QUEEN OF VERSAILLES
Madame de Maintenon, First Lady of Louis XIV's France
480pp. McGill-Queen's University Press. Can$55.
THE SUBJECT OF THIS BIOGRAPHY, who lived from 1635 to 1719, is often considered in relation to a series of famous men. She was born Franpoise d'Aubigne, granddaughter of the Huguenot writer and author of Les Tragiques, Agrippa d'Aubigne (1552-1630) and became Mme Scarron, wife and then widow of the writer and dramatist Paul Scarron (1610-60). As the marquise de Maintenon, she became the unacknowledged wife and unofficial consort of Louis XIV (1638-1715) during a secret ceremony in 1683. In the years that followed, Maintenon was repeatedly accused in contemporary sources of meddling and interfering in affairs of state. Maintenon herself employed these negative terms when writing of her role as informal political adviser to the king, and they occasionally bleed into the narrative of Queen of Versailles as well. All of which raises an important question about how modern historians tackle, in this instance, a powerful but marginalized woman who repeatedly claimed to share her (second) husband's belief in the subservience of the female sex, but whose actions...