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Marie Antoinette: The Journey (2001)

by Antonia Fraser

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,129563,743 (3.9)111
France's beleaguered queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous "Let them eat cake," was the subject of ridicule and curiosity even before her death; she has since been the object of debate and speculation and the fascination so often accorded tragic figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted, privileged, but otherwise unremarkable child was thrust into an unparalleled time and place, and was commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in history. Antonia Fraser's lavish and engaging portrait of Marie Antoinette, one of the most recognizable women in European history, excites compassion and regard for all aspects of her subject, immersing the listener not only in the coming-of-age of a graceful woman, but also in the unraveling of an era.… (more)
  1. 10
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    nessreader: I know these represent two different generations at Versailles, but both books are about women at the french court, and are as readable as novels
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» See also 111 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette is a vast improvement on Évelyne Lever's flowery and decidedly prejudiced account, at least in my opinion! Sofia Coppola also based her 2006 film on Fraser's account of the late queen's life. The author aims were 'to unravel the cruel myths and salacious distortions surrounding [Marie Antoinette's] name' (from 'let them eat cake' to her alleged affairs with close female friends) and 'to exert common sense in an area which must remain forever speculative, as indeed it was in her own day' (Count Fersen). She is fair to Marie Antoinette, if not a little biased in opposition to Lever, concluding that the French queen was in a way 'a victim from birth'. Her bluntness in appraising Louis XVI - 'What he lacked in confidence, the Dauphin certainly did not make up for in physical attraction' - and the Princesse Lamballe (who was 'not clever') among other made me laugh, however.

I think the most shocking part of Marie Antoinette's life to remember is that she was only fourteen when her mother, the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa, married her off to a stranger in another country. Fourteen! And almost from the start, she faced abuse from the French court: Marie Antoinette was sneeringly baptized l’Autrichienne by Madame Adélaïde, eldest surviving daughter of Louis XV, years before it became a popular term of derision. Her husband, the future Louis XVI, was only one year older and not interested - or perhaps unable - to consummate the relationship, either through shyness or a medical condition. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that Marie Antoinette turned to friends like the Princesse de Lamballe and the Duchesse de Polignac and preferred to have fun gambling and attending parties, catching the disease of Versailles at an early age. Her historical reputation is one of excess, ignorance and haughtiness when contemporary accounts portray her as compassionate, affectionate and loyal. When all of Paris turned out to celebrate her marriage to the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette recognised that ‘in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness'. And during the infamous 'Affair of the Diamond Necklace', she told the jewellers that 'We have more need of ships than of diamonds'. Fraser's biography highlights how Marie Antoinette became the scapegoat of France ('Madame Deficit', 'Madame Veto') because she was a foreigner and her husband was not fit for the role he was born into. What happened to her during the Revolution was horrendous by any standards. 'Oh my God,’ she wrote in October 1790, ‘if we have committed faults, we have certainly expiated them.’

Although probably not Antonia Fraser's intention, I am a now a firm defender of Marie Antoinette. There is a lot of background politics to plough through - the power play of Versailles and the Queen's relationship with her Austrian mother and brothers - but the heart of the story is a young woman who had to adopt a new country and language at a tender age, and wanted nothing more than to be a wife and mother, yet who faced judgement for being both an outsider and a 'flaunting, extravagant queen'. ( )
1 vote AdonisGuilfoyle | May 11, 2022 |
This was a fantastic read in my opinion. Antonia Fraser does an incredible job in telling Marie Antoinette’s story in a captivating way for any reader. Myself personally, I had this unclear image of Marie Antoinette, but after reading this book, I was able to get a more definitive image of a woman who’s been so elusive in history due to modern — and historical — exaggerations about the woman. ( )
  historybookreads | Jul 26, 2021 |
I've never cried so much reading a book. There are so many misconceptions about Marie Antoinette's life that I want to smack myself in the back of the head for having ever believed, I feel so much pity for this woman and admire her so much. Louis XVI was unsuited for his generation. If his lovely personality was brought into the 21st century, I feel as if he would have been much more appreciated. My heart goes out to their whole family. I'm trying hard to type through the tears. ( )
  kam14505 | Dec 3, 2019 |
I put this book on my reading list at the time when I saw Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette film but that's a long enough time ago that I can't really remember much about it—the scene where young Antoine has to symbolically leave Austria behind, all the way down everything she's wearing. Beyond that, when I finally picked up this book, I had this idea of sensationalist parties and extravagance, but this biography puts a lot of effort into showing the life and and the woman behind the sensationalist pamphlets and the gory end, one who got swept into a period of violent change because of what she was seen to represent rather than anything specific that she did.
A thoughtful book that I enjoyed reading. ( )
1 vote mari_reads | May 11, 2019 |
3.5. I liked this book fairly well and thought it was quite sympathetic to Marie-Antoinette. ( )
  jeninmotion | Sep 24, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Antonia Fraserprimary authorall editionscalculated
Peters, DonadaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Her Majesty has been very happily delivered of a small, but completely healthy Archduchess.
--Count Khevenhuller, Court Chamberlain, 1755.
Dedication
For Harold
The First Reader
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On 2 November 1755 the Queen-Empress was in labour all day with her fifteenth child.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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France's beleaguered queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous "Let them eat cake," was the subject of ridicule and curiosity even before her death; she has since been the object of debate and speculation and the fascination so often accorded tragic figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted, privileged, but otherwise unremarkable child was thrust into an unparalleled time and place, and was commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in history. Antonia Fraser's lavish and engaging portrait of Marie Antoinette, one of the most recognizable women in European history, excites compassion and regard for all aspects of her subject, immersing the listener not only in the coming-of-age of a graceful woman, but also in the unraveling of an era.

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blurb: France’s ironic queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous ‘Let them eat cake,’ was alternately revered and reviled during her lifetime. For centuries since, she had been the object of debate, speculation, and the fascination so often accorded illustrious figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, the essentially lighthearted child was thrust onto the royal stage and commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in European history. Antonia Fraser’s lavish and engaging portrait excited compassion and regard for all aspects of the queen, immersing the reader not only in the coming of age of a graceful woman, but in the culture of an unparalleled time and place.
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