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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Madame Tussaud

Review of Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Overview from Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king’s sister is so impressed that she requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.

My Review:

Madame Tussaud achieved fame through her famous wax museum in London that featured figures that were so life-like people were forced to do a double take. What is not known by most people is who was she really? What was she like? And how did she survive the senseless, graphic violence of French Revolution? This book tells her story through her fictional eyes, though obviously it is not entirely accurate. Fortunately, the author provides information at the back of the story telling us what was changed and why.
At the start of this book, we are introduced to Madame Tussaud though, at this point, she is neither a Madame nor a Tussaud. She is merely a young girl who has had the good fortune to be taught her profession by her uncle and allowed to pursue it unhindered by a society in which women are still expected to marry.

We are introduced to her as Marie Grosholtz, talented apprentice to Philippe Curtius. Whereas Curtius has started this business of model people out of wax, Marie has turned it into a profitable business and appears to have the talent to outshine her uncle. And their fortunes seem to be destined to improve even further when Marie convinces Queen Marie Antoinette’s dressmaker to bring her to visit the salon. Suddenly the lines are down the street and around the corner.

Marie is optimistic about her future. In conversation with an acquaintance she defends her choice to remain single.

“’What about you?’ she asks. ‘Isn’t there anyone you care for?’
‘I have an exhibition to care for,’ I reply. ‘And there are options open to an unmarried woman with ambition. Look at Rose Bertin. From an ordinary seamstress to the milliner of the queen. She is the wealthiest self-made woman in France!’”

Everyone wants to see what the queen saw and eat what she ate. But there is the foreshadowing of dark times ahead.
Already the queen and her husband are becoming unpopular but Marie puts these thoughts aside. As long as she gives the people what they want, she reasons that no harm will come to her. The question is, can she give them what they want when all they want is death?
We sense from Marie’s independence and stubbornness that she will not leave France until she has gotten want she wants out of life. Even if in doing so she risks that same life in the process. She will fall in love and lose that love. She will handle many dead bodies to appease the blood lust of the revolutionary mobs. She will play both sides of the fence before facing her own possible execution, long before she becomes Madame Tussaud and leaves Marie Grosholtz behind. She will start a new life in London, eventually, but at what price?

Her heart-wrenching journey tells us all we need to know. We see all the leaders of the Revolution through her eyes. And it brakes the heart.

Contains: violence, small scenes of sexuality

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