I became a fan of Laurel Corona's when I read her novel, Penelope's Daughter last year and so when the opportunity came to me to host Laurel for her new release, Finding Emilie (release date April 12th), I was all over it!!
Laurel has also graciously offered up a signed copy of Finding Emilie to one lucky winner, so make sure to enter at the end of this post!
Emilie & Voltaire
by Laurel Corona
“She is a great man whose only fault is being a woman,” Voltaire once wrote in a letter to a friend. Though today we might cringe at such a statement, at the time it was the supreme compliment, meaning that the only limitations on this remarkable woman were those imposed by gender in French society of the time.
Their love affair was probably never torrid, but I imagine there was a great deal of passionate energy (and relief) in being with a partner who was really, truly an equal. They lived together for roughly fifteen years at Emilie’s husband’s ancestral home at Cirey, in the Champagne region, near the border of what was at the time the semi-independent Duchy of Lorraine. There in this remote part of France, they amassed a huge library--larger than any French university of the day--conducted physics experiments, collaborated on works of philosophy and science, fought like cats and dogs, and entertained many of the prominent thinkers of the day.
What did Emilie’s husband think of all this? He suggested it! When Voltaire was threatened with yet another stint in the Bastille for his acid pen, the marquis got permission to have Voltaire live under loose house arrest at Cirey, presumably far enough from Paris to stay out of trouble. The marquis was home whenever he could break free from obligations at Versailles or leave the regiment he commanded. He and Voltaire were great friends, and the marquis intervened for him on several occasions when Voltaire’s pen got him in trouble with church and government censors.
|Château de Cirey, France|
Though the daughter she died after giving birth to is the protagonist of FINDING EMILIE, I knew that without her mother, Lili is just a girl growing up in a difficult world. It’s her mother who makes Lili’s story special. I knew I would need to find a way to tell Emilie’s story too, despite her having died years before the novel begins. I did this by writing short scenes based on the facts of Emilie’s life, particularly her relationship with Voltaire. These scenes appear between chapters of the novel, and cover their first meeting, the energy of their early relationship, their scientific work and the quarrels they had, life at the chateau at Cirey, Emilie’s decision to publish scientific works on her own, and my favorite scene in the book, a stagecoach accident they had while traveling between Cirey and Paris in the winter.
The accident is included in the memoir of Sebastien Longchamp, Voltaire’s valet. A wheel is thrown, sending the carriage into a ditch. Emilie and Voltaire are unhurt, but must wait for rescue in darkness far from any town on a frigid, clear night. Emilie and Voltaire are past being lovers by now--in fact, Emilie is pregnant with the child of a handsome soldier and poet, Jean Francois de Saint-Lambert. With the intimacy of old friends and soul mates, they settle onto the snow in a makeshift bed of furs and blankets. There, they lie, looking up at the stars and talking for hours. Imagining what they would have talked about, and how it would have felt to be together, so alone in the vast universe, was one of the great joys of writing this book.
Emilie and Voltaire were the better halves of each other. Their deep bond survived even their notorious squabbles and other affairs. They were life companions in the deepest sense of the word, and, as Lili finds when she seeks out her mother’s old friend, he was loyal to her until the end.
A HUGE thank you to Laurel, both for writing such a phenomenal post and for her generosity in providing for the giveaway! I can't wait to read Finding Emilie and learning more of her and her relationship with Voltaire.
For more information please visit Laurel Corona's WEBSITE.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Stanislas-Adélaïde du Châtelet, known as Lili, is a thoughtful and serious girl growing up as the ward of a Parisian noblewoman, Julie de Bercy. Madame de Bercy, a friend of Lili's dead mother, the brilliant and controversial scientist Emilie du Chatelet, has a daughter, Delphine, the same age as Lili. Though they could hardly be more different, the two girls grow up as sisters, steadfast friends, and confidantes.Lili can never understand Delphine's fascination with frivolous things like beautiful dresses, perfect curtsies, and fairytale endings. She wants the world of the mind, a life in pursuit of the truth about nature and people. Instead, she boards with Delphine at a convent school where independent thinking is punished, and she endures excruciating comportment lessons with one of the Châtelet relatives, the prim and judgmental Baronne Lomont. It is clear to Lili that she is expected to be satisfied with having no goals in life other than to be a supportive wife, charming conversationalist, and pious mother.
Home at Maison Bercy with warm and free-thinking Julie, whom both Lili and Delphine call Maman, Lili is encouraged to be herself and use her mind. Julie is one of a small group of salonniéres in Paris, noblewomen who open their homes at certain times each week to artists, writers, and the group of French thinkers known as philosophes. Here Lili is exposed to the radical and revolutionary ideas of people such as famed naturalist George-Louis LeClerc (better known as Comte de Buffon), encyclopedist Denis Diderot, and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
But Julie cannot indefinitely hold off the pressure to conform to social expectations. In their teens, both Delphine and Lili must prepare for presentation at Versailles, followed quickly by marriage. As the world closes in on Lili, she decides that knowing more than the sketchy details she has been told about her mother's life may provide her with a better sense of herself. Hoping that this knowledge will help her chart her own future, with Delphine's loyal help, Lili ventures out to find the people and places central to her mother's story.
Set in France during the last decades before the French Revolution, Finding Emilie explores the complicated tensions between the frivolity of court and the serious pursuit of scientific knowledge, and the perils of being caught between the demand for conformity and the need to release and fulfill one's genius. Through Lili's discoveries, Emilie du Châtelet speaks not just to her but to us, about remaining true to ourselves regardless of our circumstances.
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GOOD LUCK TO ALL!