Thursday, 29 May 2008
Farewell, My Queen
And so I moved on to another "Last Queen", in this case the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Though more to the point, this book Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas, doesn't really rotate around Marie Antoinette as a central figure. The real Queen of this piece is Versailles. The palace, the courtiers, the rituals. The story is told diary style over a three day period from the fall of the Bastille. The narrator is the deputy reader to Marie Antoinette, who left Versailles and resided in Vienna. The author Chantal Thomas, is also the author of a non-fiction work on Marie Antoinette, "The Wicked Queen", which comes highly recommended from readers more "in the know" than me, and I think that this shows itself in the details in "Farewell, My Queen". She clearly has done a lot of research into the way of life in the palace of Versailles and I was intrigued by what I learnt. Sure it was (is) a sumptuous palace, but it was certainly had its problems! Rats and other vermin, swampy stinky smells on hot summers days, and a courtly ritual that meant that the King and Queen ate their meals cold, are just some of the gems in this book. But aside from that, it also tells of the panic that enveloped the nobles and courtiers in the palace, with the swirling rumours afoot of mobs of Revolutionary peasants ready to attack their way of life and their very bodies as well. There was so much uncertainty on how to behave. The King and Queen even disagreeing on whether to escape the palace, they stayed and the world knows the outcome of that one. Some nobles even refrained from fleeing, as they could not get together the accouterments to journey forth in the style that they deemed fitting for their rank! Oh how the hierarchy got a shake up with the Revolution!