This is an entertaining account of Henrietta Lightfoot’s time in the Paris of 1792 during the French Revolution, a period of which my knowledge is scanty. The French Lesson is a women’s story told with authority by social historian Hallie Rubenhold, at a time when the new order replaced the old and changed women’s lives in the process.
Years after the event, Hettie writes her account of what happened at the request of a benefactor. As the novel opens, she is living in Brussels with the love of her life, George Allenham, 4th Baron Allenham of Herberton, expecting to be married and so calling herself Mrs Allenham. But when Allenham’s mysterious work takes him to Paris, he does not return. She receives a letter from him saying Paris is dangerous and though he must stay there for his work, she must return to England for her safety. But Hettie follows her heart to Paris.
With the Revolution threatening, she is attacked, robbed, rescued and so finds herself indebted to Mrs Grace Elliot, an English woman who survives in Paris as a lover to rich important men. Hettie is drawn into this life too. The French Lesson is an enjoyable account of a fast-paced, thrilling and bloodthirsty moment in history, combining real characters – d’Orleans, known as Philippe Égalité after the Revolution; his current mistress, Agnès de Buffon; and former mistress, Mrs Elliot – with fictional characters Hettie and Allenham.
As always in war, people are not what they seem. Hettie is driven on first by love, then by the need to survive. She is told by Mrs Elliot not ‘to trust’ and it is a hard lesson to learn.
I learned after reading The French Lesson that it is the second of a trilogy – the first is Mistress of My Fate – though it can be happily read as a stand-alone novel.
Read more about Hallie Rubenhold’s books at her website.
‘The French Lesson’ by Hallie Rubenhold [UK: Doubleday] Buy at Amazon