The Women of Chateau Lafayette - masterful story of 3 incredible women
The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published March 2021, 576 pages
This is the second buddy read for my sister, Donna, and me for May. And what a way to end the month! We won't have any buddy reads for June as we work to select our books for the upcoming year (July to June 2023). I'll let you know what books we settle on......
This epic historical novel is a very ambitious undertaking. It features 3 main female characters who are endlessly fascinating, complex, audacious and full of gumption. Adrienne, wife of Lafayette, set in the late 1700s; Beatrice, a wealthy socialite with a strong service attitude, set in the early 1900s (WWI), and Marthe (and some Beatrice) in the 1940s, (WWII).
THE PLOT - Adrienne and Gilbert Lafayette
Over the three timelines mentioned above, we get to know these women very well. The chapters alternate between them (and therefore, between timelines), though the story flows in a generally linear way. The heart of the story centers around Adrienne and Gilbert Lafayette, married when they were young teens. Lafayette has married above his station, into the wealthy and influential Noallies family. The young couple spends their first years together trying to fit in at court. When Lafayette is overcome with the desire to return to his family home, de Chavaniac, Adrienne agrees - and thus begins their real life together.
"The world always snuffs out fire, and every generation must bring light from darkness again."
To prove himself, Lafayette leaves France and goes to America to help the upstart George Washington fight his war. (There's lots of famous historical name dropping going on here!) He returns a popular hero and he and Adrienne become influential people who strive to remove France from a monarchy and create a republic where the people aren't starving and being slaves to the royal family. The book follows their ups and downs, political achievements and failures - but through it all, their love, commitment, and dedication to public service stay strong. Theirs is an amazing story!
"The motto of the Lafayettes. Why not? Why not me? Why not now? Why not here? No one else could answer the call to protect this place and the principles it enshrined. In all of France, there might be no other true temple to liberty. And it had no other defender. Only me, only here, only now. - Adrienne Lafayette"
Chateau Lafayette (de Chavaniac) photo via Wikipedia
THE PLOT - Beatrice Chanler
Set in the early 1900s, Beatrice's story is she's a former showgirl who marries into a VERY wealthy, old-money family. When the bloom wears off the rose of their marriage, Beatrice must find something to occupy herself. There's a war going on in Europe and she works to build a charity and motivate her wealthy acquaintances to donate generously to help the war effort.
In a grand effort to save the marriage, her husband buys and gifts her a run-down chateau in France. She realizes it is the Lafayette Chateau and can serve a very important purpose - a home and hospital for children ill or orphaned by the war. She recruits friends, raises money, knows some VERY influential people, and begins to make a success of this venture. Beatrice is the epitome of a self-made woman and truly maximizes all the power of her wealthy position and connections. She is generous, motivated, charming, loyal, and a real badass when it comes to making her vision come to fruition.
THE PLOT - Marthe Simone
Marthe's timeline is WWII. She is an orphan raised at the chateau and now, as a young woman, is a teacher - one who dreams of traveling and living elsewhere than the place she' always known. When the war comes to her small village and the chateau, she finds herself having to make difficult choices. Even as the war goes on and on and the hardships mount, Marthe feels compelled to stay and help the children.
"For fear of the Nazis, we can't light fireworks or sing our national anthem, but we parade in the streets around the church. [for Bastille Day] ... It feels like hope. I look up at the castle and think each of us is just a stone, but mortared together in common purpose, we might just be a fortress that can't be ripped down."
Marthe faces some of the personal tragedies of war, but goes on. She faces freezing cold, lack of food for the children, but goes on. She faces Nazis, but carries on. She does what she can (which is a LOT) to help the French resistance, to help the children, and her friends at the chateau.
Donna and I agree it's a good book, though she enjoyed it more than I did. The Women of Chateau Lafayette is no fluff read - it covers each of these three lives in detail. Sometimes too much detail. Exhaustive detail. I lost steam in the middle of the book with all the characters, the jumping of timelines, the details of each woman's life, and the politics. Lots of politics. Donna also felt like it was too political at times. However, she did love the storyline of Adrienne and Lafayette - it felt the most authentic and engrossing. This immersive book is meticulously researched and based on lots of facts, but it was almost more story than I was interested in at the moment. It may have been a case of right book, wrong time, for me.
I loved the amazing women. I loved the authentic depiction of each era by use of dialog and clothing styles. I enjoyed the quirks and faults of each woman. The book had much more to recommend it than dismiss it.
We recommend it if you want a different world view and a bit of French revolution history - OR/and if you enjoy a story about strong women making their way against all odds.
Terrie's rating: Donna's rating