Voltaire in Love
by Nancy Mitford, introduction by Adam Gopnik
The inimitable Nancy Mitford’s account of Voltaire’s fifteen-year relationship with the Marquise du Châtelet—the renowned mathematician who introduced Isaac Newton’s revolutionary new physics to France—is a spirited romp in the company of two extraordinary individuals as well as an erudite and gossipy guide to French high society during the Enlightenment. Mitford’s story is as delicious as it is complicated. The marquise was in love with another mathematician, Maupertuis, while she had an unexpected rival for Voltaire’s affections in the future Frederick the Great of Prussia (and later in the philosophe’s own niece). There was, at least, no jealous husband to contend with: the Marquis du Châtelet, Mitford assures us, behaved perfectly. The beau monde of Paris was, however, distraught at the idea of the lovers’ brilliant conversation going to waste on the windswept hills of Champagne, site of the Château de Cirey, where experimental laboratories, a darkroom, and a library of more than twenty-one thousand volumes enabled them to pursue their amours philosophiques. From time to time the threat of impending arrest would send Voltaire scurrying across the border into Holland, but his irrepressible charm—and the interventions of powerful friends—always made it possible for him resume his studies with the cherished marquise.
Mitford writes with a profound sympathy for the 17th and 18th century, and Voltaire in Love caps her career as the nonpareil popular biographer of that era.
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
Voltaire in Love is Nancy Mitford’s most searching book. On the surface it is all polish and wit: underneath it is solid history.
In this substantial but wonderfully gay and gossipy book, Miss Mitford details with a zest that is wholly engaging the idyllic moments and the hectic hours that marked the long association of these enormously intelligent lovers.
—The New Yorker
A superb, if somewhat bawdy, tale, a true story surpassing mortal invention. —Chicago Sunday Tribune
A polished and entertaining piece of work.
For anyone who relishes historical fiction and high romance, Nancy Mitford's Voltaire In Love is a modern classic.
In Voltaire in Love Miss Mitford contributes much of her own. Her style is, as always vivacious, the narrative headlong, the incidental humor often suitably wry….Miss Mitford is not concerned in her biographies with the inner motivations of her subjects. They enact their story upon her pages, they speak their lines, and they keep the reader absorbed and awake. In their way, because they are stamped with the creator’s individuality, Miss Mitford’s books are works of art.
—The New York Times
There are many accounts of their stormy, and highly productive, ménage à trois. Nancy Mitford once wrote a diverting book about it, Voltaire in Love (1957), which she described as less of a biography and more ‘a Kinsey report on his romps with Mme du Châtelet.’ Both sexually and intellectually, it was a time of high stimulation.
—Richard Holmes, The New York Review of Books