The satisfying story of Madeleine, one of the filles a la casquette and a forgotten French policy to colonize the wilderness known as Louisiana.
When the master of the de Mandeville chateau began to take an inappropriate interest in his wife’s ladies’ maid, 17-year-old Madeleine Boucher finds herself enrolled in the French government’s program to provide suitable females as potential brides for their pioneering countrymen in their Louisiana colony. Madeleine is accepting of this fate; it is a chance for her to have a future in a new world far from the shadow of poverty and her early life as the daughter of a serf on the de Mandeville estate, a chance to be her own person and no one’s servant ever again. Along with 59 other filles a la casquette, she’s provided with a trunk (casquette) of household basics with which to start her married life with whomever she chooses as her husband. The girls with their chaperones, Ursuline nuns traveling to their convent in New Orleans, board Les Belles Soeurs, the ship which is to be their home for the next 3 – 4 months as they make the long journey by sea from France to the Port of New Orleans. They endure cold, heat, storms, sickness, diminishing food supplies, and the constant threat of pirates along the way.
Through no fault of her own, the lovely Madeleine is mistakenly identified on the ship’s roster as a member of the de Mandeville family rather than from the de Mandeville chateau. However, she doesn’t correct the error, hoping to prevent others from treating her like a mere servant. But rather than acting like a fragile flower from an aristocratic family, Madeleine pitches in to pull her own weight and help out any way possible, all the while keeping a cool head under the considerable stress of the ocean crossing. She catches the eye of the ship’s captain, Jean Paul Beauchamp, and although there is an immediate and mutual attraction between the two, they manage to maintain the utmost decorum and respect for each other. On their last night aboard ship before debarking for the final journey upriver to New Orleans, Captain Beauchamp admits to Madeleine that despite his deep regard, his life will always be the sea.
When the girls finally arrive safe and sound in New Orleans, they are dismayed by the rough, crude conditions. Still, the warm and friendly welcome from the colonists lifts their spirits and soothes their disillusionment. They are soon showered with marriage proposals from men of all manner of background, circumstance, and situation. Madeleine is attracted to a young French army lieutenant, Jacques Bouligny, the younger son of an aristocratic family back in France. Jacques, in turn, is just as enamored of her but is away from New Orleans more than not quelling the rising turmoil among the Indian tribes inhabiting the Louisiana territory.
One by one, all the casquette girls except Madeleine make their selection of a husband and leave to start their new lives. She chooses to stay with the Ursuline sisters, assisting in their hospital and school for girls as she waits for Jacques to declare himself or Captain Beauchamp to return, having changed his mind.
I thoroughly enjoyed this new story of Madeleine and the filles a la casquette, set in the early 1700s in the wilds of southern Louisiana. It was an interesting and adventurous historical fiction novel laced with an irresistible romance. The heroine brought to mind Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Emma Harte from A Woman of Substance or Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara (without the negative personality traits.) I read with anticipation of the resolution of Madeleine’s romantic relationships. Would things work out for her and Jacques, or would Jean Paul come back into the picture? I thought the plotline involving the Natchez exciting yet troubling. The tension of this situation was always hovering in the background. The same can be said regarding the reality of slavery. The characters of Moses, Rima, Lying Boy, Laff, and Lame Doe were some of my favorites, and I enjoyed their presence in the story. I hope to see more of them in the next book.
As the story covers almost 25 years, there is plenty of action during that time frame; there was never a dull moment in the book. This one kept me up reading way past a decent bedtime.
I recommend MADELEINE: LAST FRENCH CASQUETTE BRIDE IN NEW ORLEANS to readers that enjoy historical fiction with a romantic storyline or those that would like a story about a forgotten French policy (filles a la casquette) in the history of Louisiana and New Orleans. This story contains details related to sexual relations and is better suited to a more mature audience. I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through France Book Tours.