Visit Versailles in Historic Novel

France on Friday

Château de Versailles - 27-05-2007 - 8h08
Chateau de Versailles

Destination: France in the 17th Century

Book: Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland (Paperback released in May, 2009)

NOTE: Please check out Sandra Gulland’s  further travel advice on her web site.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mistress of the Sun. Because:

  • I’m planning my first trip to France, and I’ll be visiting Versailles.
  • Sandra Gulland writes well researched historical novels.
  • A moving romance dominates the story line.

Add to that, a well chosen heroine who in real life became the mistress of King Louis XIV, who would come down in history as The Sun King.  At the beginning of their story, he was handsome young Louis and she was Petite. Both of them loved to ride. In fact, Louise de Valliere (Petite) attracted his attention more for her horsemanship– excelling most of the men at court–than for her feminine beauty. She even had one leg shorter than the other, and later in life wore a special shoe to equalize her gait.

Throughout their relationship, in this novel at least, Louise loved Louis, but did not care for The King, and we see the young Louis evolve from the carefree romantic young man to a demanding and self-absorbed adulthood, facing foreign enemies and internal schemers at the court.

Louise evolves less dramatically, and her changes seem to be foretold from her childhood. As a young girl she loves a wild white stallion known as Diablo, and with a combination of gypsy magic and horse whispering, she tames him, but at a terrible price. The young Petite winds up living in a nunnery.  When she gets a job at the court, Louis sees her and remembers her from an early encounter. She falls in an impossible love with Louis, but he reciprocates her love and takes her as one of the earliest of his many mistresses. He turns out to be as untameable as Diablo, and she ends her life back in the nunnery.

It is interesting that we see this spirited young girl become docile in love and then come to the conclusion that her only real freedom is to take the veil.

Because the records are incomplete, Gulland adds fictional touches (the creation of the character of Louise’s maid and the blending of several characters into one), but no one has accused her of historical inaccuracy. Her research shines through, but does not weigh down the fast-paced story and interesting characters.

She does not gloss over the sometimes repugnant details of 17th century life, telling us about illnesses, the rats and the filth in even grand palaces. Her description of everyday life in the palace makes me wonder why as a girl I ever wanted to be a princess.

Most fascinating to me, we see Versailles (called Versaile in the novel) morph from a rural hunting camp to a glamorous center of court life, more like what we see outside Paris today.

I intend to read this book again before I go to France, to fix real historic details that I skimmed over in my rush to read the fascinating story.

(The picture above is obtained from Flickr, by a photographer identified only as “Panoramas”.  Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint, gave me a hard-cover copy of this book to read.)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

12 thoughts on “Visit Versailles in Historic Novel

  1. We are planning on a trip to france. All the above comments on Versailles and surrounding places will be useful to me. Thanks
    [Note: editor removed a link to a commercial site. Anyone who tries to use the comment section for advertising will have links removed.]

  2. Two more tips for books to read before your trip:

    Road from the Past by Ina Caro is a travelogue through the history of France. Beautifully written.

    An Hour from Paris by Annabel Simms is much more a guide book. It lists many interesting day trips from Paris with details of the site and how to travel to it. Very well done.

    And thank you for the suggestions of good new books to enjoy.

  3. I worked near Versailles for a year and drove by every Saturday (for my radio show.) I recommend visiting Versailles’ Salle des Glaces at sunset, as late as the rules allow, when they turn on the lights and everything glitters. You need to arrive a bit earlier to walk through to that part of the palace. I also recommend visiting Malmaison, (which is closer to Paris grace au RER), Josephine’s home, especially if you intend to read the Josephine B. trilogy mentioned above. Malmaison is smaller, so much easier to absorb. You need to check on when it’s open, as I remember taking American friends there by car and finding it closed. There is an RER stop in Rueil-Malmaison but I have never gotten off the express subway in Rueil so cannot give you info on how close it is to Malmaison. Best to see a guidebook. June is the best time, of course, when her rose garden is in blown.

  4. I’m sure you both saw my post some time ago about a pastry chef in Paris–The Sweet Life in Paris? If not, look it up. I absolutely loved that book.

  5. in preparing for your trip to France, you might want to check out The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry. it’s an account by an American woman of time spent studying at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, which also gives a feeling of contemporary life in a Paris neighborhood.
    .-= Kerry Dexter´s last blog ..Music from the Atlantic Fringe =-.

  6. Dear Vera,

    Thank you for this wonderful review of Mistress of the Sun! In your trip to Versailles, be sure to visit Vaux le Vicomte, which is closer to what Versailles would have been like during the period of my novel.

    Also, many readers have told me that my Josephine B. Trilogy is great background reading for a trip to Paris.

    I’ve a page on my website devoted to readers who travel and I’ve linked to this review in the sidebar. Be sure to let me know how your trip goes. I’d love to post a note about it on my blog.


    Sandra Gulland
    author of the Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun


    1. Sandra:
      Thanks for the tip about Vaux le Vicomte. Now I definitely have to go there, since I have the information from the author of Mistress of the Sun. And I’ll be pleased to come back and let you know how the trip goes, and my impressions of Versailles and Vaux le Vicomte.
      I’m sure that the Josephine saga would be terrific reading, if I can squeeze it in among all the books that I’ve assigned myself for this blog! I’ve always been fascinated by Josephine, and when we were in St. Lucia, we were told that she had lived for a time in a plantation there. I planned to visit it but ran out of time.
      I hope that some of my readers will take advantage of this opportunity to say “Hi” to you.


        1. Thanks for that advice. I was going to ask you if the candlelight tour would be worthwhile. We took the night tour of Alhambra and were very glad we had. And I notice that Vaux le Vicomte has a celebration (fete?) on certain weekends. I wonder if that is worthwhile–or if the King might send us to prison for upstaging him?

Comments are closed.