Having finished this book, I am struck with an uneasy dissatisfaction. Evelyn Lever did a very good job - so far as she went with her subject. But she leaves you hungry for more.
"Madame de Pompadour" is easier reading than similar works by Antonia Fraser, Amanda Foreman, and Alison Weir. Lever cites fewer sources in her text, relying primarily on simple footnotes with little comparison and contrast of conflicting sources. Nor does she go into the specifics or character of her sources, leaving the reader to wonder where the information is really coming from, who said what and why. In some instances, it is difficult to see how Lever came to her conclusions. This makes the book move faster, but it also creates a void in the overall effect.
The backdrop of the French court is not fleshed out with details of the period or placed into greater historical context. the reader is given no real sense of time and place, and this makes the two primary characters - Madame Pompadour and Louis XV - somewhat two dimensional.
As a lover of historical biography and a fan of the scholastic style used by Fraser and the others listed above, I was disappointed. The period and the personality of Jean-Antoinette de Pompadour did not come alive through the reading and I craved more details of her life - what she ate, what she wore, some speculation on *how* her tastes developed.
The detailing of the events of Madame Pompadour's life fall curiously flat. How on Earth did this woman retain the role of offical mistress when she flatly refused to sleep with Louis XV after the first 7 years of their relationship? Lever simply says that the King was "dependent" on her but does not detail why this might have been.
Also, this is the bio of one of the most famous professional courteasans in History - surely a bit more salacious detail was in order? there is practically no speculation or discussion of sex, and let's face it, when we read about a woman who traded her "virtue" for power, a little sex talk is what we're looking for.
I had read in "At Home with the Marquis de Sade" and other texts that the Parisian Police Chief of this time was in the habit of forwarding reports of his spies in the brothels of Paris to Madame Pompadour and the King so that they could enjoy a limited sex life through voyeurism. There was no mention of this in the text, not even to refute the assertion, although Lever cited the same sources as "de Sade," which causes me to speculate that perhaps the author has intentionally avoided this sort of detail.
On the whole, however, it's not a bad book. The details given are indeed fascinating - for example, an examination of royal patronage and the Royal Mistress's role in the development of the French china industry or carefully reconstrcuted descriptions of Madame Pompadour's tastes in antiques and architecture. The photo inserts, tho smallish, do contain some lovely examples of portraiture and Lever gives great attention examining the details in context of the subject's life.
Lever is thankfully not one of those biographers that becomes so infatuated with her subject that she cannot see and discuss her flaws. She reports Madame Pompadour's unpopularity without making a crusade of it, and does manage to bring a soild sketch of Madame Pompadour's personality through, despite the lack of intimate detail.
I would buy this book if you're looking for an easy read and find the details of historical context boring. But if you live for the historical detail and the minute descriptions that make a subject come alive to the reader, best that this book be skipped.
I'm told that there are more scholastically minded books on the market, including one with an introduction by Amanda Foreman. I intend to supplement my reading with these as soon as possible, because this book did convey enough of Madame Pompadour's fascination that I want to read more.