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on 7 December 2017
I was reading other books when I picked this one up and read a chapter at random. Utterly gripped and fascinated I quickly started it in earnest from the beginning. It's well written and well translated and edited by Lucy Norton.
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on 12 August 2011
This book, and its two companion volumes, should come with a health warning; it is utterly addictive.

Saint-Simon was undoubtedly a terrible snob, concerned for his own position, jealous of upstarts, critical of the royal family and especially the illegitimate part, and concerned that everything was getting irretrievably worse.

But he was also a brilliant observer, able to skewer someone's character in a few choice phrases when he thinks it necessary, but also genuinely warm to those who deserve it. He is actually a deeply moral and humane man, and that is one of the qualities which makes his memoirs compelling: he isn't out just to put everyone down; rather he cares about what is happening around him. And he makes us care too.

My reaction to him is similar to that to Pepys: his human frailties, foibles and fables on the one hand and his concern to serve his country on the other make a mixture which is irresistable, partly because, although it's in a very different time and culture, what he has to say is familiar to anyone who has ever thought about life, or become aware of its ambiguities. He holds up a mirror, and we can see ourselves, and people who are as familiar as our familes, friends and neighbours.

Forget the soap-operas: this is much more dramatic; and it has the advantage of being real.
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VINE VOICEon 5 February 2009
Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon (1675 - 1755), French soldier, diplomatate and politican. At the age of 18 he followed his father as the 2nd Duke of Saint-Simon and Pair de France. He was raised with the "enfants de France, the cildren of the royal family, and developed a great freindship with the future Duke of Orleans and Regent of France.
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.

Volume 1 covers the period 1691-1709, volume 2 1710-1715 and finally volume 3 1715-1723. It is a must read when interested in the rule of Luois XIV and the regency period.But do not take erveything face value. One needs to remember where the author did come from. But it makes a great read. Indeed the great classic of Memoirs.
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VINE VOICEon 21 May 2002
Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon (not - as he would immediately have pointed out - your average, two-a-penny Duc, but a Duc et Pair de France) was practically a midget, had a hump and was a ferocious snob. This did not in any way make him unacceptable at the Court of the Sun King, though it gave plentiful opportunities to his many enemies to poke malicious fun at him.
However, he got his own back in his renowned Memoires - written up in 1740-46 from notes he had kept at the time. Almost no-one of any importance escaped his sharp tongue and barbed assessments. In fact many of the characters he describes would be just dry names on tombs but for his work.
From the King himself (who completely pervades the first two volumes of Lucy Norton's excellent translation) to the Duchess who could never contain her bowels at long card games, and left a trail across the floors of Versailles like a snail, Saint-Simon breathes squirming, intense life into the stiff portraits of periwigged worthies and tight-bodiced noblewomen.
Ironically, he is often at his funniest when describing pompous snobs (the Bishop who has two huge family trees painted on his walls showing his descent from both the Roman and Byzantine Emperors, the infamous bore who was appointed to the Academie Royale solely so that the King and the entire court could laugh at his fantastically vain acceptance speech).
But he is also capable of providing images that fix themselves indelibly in the mind, such as the aged Archbishop, exiled from court to his country estate, walking in his gardens with his mistress - whilst behind them his servants sweep away the traces of their footsteps.
If you can cope with the truly vast numbers of names and titles that fly about these pages you will get a feel for the times that is remarkably vivid and surprisingly modern (I viewed office politics where I work with a new eye after reading the Memoires).
Ultimately, the Memoires record the complete failure of Saint-Simon's attempt, after the death of Louis XIV, to encourage the aristocracy to limit royal power and recover (as he saw it) their proper role in the government of France. He would have been horrified that his grand-nephew Henri, Comte de Saint-Simon was one of the most influential of the first socialists...
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on 12 May 2000
Said to be one of the greatest Memoirs ever and it's certainly hard to put down. You wonder why no one got round to bumping off the Kings of France till a couple of Louis' later! The book is packed with wit and human insight and I imagine that Saint-Simon would have produced an equally gripping account of Clinton or Kennedy.
At times a bit ploddy as you work your way through some of the complicated names and relationships but if you read it in the spirit in which it is written you'll have a good time. I still want to know how one courtier managed to cut down a whole row of trees while the King was asleep so he woke to see an entirely new view of out his window. How did they manage to do it so quietly--must have been a bright moonlit night?
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If you ever wanted an insight into life at the backbiting, toadying, nasty, house of fun otherwise known as the Palace of Versailles then buy this book!
Saint Simon, with his disapproval and snobbery, hated life at Versailles. That didn't stop him from giving us the best description of the court of the Sun King ever written. Thoroughly recommended!
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