Marie Antoinette was a child of fourteen when her mother, the Empress of Austria, arranged for her to leave her family and her country to become the wife of the fifteen-year-old Dauphin, the future King of France. Coming of age in the most public of arenas—eager to be a good wife and strong queen—she warmly embraces her adopted nation and its citizens. She shows her new husband nothing but love and encouragement, though he repeatedly fails to consummate their marriage and in so doing is unable to give what she and the people of France desire most: a child and an heir to the throne. Deeply disappointed and isolated in her own intimate circle, and apart from the social life of the court, she allows herself to remain ignorant of the country's growing economic and political crises, even as poor harvests, bitter winters, war debts, and poverty precipitate rebellion and revenge. The young queen, once beloved by the common folk, becomes a target of scorn, cruelty, and hatred as she, the court's nobles, and the rest of the royal family are caught up in the nightmarish violence of a murderous time called "the Terror."
With penetrating insight and with wondrous narrative skill, Sena Jeter Naslund offers an intimate, fresh, heartbreaking, and dramatic reimagining of this truly compelling woman that goes far beyond popular myth—and she makes a bygone time of tumultuous change as real to us as the one we are living in now.
The opening sentence of Naslund's fictional memoir of Marie Antoinette ("Like everyone, I am born naked") sets a hypnotically intimate tone that never wavers as the much-maligned Austrian princess recounts her life from baptism in the Rhine and rebirth as French citizen to appointment with the guillotine. In Naslund's (Ahab's Wife) sympathetic portrayal, 14-year-old "Toinette" arrives in France a pretty-mannered na f determined to please the king, the court and, most importantly, her husband, the Dauphin. The novel provides a wealth of detail as Toinette savors the food, architecture, music and gardens of Versailles; indulges in hair and clothing rituals; gets acquainted with her indifferent partner and her scheming new relations; and experiences motherhood and loss. Her story unfolds like classical tragedy the outcome known, the account riveting as famous incidents are reinterpreted (the affair of the necklace, the flight to Varennes), culminating in a heartbreaking description of the bloody head of the Princess de Lamballe held aloft on a pike for the deposed queen to see. With vivid detail and exquisite narrative technique, Naslund exemplifies the best of historical fiction, finding the woman beneath the pose, a queen facing history as it rises up against her.
The book was beautifully written and gave a human quality to a woman, who when educated in school about, came off as naive, selfish, and lacking intelligence. It was easy to read up until about page five hundred when you start getting closer to the realization of her death, but that's more personal preference to the aversion of awkwardness or tragedy. Love the French woven within, just wish there had been an index in the back so as to have a full understanding of those words.
Detailed and moving
A good read.
Wonderful retelling of Marie Antoinette's story from her point of view. It was easy to read because of the narrative format.