A Court Lady by Clova Leighton
Published by Rebecca J. Vickery
I am happy to award 'A Court Lady' a resounding 5 stars.
Firstly, I am a fairly avid history reader, and was highly impressed by the in-depth knowledge of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period. It was very astute of you to relate the action to the escalation of the Peninsula War, and the relationship of a small German state to Napoleon's Europe.
The action takes places against the backdrop of the Revolution, with its liberating changes, and the turning back of the clock under the Directory and the Imperial Regime. The personal struggles and ambitions of the characters are intimately related to the greater political situation - including direct contact with the Emperor himself, his impending divorce and his need for an heir. Striving for material/marital security is a matter of politics.
The novel explores with great subtlety all the aspects of love and marriage - the conflict between solid, reliable domestic virtue and courtesan/'society woman' extravagance. In the relationship between Corisande and Sebastian, it makes a perceptive comparison between a marital relationship and an affair.The intensity of their reiterated love scenes certainly savours of the latter. It is doubly interesting because Sebastian gives the initial impression of lacking in badinage repartee, and being somewhat frigid. He certainly proves the reverse in their intimate encounters, sensually understated, as is definitely my preference. His gesture of wanting to postpone their consummation until a suitable moment, and to allow Corisande an opportunity for a 'null and void' escape, shows a really high level of sensitivity. Sharp psychological insight into Corisande's retroactive jealousy when she elicits the details of Sebastian's past attachment to an English governess, more of a sensitive spot than his admitted, and admittedly unsatisfactory, dalliances with society ladies.
The full spectrum of society is depicted in the rescue of the fugitive maid Lucienne, who was forced into prostitution. A great bit of blood and thunder where Corisande fires off a pistol to deter a knife attack from Lucienne's pimp. Good handling of the conflict between love and honour theme: Sebastian is a true and dedicated soldier, and should prove himself in the next campaign; Corisande, purely naturally, would like to travel with him and/or get him an administrative job nearer home. Sebastian's devotion to Napoleon is purely voluntary; he could always return to his home state.