'Drama, betrayal, religion and sex, it's all here ... Fascinating' GUARDIAN
'Beautifully paced, impeccably written ... Don't miss it' INDEPENDENT
'Fraser is at her best here, lucid, authoritative and compassionate' SUNDAY TIMES
'Superbly researched ... the definitive work on the ill-fated queen' CATHOLIC HERALD
Marie Antoinette's dramatic life-story continues to arouse mixed emotions. To many people, she is still 'la reine méchante', whose extravagance and frivolity helped to bring down the French monarchy; her indifference to popular suffering epitomised by the (apocryphal) words: 'let them eat cake'. Others are equally passionate in her defence: to them, she is a victim of misogyny.
Antonia Fraser examines her influence over the king, Louis XVI, the accusations and sexual slurs made against her, her patronage of the arts which enhanced French cultural life, her imprisonment, the death threats made against her, rumours of lesbian affairs, her trial (during which her young son was forced to testify to sexual abuse by his mother) and her eventual execution by guillotine in 1793.
A child-princess is married off to a husband of limited carnal appetite. Her indiscretions and na vet , scorned by elderly dowagers, are coupled with charity, joie de vivre and almost divine glamour but her life is cut brutally short. The queen of France's life is rich in emotional resonance, riddled with sexual subplots and personal tragedies, and provides fertile ground for biographers. Fraser's sizable new portrait avoids the saccharine romance of Evelyne Lever's recent Marie Antoinette, balancing empathy for the pleasure-loving queen with an awareness of the inequalities that fed revolution after all, Marie herself was fully conscious of them. Her subject shows no let-them-eat cake arrogance, but is deeply (even surprisingly) compassionate, with a "public reputation for sweetness and mercy" that is only later sullied by vituperative pamphleteers and bitter unrest. She would sometimes be trapped by ingenuousness, and later by a fatal sense of duty. Yet her graceful bearing, acquired under the tutelage of her demanding mother, the empress Maria Teresa, made her an unusually popular princess before she was scapegoated as "Madame Deficit" and much, much worse. The portrait is drawn delicately, with pleasant touches of humor (a long-awaited baby is conceived around the time of Benjamin Franklin's visit: "Perhaps the King found this first contact with the virile New World inspirational"). Fraser's approach is controlled and thoughtful, avoiding the extravagance of Alison Weir's royal biographies. Her queen is neither heroine nor villain, but a young wife and mother who, in her journey into maturity, finds herself caught in a deadly vise. Color and b&w illus. (on sale: Sept. 18)