Travel by Novel: Paris

Best Historical Novels for Travelers to Paris and Versailles

Eiffel Tower

"Paris is for lovers," they say. Whether you travel by novel or in person, it truly is one of the world's most romantic cities. Its elegance shows it was home to French royalty, as does the opulence of nearby Versailles, once the playground of the aristocracy, now open to all (for a fee).

Visitors to Paris can't miss the art: the buildings themselves are works of art. Still, it would be a shame not to visit the Louvre and some of the art museums devoted to the French Impressionists. The artists of nineteenth-century Paris were known for their love affairs; novels about them can be supremely romantic. Even Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell-ringer of medieval Notre Dame was in love.

Paris also has a darker history: the French Revolution was triggered by the heartless behavior of the eighteenth-century aristocracy and made bloody by the revolutionaries' revenge on guilty and innocent alike. The city won its carefree approach to life only after surviving a time when Parisians had to guard their tongues and watch their steps to stay alive!

Jump to:

Medieval Paris
Catherine de Medici and her Time
Seventeenth Century Paris
Versailles, Playground of French Royalty
Eighteenth Century Paris before the Revolution
Marie Antoinette
Madame Guillotine: The French Revolution
Napoleon's Paris
Nineteenth-Century Paris Culture: Art, Music and Love Affairs
Nineteenth-Century Paris: Life and Work
Paris at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
Paris During World War II
Mysteries Set in Paris
Novels for Teens

Imagining the Past in Paris, an article by Thad Carhart, author of Across the Endless River

Medieval Paris

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St. George Abraham B. Yehoshua, A Journey to the End of the Millennium: A Novel of the Middle Ages (1999), about a Jewish merchant from North Africa who travels to Paris with his squabbling family on the eve of the first millenium. Review at the Boston Globe

Michelle Cameron, The Fruit of Her Hands: The Story of Shira of Ashkenaz (2009), about the wife of the Jewish scholar Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg and the struggle of her and her husband to find safety in Paris and then Germany amid the anti-Semitism raging through Europe in the thirteenth century. Review at Reading the Past

Cecelia Holland, The Lords of Vaumartin (1988), about an orphaned nobleman in fourteenth century Paris.

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1931), the classic tale of a hunchback taken in as a baby by the clerics of Notre Dame Cathedral and trained to ring the bells. Review at Man of la Book. Free online at Project Gutenberg.

Catherine de Medici and her Time

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Diane Haeger, Courtesan (1993), set in 16th century France, about Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henri II. Review at Books by the Willow Tree blog

C.W. Gortner, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici (2010), a sympathetic portrayal of the infamous sixteenth-century French queen. Review or Author Interview

Judith Merkle Riley, The Master of all Desires (1999), about the French queen, Catherine de Medici, and Nostradamus. Review at

Seventeenth Century Paris

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Three Musketeers

Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers, the classic swashbuckler about three soldiers in Louis XIII's Paris; #1 in the Three Musketeers series. Review at Becky's Book Reviews. Free ebook download at Project Gutenberg

Susanne Dunlap, Emilie’s Voice, about a beautiful singer in seventeenth century Paris and Versailles. Review at History and Women

Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before, set in seventeenth-century Paris during the age of astronomical discoveries.

Judith Merkle Riley, The Oracle Glass (1994), about a young woman in seventeenth-century Paris who makes her living masquerading as a 150-year-old sorceress. Review at

Versailles, Playground of French Royalty

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Louis XIV

Sandra Gulland, Mistress of the Sun (2008), about Louise de la Valliere, the remarkable horsewoman who became the first mistress of King Louis XIV of France. Review

Rosalind Laker, To Dance with Kings, a family saga about four generations of women beginning with a fan-maker's daughter who joins the court at Versailles during the seventeenth century reign of Louis XIV.

Frederic Richaud, Gardener to the King, about the gardener at Louis XIV's Versailles.

Anne Golon, Angelique: Marquise of the Angels, about a seventeenth century French nobleman's daughter; #1 in the extensive Angelique series (originally published in a single volume with The Road to Versailles under the pen name Sergeanne Golon). If you read French try it in the original language: Angélique, Marquise des Anges. See the website devoted to the Angelique series:

Kathryn Davis, Versailles, a sympathetic portrayal of Marie Antoinette. Review at the Yale Review of Books

Eighteenth Century Paris before the Revolution

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Georgette Heyer, Powder and Patch (1930; a reissue of her 1923 novel The Transformation of Philip Jetten minus the last chapter), a Georgian romance about a country gentleman who goes to Paris in a misguided attempt to acquire more polish after a London dandy pays court to the girl he loves. Review at the Historically Obsessed blog

Patrick Suskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, a gritty literary novel about the sense of smell, set in eighteenth century Paris; magical realism.

Stéphane Audeguy, The Only Son (2008), about Jean-Jacques Rousseau's elder brother, a libertine who worked in a brothel where he embarked on a study of the many varieties of desire.

Rikki Ducornet, The Fan-Maker's Inquisition: A Novel of the Marquis de Sade, an eighteenth century woman is put on trial for co-authoring books with the Marquis de Sade.

Lion Feuchtwanger, 'Tis folly to be wise: Or, Death and Transfiguration of Jean-Jacques Rosseau (1952), about a young French aristocrat whose father hosts the French philosopher Rousseau in 1778 at the end of his life.

Marie Antoinette

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Marie Antoinette Carolly Erickson, The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette (2005), about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. Review at Fictional Appearances

Victoria Holt, The Queen's Confession (1968), about Marie Antoinette. Review at This Miss Loves to Read

Sena Jeter Naslund, Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (2006), about Marie Antoinette.

Chantal Thomas, Farewell, My Queen (2003), the story of Marie Antoinette, narrated by one of her attendants. Review at The Guardian

Madame Guillotine: The French Revolution

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Susanne Alleyn, A Far Better Rest (2000), a reimagining of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities from the perspective of Sydney Carton. Review at Book Reviews from Lady Tess

Michelle de Kretser, The Rose Grower, an American balloonist lands in France and is caught up in the French Revolution. Review at January Magazine

Catherine Delors, Mistress of the Revolution, about a young woman from an aristocratic family and her struggle to survive a brutal marriage and the upheavals of the French Revolution; told in the form of a memoir she writes years later after escaping to England. Review

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859), about a beautiful young woman, her long-imprisoned father and a kind-hearted nobleman caught up in the French Revolution. Review

Tanith Lee, The Gods are Thirsty, about the journalist Camille Desmoulins and his role in the French Revolution. Review at The Austin Chronicle

Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety (1993), about Georges-Jacques Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and the French Revolution.

Diana Norman, The Sparks Fly Upward, a young Englishwoman tries to rescue an aristocratic Frenchman from the guillotine during the French Revolution. Review at Dear Author

Marge Piercy, City of Darkness, City of Light, about three women who worked for reforms during the French Revolution. Review at the Orlando Sentinel

Napoleon's Paris

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Lorenzo Borghese, The Princess of Nowhere (2010), about Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister, and her tempestuous marriage to Prince Camillo Borghese, to whom she was frequently unfaithful.

Max Gallo, The Song Of Departure (English edition, 2004), about the first thirty years of Napoleon's life and his rise to power in the French Revolution, #1 in the Napoleon quartet. Review at the Telegraph

Max Gallo, The Sun of Austerlitz (English edition, 2004), about Napoleon from 1799 when he becomes First Consul in France until his victory at Austerlitz, #2 in the Napoleon quartet.

Max Gallo, The Emperor of Kings (English edition, 2004), about Napoleon's quest for power from 1806 to his 1812 Russian campaign, #3 in the Napoleon quartet.

Max Gallo, The Immortal of St. Helena (English edition, 2005; also titled The Immortal Man of Saint Helena), about Napoleon as his Russian campaign falters and Europe takes its revenge, #4 in the Napoleon quartet. Review at the Guardian

Sandra Gulland, The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. (1995), about the early life of Josephine through the time she meets Napoleon; #1 in the Josephine trilogy. Review

Sandra Gulland, Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe (1998), about Josephine, the wife of Napoleon, during the years of his rise to power; #2 in the Josephine trilogy. Review at the Historical Tapestry blog

Sandra Gulland, The Last Great Dance on Earth (2000), about Napoleon’s wife Josephine during the difficult years leading up to their divorce and his exile; #3 in the Josephine trilogy. Review at Aunt Nanci's blog

Simon Leys, The Death of Napoleon, a humorous novella in which Napoleon escapes from St. Helena and is compelled to live as an ordinary French citizen while plotting his return to power. Review at Kirkus Reviews

Norah Lofts, A Rose for Virtue (1971), about Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of Josephine Bonaparte and stepdaughter of Napoleon, who married Napoleon's brother and became the mother of Napoleon III. Review by Susan Higginbotham

Nineteenth-Century Paris Culture: Art, Music and Love Affairs

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Sarah Bayliss, Utrillo's Mother (1987), about the late nineteenth century Parisian artist Suzanne Valadon, whose reputation was eclipsed by that of her son, Maurice Utrillo. Review at the L.A. Times

Stephanie Cowell, Claude and Camille (2010), about the French Impressionist artist Claude Monet and his first wife Camille Doncieux. Review or Author Interview

Gioia Diliberto, I Am Madame X, about the artist John Singer Sargent, the beautiful Paris socialite he painted in a low-cut black dress in 1884, and the controversy over the painting that ruined her reputation. Review at BookPage

Susanne Dunlap, Liszt’s Kiss, about a sheltered young woman pianist during a cholera epidemic in nineteenth century Paris. Review at Curled Up With a Good Book

Arabella Edge, The God of Spring (titled The Raft in the U.K.), a literary novel about an early nineteenth century French artist who paints a shipwreck. Review at The Blurb blog

Rosalind Laker, Brilliance, about a love affair in the late nineteenth century Paris film industry.

Pierre La Mure, Clair de Lune (1962), a biographical novel about the French composer Claude Debussy.

Pierre La Mure, Moulin Rouge (1950), about the nineteenth century French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Jude Morgan, Symphony (2007), about the nineteenth century French composer Berlioz and the actress who was his muse. Review at Genre Go Round Reviews

Kate Mosse, Sepulchre (2008), spooky historical fantasy about a young woman in 1891 Paris who lives in the same apartment as the composer Claude Debussy, and a modern woman researching both the composer and her own ancestry. Review at The Telegraph

Elizabeth Robards, With Violets (2005), a romantic novel exploring the possibility that the impressionist painters Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot may have been lovers. Review at the Historical Novel Society

Susan Vreeland, Luncheon of the Boating Party (2007), about the men and women the nineteenth century French artist Renoir portrayed in his famous impressionist painting. Review at the Book Reporter

Susan Vreeland, Life Studies (2004), short stories about artists and the people their art touches, most but not all set in the nineteenth century Impressionist and Post-Impressionist periods. Review at

Nineteenth-Century Paris: Life and Work

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Thad Carhart, Across the Endless River (2009), about Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Lewis and Clark's Shoshone guide Sacagawea, and his visit to Europe in the 1820s. Review or Author Interview

Jill Dawson, Wild Boy (2003), about an autistic boy found running wild in the woods in the years after the French Revolution and brought to Paris by a young doctor who studies him while training him to live in civilized society. Review at The Guardian

Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (originally published in serial form 1845-1846), about a man wrongfully imprisoned on the accusation of supporting Napoleon Bonaparte after Bonaparte's defeat and exile to Elba. Review at Free ebook at Project Gutenberg

Rachel Field, All This, and Heaven Too (1938), about the young governess Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, who takes a job with the Duc and Duchesse de Choiseul-Praslin and a few years later finds herself at the center of a scandalous murder trial; based on historical events. Review

Rebecca Stott, The Coral Thief (2008), about a Scottish medical student and the beautiful young woman who steals from him when they share a stagecoach while traveling to Paris in 1815 in the wake of Napoleoon's defeat. Review at The Independent

Peter Vansittart, Hermes in Paris (2000), about the Greek trickster god Hermes, who visits Paris during the reign of Napoleon III and his empress Eugenie to play a joke. Review at Paris Voice

Paris at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

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Jake Arnott, The Devil's Paintbrush (2009), literary historical fantasy which imagines that disgraced Scottish war hero Major-General Sir Hector Macdonald and student of the occult Aleister Crowley had an intense encounter with the dark arts in Paris in 1903. Review at The Guardian

M. Allen Cunningham, Lost Son (2007), about the young German poet Rainer Maria Rilke in 1902, when he travels to Paris to write a study of the sculptor Auguste Rodin and experiences a personal crisis. Review at January Magazine

Paris During World War II

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Sara Houghteling, Pictures at an Exhibition (2009), about a Jewish art dealer's son who returns to Paris at the end of World War II and begins an obsessive search for the paintings looted from his father's shop by the Nazis.

Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah's Key (2007), about a contemporary American journalist who discovers her French husband's family acquired their Paris apartment 60 years earlier during the German occupation when the Jewish family who lived there was forcibly deported. Review at Curled Up With a Good Book

Mysteries Set in Paris

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Fiona Buckley, Queen's Ransom (2000), about a noblewoman sent on a secret mission to Catherine de Medici in France for Queen Elizabeth I; #3 in the Ursula Blanchard mystery series; Fiona Buckley is a pen name of Valerie Anand.

Judith Rock, The Rhetoric of Death (2010), about a seventeenth-century Paris dance teacher who sets out to investigate when one of his students goes missing. Review at the Curled Up With a Good Book blog

Susanne Alleyn, The Cavalier of the Apocalypse (2009), about a penniless writer in Paris on the eve of the French Revolution who becomes the chief suspect in a murder investigation after he discovers a corpse in a graveyard; #3 in the Aristide Ravel mystery series (a prequel to Game of Patience and A Treasury of Regrets). Review or Interview with Susanne Alleyn

P.C. Doherty, The Masked Man, an investigation into the identity of the "man in the iron mask," a mysterious prisoner in eighteenth-century Paris.

Lou Jane Temple, Death du Jour, a cook for a wealthy household in Paris must solve a murder mystery on the eve of the Revolution. Review at the Women in World History blog

Catherine Delors, For the King (2010), a thriller about a Paris police inspector who must hunt down the conspirators involved in a bloody assassination plot against Napoleon. Review or Author Interview

Boris Akunin, Murder on the Leviathan (2004; also titled Leviathan), about a Russian gentleman sleuth competing with a French detective to find out who murdered an Englishman in nineteenth-century Paris; #3 in the Erast Fandorin mystery series. Review at The Boston Phoenix

Louis Bayard, The Black Tower (2008), a literary thriller about a French police detective in 1818 who suspects that the son of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, believed to have died after the Revolution, may still be alive. Review

Claude Izner, Murder on the Eiffel Tower (2008), about a young bookseller who investigates an unlikely death on the newly built Eiffel Tower during the 1889 Universal Exposition; #1 in the planned Victor Legris mystery series. Review at Euro Crime

Carol McCleary, The Alchemy of Murder (2010), a mystery in which reporter Nellie Bly, novelist Jules Verne and scientist Louis Pasteur team up to solve a murder at the 1889 Paris World's Fair. Review at Reviewing the Evidence

Kate Taylor, A Man in Uniform (2011), a mystery about an attorney recruited by a mysterious and attractive young widow to appeal the French government's case against Albert Dreyfus. Review at the Globe and Mail

Barbara Cleverly, Folly Du Jour (2007), about a Scotland Yard detective trying to clear the name of a friend who has been arrested for murder in Paris during the 1920s; #7 in the Detective Joe Sandilands mystery series. Review at Mysterious Reviews

Novels for Teens

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Gypsy with Drum

Gloria Skurzynski, Spider's Voice (1999), about a boy in twelfth-century Paris who carries messages between his master, Abelard, and Abelard's beautiful student Eloise.

Theresa Breslin, The Nostradamus Prophecy (2008), about a minstrel's thirteen-year-old daughter who asks for the help of the sixteenth-century seer Nostradamus after his prediction of misfortune for her family comes true.

Beth Levine Ain, The Revolution of Sabine (2009), about a sixteen-year-old Paris girl from an aristocratic family who, after meeting Benjamin Franklin in 1776, questions the marriage her parents have planned for her.

Jennifer Donnelly, Revolution (2010), about a modern teenage girl from New York whose father takes her to Paris, where she slips back in time after reading the diary of a French girl who was the companion to the doomed son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Patricia Elliott, The Pale Assassin (2009), about a girl in a convent school in Paris who has no idea that the French Revolution is about to change her life; #1 in the Pimpernelles series.

Sally Gardner, The Red Necklace (2007), about a fourteen-year-old gypsy boy working as a magician's assistant during the French Revolution. Review

Gladys Malvern, Patriot's Daughter (1960), about the daughter of the Marquis de Lafayette, whose family is arrested during the turmoil following the French Revolution after he returns from fighting in America's War of Independence.

Carolyn Meyer, The Bad Queen (2010); about Marie-Antoinette, the extravagant queen of France until the French Revolution toppled the monarchy; #6 in the Young Royals series.

Celia Rees, Sovay (2008), about a French girl raised in England after the French Revolution who sets out to find her missing father and brother.

Sharon Stewart, The Princess in the Tower (2005; previously published in 1998 as The Dark Tower), about the daughter of the King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, Princess Marie Thérèse Charlotte, who was imprisoned during the French Revolution.

Gladys Malvern, Stephanie (1956), about a niece of Josephine Bonaparte who grows up in poverty until Josephine summons her to Paris, sends her to a finishing school, and brings her to Napoleon's court.

Carolyn Meyer, Marie, Dancing (2005), about a fourteen-year-old ballet dancer in the Paris Opera who models for the artist Edgar Degas in the late nineteenth century.

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