Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Marie Antoinette: The Journey

2001, 2002 Anchor Books edition
Antonia Fraser
Marie Antoinette: The Journey
Original price $16.95, purchase price $5.95
Worn paperback

This is equally as good as Fraser's 1969 biography of Mary Queen of Scots (one of MA's* ancestresses).  As with that profile, Fraser humanises the queen, flaws and all, although it's mostly a positive portrayal.  Even the flaws are ones that Fraser sees as common to MA's times, places, and class.  She argues that the "let them eat cake" remark was not only attributed to many earlier French princesses, but it would've been out of character with the soft-hearted MA.  The book can be fairly criticized for not giving much if any sympathy to MA's many enemies, although I understand why Fraser chooses to instead focus on MA's perspective and experience.  

One aspect I found especially interesting, as a post-Hillary-as-First-Lady book, is that MA was the subject of nasty rumors and even pornography, presenting her an anything-that-moves bisexual bitch who controlled her weak husband.  Although Louis XVI was killed first, it was her beheading that was meant to be cathartic, and unifying, for the French.  In her show trial, she was accused of incest with her eight-year-old son.  (And, yes, some right-wing sickos have accused Obama with incest with his daughter, and his father.)  As Fraser notes, some modern lesbians have claimed MA as one of their own, but in her lifetime and for a long time afterward, her sexuality (real or imagined) was considered part of her evil.

Fraser argues that MA had little interest in sex, and her closest female friendships were sentimental, not "tribadic."  And yet Fraser herself, on little evidence, insists that MA had a several-years-long affair with Count Fersen.  Fraser claims he used condoms to prevent pregnancy, but I think it's more plausible, given all the risks, that MA made out (or maybe just kissed) with the Duchesse de Polignac, and saved sex for reproduction with her often uninterested husband.

Still, I enjoyed this book so much the first time that my boyfriend bought me a novel about MA's son, "Louis XVII."  It wasn't very good, so I reread this book again instead of finishing that.  This time is my third read in three years, so that's saying something.

*I'm going with this abbreviation, especially since the queen's birth name was Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna.

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