Saturday 16 March 2019

Book Review: Madame Tussaud - Her Life and Legacy by Geri Walton (Biography/History/Non-Fiction)

Title: Madame Tussaud - Her Life and Legacy
Author: Geri Walton
Pen & Sword

Publication Date: 30 April 2019
eBook - PDF
ARC via NetGalley


Madame Marie Tussaud is known worldwide for the chain of wax museums she started over 200 hundred years ago. Less known is that her original wax models were often of the famous and infamous people she personally knew during and after the French Revolution. These were people like Voltaire, Robespierre, and Napoleon -- people who changed the world. Even more, the wax figures were depicted in scenes drawn from the horrors she experienced during the reign of terror in Paris during her early adult years.

This book shows how the traumatic and cataclysmic experiences of Madame Tussaud's early life became part of her legacy. She created a succession of scenes in wax, telling events as she personally experienced them. Her wax sculptures were visceral. She made them herself, at times from the living person's head and at other times from the recently guillotined head of a former house guest. As a result, people were drawn to her wax displays in those days because they were the most intense way of experiencing those events themselves.

Madame Tussaud's story is told through a series of unique and informative stories drawn from an in-depth study of both Madame Tussaud's life and the dramatic times in which she lived. This narrative style makes learning about history rewarding for both avid history readers and people with a casual interest in this unique story.

It is well known there are huge gaps in our knowledge of Madame Tussaud's life, not least because we cannot completely trust the veracity of her personal memoirs. What Walton has done in this biography is flesh out the tale with stories of key events from the times in which she lived, especially when they link in with one of the wax likenesses she created. For me, this was hit and miss. I think it would be useful and interesting for someone unfamiliar with said events. However, for someone like me who's read extensively about the French Revolution and is familiar with the tales of people like Burke and Hare, this was text I only skimmed through, as it was information I didn't need. Overall, though, this is a very readable work, and one that will appeal to those with a deep interest in history as well as casual readers wishing to learn more about the woman behind the modern museums.

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