K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > Marie Antoinette: The Journey

Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
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Oct 09, 10

bookshelves: bio, french, history
Read from September 17 to October 06, 2010 — I own a copy, read count: 1

Next Saturday, October 16th will be her 217th Death Anniversary. On that same day, 217 years ago, Marie Antoinette or Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna (1755-1793) was executed by guillotine. She was convicted of treason. Nine months prior to that her husband, King Louis XIV was executed. These all happened at the height of the French Revolution (1789-1799).

Marie Antoinette was a victim from birth to death. Her marriage to King Louis XIV was a move to forge alliances among the warring countries included in the Seven Years War. Included in these countries were Austria, where Marie Antoinette was an Archduchess and France, where Louis-Auguste (who became King Louis XIV) was a Dauphin. Prior to their marriage, France was used to be Austria's traditional enemy. Even at the time of her execution, peasants were shouting: "Hang the Austrian woman! Long live France!". Marie Antoinette did not dream of becoming a French queen. She just followed the wishes of her mother, Empress Maria Theresa who she did not have a good relation as the later had her favorite, Marie Antoinette's younger sister, Maria Carolina. Thus leaving Hamburg for Paris to live in Versailles was Marie Antoinette way of ending her jealousy of being the less-favoured daughter of the empress.

Unfortunately, King Louis XIV did not love her and it took time for their marriage to be consummated. They had 4 children and two of them died at their young age. Their eldest survived, Marie-Therese Charlotte (1778-1851)who later became Dauphine of France upon ascension of her father-in-law to the throne of France in 1824. After the death of the first son who died at the age of 7, the second son (third child) was born: Louis XVII (1785-1795). He, too died but this time, during the imprisonment of her parents in the palace tower.

The line "let them eat cake", with "them" being the hungry French peasants because of bread shortage, has not been proven to have come from her. It first appeared in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions but Rousseau did not name who the "great princess" was.

Marie Antoinette was never a political animal. She had no power and was content in playing her role as a queen attending social functions and doing civic works. Her unhappy marriage resulted to her becoming frivolous. She dressed herself up extravagantly and wanted to have all the luxuries despite the poor economic condition of the country. She was accused of everything from lesbianism, occult and having incestuous relation with her own son.

This is a heartfelt biography of a misunderstood famous figure in French history. She is said to be one of the 4 world-famous French figures in the history following Napoleon Bonaparte, Joan of Arc and Charles de Gaulle. According to Wiki, Fraser's depiction of Marie Antoinette here is kind. For me, that's baloney. This work presented the balanced view of Marie Antoinette and is well-documented as Fraser has all the footnotes and cross-references.

"Is anybody here a mother?" was her heartfelt line during her trial when her accuser brought up her alleged incestuous relation with her own son.

"Pardon me Sir, I meant not to do it" were her last words addressing her executioner when Marie Antoinette accidentally stepped on his toes on her way to the guillotine. Oh yes, like her king husband he faced her trial and execution with grace.

Those last words that should have come from the people who condemned her, in my honest opinion. Her being a political pawn and scapegoat was too tragic. A queen killed by her own people was too sad.

Excellent writing though. Well-researched. Amazing biography!

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Reading Progress

09/17/2010 page 20
09/19/2010 page 30
6.0% "I just came to know that Marie Antoinette and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are contemporaries. Both are Austrians with only few-month age gap. Mozart played piano in the palace and Marie Antoinette jumped and kissed him. Interesting read so far."
09/21/2010 page 50
10.0% "Marie Antoinette left Austria and became the Queen of France at the age of 15. I never thought somebody like my daughter (now 15) could already handle the job of a queen especially in a foreign country. At first she did not know how to speak French since her native tongue is German. Should have been a lot of adjustments for a young lady like her."
09/23/2010 page 101
20.0% "The royal people in Europe during Marie Antoinette's days marry each other even if there is no love. So, the kings ended up having mistresses. In fact King Louis XVI had a mistress as it took a while for his marriage with Marie Antoinette to be consummated (no sex and she badly wanting it to give the king a heir to his throne)."
09/24/2010 page 175
34.0% "Finally, Marie Antoinette has given birth to a baby boy!"
09/26/2010 page 179
35.0% "It was a girl! Oh my, Marie Antoinette has no heir yet. The king does not enjoy making love with her so she has a problem. This problem in sex makes her want to have all the luxury things around her."
09/27/2010 page 185
36.0% "Marie Antoinette has got pregnant again! And this time it is a son! The king wept and wept. He could not believe he now has a heir to his throne!"
09/27/2010 page 201
39.0% "Marie Antoinette received lots of gifts including books. According to this book she read and liked Evelina by Fanny Burney, a 1001 book. Wow. I should read that book!"
09/30/2010 page 327
64.0% "The biography is now becoming dark and sad. Two miscarriages. The Daulphin is dead. With tears in her eyes, the Queen of Deficit says "you do not understand the heart of a mother""
10/02/2010 page 389
76.0% "The 4th child, Sophie died too. Marie Antoinette is misunderstood. She has no power and yet people thought that she has all those influences. So, she is accused of all those crimes. "I only want a good life for my son (the surviving Dauphin)". Too sad."
10/04/2010 page 419
82.0% "King Louis XVI is dead. He gets the death penalty. Marie Antoinette, Madame Elizabeth and the surviving royal family are still in the tower. Will the people be forgiving to them? In the history, there is Mary Queen of Scott who was beheaded but Marie Antoinette is not a queen like Mary."
10/05/2010 page 482
94.0% "Oh my, Marie Antoinette lost her case and got the death verdict too! So sad!"

Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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message 1: by Regine (new)

Regine You also have to remember that this is a "sympathetic biography".

So even though she's trying to show events from Marie Antoinette's perspective, the rays of bias are shining through!

K.D. Absolutely Yes, I read about it. However, the chronology of events and the reasons for the events included in Fraser's narrations are plausible and logical. Everything is believable so for somebody like me who has no knowledge whatsoever about the French revolution and Marie Antoinette, I have only this "side" of the story. Was she really high-maintenance? Was she a lesbian? Did she and his own son, the Dauphin, have sexual relation? I mean bad rumours always come up if you are not well liked especially if you are in power or popular. But the way, Fraser covered all of these rumours with plausible explanation, makes me believe that she was just a victim. First and foremost by the animosity between her country (Austria) and King Louis XIV's France. On to the last 50 pages!

message 3: by jzhunagev (new)

jzhunagev K.D. wrote: "I just came to know that Marie Antoinette and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are contemporaries. Both are Austrians with only few-month age gap. Mozart played piano in the palace and Marie Antoinette jumped and kissed him. Interesting read so far."

Kuya, I don't know if you happen to watch "Amadeus" the award-winning Oscar movie and a great one at that! Visually and musically rich film, I recommend you watch i, if you already have it, or I might lend you my pirated dvd copy if you haven't.
There's this scene there (though it wasn't mentioned that Mozart and she are contemporaries) where this girl extravagantly dressed like Marie Antoinette flirtatiously winks at Mozart. Wala lang. Just want to share. Ahahaha! :D

message 4: by Regine (new)

Regine @ jzhun
such a great movie! The Emperor in Mozart is actually Marie Antoinette's brother, and he mentions his sister once or twice in the film.

K.D. I never discredited Fraser's facts, but with all the research she's done, her bias really comes through. Marie Antoinette was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not calling her a tyrant, but I don't think that Fraser is right by making her out to be a victim.

K.D. Absolutely Oh well, Regine. Fraser did not actually categorically say that Marie Antoinette was a victim. It was just the impression I got. For example, the famous phrase "they don't have bread, let them eat cake!" or something like that? Fraser says in the book that it is unfounded. There is no proof that Marie Antoinette said those worlds. If you check Wiki, Antonia Fraser is the wife of Nobel Laureate poet Harold Pinter and she is a well-known novelist. I think that the right credentials are there. I may be wrong on this but this is just the "victim" side. It actually reminded me of Imelda Marcos. Some say the Marcos family deserved being ousted from power in 1986. Some say they didn't. It maybe the same as Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI.

@Jzhun: I have the original DVD and sountrack of that movie. Oh yes, I remember a scene where there was a young princess flirting with Mozart.

message 6: by Regine (new)

Regine Again, I'm not questioning her credentials or her research. I'm more critical of her bias. The importance of the Revolution is lost to some readers because she does such a great job of victimizing the Queen. And Fraser definitely isn't the first historian to ever say that "let them eat cake" was never said by Marie Antoinette.

Oh well. This is not the first time I've said this, but I'm saying it again because it really sticks to me. One of my favourite teachers in high school use to say, "The most biased place in the world is inside a history textbook."

K.D. Absolutely Yes, I agree. Cercas in his "Soldier of Salamis" said that too. Some books are full of lies.

I will finish the rest of the book this week and let's see how Fraser would tie up the loose ends. However, one review I read is this book (that is the basis of the movie starring the Spiderman lady ha ha) is kind in its portrayal of Marie Antoinette.

Maybe I should read more of the French Revolution. But this one I am enjoying since it is my first and it give me a lot of information not only about Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI but as well as France, Austria and Europe during the 18th century. It's worth the time, I think.

message 8: by Regine (new)

Regine Trust me. Once you start reading about the French Revolution, your opinion on the book will change. It's all about getting both sides in.

K.D. Absolutely Okay, I will. Any recommendation for the unbiased book on French Revolution?

message 10: by Regine (new)

Regine Unbiased? Very tricky. Try an encyclopedia :p But even the bias of an encyclopedia could be up for debate.

message 11: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Hmmm. It was actually Wiki that says this Antonia Fraser book is the most comprehensive but kind to Marie Antoinette. So, I think I will just be more cautious then.

message 12: by Teresa (last edited Oct 08, 2010 10:37AM) (new)

Teresa K.D. wrote: "Hmmm. It was actually Wiki that says this Antonia Fraser book is the most comprehensive but kind to Marie Antoinette. So, I think I will just be more cautious then."

I've read other history books by Fraser, those having to do with the kings and queens of England and Scotland. From what I know of her, she is thorough in her research and well-respected. Any historian's 'bias' comes through in their work, but that is unavoidable and not necessarily 'wrong' or a bad thing.

I love the plays by her late husband, Harold Pinter. He's my favorite playwright.

message 13: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely I agree, T. I should try a play by Harold Pinter. Any recommendation?

message 14: by Teresa (last edited Oct 09, 2010 09:06AM) (new)

Teresa K.D. wrote: "I agree, T. I should try a play by Harold Pinter. Any recommendation?"


I said Pinter was my favorite playwright, but I need to add Tennessee Williams to my list too -- I am from New Orleans, after all. ;)

message 15: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Kd, interesting, nicely written review... Thank you!

message 16: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Very interesting play, T. I have to watch out for a copy of that book! I like Tennessee Williams to and I have his The Streetcar Named Desire in my soon to read pile!

Thanks you for the like, T and B.

message 17: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan I am soon to read this book and this comprehensive review has made me look forward to it that much more. Thank you!

message 18: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Thanks, Susan. I re-read my review and I hope I did not spoil your reading. However, there are still so many other details of her life that I know you will discover and enjoy. I just captured not even a fleck from those.

When people asked me which biographies I recently read and enjoyed, this has always been my consistent answer. Happy reading!

Joseph Monaghan Just thought I would mention - you have referred to Marie Antoinette's husband as Louis XIV many times, but then later refer to him as XVI.

Joseph Monaghan Lovely review, by the way.

message 21: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Thanks, Joseph. Yeah, typo error. My apologies :)

message 22: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Uh..... Louis XIV was the Sun King. This gal married Louis XVI -- both famous in their own way.

message 23: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Sue, thanks!

message 24: by Trevor (new) - added it

Trevor The king left the palace for Prussia to try and raise an army. To bring a foreign army in against his own people for whatever deal he may of struck and presumably in order for him to maintain his privileged position was bound to cause great anger. The people thought they should rule themselves rather than have a particular family foisted upon them and when the king was arrested on his flight the betrayal came to light. In context it matters not what Marie Antoinette or her husband were like as people it is that they presumed to rule people without their consent.

message 25: by Angela (new) - added it

Angela Louis the XVI was the King

message 26: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Trevor wrote: "The king left the palace for Prussia to try and raise an army. To bring a foreign army in against his own people for whatever deal he may of struck and presumably in order for him to maintain his p..."

Thanks for the info, Trevor!

message 27: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Angela wrote: "Louis the XVI was the King"

Awesome. Means I need to read more on this :)

message 28: by Angela (new) - added it

Angela my favorite is by Andre Castelot. I was rooting for them to escape to the end (even though I know they don't). Also if you are interested you must read about her daughter Marie Therese who is the only one to survive. Fascinating.

message 29: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Oh yes, I really felt sad for them.

message 30: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John You keep referring to her husband "Louis XIV". She was married to Louis XVI.

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