Marie Antoinette : The Journey
I was eager to read Antonia Fraser as she was mentioned in America’s Queen, she and her husband being good friends of Jacqueline Kennedy. I had this on my bookshelf for two years but was put off by the topic as I have no knowledge of the French Revolution. What a delight to start reading it and find it fascinating!
Fraser focuses on the life of Marie Antoinette and does not follow the French Revolution or political developments in detail. That would have taken a much longer book. At the outset, I didn’t feel much sympathy for the fourteen year-old bride of Louis XVI. She was the daughter of the Austrian emperor and the marriage was meant to cement the relationship between the two countries. Her parents had neglected her education, so she was a foolish but pretty little thing. Many in France resented this foreign queen.
It seems it took a long time to consummate the marriage and it was eleven years before she bore a male heir to the throne. Often criticized for her lavish spending, Marie Antoinette built herself a small Austrian-style villa and garden attached to the palace of Versailles. She spent great amounts creating this retreat and the Jardin Anglais that surrounded it.
The Queen was a happier woman after the birth of her daughter Maria Therese and later her son Louis Charles, the Crown prince. Antonia Fraser took me by surprise as events must have taken the Queen by surprise with the coming of the Revolution. They were forcibly removed to Paris. Then on August 10, 1792, the palace of Tulieres was attacked and most of their attendants and guards were killed. Thereafter, the royal family was imprisoned in “The Tower” until their eventual trials.
One can’t help but feel sympathy for the aging and ailing Queen as she has her children torn from her. Her son was only 8 years old. And I had to admire the composure and grace she showed in the face of humiliation and death.
The author chose to tell us the story of Marie Antoinette’s life and only the basics of political events. The result is that we are left thinking “How could this have happened?” “Why did the situation shift so suddenly?” Perhaps this is the intended effect as certainly the sheltered Queen who had tried to show charity and kindness to her people was also perplexed as to the reasons for the attacks.
It is not a easy read, but it is a well-written and interesting story. I had trouble keeping the French nobility straight as their titles and names are not familiar to me. Fortunately, there are many color engravings included so I could see the faces of the major characters. If you enjoy history, you may enjoy this book!