Authors: Francine Du Plessix Gray
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
Madame de Staël: The First Modern Woman
Them: A Memoir of Parents
At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life
Rage and Fire: A Life of Louise Colet—Pioneer Feminist,
Literary Star, Flaubert’s Muse
Adam and Eve and the City: Selected Nonfiction
World Without End
Lovers and Tyrants
Hawaii: The Sugar-Coated Fortress
Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism
THE PENGUIN PRESS
THE PENGUIN PRESS
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in 2012 by The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © Francine du Plessix Gray, 2012
All rights reserved
Portrait of Hans Axel von Fersen by Peter Dreuillon, © Swedish Portrait
Archives / The National Museum of Fine Arts Stockholm.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Gray, Francine du Plessix.
The queen’s lover : a novel / Francine du Plessix Gray.
1. Fersen, Hans Axel von, greve, 1755–1810—Fiction. 2. Marie Antoinette, Queen, consort of Louis XVI, King of France, 1755–1793—Fiction. 3. Statesmen—Sweden—Fiction. 4. France—Court and courtiers—Fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Designed by Marysarah Quinn
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
O THE MEMORY OF
MUSE, DEAREST FRIEND
Axel von Fersen
Sophie von Fersen, Countess Piper
Count Axel von Fersen, was a notorious seducer, known throughout Europe as “le beau Fersen,” and in our Swedish homeland as “Långe Fersen,” “tall Fersen.” Part of his legendary handsomeness was his majestic stature and the elegance of his long, slender limbs. His auburn hair was thick and wavy; he had a high, oval forehead, a beautifully shaped mouth, and the gaze of his very large, dark brown eyes had a melancholy which women found entrancing. But it is important to note that most men as handsome as my brother have something of the coxcomb about them, a dash of presumption or arrogance. Axel’s demeanor, at the contrary, veered if anything toward too much gravity, too much diffidence. “A heart of fire in a shell of ice” was the way many of his friends described him.
My brother had an extraordinary life. He fought on the American side in the American War of Independence, serving as General de Rochambeau’s chief aide-de-camp. He was the lover of the most glamorous, controversial Queen of eighteenth-century Europe, Marie Antoinette, who inspired his greatest acts of selflessness and courage. In his later years he served as the Grand Marshal of Sweden, one of the highest positions any citizen could aspire to in our country. In part because of his diffident, somewhat secretive personality, Axel was often misunderstood. His aloofness could often endow him with a hauteur that was perceived as presumption but that served, above
all, as a way of retaining his full dignity and independence. He may have been haughty with his aristocratic peers, but was most affable to persons of lower rank. Let me add that notwithstanding his air of detachment he was of immense generosity. He provided all support, for instance, for an old aunt of ours who had been robbed by her domestic, and who would not have survived without him. He was a noted art collector, and a bon vivant of the highest order. He furnished his quarters magnificently, entertained lavishly, and hired some of the greatest chefs in Europe to run his kitchen.
A few years before his untimely demise at the age of fifty-four, my brother began to write his memoirs, and he continued to write them until the very evening before his death. Having taken on the task of editing and publishing these documents, I had scruples about including their more intimate passages, but decided to retain them in order to offer my brother’s readers a more vivid sense of his generation’s mores. I have also occasionally had to interject chapters that would have been too painful for him to compose, or that he was too modest to commit to paper himself. It is these writings—my remarkable brother’s memoirs—that I wish to share with the world.
Axel von Fersen:
AT THE PARIS OPERA
ERE’S HOW IT BEGAN
, the central passion of my life:
It all began some three decades ago, in 1774, at one of the weekly balls given at the Paris Opera during the winter months. I’d recently arrived in France from my native Sweden, Louis XV was still king, and this was the first time I was attending such an event. I stood in midroom, dazed by the radiance of the women’s diamonds, the glare of the chandeliers, the flouncing of courtiers’ plumed hats, the twinkling of minuets, the courtiers’ sibilant whisperings, the smart clicking of valets’ heels as they passed ices and wines. I, Count Axel von Fersen, brought up in the relative frugality of Sweden’s aristocracy, was then barely nineteen years old: I was dazzled, and felt a bit lost. Experiencing this Parisian assault on the senses was akin to traveling from my country’s pristine pine forests to some opulent Oriental bazaar…. Yes, that’s how Paris struck me, downright Oriental! Its lustrous affluence, its denseness, its stench.