Memoirs of Duc de Saint-Simon, 1691-1709: A Shortened Version Paperback – 1 Oct 2007
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He was very proud of his status and quite pompous. His life was was and long and high as was his position, he did not achieve many noteworthy things. Louis XIV did not like and so only after the Sun King's death in 1715 he became a memember of the Regency Council and later ambassador to Spain. But he did not carry much political weight. Witht the death of the Regent he retired from Court life. Only in 1739 he srated to write his Memoirs. These cover the period from 1691 bis 1723 and were finished only in 1750.They were fully published only in 1829/30.
He wrote from an early age, collected an huge amout of gossip and information which all formed the basis for his memoirs. He showed a great skill for narrative and for character-drawing. His French was superb and inventive. Of course that is lost now as it has became part of the French langauge. In the English version this is totally lost. His Memoirs are far from being fair or an objective account. He quite clearly shoed his preferences and views. His special hate was however reserved for the
"the bastards," the illegitimate children of Louis XIV. It does not appear that this hatred was founded on moral reasons or fear that these bastards would be intruded into the succession. The true cause of his wrath was that they had ceremonial precedence over the peers that is so say over himself.He was gratified by the degradation of "the bastards who lost their royal status.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
So, I was rereading The Three Musketeers (and not enjoying it, for some reason) and thinking about how very foreign it was. Dumas in 1844 didn't write at all the way a person would now--the morality and outlook on life are different. The culture he wrote about--France in 1650--was so colorful and romantic...I wondered how much was true and how much was an 1844 invention?
Just as I was thinking that and my interest in royal France was all heightened, I ran across this book, Memoirs of Saint-Simon. This book takes place in France in 1700--so now instead of Louis XIII we are in the time of Louis XIV, the Sun King, the most famous and glamourous of royal courts--and was written at the time (obviously, since it's a memoir), so it's a chance to really get inside the alien head of someone from a different age.
I'd never heard of Saint-Simon before and I don't usually like biographies (I don't like the lack of plot) but I gave the book a try. It is just amazing. It is packed with fascinating and witty anecdotes. Saint-Simon gives so many details about life in the royal court of France. He doesn't just list events--he has strong feelings about what he thinks is right or wrong and that helps glue things together (I would think, oh, here he is complaining about the royal bastards again just like he always does, and here he is taking another opportunity to say how very much he admires that abbot guy, and so forth). Apparently Saint-Simon revised his memoirs constantly throughout his life, which I think meant that he was able to think for a long time about what events meant to him instead of just writing down his first impressions.
Since this is a memoir, it has its boring parts. There is lots of military stuff that I couldn't follow and lots of pages that were just names and names and names and my eyes glazed over. However, memoirs need that sort of stuff to get the reader immersed in the time period. There is really very little of it. It made me glad I was reading an abridged version, though, as I think the unabridged version--if it was even available in English--would be hard to slog through. Although now that I've read the abridged version and enjoyed it so thoroughly I probably would be interested in the unabridged version.
The footnotes are terse and enlightening. The index is wonderful. Whenever I lost track of what was going on, the index would clear things right up. For example, some Duke got married and everybody was making a big stink about it. Why? Aha, the index says that the Duke is the oldest son of the crown prince, hence the heir to the throne, so his bride is the future Queen of France. As another example, some army commander did a terrible job but nobody wanted to complain to the King about it. Why not? Oh, right, the index says this commander is the King's son.
There is also a wonderful page that lists "THE ROYAL FAMILY IN 1691" and a wonderful family tree of the mingled French and Spanish royal families.
I feel I should say something about the physical book. It's just your regular old modern oversized trade paperback, so by definition ugly, but somehow it seems to be up at the high end of such things. I think it is unusually appealing. The paper is reasonably thin and white and the binding is fine. The cover, with the solid color and writing on top and the painting on the bottom, and the solid color being carried over to the back, is handsome. The thickness of the book is in a good ratio to the height and the thickness is enough to have a pretty spine with writing at the top and a picture on the bottom. Inside, the fonts are appealingly varied. Big friendly welcoming letters for the title page, a good worksmanlike font for the meat of the book, a smaller font for the index with capitol letters that jump out a little, tiny footnotes (which never overwhelm the page since they are terse and sparse), small capitols for the top of the page ( "MEMOIRS OF SAINT-SIMON" on one side and the year on the other, so the page tops slowly change from 1691 to 1709, neither boringly constant nor distractingly changeable), nice italics for the chapter summaries at the beginning of each chapter.....and the table of contents is pretty, and the family tree I mentioned above is wonderful, and the list of the members of the royal family is nicely laid out...really I think its just a nice book to handle.
So, this book is just wonderful. A great read of unique historical significance. I'm about to start reading the second book in the series. I think I shall poke around and try to find some more books about this fascinating time and place.
This edition is a marvel. The only previous edition readily available in English was the translation by Bayle St. John, eminent Victorian, who couldn't stand the French; loathed Louis XIV; and often wasn't overly fond of the Duc himself. Ms. Norton's new edition is more scholarly, sympathetic and "reader-friendly"; the footnotes are far more informative, and the index is a wonderful guide in keeping straight all the various personalities at Versailles.
The book "Saint-Simon at Versailles", written by Ms. Norton and Nancy Mitford, is a wonderful companion to these three volumes, and includes pictures, maps, and additional exerpts from the Duc's memoires.
I'm halfway through the third volume now, and I don't want it to end. If you like to lose yourself in another century - these are the books for you.