Friday, May 13, 2016

Book Review: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

Studying French language most of my school career instilled in me a natural interest in Marie Antoinette. I heard praise of this book years ago, so much so that I bought it, and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since. This was long before the Sophia Coppola film came out, though I did enjoy seeing that at the time, and the movie certainly increased my interest in her life. I finally got around to actually reading the book, and I'm glad for the new outlook it gave me.

Antoine was youngest daughter of Maria Theresa, the great Holy Roman Empress. At birth, no one thought much of her prospects since she had so many older siblings, but as her sisters died off unexpectedly she seemed destined for a great place. That place turned out to be the wife of Louis XVI. The book chronicles her daily goings on at Versailles and before as gathered through court records, personal correspondence, and diaries. She married into the French court at 15, and became a figure of fashion for the time. Sadly her place in the public view also left her susceptible to public derision. The "Let them eat cake" line she is constantly quoted with in our modern pop culture actually was never said by her, but the papers printed it and people of the time took it as gospel. Through other altercations with the press falsely representing her, Marie Antoinette was set up to be the most vilified member of the French court during the revolution. We all know what eventually happened, but the events that got her there are much more varied than upon first glance or the small blip we are taught in American history classes.

I really enjoyed reading this book. This account truly humanizes the real woman in Marie Antoinette. This book has one main purpose in my eyes - to restore the unfortunate public image that she could not help at the time. The book specifically mentions key points that made the French people want her head on a pike like The Diamond Necklace Affair and her alleged romances with other women of the court as well as men. It was truly the anti-royalist press that killed her. Her death was the sad result of being born and bred to live a certain life at a time when the common people had had enough. Marie Antoinette was extravagant to be sure, but she was also kind and charitable, and her attitude around her death shows a great strength of character no matter who you are. I feel very bad for what happened to her, but at the same time it seems there could really be no other option. If you are at all interested in French history or in Marie Antoinette herself, I absolutely recommend you give this book a try. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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