Gustave Flaubert, speaking of his famous heroine declared "I am Madame Bovary". And although we cannot be certain of this; Anne and Serge Golon are Angélique de Sancé and Joffrey de Peyrac, the similarities between them and their principal characters are undeniable.
Anne Golon was born Simone Changeux in 1921 and grew up in Toulon, a port in south-eastern France, where her father was stationed at the time. He was a captain in the Navy, fanatical about aviation and machines in general. He was a scientist whose dream was to publish an aerial atlas. However, the military powers that be decided against spending money on colour prints of the black and white maps and Simone, aged ten, discovered, whilst colouring in the illustrations for this book, her first passion: painting.
Her second, was writing. She published her first novel entitled The Country from behind my Eyes when she was 18.
War was declared when she was scarcely 20 years old and she decided to flee Paris which was occupied by the German army. She got on her bicycle and decided to cycle down the length of France to the Spanish border in order to "set foot on free soil." As soon as she entered the free zone, Simone was arrested and imprisoned, then released, on the orders of a German Commandant, an art enthusiast, who recommended that she should visit a church in the Basque region. She stubbornly continued her journey on her bicycle, "to set foot on free soil" in Spain, and then returned.
After this strange trip, she carried on writing under several pen names, helped create the magazine France 47 (which became France Magazine) and after being awarded a literary prize for The Patrol of the Saint Innocents, decided to go to Africa to write articles.
It was here that she met Vsevolod Sergeïvich Goloubinoff, a Russian aristocrat, born in 1903 in Persia where his father was the Tzar consul. Together with his parents, he had left Russia, fleeing to France, at the outbreak of the Revolution in 1917. He spoke 11 languages. He was a well-known geologist and chemist who prospected for gold for a living in China, Indochina, Laos and finally in the Congo where he met the young French journalist.
They returned to France together and began to write. They published several volumes, but success eluded them... until the early 50s when Simone decided to try her hand at a historical novel.
She loved history, they were then living in Versailles... She thus decided on the "Age of Louis XIV", one of the most interesting eras in all French history.
And so began months (a prelude to years) of meticulous research and of trips to study the places where the books would be set. Simone decided to write under the pen name of Anne Golon (her husband used the name Serge Golon) and started writing day and night, whilst Serge helped her with research.
The first book, a masterpiece of over 900 pages, was published in 1957 in France (weirdly enough, the rights were first sold by their literary agency to... Germany, where "Angélique, Marquise of the Angels" was first published in 1956) in two volumes to make it "easier" to read, entitled Angélique, Marquise of the Angels and Angélique, the Road to Versailles.
The rest is history...
Angélique, Marquise of the Angels was an overnight success. During the war France was starved of books, and the French were now hungry for escapist literature.
On 1964 when seven volumes had already been published, the cinema took over. The first two films Angélique, Marquise of the Angels and Marvellous Angélique, were made simultaneously by Bernard Borderie in 1963 and released to the public in 1964 and 1966 respectively. At last Angélique had a face - that of actress Michèle Mercier - the actor Robert Hossein personified her husband Joffrey de Peyrac. Once again their success was huge. Three further films followed in their wake, Angélique and the King, Invincible Angélique and Angélique and the Sultan (a 6th - Eternal Angélique was projected but never made it to the screen). Each successive storyline became ever increasingly divorced from the original text in the books ending finally in what can only be termed the decidedly comical character portrayed by Jean-Claude Pascal as the grand Eunuch of the Sultan of Morocco.
At this time Anne and Serge Golon went to Canada to continue their research. The saga of Angélique was to be continued in the "New World". In 1972, as Anne wrote Angélique and the Ghosts, Serge died.
Anne carried on writing and brought up her four children at the same time. Four volumes were written up to 1985 the latest one to date being Angélique's Victory.
Unlike the 6th film which was projected but never reached the screens, there are four outstanding French chapters in the saga awaiting translation into English. So, if you are one of those readers who reached the climax of the book entitled Angélique and the Ghosts as Angélique and Joffrey prepare to disembark in Quebec and wondered why there was no other follow-up, you may be interested to know that there was and that the book in question is entitled Angélique à Québec. Following that, the action moves to New England in Angélique, La Route de L'Espoir and the latest instalment is concluded in La Victoire d'Angélique. The French reviewers on the dustjackets of the Angélique series refer to Victoire as the "derniere" chapter. As with English, there can be double-meanings to many words, this is one of them: "derniere" can mean last or latest. You might think "Victoire", which translates as Victory may well signify the conclusion of the series. You would be wrong. A 14th book has the working title of Angélique and the Kingdom of France. Information from source advises us that a 15th book, also in preparation, will be the final and concluding chapter of this Magnus opus.
The saga of Angélique has been read by over 100 million readers, has had 320 publishers and over 45 translations; no other romantic and historical 20th Century work has had success on such a scale.
When it first appeared in 1957 in France, Angélique Marquise of the Angels was acclaimed enthusiastically not only by the French public but also by the critics, for the quality of its historical content, its style and particularly for its literary value.
All this notwithstanding, the epic has now been classed as a "romance" side by side with Barbara Cartland and her mass-produced lightweight romantic fiction. Anne Golon who was once a guest of the most famous French literary programme is now treated with condescention and an article in a French newspaper in June 1999 mentions the "syrupy saga written by Anne and Serge Golon".
So what happened to the Angélique saga, which had enjoyed such huge popularity and success; what led to this sorry end?
To begin with, the films. They were magnificent examples of 60s French "swashbuckling" cinema, which handled romance, humour, costumes and duels so well. They brought attention to the books but at the same time were harmful to them. Through them, the heroine, Angélique became a victim of mass hysteria. Harmful because although their success remains undiminished, they give a completely false image of the books.
They are in themselves and of the genre, very good films with excellent actors, wonderful supporting roles (Jean Rochefort, Jacques Toja, Jean-Louis Trintignant...), sumptuous costumes and scenery and unforgettable music. But the cinema of the time, being what it was, could not and would not portray the riches found in the books. They limited themselves to the romantic storyline and as a result one gets a series of misadventures spiced up with more or less artificial eroticism. Quite simply these films have nothing in common with the books.
Finally, the critics. In the 50's the critics were hungry for books and anything new, because the French had been starved of these for so many years, and they certainly were not as contemptuous as the critics of the 90's - so the Angélique series deservedly received its rightful dues.
It should be obvious that the Angélique epic has nothing in common with the syrupy Barbara Cartland books. It is excellent historical literature (one should be able to say "popular" but the word has unfortunately in modern parlance been sullied and is used scornfully) equal to such names as Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris. Some pages in Angélique, Road to Versailles are worthy of Victor Hugo's Court of Miracles with the same lyrical echoes. The description of Angélique's childhood in Poitou has a charm without equal. Finally, serious subjects are treated within each book, especially the relationship between religion and women, these often develop into theses which were very daring at the time.
When all is said and done, we must ask ourselves whether Charles Dickens would have suffered in the same way as Anne and Serge Golon, if he had written Great Expectations today...
None of this would have been too serious in itself, and Angélique fans would have carried on reading peacefully, would have been unconcerned about their heroine being categorised with a "romantic" mantle hung about her neck - if... and this is a big If - certain people had not profited from this criticism and propagated the myth of an alleged alienation by the public, in a shameful way.
Today, Anne Golon lives in France in a state close to poverty. She is in litigation with the French publisher Hachette for the abuse of copyright and her unpaid royalties. The result of all this is that the 14th volume in the series has effectively been held up. The litigation is entering its final phase and Anne Golons survival and that of her heroine depends entirely on the judgement of the courts. If you wish, you may help Anne Golon to have her rights reinstated by signing a petition drawn up by a group of her Readers. You can read the text of this petition and submit your signature immediately to the person who is collecting these. Naturally any information you give about yourself will remain completely confidential. Anne Golon herself will decide whether to use this petition or not in her court case.
May all those who shared in Angélique's dream - now awake.
- Petition to support Anne Golon and her authors rights
- Anne and Serge Golon with their children
- Anne and Serge Golon painters
- Angéliquebooks.com, the Friends of Angélique's web site, managed by Steve Hall and beautifully designed by Graham Carter
- The Angélique Series, Harvey Adkins's web site
- Internet mailing-list
- Authologies: Anne et Serge Golon, this site in French
- Michèle Mercier, Yvar's web site about the heroine of the Angélique movies
- Mamizu's Angélique Fan site (Japanese only)
To find the books:
- Alapage, to find second-hand books (various languages)
- Alapage, to find the books in French
- Abe Books, to find second-hand books in English
To learn even more (non-fictional characters, places, history...)
- Louis XIV the Sun King
- Saint Simon's portrait of Louis XIV
- The royal mistresses: Montespan, La Vallière, Maintenon... (in French)
- Colbert's memoirs
- Nicolas Fouquet
- History of the Bourbon-Condé family (French and English)
- Versailles - a virtual tour of the Palace, in French and English
- Map of Paris dated 1615, overall view
- The Poitou marshland (in French)
North America: New England and Canada, places and history
- Virtual museum of New France (French and English)
- North American French (Acadians...)
- French and Indian war: history
- Colonial New England: 17th century
- Salem Witch museum
- History of fashion and dress: 17th century Europe
- Fashion images: 17th century