Imagine that, on the night before she is to die under the blade of the guillotine, Marie Antoinette leaves behind in her prison cell a diary telling the story of her life—from her privileged childhood as Austrian Archduchess to her years as glamorous mistress of Versailles to the heartbreak of imprisonment and humiliation during the French Revolution.
Carolly Erickson takes the reader deep into the psyche of France's doomed queen: her love affair with handsome Swedish diplomat Count Axel Fersen, who risked his life to save her; her fears on the terrifying night the Parisian mob broke into her palace bedroom intent on murdering her and her family; her harrowing attempted flight from France in disguise; her recapture and the grim months of harsh captivity; her agony when her beloved husband was guillotined and her young son was torn from her arms, never to be seen again.
Erickson brilliantly captures the queen's voice, her hopes, her dreads, and her suffering. We follow, mesmerized, as she reveals every detail of her remarkable, eventful life—from her teenage years when she began keeping a diary to her final days when she awaited her own bloody appointment with the guillotine.
Historian Erickson (Bloody Mary; To the Scaffold; etc.) makes her first foray into fiction with this invented journal kept by the notorious queen who was sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution in 1793. Recounting her childhood as Austrian Archduchess Maria Antonia, her marriage to feckless Frenchman Louis XVI and her na ve pangs of conscience about hungry peasants clamoring at the gates of Versailles, Erickson delivers a spirited blend of fiction and fact. While Marie Antoinette's love affair with Swedish nobleman Axel Fersen is well-documented, other characters pivotal to Erickson's plot are pure fabrication: swarthy servant Eric, his jealous wife, Amelie, and the queen's confessor, Father Kuthibert. These inventions add color to the story of the ruler inaccurately linked to the phrase "Let them eat cake!" The novel's narrative engagingly reflects Marie Antoinette's progression from privileged adolescent to royal mother of four (though only one daughter and son survived into adulthood), and Erickson's descriptions of pomp and circumstance lend flavor and flair. While France's most infamous queen was clearly more sybarite than saint, Erickson's lively account reveals a woman whose bravery and resilience seem as noteworthy as the bloody details of her demise.