Sunday, 4 March 2007

Marie Antoinette

I have just finished "Marie Antoinette" by Stefan Zweig. Its an older biography of this much maligned queen. I have previously read only two historical novels about her. One was "The Queens Confession" by Victoria Holt, but I read this many many years ago when I was a teenager and my mum first got me interested in royalty. I must ask her if she still has it (we are so much alike in books so I know she will still have it!), and reread it. And just a few months ago I read "The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette" by Carolly Erickson. This made me keen to read more about her, and try and understand some of the truths and fictions surounding her.

I originally read the Erickson book to get in the mood for seeing the movie "Marie Antoinette". Now, I know that Antonia Fraser's biography was used as a basis for the film, but I knew that I wouldn't have enought time to read that before seeing the movie, so I had to choose a quicker read! So now after seeing the movie, I had to read a biography. And the Zweig book has been on my shelf for much longer than the Fraser one!

It seems the more you read about Marie Antoinette, the more you feel sorry for the way things panned out for her. Yes she might have been frivolous and flighty during her first years in France, but when she became a mother, and lost two of her children, it seems that life changed for her. Maybe she realised what was really important in her life as a women, and that was her children. I believe she loved Louis XVI as she might of loved a favourite brother. Yes, she was married to him for political reasons, but they went through some much during the Revolution, that I believe she felt very protective towards him, and she must of felt stronger as a person with him close by.

As for Count Fersen... Well, Zweig takes the line that he MUST of been her lover physically. He believed that the loyalty and devotion he showed to Marie Antoinette both in his endevours to gain her release from imprisonment, and in his writings, could have only come from a physical relationship. His explanations are pretty compelling, but we can never truly know what went on behind closed doors, we can only speculate. Which is part of the fun in reading about history isn't it?

The imprisonment and removal of her children are something that no woman should have to go through. And the charges of incest that were laid on her were terrible, and contrived only to bring about her death.

I look forward to learning more about Marie Antoinette, and her immediate circle of family and friends. But for now, I am back into the Tudor era. I've just started "The Sixth Wife" by Suzannah Dunn.


Kailana said...

somehow I missed you having a blog. I got the url from Marg's blog links today. :) Another Marie Antoinette book is Abundance, which just came out last year. I own it, but I find it is very reflective in writing style, so I am saving it for when I have the time to concentrate. I have generally heard it is rewarding when you get through it.

Amanda said...

Hi Kailana! Thanks for commenting! As you can see, the blog hasn't been around for all that long. I think I make more changes to the layout than write posts! I have Abundance on my TBR pile. If it needs concentrating, I might consider taking it on holiday in May.

Catherine Delors said...

Beware of Zweig as a biographer! His Marie-Antoinette is very readable, but he walks a fine line between novel and biography. I suppose it was deemed acceptable at the time. To be enjoyed with a grain of salt.

I highly recommend the works of Chantal Thomas. She is a historian AND a novelist, and makes a clear distinction between the different sides of her writing. Her scholarly work "The Myth of the Wicked Queen" is indispensable to understand why Marie-Antoinette's public image was such a disaster, and her novel "Farewell My Queen" is simply beautiful.

And of course, there is the outstanding, award-winning biography by Simone Bertiere, which unfortunately not translated into English. If you read French, it is a must.

I am wary of anything that purports of being a diary, or journal, or autobiography of Marie-Antoinette, because was not at all given to introspection or writing. For instance, she never quite mastered French spelling. So anything under that heading has to be somewhat untrue to her.

Amanda said...

Thank you for your comment Catherine!

I have Chantal Thomas's "Farewell My Queen", but haven't read it yet. Now I will be very interested in reading it with your recommendation. I will also add her other book to the ever expanding wishlist.

As far as Zweig and other biographers are concerned, I try and always keep in mind to take all their opinions with a grain of salt, unless backed with with other works and confirmed sources. Some authors put so much weight on their own opinions that they come across as facts. This "sorting of the wheat from the chaff" is a good reason, and the fun, in reading multiple books about the same person.