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on April 14, 2009
I first saw the movie before reading the book. The movie only intrigued me to learn more about Marie Antoinette.
This book is written in typical biography form, some area's drag on a bit but it is jammed packed with information, from the begining of her life right to the end. Because it is written in biography form it sometimes gets confussing, expecially with keeping track of people names. Althought, that is to be expected.
I find Marie Antoinette be a marvelous women who was terrible misunderstood. I would recommended this book to anyone wanting to know more of this wonderful women.
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on April 3, 2002
Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette was a deeply affecting entre into French history. I somehow managed to elude reading works of this bloody overthrow- the rule of the mob and its atrocities, were avoided unless they were somehow part of literature and the occassional film. The characters also were repellent, vile Robbespierre, Marquis de Sade, and the unfathomable treatment of innocents. Napoleon too, seemed like a man's study, too much war, tactics, battles, generals- demanded some kind of interest that was well beyond me. However, Marie Antoinette, A Journey, reversed all previous prejudices and ignited a wave of further reading, not unlike a hunger. Alas, no other books had the seductive charm of this, but even that did not diminish my drive to know more. The incestuous rulers of Europe were, as everyone knows, breeding themselves into obsolescense. They assumed their various family lines fortified through marriage and sustained by vast wealth would ensure monarchical government across the continent and the span of the world. Their largely compromised viewpoint and egregious lack of training elicited fear and subordination in their subjects, as indeed it inspired contempt. Entering into a foreign land as the princess and queen to be, Marie Antoinette, was illequipped and destined to be the source of vicious gossip and the foreign scapegoat for tyranny and exploitation suffered by the as they say, common man. She was a pampered and overly protected child when she arrived in her new country, and was both ignorant and reckless in her spending and arrogance. As any young bride, she retained a childish preoccupation for objects and people who might satisfy her own regal hungers and somehow qualify her as the fascinating object that would stimulate her husband into a sexual performance that was denied to the would-be lovers. This failed consumation was naturally blamed on the queen already humiliated and She was simply dropped into a very dangerous court when no more than a teenager. The language and customs were so unlike her Austrian childhood memories that she was an easy target for the ruthless in and about her palace.
What fraser does quite well with regard to a popular biography is scrupulous discipline with regard to research and organization. One needn't memorize facts or personalities because they are so integrated into her subject that they are simply a part of the story and thereby easily absorbed. Her perspective of Marie is similar, to the sympathetic and equally tragic biography of Mary Queen of Scots, another absorbing and thorough study. As a woman of her time, Marie had no real power other than to bestow favoritism and spend freely. Her fate was to be marginalized by her sex as well as her foreign birth. She had limited resources of her own, her brothers who rose to the throne in Austria were essentially unreliable for purposes of soldifying her position. Her last tragic months and the terrifying death were managed without the frivolous, histrionic manner by which she's been reviled, but as a mature and royal personage who even in the midst of this bloody period, was utterly dignified. The book is full of the kind of details of dress, furniture and adulterous deceits that are of interest to certain readers. It allows a fair amount of historical detail that enhances the story's progress and, for me at least, long for more.
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on March 31, 2002
I read many reviews of this book and other works on this Queen, certainly one of history's more controversial Monarchs. This was the first major biography I had read and I was surprised by the intensity of feeling this woman arouses, she either has enthusiastic admirers or others whose feelings are just as intense but negative. I think this book is reasonably evenhanded, if it does favor one view of the subject I would say the author is more favorably disposed toward Marie Antoinette. This work in no manner is a fawning biography of a person who was without faults. Her failings are identified, but they are not sensationalized.
One matter that struck me was the outrageous pamphlets that were printed and circulated about her. Compared to the tabloids of today what you pass at the supermarket checkout is extremely mild. This woman as Queen was accused with graphic drawings of every imaginable offense that came to the printer's salacious minds. This public humiliation that was routine years before she was imprisoned provided fertile ground for the fictions that were heaped upon her at her, "trial".
She certainly may have been guilty of errors but most would seem to be errors of omission rather than conspired strategy. As a 14-year-old semi-literate child she was married to another adolescent and then spent 7 years waiting for the marriage to be consummated. As customary as certain rituals may have been, being required to give birth in front of a crowd is demented. She was accused of having an affair with a certain Duke, so what? If she did not she would have been an exception to the rule. When a King had a favored mistress she was given a place at court.
I thought, "The Affair Of The Necklace", was well documented and put that accusation against the Queen to rest. As to the, "let them eat cake", comment, I don't believe she was clever enough to utter what was a well-known phrase long before she was even born. When the charges that were leveled at her including crimes against her children, it is clear this crowd that paraded heads about the city was interested in adding hers. Whether she was guilty of any crime was hardly proven, and rarely was there any evidence given.
At least from this reading I would surmise that the vilification of this woman was largely invented or spectacularly exaggerated. To the extent she did cause mischief it is hard to identify what it may have been, for distortion and not truth was the currency of late 18th Century France.
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on January 30, 2002
Five years were spent on the research and writing of this book. The result is a meticulous account, on an almost daily basis, of Marie Antoinette's life. We learn that she was a pleasure loving, friendly woman. But we also learn that she was not the brightest and could hardly read or write. And that is how the little girl from Austria entered womanhood as the dauphine and queen of France. Being that l'Autrichienne was the first strike against her. The second was her unquestioning obedience to her mother Maria Theresa, the empress of Austria, and later to her brother emperor Joseph II. And the third strike was that she would not comprehend what agitated the people of France. As we all know: three strikes, and you are out.
A writer chooses a subject for a biography because it interests him and because he likes it. That induces prejudice that has to be avoided. How did Mrs. Fraser fare? She obviously likes Marie Antoinette very much, and her prejudice shows. When bad news cannot be avoided, she tries to qualify them. Did Marie Antoinette have a love affair with Count Fersen? Most probably - but then we have no eye witnesses. Did she spend profligately on the Petit Trianon and on St. Cloud? Yes - but then that was customary. Did she mess up in politics? Yes - but then she was politically uneducated. Did she come on too strong in behalf of her Austrian relatives? Yes - but then it did not get her anywheres. All this tilts the tenor of the book. Hand in hand with this go sins of omission that could make Marie Antoinette look really bad.
The queen of France started out on good terms with the French people and only her Austrian provenance was held against her. And then everything began to deteriorate. It started in earnest with the pamphlets describing her as a drunken wanton. Were they so wrong and freely invented? Where there is smoke, there is fire. Maybe the affair with Count Fersen was not quite that secret. Nor her closeness to the Princesse de Lamballe and the Duchesse de Polignac. L'Autrichienne did interfere in the politics of ther husband, the king. And she did promote Austrian interests whenever she was asked to. The sums of money she spent were enormous in a time when France was practically bankrupt. Thus Marie Antoinette finished her life as the most hated person in the country. She was a flighty person, with little education and not much brains. Maybe that explains some of it.
Antonia Fraser gives a somewhat lopsided account of her subject up to the time the revolution took form. After that, Marie Antoinette's fate is out of her hands and the narrative can continue with straight forward history. And that she does well.
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on November 24, 2001
Marie Antoinette's story is such a sad one..reading Antonia Fraser's book is like watching a video of an accident. You know how it's going to end, but the people in the story don't.
Ms. Fraser inexorably sets up the events leading to the demise of the royal family in the French Revolution. She paints a sympathetic picture of Marie Antoinette, but leaves the reader to decide if she deserved to be as reviled as she was. It is beautifully researched and well written (as are other Fraser biographies, in my opinion).
Thomas Jefferson, in Paris during the events that led up to the beheading of the Queen, said (and this is paraphrased:) "There is no doubt that there would not have been a Revolution if Marie Antoinette had not been the Queen of France." Do you agree? I'm not so sure.
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on April 12, 2005
Non-fiction literature, specially historic literature, can at times be dreadfully boring and full of confusing details. This book redeems every boring historic volume I have read to date. The author hooks you in right away, and provides vivid details of Marie Antoinette's life in her early years in Austria, her teenage and adult years in Versailles, and her last years as a prisoner of the revolution. From the fabric materials and colours Marie Antoinette prefered, to various accounts reflecting her taste in elegant simplicity, entertainment, beauty and amusement, this book gives the reader a glimpse of what Marie Antoinette was like as a person, a wife, a mother, a friend, and a ruler.
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