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Athenais: The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress, the Real Queen of France: Written by Lisa Hilton, 2002 Edition, Publisher: Little Brown and Company [Hardcover] Hardcover – 16 Dec 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown and Company (16 Dec. 2002)
  • ASIN: B000HWYQQ0
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amelrode VINE VOICE on 15 July 2009
Format: Hardcover
Lisa Hilton has re-created the Versailles of Louis XIV and the readers are soaked into the world of courtly luxury, glamour and intrigues of his reign. She follows the up and downs of King's mistress career. It is quite colourful, intriguing and an entertaining read.

But this book is supposed to be a serious biography. However, Mrs. Hilton's style of writing a quite bit to novel-like for a serious biography. It seems as if she could not decide what she is wants to write.

Furthermore, she is far to one-sided and really tries to whitewash Madame de Montespan. Trashing others personalities - and often she is right with pointing out the flaws of these personalities - seems to be no convincing argument for seeing La Montespan in a more favourable light. And stating that she was very much in line with the accepted codes of the time is no help either because one has to ask oneself why this sweeping statement does not apply to the others? And I doubt that this was really true.

The title The Real Queen of France" is rather odd as well and shows in my view a total misconception of Louis XIV and his concept of royalty. The Queen - Marie Therese of Austria, Infant of Spain, - was properly an unattractive and not very sexually appealing person and on top rather stupid, but she was a real princess and the most desirable of all princesses at the time. She was very much part of the King's "Gloire" and only she could bear the heirs to the throne. Madame de Montespan was not in her league and could never ever been queen. A "court star" is something complete different, even if she was mitresse en titre.

As a novel I would have found this book quite good, but as a serious biography it has far too many flaws. It is not a waste of time to read it, it is still entertaining, but it is not s serious study.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent service from seller. Fast and efficient. I'm very interested in French history. This is a must have book for anyone interested the life of Louis XIV and his life at Versailles. Mme de Montespan was a fascinating and engaging personality who played an influential part in his life.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
The Publisher should have known better! 7 Jan. 2004
By Jane Smith - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I have been studying the Bourbon dynasty for many years, and am very familiar with the subject. Having just re-read Frances Mossiker's fabulous "Affair of the Poisons", I was intrigued when I spotted "Athenais" at a local bookstore. Over the course of 40 minutes I didn't read the whole thing, but certainly glanced over most of it, especially the sections dealing with the Poisons incident.
I was shocked to see that she had lifted whole passages from Mossiker, with the barest attemp at re-phrasing! I found Mossiker in the bibliography, but nowhere was she footnoted in the entire chapter!
Disgusted, I looked at the "Author"'s credentials too see who this lazy person was - a writer for VOGUE! What the F***?
The publisher couldn't even get the lingerie on the cover right! Why was the cover model in a VICTORIAN nightie?
I sincerely hope this book is not representative of the state of scholarship on this subject.
I give it one star for having given employment to the guys at the presses.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Athenais c'est mauvais 24 Feb. 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book to be spectacularly unfulfilling. It had neither the depth to be considered as a scholarly work nor the level of characterization for a fictionalized history.
The main character remains, throughout the work unknown and undeveloped. Most of the information presented appears to be a fairly standard summation of previous works which is not assisted by the author's tendency to jump erratically from period to period with little regard for continuity.
In summary, not a book which could be recommended.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A first-time effort that reads like a first-time effort 11 Dec. 2004
By Gloria Mundi - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Given the remarkable material a historian is given to work with, it is difficult to write a bad biography of anyone connected with the reign of Louis XIV, but Ms. Hilton decided to give it her best shot. I am not surprised to discover that this book was written by a twenty-six year old, because the author's genuine potential as a writer and researcher are greatly flawed by an irritatingly shallow assessment of her subject. Hilton is so enamored of La Montespan's beauty and glamour that she blithely glosses over the Royal Mistress' many and disturbing character flaws (a probable bent towards Satanism being only the most famous of them,) gives her a quite unwarranted importance in the development of her lover's reign, and denigrates all her female rivals (notably Madame de Maintenon) in a way that comes off as positively childish.

(Who was it that said, "It's always tempting to impute/Unlikely virtues to the cute"?)

Hilton is at the beginning of her career, however, and I do think she may well have better work ahead of her as she matures. While this is certainly a promising debut, I have the suspicion she'll be a little embarrassed by this book in twenty years or so. I hope that is the case, anyway.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Athenais's true love is NOT Louis XIV, it's Lisa Hilton!!! 14 May 2005
By A. Masion - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I've been fascinated with the decades of the Sun King's reign and the impact of his egomania on his country since I was 7 years old. Obviously, his women were a significant part of his life.

There are several things in Hilton's book that disturb me, not the least of which is her persistent effort to justify Athenais's worst personality traits as well as to either villify or ridicule her rivals. I mean, honestly, it's pushing it to depict Athenais as being "right" in abusing her friendships with the Queen and Louise de La Valliere (Louis's first mistress, who Athenais replaced) in order to "get closer" to the King and secure his "favor," only to turn around and depict Madame de Maintenon (who supplanted Athenais) as some sort of horned monstrous ingrate for "taking advantage of her benefactress to steal her love."

The reality of that era is that virtually the only person who had any real control over who he favored and slept with was Louis himself.

The speculation/conjecture about the Affairs of the Poisons, while perhaps not entirely unreasonable, still clings to the idea that Athenais was some sort of heroine ill-used and abused by the system of the times.

The book is not a total loss, but its extreme bias leaves me wondering if the author has first-hand experience of being the "other woman who got cheated on." Athenais is an intriguing figure in history, there was no need to canonize her less than admirable behavior at times. I would have had more respect for the work if there had been a little more objectivity to that point.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Shallow "Athenais" 12 Jan. 2006
By E. A Solinas - Published on
Format: Hardcover
People have always been fascinated by beautiful, glamorous royal mistresses. They are the ultimate bad girls, beautiful and sensual, and one of the baddest was Athenais de Montespan, the longtime love of the Sun King.

Unfortunately, "Athenais : The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress, the Real Queen Of France" is so tilted in Athenais's favour that it's impossible to take Lisa Hilton's work seriously. She's a good writer, but she also apparently has the sensibilities of a airhead prom queen, to whom baubles and beauty are everything.

Athenais de Montespan was in trouble before she encountered King Louis XIV, the handsome young king of France. With a crazy, debt-ridden husband who pawned her earrings to pay his debts, Athenais was all too willing to lure in the King, in the hopes of becoming his new official mistress -- and displacing the lovely Louise de Valliere, her old pal.

Athenais did become the new mistress, and soon became the center of cultural life around the Sun King's court, as well as bearing him several illegitimate children. But as time went on and she made some terrible choices, Athenais was replaced by the most unlikely of romantic rivals -- an older governess who looked after her children.

Even infamous figures like La Montespan can be cast in a compelling light, if shown realistically. Unfortunately, Hilton doesn't seem to realize this; apparently she's too dazzled by Athenais's beauty, sex appeal, wit and intelligence (most of which were focused on keeping the king in bed with her), as well as the love story between Montespan and Louis XIV. And, of course, roasting any women who infringed on that love story.

Don't expect the other women to get such, ahem, royal treament. The poor queen is given a little slack for her deformities, but Hilton sneeringly calls her a "dreary object" with a "lumpy Hapsburg nose." Louise de Valliere is portrayed as a scheming, whining idiot who tries to steal (back) the king from Athenais, and kindly old Madame de Maintenon as a prudish, scheming old hypocrite... apparently because they were neither as acidly witty or as beautiful as Athenais. Louis himself is painted as a gullible man-child who desperately needs Athenais to make Versailles and himself suitably glamorous. Yes, it really is that shallow.

While these women are accused of hypocrisy, scheming, emotional blackmail, and of luring the king to bed via shrewd plotting, Athenais does all these things as well. And whatever flaws aren't ignored (Satanism) are painted as the marks of a strong, intelligent woman, who is even gushed over as a "goddess."

It must be admitted that this book is written beautifully; Hilton brings Versailles at its peak to life, and describes the beautiful rooms and clothing with excellent prose. Unfortunately, the slanted focus of the book is too much to stand. So, it was okay for Athenais to abuse Louise, because Louise had an "infuriating lack of dignity"? Sorry, doesn't wash.

While beautifully written, the shallowness and cattiness of Lisa Hilton's book makes it a squirmingly biased read. This is Athenais de Montespan... high school clique-style.
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