Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Review: Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Frasier

Marie Antoinette: The Journey is the straightforward biography of a truly remarkable queen. Born into the large Hapsburg family, Marie was married before pubery to Louis, Dauphin of France and later Louis XVI. The book captures in precise detail the life Marie Antoinette lived at Versailles. The Revolution is not as central to Marie Antoinette's story as it might have been in another biography.

I got the impression from this book that Marie Antoinette was a very misunderstood woman, unlucky to be Queen of France at the end of the 18th century. Marie Antoinette wasn't as foolish as her contemporaries made her out to be; and Fraser, in this book, discounts the "Let them eat cake" story. Apparently, the phrase was said by someone else a hundred years previously and, though it might have been said by Marie Antoinette in this case, it was almost certainly taken out of context. It seems that much of the Queen's life was taken out of context.

Other major players in the story of Marie Antoinette include Maria Teresa, her domineering mother; Lous XVI, who was simply not cut out for thr throne of France; her children, all but one of whom died in childhood; and Count Fersen, family friend and Marie Antoinette's lover for many years.

Although well-written and researched, there were aspects of this book that disappointed me. For one Marie Antoinette herself is missing. We don't get to see enough of Marie Antoinette's personality--although there are all these letters between her and other people, Marie Antoinette's "voice" doesn't show through in them; or, at least, not enough that Fraser allows us to see.

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