REVIEW: Annette Vallon by James Tipton
Dear Mr. Tipton,
My blogging partner Jane knows of my interest in history and historical fiction so I wasn’t surprised to see your book in a package of arcs I recently received from her. “Who is this woman he’s writing about?” I thought. The back blurb which states the book “is the story of a woman who has for too long been relegated to the shadows of history” does indeed describe her. Just googling her name brings up little more than the bare facts of her life as mentioned in her relationship with William Wordsworth. She was a daughter of the upper bourgeoisie in pre- Revolutionary France, who met Wordsworth when they were both young, had a relationship with him, bore him a daughter and served as a muse for much of his poetry. But she also lived through and managed to survive the upheavals of the Revolution as experienced in the Loire countryside. Things might have taken awhile to reach there from Paris but it didn’t mean that it was any less dangerous. I’ve read lots of biographies and accounts of the times so I knew of many of the atrocities you brought up throughout this story. It didn’t do to be complacent and the leaders of the Terror today could, and did, end up before Madame Guillotine tomorrow. Adroit steps, strong nerves and often luck determined whether or not you survived. Annette appears to have had all three.
You stated in your author’s notes that this is a work of fiction and that some liberties were taken. Since I couldn’t easily discover much more about Annette than what I stated above, I just went with it though I would enjoy knowing how much of the woman you portray as a mix of the Scarlet Pimpernel and Robin Hood is real and what is fiction. The style of the book is lush and detailed, which is nice, but I’ve noticed that this also often means that it takes a while for things to really get going. As is the case here. Yes, we need to know lots of the information presented so lovingly but it’s a slow, wandering time before much of it comes together. I did enjoy reading about the exploits of the “Mother of Orleans” as Annette becomes known and felt a chill that merely for hoarding candles, forgetting to wear a Revolutionary cockade to the market, or protesting the closing of a fashion magazine, one could be sentenced to death. The mother and daughter who laughingly announced that they were wearing wigs made from the hair of beheaded Parisians made me shudder. Man’s inhumanity to man is found in any age and yet there are still those who will make a stand against it, who will strive to make a difference no matter how great or small the outcome of their efforts. Years later when Annette is honored for what she did during the Terror, I wanted to cheer. And yet when she finally decided that she’d tempted fate enough and needed to get while the getting was good, I honestly can’t blame her. With a small daughter dependent upon her and no husband to whom to turn, Annette had to weigh what her conscience demands of her with what is needed to keep a roof over their heads and the devil away from their door.
In an interview, you mentioned that writing a book in the first person point of view of an eighteenth century woman was a challenge and not one you think you’d take on again. I tried to keep in mind that a man was writing the book I was reading but honestly, I must say I think you succeeded well in getting inside the head of this woman. At times she did strike me as coming off a tad masculinely but then she says she was raised by her father to ride to the hunt and her exploits often required bravery but not much daring do. I felt she was much more of a sympathetic character than was Wordsworth or Monsieur le Valeur des Mots, as Annette styled him. I wish more about her was easily accessible to the English speaking reader and would have enjoyed getting a chance to read some of the letters to Wordsworth that came to light after WWI. If she did half of what you wrote, she deserves to be known for so much more. B-