Marie Antoinette: The Journey
The Barnes & Noble Review: Was she a sexual predator, political meddler, wastrel, and traitor? Or was she a scapegoat for a corrupt and bankrupt nation, who went with superb dignity to the guillotine, the victim of a vindictive judicial murder? The tragic life of Marie Antoinette, rich in conflicting detail, remains a biographer's challenge, and Antonia Fraser's richly human yet evenhanded account is a reader's delight. In 1770, Marie Antoinette, aged 14, wed the awkward 16-year-old who in 1774 became Louis XVI. The marriage was intended to strengthen the Austrian-French alliance and produce sons to continue it. Marie Antoinette was of little use in the first endeavor; she lacked political power. Louis was of only occasional help in the second; he suffered from phimosis, an inhibiting physical condition. While the pair wandered through their doomed lives, fury built up in bankrupt France, exploding in the ferocity of the Revolution. Everybody criticized Marie, who was known both as l'Autrichienne (the Austrian woman) and l'autruche chienne (the ostrich bitch). She was regarded as extravagant ("Madame Deficit"), pro-Austrian, and childless for too long. But, as Fraser demonstrates, Versailles demanded extravagance, and in politics Marie Antoinette was more pawn than player, pushed by wily Austrian diplomats and blocked by shrewd French ministers. Fraser draws upon a huge range of sources to present a dazzling cast. Mozart, Gluck, Jefferson, Paine, Franklin and numerous others cross her pages. Fersen, the queen's discreet, devoted Swedish lover, looms large. The author succeeds brilliantly in describing how the once-vibrant Marie and the decent, despised, and irresolute Louis transformed themselves as the Revolution took its murderous course. Love of family gave them courage; love of France gave them nobility. The horrific fate of Marie Antoinette, physically abused by the canaille, viciously libeled by the blood-soaked false prophets of liberty who condemned her, reminds the reader of just how thin the veneer of civilization is - and how often revolutionaries are worse than those they condemn.