Marie Antoinette’s lady in waiting part one

22 August 2009

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In lieu of actual content, here are some snippets from my awful attempt at historical fiction, detailing the day to day activities of one of Marie Antoinette’s ladies in waiting:

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It was many years since Lucrèce had first visited Versailles as a little girl with her parents and she still recalled the very first time she had ever seen it, basking like a contented pink and gold cat in the bright Winter sunshine while the garden sparkled icily like the Snow Queen’s palace. Later on she had been officially presented in the cumbersome and archaic costume that etiquette decreed for débutantes.

Mademoiselle Bertin had, at great expense, designed for her a richly embroidered black taffeta and cloth of silver wide panniered gown over a chemise of the finest lawn with the traditional gap in between the lacings so that it could be seen that her skin was every bit as white as the chemise. Her shoulders had been left bare which cost her a few blushes for she was not at all used to feeling so exposed. The only thing that gave her pleasure were the bright cherry red heels of her diamond encrusted shoes – the talons rouges that were a traditional trapping of nobility. Her new, extremely restrictive whalebone corset, however, was much less pleasing.

Nothing that anyone had told her had ever have prepared Lucrèce for the reality of Versailles. They had not told her that the air was heavy with perfume which barely disguised another, more rancid, odour of intermingled sweat, cooking smells and decay. They had never mentioned that there were dogs running everywhere underfoot and that the sound of music, voices and laughter filled every nook and cranny, interspersed with the synchronised ticking of thousands of clocks and the delicate tinkling of the crystal chandeliers overhead as they caught the breeze.

It took her some time to get used to the archaic court ritual which had been place since the time of Louis XIV and had been little changed by his descendants although the Queen, who had been raised in the far more informal Imperial court in Vienna, had done everything she could to make matters less stately and etiquette driven – much to the scandalised horror of the older courtiers who resented the loss of every privilege.

As one of Marie Antoinette’s ladies in waiting and a member of the influential Polignac clan Lucrèce rapidly found herself at the very centre of courtly life and it was a huge culture shock to a girl who was naturally retiring by nature. However, as only four of the ladies in waiting were on duty every week she had a lot of free time that could be spent in the company of Cassandre and her circle of friends with frequent trips back to Paris to visit Adélaïde who had no taste for all the outmoded ceremonials and gossip of Versailles and had chosen to remain in the capital where she busied herself with her books, her watercolours, her own friends, painting lessons from Monsieur David and attending lectures on science and philosophy.
Lucrèce found herself longing for Paris – the much prized suite of five rooms granted to her in the château overlooked the Rue des Réservoirs and were in their entirety about the same size as her salon in the Hôtel de Saliex. They were prettily decorated however with pale pink,  blue and yellow painted walls and much floral stucco work and she had brought enough of her favourite furniture and possessions such as her beloved little sécretaire and her harp with her for them to be almost homely. She was particularly fond of her tiny bedroom with its cosy little bed, pretty pink silk hangings and mess of feminine luxuries scattered on every available surface. It wasn’t quite the same as home though and the château was hardly the most restful place to live – the noise was incessant, particularly beneath her windows.

Every day involved ridiculously protracted and elaborate ceremonials but Sunday was the high point of the week at Versailles for it was on this day that  presentations were made at court. The day started early for Lucrèce as it took several hours for her to be properly dressed and coiffed before she made her way, followed by her page,  at midday down the beautiful hall of mirrors to the large mirrored salon de paix at the end which lay next door to Marie Antoinette’s bedchamber.

This ostentatious gilt and marble drawing room was always busy and filled to capacity with people, all jostling for space and precedence and openly staring at each other’s clothes and hair in a critical manner. The atmosphere was very competitive but Lucrèce, disliking this intensely, did her best to remain aloof. She also hated the malicious back stabbing gossip that went on and did her best not to listen until a sudden hush and ripple of envy heralded the entrance of the Queen’s close friend the Princesse de Lamballe who swept through the crowd with her head held high and entered the royal bedchamber along with the Princesse de Chimay and the Comtesse d’Ossun, who were the senior ladies in waiting and as such barely registered the existence of the younger ladies seeing them all as so many pretentious, chattering, foolish little girls.”

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