title: Marie Antoinette: The Journey
author: Antonia Fraser
published: November 12, 2002
genre: non fiction/historical/biography
first lines: On 2 November 1755 the Queen-Empress was in labour all day with her fifteenth child.
rated: 5 out of 5 stars
France’s beleaguered queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous “Let them eat cake,” was the subject of ridicule and curiosity even before her death; she has since been the object of debate and speculation and the fascination so often accorded tragic figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted, privileged, but otherwise unremarkable child was thrust into an unparalleled time and place, and was commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in history. Antonia Fraser’s lavish and engaging portrait of Marie Antoinette, one of the most recognizable women in European history, excites compassion and regard for all aspects of her subject, immersing the reader not only in the coming-of-age of a graceful woman, but also in the unraveling of an era.
I have been immersed in the life and times of Marie Antoinette for the past few weeks. I knew next to nothing about the French Revolution or Marie Antoinette prior to reading this book so when a co-worker and retired teacher, finished reading this one she raved to me about it and lent me her copy. When I would hear the name Marie Antoinette I would think of those famous lines, “Let them eat cake”.
Author Antonia Fraser starts off with the birth of Marie Antoinette in 1755 who was one of fifteen children, through her execution in 1793 at the age of 37. Like I mentioned, I really did not know much about Marie Antoinette prior to reading this book but I did know that she has gone down in history with an infamous reputation for extravagance.
Antonia Fraser is obviously a fan of Marie Antoinette, her detailed biography of the former Queen of France made me see her in a different light.
The book is at times dense because the author really goes into some of the politics, she involves important names and dates and many times I found myself googling people, events and places to help enrich the reading experience and to understand it all better. Never once was I bored while reading.
The author takes you to Versailles with vivid writing and rich details all the while sharing historical facts. It almost felt like I was reading fiction at times because for a historical biography, this one was really interesting and even exciting to read, and eventually sad.
The palace of Versailles and the Queen’s beloved escape, the Trianon, are brought to life here as I read about the daily lives of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI of France.
Marie Antoinette was an ardent connoisseur and showed discernment in what she chose and commissioned. Indeed, the elegant spirit of Marie Antoinette is perhaps better represented by those exquisite pieces of her known furniture that survive than almost anything else.
p.220, Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
Also mentioned throughout are Axel von Fersen whom the Queen seems to have had a long love affair with and who supported her as a friend until the very end. Scandals that really damaged the Queen’s reputation such as the Diamond Necklace affair are highlighted.
I also found it interesting that Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI seemed to really love and care for one another, which was a rare thing with royals in arranged marriages in that day and time.
Many times I read in utter shock at some of the atrocities that were being committed once the Revolution was in full swing. I also wondered about some of Marie Antoinette’s decision making but then again here is this young girl who was never groomed to become a Queen and by age 15 she is sent to a different country to marry the future king of France. It seems she wanted to escape palace life and spent most of her time in her beloved retreat nearby the Trianon, but this all led to rumors and views that she was a loose woman who did not care for anyone but herself. King Louis XVI, another one who was never really groomed to rule, just seemed to be weak in many aspects, unable to really settle in and make decisions and project majesty, like a king needed to.
Marie Antoinette was treated inhumanely once imprisoned, especially towards the end when her husband was sent to the guillotine. I know these two were living in utter oplulence while the masses were starving, but on reading this account, the queen seems to have been a scapegoat and her death was viewed as necessary for the start of a new era.
I must say, according to this book, in the end she faced the guillotine bravely. She truly seemed to suffer so much after Versailles was attacked and the royal family was forced to flee and by Antonia Fraser’s account, she was a good mother.
I think that is what moved me the most, what Marie Antoinette must have suffered not knowing what the fate of her two surviving children, who were still being held captive, would be after she was executed. She mentions them in her final letter. And her two children suffered as well, her son who was to be the next King of France, dying of neglect in prison at age 10.
The effects on the two children, whose world had once again been turned upside down, may be imagined.
p.369, Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
In the end, after already being put through hell, they gave Marie Antoinette no privacy, no comfort, and not even a priest to give her her last rites before facing death. King Louis XVI on the other hand, was granted a priest from his sentencing and until the time of his death who accompanied him and uttered comforting last words to him on the scaffold.
I highly recommend Marie Antoinette: The Journey to anyone interested in this time period or in history in general. I found myself utterly fascinated.
I really want to read more on Marie Antoinette and have already added a few books to my wishlist on Amazon. On another note, she never said “Let them eat cake.”
“It is in misfortune that you realize your true nature.”
Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any kind of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I borrowed my copy of Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser.