THE word " romance " on the title-page of Mr. Noel Williams's. recent book, Unruly Daughters : a Romance of the House of Orleans, seems singularly unsuited to the sordid, degraded story of the worst group of princesses who ever disgraced French royalty. There was nothing romantic, in the good,: accepted sense of the word, in the career of Philippe Due d'Orleans, nephew of Louis XIV. and Regent of France, or of those of his daughters who lived long enough to find a place in history. Their adventures were scandalous, coarse, low in character, marked by a degree of self-indulgence which made a suspicion of madness not unreasonable. Gluttony and drunken- ness were not the worst vices familiar to the Duchesse de Berry and her younger sister, the Queen of Spain; and the Duchess of Modena and the Abbess of Chelles were not left very far behind in leading, according to their several tast( s and during some part of their lives, that "vie joyeuse " which was the end and aim of society under the Regent's easy influence.
It is fair to say that Mr. Noel Williams does his best to separate truth from falsehood, and to clear the memory of the princesses, even of the notorious Duchesse de Berry, of some of the very worst scandals with which the malice of society, aided by their own imprudence, blackened their reputation in their own day. What remains is quite bad enough. The authentic memoirs of the time, and especially the famous letters of the Regent's mother, Elisabeth- Charlotte of eccentric fame, show the impression made by these young women on a society and a grandmother none too squeamish.
It was not much wonder, after all. Their mother, Mlle.' de Blois, daughter of Louis XIV. and Mme. de Montespan,, inherited from that alliance little that was good; a selfish,. indolent, despotic creature, she neglected her children or taught them nothing but harm. Their father, compared by Voltaire to Henry IV.—a comparison only fair as to looks, good-nature, and general, temperament—has been painted for all time by his friend Saint-Simon, who does the fullest • Unruly Daughters: a Romance of the Home of Orleans. By H. Noel Williams. With 25 full-page Illustrations, including a Frontispiece in Photogravure. London: Hutchinson and Co. [16s. net.]
justice to his cleverness, humanity, and charm, while not sparing the terrible defects of character and training which made an outrageons blackguard of a prince capable of better things. No marvel if common morality and decency were lacking in most of the children of such a couple, or that their only son, hardly mentioned in these pages, should have tried by extreme religious devotion to atone for the sins of his family.
Certainly the book is not romantic. But it is a very curious and frequently shocking history of one phase of society in the early years of the eighteenth century ; a record of lives in whose background we may well bear distant thunders threatening the great Revolution.