From the masculine equestrian outfits that made her Louis XV's favorite, to the regal counterrevolutionary gowns in green and violet that exposed herFrom the masculine equestrian outfits that made her Louis XV's favorite, to the regal counterrevolutionary gowns in green and violet that exposed her as an enemy of the state, Marie Antoinette's fashion statements were always unfailingly both fabulous and controversial. In Queen of Fashion, Caroline Weber paints a comprehensive portrait of the fashion icon, from Dauphine until death. Weber is not only a brainy Barnard scholar, but also a fashion connoisseur herself, and her fastidiously researched political fashion memoir satisfied both my inner Vogue subscriber and my inner history nerd.
Anyone who's watched Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette as many times as I have can easily rattle off the basics of her biography: born an Austrian, Marie Antoinette disavowed her native country in a political alliance with France to become its eventual Queen. A newcomer to the highly ritualized and chic court at Versailles, she navigated her tepid political reception as a suspect foreigner in the best way she knew how -- in impeccable style. And although it all started out as fun and games, eventually it cost the Autrichienne her head on the guillotine. From her powdered, sky-high hairdos to her divine selection of costly satin footwear, Marie Antoinette won over her adoring public at first, but quickly became a lightning rod for criticism of the French monarchy’s decadence during a national economic recession (... sound familiar?).
Weber takes her time cataloging the earlier, more playful era of Marie Antoinette’s youthful fashion exploits: her androgynous redingotes ("riding coats") and her architectural "poufs" that popularized towering ladies' hairstyles in commemorative shapes such as naval ships and gigantic birds in flight. Did you know that legislation was introduced to raise the standard height of a Parisian doorway to accommodate the hairstyles' extra footage? But these playful themes take a somber--albeit fascinating-- tone in the latter half of Weber’s book, as she traces the onslaught of political tumult through the headwear of the ladies of Paris. From the hat "au collier de la Reine" that signaled disapproval of Marie Antoinette’s role in the scandalous Diamond Necklace Affair, to the bonnet "a la Bastille" that celebrated the pivotal revolutionary prison-siege, to the royalist "coiffure a la Reine" that belied fatal counterrevolutionary monarchist sympathies, Parisian women expressed the changing political tides via what they wore on their heads.
Page after page, Caroline Weber captivated me with arcane facts and insights into the symbolic weight of ladies’ fashions during a period of political upheaval. As a scholar first and fashionista second, she drew me into the political saga of the French Revolution, but always faithfully brought it right back around to fashion and the ways women--especially Marie Antionette--leveraged their power by what they chose to wear on their bodies. Ultimately, Marie Antionette was the consummate 'Fashion Victim,' and ended her life with "the most brilliant fashion statement of her political career." What was it? You’ll have to read the book to find out!...more
One of my dear friends told me that she believed Foucault had made feminism possible for women. He also made me want to put a stick in my eye, while IOne of my dear friends told me that she believed Foucault had made feminism possible for women. He also made me want to put a stick in my eye, while I was reading this book. Really, Foucault? Do you really have to be so damned inscrutable??
The rewards for making it to the end of Archaeology of Knowledge are so worth it, though. In his own way, Foucault pokes and prods until he completely convinces you that disciplines are little more than arbitrary, fragile, man-made constructions--artificial borders used by institutions to police subversive voices and perpetuate coercive social hierarchies. Wow. I just hope you get there before you put a stick in your eye....more
Gertrude Stein is such a little pill! I admit I was bored through large chunks of this -- she is adamant about her exacting style, refusing to interjeGertrude Stein is such a little pill! I admit I was bored through large chunks of this -- she is adamant about her exacting style, refusing to interject flabby emotions into her spartan narrative about hobnobbing with the modernist painters in early twentieth century Paris. So when she's going on and on about who was collecting whom in Spain blah blah blah it can get a little dull. And then all of a sudden she's talking trash about Hemingway, and it's hilarious, and you're like "what??!" It just sneaks up on you out of nowhere. I really like the nerve of this lady ~ you can see that she just wrote all of this to amuse herself, all this "Gertrude Stein is a genius etc etc," and you know... why not?...more
Maybe the trouble is that I had too many expectations about what this book would be before I ever picked it up. I thought I would be reading another dMaybe the trouble is that I had too many expectations about what this book would be before I ever picked it up. I thought I would be reading another dreamy narrative of an adolescent girl, full of her own warmth and sensuality. And I suppose that's what I wanted to read. In some ways "The Lover" gave me this -- the narrative is wholly unconcerned with beginnings and ends, or any linearity in between; and she is haunted by so much in her young life: a murky, barely-revealed conflict between her two brothers, her realization of her own mother's madness, her desire for a beautiful classmate at the girls' school...
But while I lose myself inside the dreams of H.D., Colette, Chacel, Woolf ~ I felt completely detached from Duras, like I was on the outside looking in at this strange, cold and hard little French girl in Vietnam. And why should I expect a 15 year old girl to be warm and sentimental? I suppose I admire the lack of sentimentality in other female writers, like Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, Flannery O'Connor. But they're so wry and cheeky, whereas Duras just seems distant and, in a way, arrogant. Anyway, in spite of its occasional beauty, The Lover left me simply strange and cold....more
Some books, like The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death and Pippi in the South Seas, appeal to my childlike love of mischief and weirdos. My MotheSome books, like The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death and Pippi in the South Seas, appeal to my childlike love of mischief and weirdos. My Mother's House & Sido took me to a different place from my childhood, completely dreamy, sensual and romantic. I loved Colette's love for the provinces, with their basket-fulls of suckling kittens, hyacinths and foxgloves, and melted chocolate for breakfast. I loved her strange siblings who read books in trees and made up epitaphs for fun. And then there is her mother, the mesmerizing and seductive "Sidonie," who seems a little like the Tarot-Empress with her uncanny intuition about all things natural and living.
Of course, this is chock-full of great, melancholy quotes about the relationship between mothers & daughters:
"At the mere sight of her mother's hand the Little One starts to her feet, pale, gentle now, trembling slightly as a child must who for the first time ceases to be the happy little vampire that unconsciously drains the maternal heart; . . . the warm sitting-room with its flora of cut branches and its fauna of peaceful creatures; the echoing house, dry, warm and crackling as a newly-baked loaf; the garden, the village. . . Beyond these all is danger, all is loneliness."
I *really* wanted to love this, and I did have to laugh out loud at "the two naked girls who were running nimbly along the edge of the meadow while twI *really* wanted to love this, and I did have to laugh out loud at "the two naked girls who were running nimbly along the edge of the meadow while two monkeys followed them, biting their buttocks." And there's plenty of good old fashioned philosophical fodder. But actually, Voltaire just seems like kind of a smug jerk....more