Palace Intrigue

NEW YORK — History can turn even the most vibrant characters dull with its thick, cloudy veneer. But with her newly released novel, "Versailles," Kathryn Davis rescues Marie Antoinette from that fate. Beginning with her trip from Vienna to...

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"I gradually became very possessed by her personality," says Davis, who teaches at Skidmore College and lives in Vermont with her husband and their daughter. "The most peculiar thing was that I began to realize that she reminded me of my mother. There was sort of a sweet and hapless quality to my mother. She was very intelligent, and like many mothers in the Fifties, was out of her element in a way.

"The more I learned about Antoinette, the deeper attachment I had to her," Davis adds. "I really do miss her. That voice in my head was pretty persistent."

Antoinette’s voice becomes most persistent toward the book’s end as the Revolution begins and she is forced deeper into seclusion, though Davis doesn’t let her story turn maudlin. Of Antoinette’s life behind bars, she writes: "Sometimes the other prisoners would come by to kiss my shoes. Prisoner Number 280: bored out of her mind."

Of course, some few years back, Davis herself found the queen’s life boring. On a family trip with her high school-aged daughter, the writer was forced to visit Versailles. "I didn’t even want to go. I had been there in high school and had thought it was a really tedious place, but then I was astonished to experience a dawning feeling, like falling in love," she says. "It’s not the kind of place I’d want to live, but my imagination wanted to dwell there."
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