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April 11, 2021

The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

If you are a fan of historical fiction, you really need to read The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray. It was so much more than I was expecting. Seriously, I don't know why I haven't been hearing more about this book. I learned so much about places, people, and time periods that I knew little about.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Chateau Lafayette
March 2021; Berkley; 978-1984802125
audio, ebook, print (576 pages); historical fiction
I'll try not to gush through this entire review, but really it was just such a great read.

The Women of Chateau Lafayette spans centuries and the story is told from the perspective of three main characters during distinctive periods in time. It opens with Marthe, who is a teacher at the children's preventorium during World War II. You know I love a good WWII story, but I wouldn't really say this is a WWII story. It is about the history of Chavaniac-Lafayette and the legacy of Lafayette carried on by the charitable Lafayette Foundation, which was founded by our second protagonist Beatrice Astor Chanler.

While we don't meet her until chapter 4, the opening line makes quite the impression.

"When going to war, one should begin with a new hat." 

In July 1914, when her story begins, it wasn't The Great War that she was needing a hat for, but the fight with her often-absent husband. It wasn't just the fact that I love hates that drew me to this character. This line would make you think she is the shrinking socialite that women seemed to be during this time. But she wasn't always a socialite; actually, it is pretty miraculous that she moves in the circles she does given her past - but that is what a good marriage could get a woman in that time. We quickly see her steely grit as she confronts her husband. It is this grit (and definitely a good deal of stubbornness) that she founds the Lafayette Society that helps send care packages to French soldiers even though the U.S. has turned its back on a country that once helped defend our own liberty. And that is where the third protagonist comes in.

A story about the legacy of Lafayette would not be complete without hearing how that legacy started. Adrienne, wife of the famous Marquis de Lafayette, definitely embodies the saying, "behind every great man, is a great woman". While it might have been the Marquis de Lafayette who memory the foundation was created, it is the spirit of his wife that embolden both Beatrice and Marthe to fight for what was right regardless of the obstacles in their way.

At first, Adrienne's chapters were my least favorite. While I vaguely remember Lafayette from long ago American Revolution history lessons, I didn't even know that Adrienne even existed. But as we learn more about her and she bares her soul, I had to know what happened to her and her family. I mean she was an aristocrat who lived during the French Revolution which sent the king, queen, their servants, and anyone with a whiff of nobility about them to the guillotine - such was the bloodthirst of the citizens. It wouldn't matter to them that Lafayette and his wife were on the side of liberty - having fed the poor from their own food stores, purchased plantations with the sole purpose to free the slaves that worked on those plantations, fought for a constitutional monarchy, and provided the very spark that ignited the Revolution. I actually become so impatient to know what happened that I couldn't wait for the end of the book and headed to Wikipedia.

The best line of the book might belong to one of Adrienne's chapters.

"'I like your sleepy bedroom eyes,' he said, leering. 'Though someone should have told you to pluck those brows... it makes a man worry the hedges are not trimmed below.'"

In that one line, the depravity of 18th-century French nobility (well, it might have been all of the European courts) is summed up. I mean, even today I would be shocked to hear such a statement in polite company. The line also stands in stark contrast to who the Lafayettes were.

I encourage you to read the author's note at the end of the book to get more historical facts about Adrienne and Beatrice (yes, she was a real person) and Marthe, who was created for this novel but stands in place of countless women who aided the resistance but whose names have been lost to history.

I love how these stories about women are finally being told when for so long they have been hidden in the shadows of the great male heroes of the time. These women and their stories will forever be in my head and I hope that should I ever find myself in such perilous conditions that their strength will inspire me.

As this is a long book, I did also checked out the audiobook from my library and it was an excellent audiobook. Check of the main characters has their own narrator so it was easy to distinguish between characters (which was important since the chapter headings for the tracks were messed up and didn't always match the chapter I was actually on). Also, the story was very easy to follow even when my attention was divided.

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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