1. A Marriage of True Minds: Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet

    Portrait of Émilie du Châtelet, by Nicolas de Largillière c. 1740. (Louvre)

    The pairing [of Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet] was dynamic and productive — together, they would achieve some of the most important Enlightenment writing on science, physics, and philosophy. But as Nancy Mitford explains in her fantastic 1957 biography of the intellectual power couple, Voltaire in Love, they were devoted not just as intellectuals, but as lovers as well as friends. It was an extraordinary bond that lasted for nearly fifteen years.

    Michelle Legro at Brain Picker, on Nancy Mitford’s Voltaire in Love

    Enough cynical dark and depressing “love stories” from us. Here’s one that actually earns the title.

  2. "Judge me for my own merits"

    Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. It may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one.

    —The French Englightenment scientist Emilié du Châtelet writing to Frederick the Great, quoted in Jenny McPhee’s review in Bookslut of Nancy Mitford’s Voltaire in Love, a book about the productive and scandalous relationship between Châtelet and Voltaire.

  3. Happy Birthday Nancy Mitford

    Voltaire in Love still stands as a portrait of the French Enlightenment as it really was, with intrigue and idealism in strange but fizzy solution.Why did Nancy Mitford have the insight into the nature of French intellectual life denied to so many others? Many English people live for a long time in France, and though they often love it, they rarely ‘get it’ in quite this way. It may be significant that all of the Mitford girls had to go elsewhere to find an identity. Aristocrats raised aristocratically, they ‘took’ better elsewhere than in England: Unity pitifully and horribly in Germany, Jessica in America. France saved Nancy, much the best pure writer of the sisters. She grasped, and sets out here in exquisite detail, the other side of the constant vendettas and intrigues of Parisian life. She saw the workings of a society rooted in a set of manners designed, at whatever cost in truthfulness, on making other people feel comfortable and valued, a set of manners based on compliments and what the English call ‘affectations.’

    —Adam Gopnik, from his introduction to Nancy Mitford’s Voltaire in Love, which went on sale on November 6th. Mitford was born on this day in 1904 at 1 Graham Place, Belgravia, London, and was the eldest of the notorious Mitford sisters.

  4. Voltaire in Love, original jacket design by Cecil Beaton

    In April Hamish Hamilton submitted Voltaire in Love to the Readers’ Union…. Their director wrote back: “I am afraid Voltaire in Love won’t do. The book calls, I think, for a degree of sophistication, even cynicism about sex, which I am afraid does not exist, and which would be considered undesirable in any case, by our members. I hope you will understand.” [Nancy Mitford] photocopied this and in her accompanying letter wrote, “Is this not delightful, throw away when read.”

    From The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters Between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952-73

  5. Fall 2012 Books preview: Part I

    As we prepare to officially launch our Fall 2012 list we wanted to share our upcoming books. This is the first part of the season, and we’ll post the remainder later:

    Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman: Paul Goodman was a sociologist, philosopher, poet, writer, educator, anarchist, and gay rights activist. He was one of the most influential thinkers in the second half of the 20th century, and helped inspire the student movements of the 1960s. Growing Up Absurd is his most famous and influential book on education, work, and simply growing up, and was a bestseller in its day.

    Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford: In the hands of Nancy Mitford the story of the sixteen-year affair between Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet is more than a biography of the world-renowned philosophe and the ground-breaking female scientist: it is an engaging and fresh love story set in a moment of rapidly evolving history.

    Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker: Based on the life of the notoriously hip and talented Bix Beiderbecke, this novel shows how jazz music overtook the life of a young man, who, unable to reconcile his music with his life, drives himself quickly to destruction.

    Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker: Cassandra Edwards—gay, brilliant, nerve-wracked, miserable—is bent on destroying her twin sister’s wedding. How much of this is her rejection of conventional mores? Or is her own instability stopping her from accepting her sister’s new life?

    Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis: One of the most celebrated comic novels of all time, particularly known for its famed hangover scene. It is the story of Jim Dixon who seethingly endures the mediocrity of provincial, collegiate life, until he can take it no longer and lets forth one of the funniest, and ultimately successful, rebellions of all time.

    The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis: A story of aging, resentment, enduring love, and friendship that won the Booker Prize in 1986. Martin Amis considers The Old Devils to be his father’s best work.

    The Stammering Century by Gilbert Seldes: Before the United States was a global powerhouse, it was a hotbed of religious dissent and movements, whose practioners feared the wrath of God and bravely struck through a harsh landscape to help their distant neighbors find Salvation. Those interested in the foundation of contemporary America’s various faiths will finds the stories here.

    The Other by Thomas Tryon: Following closely after the publication of Rosemary’s Baby, The Other was a huge financial and critical hit and a prime example of the birth of modern horror fiction. A scary tale of 13-year old twins, one good and the other very, very evil.

    Basti by Intizar Husain: Set in the heart of India and Pakistan’s bloody, and today still resonant, Partition, Basti, similar to Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, shows how religious intolerance and nationalist politics can tear apart towns, friends, and families. An important novel considering Pakistan’s position in the world today.

    Going to the Dogs by Erich Kästner: Berlin during the Weimar era was a time of artistic creation and financial ruin. The characters in Going to the Dogs spend their days hanging on to any job or money they can get, and their nights running riot in cabarets. All the while a political and human disaster is hanging over their heads.