Having devoured Nancy Mitford’s Frederick the Great, which gave me a burning desire to visit Potsdam, the site of Frederick’s beloved palace of Sans Souci, I became curious about the other people and places mentioned in the book. For instance, this man Voltaire. Who was he? And Madame de Pompadour? Cardinal de Fleury? None of these people were showing up in our weekly viewings of The Remarkable Life of Friedrich von der Trenck.
It occurred to me that Miss Mitford might have written other books. Returning to the library, I looked up her other works in the card catalogue. Sure enough, it listed Madame de Pompadour and The Sun King.
I loved the sparkle and wit of her prose, even as a 10-year-old. Of course, a good deal of her wit went over my head. I also loved her personal insights. I noticed, for instance, that in The Sun King she was able to offer a first-hand comparison of the toilet facilities at Versailles and Buckingham Palace, which then, unlike now, was not open to the general public.
Since the great courtesan was Frederick’s contemporary, I decided to borrow Madame de Pompadour first. Thus it was that I discovered the teeming, scheming labyrinth of Versailles in the mid-18th century.