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About the book
  • Published: 3 May 2010
  • ISBN: 9780099490524
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528
  • RRP: $46.00

Dancing to the Precipice

Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution

Lucie de la Tour du Pin was the Pepys of her generation: her diaries provide a vivid picture of Versailles, the French Revolution and Napoleon. This richly textured, highly enjoyable and evocative biography shows us an extraordinary woman in the midst of her extraordinary times.

Born Lucie Dillon, to a half-French mother and an Anglo-Irish father, her world was Versailles and the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. She married a French aristocrat, and narrowly survived the French Revolution, escaping to America at the time of Washington and Jefferson. Here, she lived a life of milking cows and chopping wood, having previously been accustomed to the lavish life of the French court. Returning to France prematurely, Lucie had to flee again, this time to England, where she took up sewing in order to support herself and her family.

Repeatedly in the right place at the right time, Lucie saw the Battle of Waterloo, the fall of Napoleon and the return of Louis XVIII, and the Restoration. She was an outstanding diarist and a remarkable woman, who witnessed one of the most dramatic and brutal periods of history, playing the part of observer, commentator and, often, participant. For the last years of her life she was ambassadress to Holland and the Kingdom of Sardinia. Her friends include

  • Pub date: 3 May 2010
  • ISBN: 9780099490524
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528
  • RRP: $46.00

About the Author

Caroline Moorehead

Caroline Moorehead is the biographer of Bertrand Russell, Freya Stark, Iris Origo and Martha Gellhorn. Her biography of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Dancing to the Precipice, was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award in 2009, and her most recent book, Village of Secrets, was a Sunday Times bestseller and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize.

Also by Caroline Moorehead

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Praise for Dancing to the Precipice

“Utterly captivating... brings to life both Lucie and the glorious and terrible years through which she lived with a novelistic vividness, full of sights and sounds and flavours”

Sunday Times

“A scintillating biography...Moorehead succeeds triumphantly [and] brings an assured grip on contemporary politics and a colourful sense of place”

Daily Telegraph

“A rich and satisfying book which not only adds to our appreciation of Madame de la Tour du Pin's story but brings the whole tumultuous period and its characters to life”


“Lucie de la Tour de Pin has found a biographer worthy of her own storytelling skills. With a light-handed touch, Moorehead sets Lucie's story in its wider social and historical context, sketching the complicated political twists and turns in a way that makes them memorable without ever dumbing down”

Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday

“Never less than a gripping story of an extraordinary life”

Literary Review

“Here is the latest from Caroline Moorhead whose work is never less than rigorously and beautifully composed”

Daily Express

“Moorehead has an eye for the detail... The book sparkles with gems about life at the court of Marie-Antoinette”

Hugh MacDonald, The Herald

“romantic adventure, staged in colourful historical settings...moral tale”

Biancamaria Fontana, Times Literary Supplement

“The attraction of Moorehead's biography lies in her seamless fusion of Lucie's warm subjectivity with a broad historical canvas of bitter turmoil.”

Siofra Pierse, Irish Times

“comprehensive and absorbing biography”

Clare Colvin, Independent

“An excellent, lively biography, full of background detail”


“Moorehead's biography, drawing on a trove of previously unpublished correspondence, captures the rhythm of the radical contrasts in her subject's like”

The New Yorker

“This utterly captivating biography brings to life, with novelistic vividness, both Lucie [de la Tour du Pin] and the glorious and terrible years through which she lived”

Christopher Hart, The Sunday Times

“It's not uncommon to enjoy a novel and want to read more novels by that author; it's less common to think the same about a biography, but after reading Dancing to the Precipice, I definitely want to read more biographies by Moorhead”

Brandon Robshaw, Independent on Sunday

“It is in describing Lucie's world in this biography so admirably succeeds”

Contemporary Reviews

“Enthralling look at the sharp-eyed 19th-century memoirist Lucie de la Tour du Pin.”

Sunday Times Summer Reading

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