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Memoirs are among the glories of French literature. They can display a grasp of character, plot and the telling detail that any novelist would envy. Few surpass those written by women survivors of the revolution: terror, exile and poverty added bite to the style of born writers such as Mesdames de Boigne, de Staël and de Chastenay. They fought the revolution better with their pens than their relations did with their swords.

In this illustrious band, Madame de la Tour du Pin stands apart. She began to write at the age of 50, after what she called "a career of grief". She had survived the reign of terror, regime changes, impoverishment and the deaths of nine children: four at birth, three from disease. One son died from pleurisy at three months ("grief curdled my milk"), another was killed in a duel by a Bonapartist: her heart, she wrote, stopped like a clock the moment she heard the news.

Cool and direct by nature, with "gleaming skin" and a strong constitution, Madame de la Tour du Pin also had the confidence of her class and connections. Her mother had been a favourite dame du palais of Marie Antoinette. Her father-in-law was a Minister of War of Louis XVI. Her adoring husband - in the world of Dangerous Liaisons they enjoyed a happy marriage -
became an ambassador and prefect. Wherever she was, she found helpful friends or relations.

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