Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Report: Marie Antoinette: The Journey

Long before reading Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey, my introduction to the French Revolution and the story of Marie Antoinette, although I didn't realize it at the time, was the 1992 movie Stay Tuned. (Takes place in Seattle. Northwest shout-out!) You know: husband and wife get sucked into hell via their satellite dish and are forced to navigate twisted television programs, including a mini-series called Off With His Head. Yes, that old story...

Still, in popular belief Marie Antoinette seems best remembered as a selfish woman who sacrificed the wellbeing of her country and, ultimately, her family for fleeting pleasures and a life filled with decadence. Of course, popular belief is not necessarily accurate. While Antoinette did lead a life of incredible luxury (as the queen of France, it was her job), she was hardly the cold monarch who loftily declared, Let them eat cake. As Fraser points out, it was unlikely that the phrase was uttered by Antoinette, given that it's considered apocryphal and has been applied to many powerful female rulers long before French queen's age. Interesting...

Much like Cleopatra, extravagance and incompetence of male consorts contributed to Antoinette's demise. As the situation in France worsened, Louis XVI delayed the family's departure, and by the time they acted it was already too late. Also like Cleopatra--it seems to be the fate of all women in positions of power (perceived or otherwise)--Antoinette was accused of various acts of treachery and debauchery, to include indiscriminate affairs with both sexes as well as incest with her son. As she climbed the scaffold to meet the guillotine, the deposed queen stepped on her executioner's foot. Her final words were: Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it.

I should probably say that whenever I did a paper in one of my literature classes, I almost always tended towards a feminist interpretation. I can't help it! Just like I can't help thinking about Beyoncé singing Run the World (Girls) right now. So as you might imagine, I'm loving reading all these biographies dedicated to women. If your interest is piqued by my mention of Cleopatra, I recommend Stacy Schiff's biography, Cleopatra: A Life.

P.S. Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey was the inspiration for Sofia Coppola's 2006 movie Marie Antoinette.

1. Still from Lightworks, by Caesar Sebastian; 2. Golden gates of Versailles, via Rococo Revisited; 3. Rooftop of Versailles, via Miss Zeit; 4.  Louis XVI's lit á la polonaise photo by Francis Hammond, via Architectural Digest; 5. Versailles wallpaper, by The Cherry Blossom Girl; 6. Versailles windows, by The Cherry Blossom Girl; 7. French court dress, via Dust Jacket Attic; 8. Photo by Bernard Tartinville, via Lush magazine, via Rococo Revisted; 9. Mask, via We ♥ It; 10. Versailles Inside: Marie Antoinette by Sebastian Smith, via Ever Magazine; 11. Marie Antoinette's prayer book: last inscription, via Leah Marie Brown Historicals; 12. Locket with Marie Antoinette's hair, from the British Museum, via Rococo Revisited.


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