Dancing to the Precipice, By Caroline Moorhead

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The Independent Culture

Lucie de la Tour du Pin led an interesting life. Born to an aristocratic family in Paris in 1770, she saw many of her friends and family guillotined, but managed to escape the Terror with her husband and flee to America, where she forgot her aristocratic ways, learnt to milk cows and became a farmer.

After another brief sojourn in France, she sought refuge in England, and then returned to France when her husband, a career soldier-turned-not particularly diplomatic diplomat, was granted a post under Napoleon. When Napoleon fell, she went into exile with her husband a gain, this time in Italy, where she wrote her memoirs, which didn't see the light of day until 1907, when her great-grandson published them. She was as great a survivor as Talleyrand – whom she knew, of course. Actually, she knew everyone, from Marie Antoinette to Chateaubriand to the Duke of Wellington.

Caroline Moorhead's affection and admiration for Lucie come across strongly in her biography, and there was much to admire: Lucie was clever, clear-sighted, courageous and survived the buffets of fortune with coolness and good humour. Liberal in politics, aristocratic in temperament and outspoken by nature, she raised the hackles of both royalists and Jacobins. Born to wealth, she died, aged 83, in straitened circumstances. A loving wife and mother, she saw five of her six children die (her son Humbert was killed at 26 in a foolish and entirely avoidable duel).

As well as a portrait of a remarkable woman, this is also a portrait of an age of transition, when the ancien régime gave way to the beginnings of the modern age.

It's not uncommon to enjoy a novel and want to read more novels by that author; it's less common to think the same about a biography, but after reading Dancing to the Precipice, I definitely want to read more biographies by Moorhead.