A Head for Sculpture: Madame Tussaud

marie antoinette2

Madame Tussaud: Her Life and Legacy by Geri Walton,

Pen and Sword History,

Sept 2, 2019

 

 

Merveilleux! Picture a talented young woman being forced to sit on a chair with the decapitated head of, oh, say one of her best friends or more enjoyable dining guests from last week in her lap, making a mold of the face so as to be able to render it in wax. Now put a maddened crowd in front of this girl, a crowd that insists on watching, and you get an idea of what kind of pressures Marie Tussaud had to endure and truly, what shaped her in becoming the world’s most famous wax sculptor. Geri Walton uncannily knows how to give the reader a fantastic ride. Walton’s stupendous research into (you name it) all people and trends that impacted Marie Tussaud’s life, which would include the absolutely tumultuous French Revolution, and her ability to render each person or event in a way that will most interest the reader means she (Walton) understands human nature. This is no dry history book. This is the kind of biography that will have the reader sharing intellectual tidbits at barbecues. I, who have taken more than one class on the French Revolution when obtaining my French degrees, was more absorbed by this book than anything I remember reading on the same subject in college. No disrespect is meant to the writer when I say that I had to drop the book in pure terror when reading about The Terror that overtook France. We talk a lot about how the Nazis persecuted other nations (after wiping out so many of their own people due to ethnic prejudice) during WWII, but The Terror was an example of how a crazed mania can cause wanton slaughter by a people to their own population for the most spurious of rationales. My hair stood on end. I appreciated the astute assessment of marketing propaganda employed by Curtius, Marie’s father, who taught his daughter all he knew. Marie learned, herself, to be a good promoter, which does not mean she was truthful. However, her skill was astounding. I spent hours looking up the figures I was reading about and I can easily see Wellington visiting Tussaud’s wax figures to stare at Napoleon for days and days, to contemplate his enemy. I admired Marie Tussaud’s survival instinct, her ability to cut her failure of a husband off, and her careful management of resources. What a book! Fantastic.

 

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