I had read a book on Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI when I was much younger, so I had an understanding of the subject matter. When I saw the movie with Kirsten Dunst, I wanted to read Antonia Fraser's version, since I enjoyed the movie so much. I must say that I enjoyed this book MUCH better than the first. The detail in her research is incredible and she does, indeed, bring the court to life. Even though one understands the French peoples necessity in a revolution (they were literally starving, etc), Fraser shows you the human side of the royalties involved. It broke my heart to see how they were ultimately treated in the end. Upon finishing this book, I had lots to think about. BTW, I read it while I was in Paris and touring Versailles at the same time as reading about the court life there in action was an amazing experience!!
This is a an excellent biography of Marie Antoinette that reads like a fiction novel. The details of the court at Versailles and Marie Antoinette's life-- from her marriage at 14 to her death by guillotine-- are fascinating. I could not put this book down!
Book upon which Sofia Coppola based her Marie Antoinette. It gave me new insight into her as a wife, mother and political pawn, and, also, in the case of her husband, of not raising children for their adult responsibilites.
I've never been too big on bios (they're often too dry and snail-paced for me), but this one blew me away. Mind you, it's a long, looong read, but what it lacks in editing it makes up for in content. Marie Antoinette is transformed from the evil "Autrichienne" who said "Let them eat cake" (which she never actually said, according to this book and other bios of her) into a human being who was doomed from day one. A foreigner, a royal, the most recognized representative of the aristocracy, and a woman --- this lady could have reeeally used a good PR guy. The book takes you from the day she was born (and even before that, introducing her family ties and the royal bloodlines she married into), to months after her execution (I'd go so far as to call it murder). What actually tugged at my heartstrings the most was what her surviving son was subjected to following her death. That said, there was a point in the book where Fraser, in my opinion, wants so much for Marie Antoinette to be seen for the non-evil person she was that Fraser excuses her for refusing to flee Paris with her family when she had the chance(s). I felt that her choices, though she claimed to be looking out for her family, put them in further danger, as well as the people who were trying to help them out. All in all though, it seemed to me that she was a scapegoat. Overall, an outstanding book, and made me want to read further on the subjects of the French Revolution, Versailles, and the Sun King.
This wonderful book does something I wasn't sure would happen with any Marie Antoinette biography; it humanizes her and makes you empathize with her.
We learn what it was like in the Viennese court of MA's mother, Empress Maria Teresa of Austria. MA's was a happy childhood, but as she got older, her childhood became marred with the pain of separation. The death of her father and a sister, and then the feelings associated with the Habsburg daughters being married off to their respective royal grooms, including Marie Antoinette herself.
When Marie Antoinette arrives in Versailles, she has a lot of youthful problems. Cattiness from the other women of the royal court, Louis Auguste (later to become Louis XVI).
This is explored, as well as Marie's years as she grows into a mature young woman and mother of four.
However, something was rotten in the state of France. Poverty, hunger and general unrest cause the French public to take a closer look into MA's personal indulgences, a fault of hers that Fraser is willing to admit as much, but Fraser also presents evidence that MA was trying to tone down her conspicuous consumption, and also had a heart for the poor.
The later chapters deal with the royal family's arrests, escape attempts, and the eventual executions of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and many people they cared about during the Reign of Terror. We learn what became of the two children that survived MA.
Finally, one recurring theme is the exploration of why MA was so reviled by the non-aristocratic French. Fraser makes the compelling arguement that MA was simply an easy scapegoat, as she was a foreign-born princess from a country that often had designs on removing French sovereignity.
I'd never swap this book, but I accidentally bought two (that's how much I enjoyed it). A fact-filled and well-written biography of the famous French queen. Used as the basis for the recent movie. Lots of pictures included.
I love this book sooo much! Of course, I was fascinated with Marie Antoinette (as I am with all misunderstood women of history) to begin with. Fraser's book however, is the most consise, well researched book about Antoinette that I have read.
Antonia Fraser's style and research are, as always, impeccable. She brings clarity to a big, confusing topic. (How many people in one family can be named Maria? Louis?)
If I have one reservation, it's that I became more and more aware, as I approached the end of this big tome (450+ pages of text, plus the bibliography and index), that Fraser was dialling up the special pleading for Marie Antoinette. Again and again, there were phrases like this: "People assumed that she was [arrogant, spendthrift, clueless, plotting against France], when it was obvious that [insert more innocent interpretation, with little or no evidence]." I think Fraser succumbed to a version of Stockholm Syndrome unique to biographers of Big Historical Personalities: she had fallen in love with her subject, and felt that she needed to defend her against all comers.
Fraser does a very effective job debunking the worst myths about MA, with convincing evidence. (She did not say "Let them eat cake." Repeat after me, she did not say ...) It's when the evidence runs out, and Fraser falls back on "it's obvious" that I had some hesitations about her bias.
Interesting "nothing new under the sun" moment: we didn't invent "fake news," and the poisonous effect of social media. According to the political pamphlets of the day (their equivalent of Facebook?), besides saying that starving peasants should eat cake, MA was a sexual predator, who corrupted everyone around her (including her own 8 year old son), a drunkard (she was actually teetotal all of her life), and a monster who wanted to bathe in French blood. Or, as Fraser puts it: "It all had to be true. The stories had, after all, been printed over and over again, repetition being a cynical substitute for veracity." (page 280)