risking a pelting of mud and stones. History has loved her little better. Nancy Mit ...more
Paperback, 296 pages
Published March 31st 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published 1954)
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Kelly
"Nineteenth century historians, shocked by the contemplation of such a merry, pointless life, have been at great pains to emphasize the boredom from which, they say, the whole Court and the King suffered. No doubt a life devoted to pleasure must sometimes show the reverse side of the medal and it is quite true that boredom was the enemy, to be vanquished by fair means or foul. But the memoirs of the day and the accounts of the courtiers who lived through the Revolution .. do not suggest that it ...more
Susan
Nov 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As well as her wonderful novels, Nancy Mitford also wrote four, less known, historical biographies- Madame de Pompadour in 1954, Voltaire in Love in 1957, The Sun King in 1966 and Frederick the Great in 1970. This is the first of her biographies and it tells the life story of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, who, despite her comparatively lowly beginnings, was told by a fortune teller when she was nine that she would rule over the heart of a King and believed this prophecy completely. Despite being ma ...more
Sketchbook
Oct 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: currently
Louis XV & Mme explain the worldly French sexyouall sensibility : after 5-6 years the pash is over (we should all know that ), and love deepens while outsider sexercises play on. Yes, some of us know, but few have the French toleration & understanding. Nancy Mitford reports with her usual sparkle.

I will NOT expand as Amazon doubles prices on books with good GR reviews. I discovered this when I went to buy a gift etc. Amazon also doubles prices on books that get well-reviewed on its site
...more
Eric
Jul 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour hold the center but are not always as interesting as the supporting players. Voltaire appears in his fascinating duality, flattering and satirical, unctuous and petulant, apt to bite the hands that feed him. Mitford describes the “laudatory poem” he penned after the victory over the English at Fontenoy in 1745:

Richelieu, a great friend of Voltaire’s, got even more praise than he deserved; and the cunning old poet mentioned a lot of other people who might be usef
...more
Carol  ꧁꧂
Mar 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


I've never posted an image before (other than book covers) so this is likely to be painful. & I don't know why I'm starting with La Pompadour, as her brother apparently said that none of the many portraits of her resembled her. But I have always loved this Boucher painting.

Mitford's style is conversational - I felt like I was was back in the 18th century having a good old gossip over a cup of tea . No doubt Nancy & I would have been whispering behind our hand painted fans. Mitford's wri
...more
Hanneke
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable biography of that greatest of all courtisanes, Madame de Pompadour, told in the extremely posh voice of Nancy Mitford. Nancy Mitford is through her own aristocratic upbringing very apt in commenting on the ways of the French court and courtiers. I must confess that I was sometimes getting a bit bored by the abundance of noble names and affairs, but not bored enough to stop reading. The biography certainly provides many hilarious anecdotes and interesting stories. I had no idea that ...more
Ailsa
Sep 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
"Madame de Pompadour excelled at an art which the majority of human beings thoroughly despise because it is unprofitable and ephemeral: the art of living."

Decadent 18th century French life told in the crisp tones of the 1950's. An unusual and cute biography that I don't think you could get away with publishing today. Nancy Mitford writes as if she knows her subjects personally. Her opinions on the characters of these long dead historical figures are regularly amusing.

"The Queen, who, like many
...more
Kate Sherrod
Jan 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Reading Nancy Mitford's biography of "Reinette" Poisson, whom history knows as Madame de Pompadour, is like sidling up to a knowledgeable guest at a vast party full of strangers and asking her what's what. She's happy to tell you, but being Mitford, a Jazz Age aristocrat, a Bright Young Thing, she'll assume you know who all the people are already, and that you have a passing command of French, and focus on how they relate to the one she came to admire, La Pompadour.

In other words, it's a shame
...more
Pink
Nov 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Biographies are my kind of book. I've probably said it before, but if they're well written they're an instant 4 star read for me. This one I rated 3 stars. Looking back, that's probably harsh, but while I liked it, I didn't really like it. Sometimes Nancy's writing got a little confused, jumping around in chronological order and made a lot of assumptions about our knowledge of French life and courts, as well as being able to read passages in French. There was a lot to like though. Nancy has an i ...more
Margaret
Let's get this out here first: if I wanted to bring back one 20th century British person to go to tea and just hang out, it would be Nancy Mitford (sorry, Jessica, you are my go to girl for rallies and being snide about people, I promise). Nancy Mitford's account of the life of Madame de Pompadour is immensely readable and well presented. From her beginnings as Jeanne Antoinette Poisson to the cultural curator of the French court, Nancy Mitford chronicles the rise and death of the most famous Fr ...more
Jessi
Mar 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
I've wanted to read a biography about Madame du Pompadour ever since I saw her on a Doctor Who episode. Yes, I am a dork. When I found out that one of the Mitford sisters had written about the King's mistress, I couldn't wait to read the book. Even though it was published in the '40s, the book was still highly enjoyable. The book was centered around Madame du Pompadour but also included the major players like King Louis and his wife. I don't know the history well enough to know how well research ...more
Laura
May 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Susanna
Recommended to Laura by: Tisha
Her real name was Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour: she was the official mistress of the French King Louis XV.

It was quite interesting to learn that she a major patron of architecture - École Militaire and such decorative arts as porcelain - Manufacture national de Sèvres. She was the direct responsible by the purchase of the well-known Élysée Palace.

She was a patron of the philosophies of the Enlightenment , including Voltaire and Montesquieu.

The author wrote a magnificent portr
...more
Val
Dec 19, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, group
I am not very interested in Madame de Pompadour or Versailles court intrigues, so the fact that this biography of her is opinionated, unreferenced and probably neither complete or accurate does not matter one bit. The important thing is that Nancy is interested and I enjoy reading her books.
The court was snobbish, with courtiers vying for position and influence. When they were not busy having affairs with other people's spouses, they were gossiping about who else was (apart from one married coup
...more
Lobstergirl
Jul 31, 2009 rated it liked it

Mitford's biography pales in comparison to a book like Claude Manceron's Twilight of the Old Order, 1774-1778. Now, granted, Manceron's book (the first in a tetralogy) is much vaster and covers a wider range of personages and geography. But if you extracted only what he wrote about Mme. de Pompadour and Louis XV, it would still be more sparkling and informative than what Mitford had to say. Both books have been called novelistic. And interestingly, neither writer had much formal schooling; Mitfo
...more
Laurie
Jul 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love biographies that not only give a good historical overview (any history book can do that), but also somehow communicate the essence of the personalities involved. This biography is beautifully and engagingly written, but Mitford gives more: there a is a charming, humorous quality that I find completely engaging. She has a wonderful facility of language, of vocabulary, that is so intelligent if at times a bit flippant. I would (and have) read anything Nancy Mitford writes simply for her voi ...more
Gina
Jun 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
I didn't think that Nancy Mitford was a very organized or clear biographer. She didn't tell the story chronologically and assumes the reader knows all the titles of royalty and courts. She often would quote French poetry or phrases without translation. Even without these flaws, I don't think that she was a particularly skilled writer. She seemed to let her own fascination with Madame de Pompadour skew her writing.
Sandra
May 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
I'm torn because in parts I was really enjoying this book, but in the end, about 70% of the way through, I had to abandon it. Probably due to my ignorance and also my habit of skim reading, I found the lack of background confusing. Mitford assumes the reader knows more about 18th century French politics than I do.
Artfulreader
May 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Just read Kelly's review; she says it waaay better then I can but agree with all of it. In short; a good read if You like Nancy Mitford.
Sienna
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, kindle
Ye gods, what a trial. Don't get me wrong — Mitford could write, and Reinette is a worthy subject. But charm simply does not counterbalance the strange sense of authority and entitlement so cautiously, thankfully absent from contemporary historical scholarship, but abundant in this brief biography. Nor does it preclude, well, boredom. For a short book, Madame de Pompadour took forever to read. And what have I taken from it? A few funny lines, (slightly dubious) respect for the Marquise (on accou ...more
Amerynth
Prior to reading this book, all I knew about Madame de Pompadour came from an episode of "Doctor Who" (Which is to say, given the episode involved a space ship that opened into her fireplace, I knew next to nothing.) So I can't really comment on the historical accuracy of Nancy Mitford's "Madame de Pompadour."

I can say that I was delighted by the coffee-table style of the book and Mitford's ability to pick out little, insightful details (a hallmark of her fiction as well.) The book has an almost
...more
Chris S.
Sep 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Catty, chatty, naughty (for the times) account of Louis XV's influential mistress. I picked this up because 1] its a NYRB book and 2] Nancy Mitford was Oswald Mosely's sister-in-law and Walter Mosely's step-aunt. Also, this book provided a nice intellectual counterpoint to Duff Cooper's Talleyrand insofar as it is quite explicit in describing the strange unreality which permeated so much of the royal politics of the Ancien Regime, and how that sense of insular gamesmanship survived the Revolutio ...more
Lindsey Whipple
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
How to keep a King entertained. The pompadour was one hell of a woman. Woman who was truly in love and fought for the love of her king & country. She had amazing taste especially for Champagne! The history of her life with King Louie XV sets France up for its devastating revolution. She was BF's with Voltaire bet neither of them could have imagined the horrors their shared enlightened philosophy would build up too!
Maggie
Jan 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Strangely absorbing. I would start a chapter feeling slightly nonplussed and then suddenly an hour had passed. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I had a more solid knowledge of French history, but her ability to develop a compelling narrative is, nevertheless, outstanding.
Allyson Kramer
Mar 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Not only a historical biography of a woman in a very different world than ours, but an interesting study of France in that time.
Mshelton50
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Any one who has read Nancy Mitford's novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate knows what a delightful, witty writer she was. Her Madame de Pompadour is equally fun. It may not be "serious" history--some professional historians, such as A.J.P. Taylor were cruel in their reviews--but unlike a dull monograph, it offers not only the story of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (later to become the marquise and then duchesse de Pompadour) but a real glimpse into what life was like at Versailles un ...more
Sherry
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it
I struggled between rating this "it was ok" and "liked it". When I first started it I really liked it and thought - I wish all the history books I read at university were this interesting. But about 2/3 of the way in I felt bogged down and bored. So I stopped reading and started another book. When I came back to this I enjoyed it for awhile - then felt bogged down again but just forged through to the finish. I felt like there was padding with characters and incidents that didn't need to be exami ...more
Mackay
I never knew much about la Pompadour, so I decided to rectify that situation. This book is much like Mitford's later The Sun King, being a chatty, gossipy, opinionated dance through the court of Louis XV, mostly but not always through the filter of la Pompadour's experiences. Mitford's style is plush, she has a keen eye for a telling vignette, though less care about strict chronology or, heaven forfend, dates! Still, this is highly readable, entertaining, and informative, and I'm glad I read it.
Brian Denton
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lively biography of Madame de Pompadour, intellectual light of Versailles, friend of Voltaire and mistress to King XV.

Fascinating read. I picked this up as part of my local bookstore's 2017 Reading Challenge. I needed to pick a biography of a historical figure I had not heard of. I'm glad I settled on Madame de Pompadour. This woman lead a very interesting life and Nancy Mitford, her biographer, writes very well. It's a very novelistic biography. Recommended.
Shawna
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it
I always like Mitford's books, and how it is historical, and intelligent, but also feels like she is leaning in and gossiping to you.
This books was a bit difficult for me as I don't know much of anything about French royalty, or history. I had trouble with the language, stations, and titles. But over all it wasn't so much that I couldn't read it, just that it was a bit confusing and I knew I was missing things. Best for people who have a knowledge of this time and area.
Lea
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is exactly what a biography on one of history's most famous mistresses ought to be - witty, gossipy, fun, extremely well-researched but not bogged down with tedious information.

I enjoyed very much reading about Madame de Pompadour and Louis XV, and all the courtiers and hangers-on. Versailles then was a bizarre and brilliant place, stranger than fiction.

Only the last quarter of the book was a bit of a bore; too much talk of 18th century politics.
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Bright Young Things: December 2014- Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford 32 22 Dec 30, 2014 01:42AM  
NYRB Classics: Madame de Pompadour, by Nancy Mitford 2 7 Oct 28, 2013 02:54PM  
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Nancy Mitford, CBE (28 November 1904, London – 30 June 1973, Versailles), styled The Hon. Nancy Mitford before her marriage and The Hon. Mrs Peter Rodd thereafter, was an English novelist and biographer, one of the Bright Young People on the London social scene in the inter-war years. She was born at 1 Graham Street (now Graham Place) in Belgravia, London, the eldest daughter of Lord Redesdale and ...more
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“Madame de Pompadour excelled at an art which the majority of human beings thoroughly despise because it is unprofitable and ephemeral: the art of living.” 6 likes
“Madame de Pompadour never seems to have sold any of the objects which belonged to her. They accumulated in their thousands, and filled all her many houses to overflowing; after her death Marigny was obliged to take two big houses in Paris which, as well as the Elysée and the Réservoirs, contained her goods until the sale of them began. Furniture, china, statues, pictures, books, plants, jewels, linen, silver, carriages, horses, yards and hundreds of yards of stuff, trunks full of dresses, cellars full of wine; the inventory of all this, divided into nearly three thousand lots, very few lots containing less than a dozen objects, took two lawyers more than a year to make. Few human beings since the world began can have owned so many beautiful things.” 2 likes
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