Dancing to the Precipice… one woman’s story

A new biography by Caroline Moorehead “Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution” tells the tale of a woman who witnessed one of the most dramatic periods of history  while playing the part of observer, commentator and sometimes participant.

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 to the lavish life of the French court. Returning to France prematurely, Lucie had to flee again, this time to England, where she took up sewing in order to support herself and her family.

Repeatedly in the right place at the right time, Lucie saw the Battle of Waterloo, the fall of Napoleon and the return of Louis XVIII and the Restoration. For the last years of her life she was ambassadress to Holland and the Kingdom of Sardinia. Her friends included Wellington, Lafayette, Alexander Hamilton, Talleyrand and Madame de Stael.

Mixing politics and court intrigue, social observation and everyday details about food, work,  manners and clothes, Caroline Moorehead paints a vivid portrait of an era – lasting three-quarters of a century – that saw the fortunes of France, as well as those of Lucie herself, rise and fall and rise again. Both as a witness and as a survivor, Lucie is a superb subject for an exemplary biographer.

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