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Madame de Pompadour

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,455 ratings  ·  132 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
Paperback, 312 pages
Published March 31st 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published 1954)
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3.85  · 
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 ·  1,455 ratings  ·  132 reviews

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"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
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
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
João Sá Nogueira Rodrigues
Sem saber que este livro existia fiquei curioso com ele por ser uma biografia da Madame de Pompadour.Valeu muitíssimo a pena a aposta neste livro! Realmente uma biografia que se lê como um conto!Muito bom!
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
Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂

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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Apr 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Enjoyable, though a bit questionable. It's interesting reading a history that contains such a very different bias and assumptions from the ones we are likely to encounter in something written today. Mitford is completely in favor of aristocratic rule and will frequently chastise the French public for resenting the public expenditures made by the King on Mme de Pompadour, suggesting that they really that weren't that high or unreasonable, when she herself has just described some insane series of ...more
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
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
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.
Apr 04, 2007 added it
I think that it is of questionable use as history, but it does provide a fascinating glimpse of Mitford's mind (and she would not like people saying that). Louis XV is clearly the Colonel, and Pompadour is You-know-who. My favorite review of this when it came out stated that "Miss Mitford must try harder not to refer to Louis XV as "perfect HEAVEN!" every time she mentions his name." A very good read.
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.
Kayla Goggin
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book was so frustrating I wanted to throw it across the room near the end. Good god, Nancy, what ever possessed you to write a biography that has a) no chronology, and b) dubious focus on its alleged subject????

Based on what I could glean from cobbling the disparate timelines in this book together, Madame de Pompadour was a fascinating woman with remarkable influence on a unique culture inside a historical period that I'm personally super into. There are some great anecdotes here and a few
I have found interesting and disgusting the description of the court of Versailles in the 18th century and its useless life devoted to pleasure with an immoderate spending of money in order to escape boredom...

I find it terrible that Nancy Mitford does not seriously criticize this shallow and pointles way of life of monarchy and nobility at that time, perhaps because the author, who belonged to the British upper class of the 20th century, considered that aristocracy is entitled, by tradition an
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
AJ Flamingo
Well written BUT...

As much as I enjoy Nancy Mitford's writing, she does a great disservice to the non-French speaking reader by not offering footnotes or translations to the often quoted French taken from other memoirs and letters. I would have gotten so much more out of this illuminating portrait had this been the case.
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
I'm so glad I finally got round to reading this; after reading Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution I wanted to read more non-fiction about 18th century France, and since I had this book, I naturally went on to read this. I've had this book for about 7 or 8 years, and it's just been sitting on my bookshelf gathering dust, I bought it after the episode of Doctor Who aired which has Madame de Pompadour in it, "The Girl in the Fireplace". It's a great read for an overview ...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!
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.
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Nancy Mitford, 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 was brought up at Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire. She was t ...more
“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.” 8 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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