This smoothly written biography concentrates on social history, although Erickson ( Bonnie Prince Charlie ) also details the political and economic background of 18th-century France. Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was raised the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa in the Viennese court of the Hapsburgs, at whose lavish balls and fetes as many as 10,000 guests might dine. But Versailles, where she reigned after marrying King Louis XVI of France, glittered even more, and Erickson recreates its life aptly, describing the elaborate clothes, the duties of courtiers, the rigid etiquette. While the queen's education had equipped her for the role of royal hostess, she was ill-prepared to deal with the intrigues surrounding her. At first timid, fearful and passive, Antoinette gradually grew brittle and hardened by "a constant surfeit of pleasures." The author believes the queen had only one extramarital love, a Swedish nobleman named Axel Fersen. And she argues that Antoinette, condemned to death by revolutionaries, finally showed courage and dignity: her last words were an apology to her executioner for accidentally stepping on his foot. Although the book does not add a great deal of new information, it is a highly readable account.
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