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The Queen's Lover: A Novel by Francine du Plessix Gray

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The story of a love affair between Marie Antoinette and Swedish aristocrat Axel von Fersen. The first half of the book is better than the second. During the second half, the reader is forced to read about the sordid details of the royal detention and deaths.

Serious Francophiles will enjoy the excerpts from the correspondence of the queen and Fersen. I found that and the descriptions of a filthy Versailles the best parts of the book. ( )
  susanamper | Sep 21, 2013 |
I thought the concept of this novel was very intriguing, but I struggled to read it and kept thinking that the story could have been better told. For those who don't know, the Swedish count Axel von Fersen was an alleged lover of the tragic French Queen Marie Antoinette and not unlike the French Queen Axel suffered a tragic end. Fersen's life is certainly worthy of a novel, but I felt this one failed to live up to the task. First of all, the novel is told in the first person from Axel's point of view (with some chapters narrator by his sister Sophie), but I just couldn't imagine a man telling his story and using the kind of language employed in this novel. In addition, as a character Axel emerges as a kind of frivolous dandy and womanizer. He professes to love Marie Antoinette deeply, but also describes other concurrent affairs and mistresses. He also makes a number of political and diplomatic missteps which seem to reveal him as a vain and self-centered man. By the end of this novel, I didn't really care much for Axel von Fersen and I must admit I skimmed through his death scene (it didn't seem like that much of a tragedy). ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jul 18, 2012 |
Based on the actual papers and letters of Count Axel von Fersen, the Swedish diplomat with a romantic attachment to Marie Antoinette, this novel is written in the form of a memoir edited and supplemented by Fersen’s sister Sophie. Sophie’s few chapters allow author Francine Du Plessix Gray to convey information Fersen himself couldn’t or wouldn’t, his own death at the hands of an anti-aristocratic mob for instance, but most of the story is Fersen’s bittersweet memories many years after the events surrounding the French Revolution.

It was Fersen who arranged the French royal family’s daring but ultimately unsuccessful escape attempt when revolutionaries forcibly moved them to Paris. Before that he was a regular visitor to Versailles, Marie Antoinette’s opulent but foul-smelling palace home, and he spent happy hours lingering with the queen at her private retreat, La Petit Trianon. Fersen wasn’t in France when Louis XVI or Marie Antoinette were condemned to death and guillotined, those events while still gripping are written at a distance because he’s reporting what he learned rather than what he saw and did, but his outsider’s perspective has the advantage of being more pan-European and it’s fascinating to have a glimpse of how other counties and royal houses are reacting to the upheavals in France. Catherine the Great comes into play a few times, and there is a lot about the changing circumstances of the royal families in Sweden and Austria. The charged ideas and cultural transformations behind French Revolution continued to reverberate through Europe, its effects leading to Fersen’s vicious murder in his native Sweden almost twenty years later. ( )
  Jaylia3 | May 10, 2012 |
Okay, so, I admit it, when I saw the hero of this novel was Axel von Fersen, I immediately thought of so-dreamy-makes-lesbians-faint Jamie Dornan, who portrayed von Fersen in the 2006 Marie Antoinette. Nummy. Needless to say, that mental image helped make this novel especially awesome. But even if your mental image of Swedish courtiers isn't shaped around twenty-something Irish actors, I still think you're really going to dig this book.

Told in parts by von Fersen himself -- by way of his memoir, discovered by his beloved sister Sophie -- and Sophie, filling in the blanks, the story starts with von Fersen's introduction to Marie Antoinette. Despite the title, however, this novel isn't the story of a love affair, but rather, a kind of fictional autobiography by a man whose most notable distinction is that he was, once, Marie Antoinette's lover.

The end of the 18th century was a tumultuous time, and von Fersen participated in some of the most momentous events. Fighting in the American Revolution with French troops, witnessing the French Revolution firsthand, and later, the sweeping political change in Sweden, I was captivated by his life. (I had no idea that pretty face had such an interesting back story!)

I'm struggle with how to describe the writing style, the feel of the narrative; this is a very biographical novel that reads, almost, like a piece of non-fiction. However, that worked for me: it was easy to imagine this is how von Fersen would compose his autobiography -- very precise, attempting some distance and not always succeeding. The chapters are titled with the 'author' -- either von Fersen or Sophie -- and Sophie's tone is admiring and warm. If this sounds like a disjointed way to tell a story, I promise it fits together better than I'm articulating.

Like any good historical, I was sad -- heartbroken -- to finish this book, as the novel ends with von Fersen's death. While the jacket blurb describes this novel as a 'fresh vision of the French Revolution and the French royal family', I would actually argue that this is a fictional biography about an eyewitness to 18th century revolution. The French Revolution is a major part of the story -- and certainly shapes von Fersen -- but this book is far more about loss, love, and the reality of lofty philosophical ideals.

I can't rave about this book enough; I was taken by surprise with how much I enjoyed it and von Fersen.

(Also, if you, like me, are unfamiliar with Francine du Plessix Gray, this Paris Review article and interview provides a great introduction to a fascinating woman!) ( )
  unabridgedchick | Apr 27, 2012 |
The life story of Marie Antoinette fascinates many a lover of historical fiction. One of the many questions not completely answered throughout time is whether she had an affair with Count Axel von Fersen of Sweden. This book reads as Count von Fersen's memoir - with some additions from his beloved sister Sophie.

Count Axel wrote a long stream of letters and kept a diary so there is quite a record of his thoughts from his lifetime. Marie Antoinette's correspondence did not survive quite as intact so while there are tantalizing teasers as to a relationship between the two there is nothing definitive to prove that one existed. But such are the building blocks of historical fiction.

This is definitely Count von Fersen's story and perhaps a third of it (?) encompasses his relationship with Marie Antoinette. The rest details his travels to America to help in the Revolution, a jaunt with Gustavus of Sweden, and his life after Marie Antoinette had been killed.

I still cannot decide after having read this book whether I am supposed to like Count von Fersen, despise him or just be disgusted by him. I suppose that is the sign of a good writer - letting her character speak for himself without dressing him up for current times because from all I can discern the count was a man who did not realize that his times were a changin' as the song goes. He stuck to a code that had outlived his society and he paid a severe price for it. He also seemed to have been somewhat of a pig when it came to women and rather proud of his conquests.

So, where does that leave me?

Educated, interested in learning more, repulsed? Yes, all three of these. Ms. du Plessix Gray spares nothing with her character nor with her writing style to bring this somewhat pivotal individual to life in this book. Whether or not von Fersen slept with Marie Antoinette or not he did have a deep relationship with the royal family and was responsible for the arrangements for their almost escape from France.

I learned quite a bit about the count from this book. It was an interesting way to present it. Quite a bit of it is Fersen's own words from his letters and diary entries. It is perhaps, though, misnamed as it is more about Fersen the man than Fersen the Queen's lover. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Apr 26, 2012 |
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"The Queen's Lover" reveals the untold love affair between Swedish aristocrat Count Axel von Fersen and Marie Antoinette.

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