Gabrielle loves tall, dark Pierre-André Coffinhal, a brooding law student and the son of peasants. The two first encounter one another by accident when Gabrielle is out riding in the countryside. They begin to meet secretly and make plans to elope. But Gabrielle's family cuts off communication between the two teenagers. Gabrielle is forced into a marriage with the volatile, abusive Baron de Peyre. She loses contact with Pierre-André, who goes to Paris, but she thinks of him often. When her husband dies suddenly, leaving her nearly penniless, Gabrielle makes her way to Paris too. But she has no idea where to find Pierre-André – and more, she's ashamed that she allowed herself to be forced into the marriage with the Baron. She feels certain that Pierre-André has never forgiven her. Instead of seeking him out, she relies on the kindness of a distant cousin who is a lady-in-waiting at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.
Upon arriving at the court, Gabrielle is "discovered" by the charismatic, handsome and pleasure-loving Duke de Villers. When Villers proposes that Gabrielle become his mistress, financial necessity compels her to accept. The Duke proves to be a devoted mentor who teaches Gabrielle about politics, society and the art of love. Gabrielle is fond of Villers and has a comfortable life with him – until the French Revolution spirals out of control.
Planted throughout the story are the seeds of discontent – little hints that events in the larger world are about to overtake the everyday lives of Gabrielle and all her friends at the royal court. Allusions to famine, high taxes and expensive foreign wars set the stage for the outbreak of rioting and bloodshed. By recounting the complexities of the French Revolution through the eyes of a young woman of the court, Delors personalizes an often confusing period in history and makes the conflict easy for casual readers to understand.
Initially, even many nobles such as Villers support the proposed political reforms. But others do not. The rapidly shifting political landscape tears apart friends, families – even lovers. Gabrielle and Villers find themselves growing apart, and not just because of their political differences. Gabrielle has rediscovered her old love, Pierre-André, who is now a leading voice of the revolution. As she suspected, Pierre-André has long blamed her for not having the courage to run away with him. But now the two are thrown together by circumstances and the undeniable chemistry between them is re-ignited. After Gabrielle barely survives the storming of the palace at Versailles, she must choose between her old life as a noblewoman and a possible future – however brief – with Pierre-André.
With MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION, Catherine Delors weaves a moving tale of a star-crossed love. Her evocative writing seamlessly blends real historic figures with vividly drawn fictional characters. The meticulous attention to historic detail drew me into the novel, but my involvement with the characters and their fates kept me reading late into the night. This is no dry retelling of history. It's also a gripping, emotionally satisfying read for anyone who loves an epic tale of doomed love.