Hilton, Lisa 1974-
HILTON, Lisa 1974-
Home—London, England and southern France. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Time Warner Books, Inc., 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
Writer. Has worked at Christie's Auction House, Paris, France, and as a nanny, roller-skating waitress, and model.
Athènaïs: The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress, the Queen of France, Little, Brown & (Boston, MA), 2002.
In her first book, Lisa Hilton examines the life of Athènaïs de Montespan, mistress of France's "Sun King," Louis XIV. A member of the royal court, the wealthy and cultured Athènaïs was already married when she began her relationship with Louis. Bold and beautiful, she drove the king's previous mistress away, manipulated her husband out of the picture, and managed to insinuate herself into the center of the king's household. Louis's wife, Marie-Therese, proved no match for the fascinating woman who held the king's affections. With Marie-Therese relegated to the background, Athènaïs lived as if she herself were the rightful queen.
Critics admired Athènaïs: The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress, the Real Queen of France for its expert evocation of Athènaïs's milieu. "Hilton's writing has bursts of imaginative strength," wrote Frances Wilson in the Guardian, adding that "the sheer strangeness and barbarism of court life in Versailles is vividly portrayed." Similarly, USA Today contributor Andrea Hoag observed that the book "reads more like a novel than history" and satisfies as "an intrigue-packed journey through the Great Century in France." But Wilson also noted that many biographers before Hilton have written about Athènaïs. Hilton's distinctive contribution to the subject, the critic explained, is her insight into the nature of the sexual bond between Athènaïs and the king. Indeed, as Wilson observed, Hilton suggests "that their insatiable lust—for one another but also for living—might be seen as the energy behind the seventeenth century's most splendid achievements."
Hoag also noted this theme in the book. "Hilton makes it clear," she wrote, "that satisfying Louis's insatiable sexual appetite was a full-time job for which Athènaïs was well qualified." Indeed, Athènaïs bore the king nine children—and promoted their social and economic interests with great vigor. She also advanced the careers of the country's most distinguished artists and writers, making the reign of the Sun King the most brilliant artistic era in French history.
Though critics appreciated the descriptive skill and passion that Hilton brings to her account of Athènaïs, some found her treatment of other characters less than fair. Contributors to Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews were among those who faulted Hilton for focusing almost exclusively on the physical attractions—or lack thereof—of Athènaïs's rivals. Wilson, too, considered this tendency a flaw, observing that "Athènaïs would be a larger book if it were more generous" toward those who lacked its central figure's extraordinary beauty and charm. Nevertheless, Wilson acknowledged that Hilton's debut biography is "simply very good indeed."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 2002, Margaret Flanagan, review of Athènaïs: The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress, the Real Queen of France, p. 472.
Contemporary Review, December, 2002, review of Athènaïs, p. 384.
Entertainment Weekly, January 3, 2003, Pamela Newton, review of Athènaïs, p. 68.
Guardian, November 2, 2002, Frances Wilson, review of Athènaïs,
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of Athènaïs, p. 1366.
Publishers Weekly, October 14, 2002, review of Athènaïs, p. 73.
USA Today, December 18, 2002, Andrea Hoag, review of Athènaïs.