Category: Biographies / General
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publication date: 30 May 2002
Number of pages: 640
Marie Antoinette's dramatic life-story continues to arouse mixed emotions. To many people, she is still 'la reine mechante', whose extravagance and frivolity helped to bring down the French monarchy; her indifference to popular suffering epitomised by the (apocryphal) words: 'let them eat cake'. Others are equally passionate in her defence: to them, she is a victim of misogyny. Antonia Fraser examines her influence over the king, Louis XVI, the accusations and sexual slurs made against her, her patronage of the arts which enhanced French cultural life, her imprisonment, the death threats made against her, rumours of lesbian affairs, her trial (during which her young son was forced to testify to sexual abuse by his mother) and her eventual execution by guillotine in 1793.
Antonia Fraser has written an absorbing, richly detailed and pleasingly illustrated new study of the French Queen which is a careful rexamination of the stereotypical embodiment of wilful extravagance and flouncing arrogance. The 'journey' of the title, is that of the 14-year old princess from the Imperial palace in Vienna, via the Royal Court of her husband Louis XVI at Versailles to a 'squalid cell' in Paris prior to execution by guillotine, her head displayed on a spike to an uproarious crowd. There seems a terrible inevitability in the journey: Marie Antoinette was mistrusted in France from the start: vilified as 'L'Autrichienne', her task was impossible, to unite in the person of an heir the two warring nations of France and Austria. She thus became, in Antonia Fraser's judgement, 'the female scapegoat' for the ills and excesses of the Court, her extravagance legendary, though in fact modest in comparison to that of her husband and others at a court where display and the ability to dazzle equalled power. She was, Antonia Fraser concedes, frivolous, imprudent and weak, yet she was also intelligent, neither wanton, nor manipulative, and no, she never actually said 'let them eat cake' when the people asked for bread - this was an accusation flung at most 18th century foreign queens - though by 1793 had Mary Antoinette leaned from the window of her carriage and offered the starving poor a brioche, they would probably have spat on it, suspecting that it would be poisoned such was the hatred and fear of 'the royal monster'. (Kirkus UK)
What the papers say:
That fatal combination of a magnificent story, magnificently well told. It's the perfect book in which to lose yourself when you can afford to do nothing else for a day or so. -- Lucy Worsley WAITROSE WEEKEND
Since 1969, Antonia Fraser has written many acclaimed historical works which have been international bestsellers, including Marie Antoinette, Mary Queen of Scots (James Tait Black Memorial Prize), Cromwell: Our Chief of Men, The Six Wives of Henry VIII and The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605 (St Louis Literary Award; CWA Non-Fiction Gold Dagger). Antonia Fraser was made CBE in 1999, and awarded the Norton Medlicott Medal by the Historical Association in 2000. She is married to the playwright Harold Pinter and lives in London.
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