Stephanie Dray, Author of The Women of Chateau Lafayette

Stephanie Dray is a bestselling author of historical women’s fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year. Dray’s latest book, The Women of Chateau Lafayette, is based on the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy.

Following are Stephanie’s answers to Vingt Questions.

Favorite place to visit in France, and why?
Indescribably beautiful and rustic Auvergne, because it’s the birthplace of Lafayette, where many French and American women carried forward his humanitarian legacy.

Favorite place to visit in America, and why?
Washington, D.C., the living heart of the Republic.

What do you think the French can learn from Americans?
To choose optimism.

What do you think Americans can learn from the French?
That optimism should never mean blind faith.

Favorite French film?
Not a film but I’m obsessed with the television series Un Village Français.

Favorite American film?
Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I saw in Paris, and sensed the French audience wasn’t entirely certain René Emile Belloq was a villain…

Favorite French actor or actress?
Sophie Marceau. I don’t care if her role in Braveheart is historically inaccurate; if loving that movie is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Favorite American actor or actress?
Tom Hanks

Most important French figure in history and why?
The vastly underrated Marquis de Lafayette, whose outsized role in both the American and French Revolutions helped break the chains of monarchy around the world and whose legacy, as encompassed by the Franco-American alliance, would go on to save the world twice over.

Most influential American figure and why?
George Washington because he set an example for the world in simply retiring his sword, retiring from the presidency, and embodying a democratic ideal.

What is your favorite American luxury?
Big cars, wide roads, lots of open space to explore.

What is your favorite French extravagance?
Perfumes. I have a sentimental attachment to Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue.

Favorite American food?
The Lobster Roll.

Favorite French food?
I can’t choose! The bread, the cheese, the cassoulet and beef bourguignon. And don’t get me started on the pastries…if I get into heaven, I hope it is an even more divine version of Les Halles de Lyon.

The quality you most admire about the French and Americans?
They’ve fought for western democracy–a fight that never ends.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Bring attention to unappreciated historical women.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be a better photographer.

Name three people, dead or alive, who you would most like to have dinner with?
Cleopatra the Great, the most powerful woman in the ancient world. Adrienne Lafayette, America’s French Founding Mother. Frances Perkins, America’s first female cabinet secretary and a founding mother for a new generation.

Relative to your field of study, what is the most important tradition to keep alive?
The yearly pilgrimage to Picpus Cemetery where Lafayette and his wife are buried.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Dancing to accordion music with my love on the pont Saint-Louis in the moonlight.