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Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

4.1 74
by Sena Jeter Naslund

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Marie Antoinette was a child of fourteen when her mother, the Empress of Austria, arranged for her to leave her family and her country to become the wife of the fifteen-year-old Dauphin, the future King of France. Coming of age in the most public of arenas—eager to be a good wife and strong queen—she warmly embraces her adopted nation and its citizens.


Marie Antoinette was a child of fourteen when her mother, the Empress of Austria, arranged for her to leave her family and her country to become the wife of the fifteen-year-old Dauphin, the future King of France. Coming of age in the most public of arenas—eager to be a good wife and strong queen—she warmly embraces her adopted nation and its citizens. She shows her new husband nothing but love and encouragement, though he repeatedly fails to consummate their marriage and in so doing is unable to give what she and the people of France desire most: a child and an heir to the throne. Deeply disappointed and isolated in her own intimate circle, and apart from the social life of the court, she allows herself to remain ignorant of the country's growing economic and political crises, even as poor harvests, bitter winters, war debts, and poverty precipitate rebellion and revenge. The young queen, once beloved by the common folk, becomes a target of scorn, cruelty, and hatred as she, the court's nobles, and the rest of the royal family are caught up in the nightmarish violence of a murderous time called "the Terror."

With penetrating insight and with wondrous narrative skill, Sena Jeter Naslund offers an intimate, fresh, heartbreaking, and dramatic reimagining of this truly compelling woman that goes far beyond popular myth—and she makes a bygone time of tumultuous change as real to us as the one we are living in now.

Editorial Reviews

Liesl Schillinger
Fictionalizing a life that is already so surreal is usually a vain endeavor (Shakespeare is one of the few who regularly pulled it off); so it's best in reading Naslund's romance to think of it as a kind of Forever Amber punted across the channel from Restoration England to Versailles.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Naslund broke on to the bestseller list in 1999 with Ahab's Wife, a spectacular novel spun from a single reference in Moby-Dick . Marie Antoinette would seem to offer Naslund the same rich material for historical reenactment and feminist revision, but it turns out there's a limit to how much you can defend a sweet, spoiled, sheltered woman—even an exquisitely dressed one. Naslund adds to this difficulty by using Marie to narrate this very long novel in the first person—a choice that leaves us trapped, literally and figuratively, in the Hall of Mirrors.

That's not to imply that there aren't pleasures to be found in Abundance. Au contraire: They're abundant. Naslund commands historical details to portray the world's most extravagant palace in all its dazzling splendor and inane ceremony. Her study of contemporary memoirs and letters allows her to speak in a voice that conveys the queen's delicacy and earnestness as she strives to be the embodiment of peace between Austria and France.
—The Washington Post

Publishers Weekly

Appropriately, Burney begins her performance in the adorable upper registers of the 14-year-old Marie Antoinette, shipped to France by her mother, the Empress of Austria, to marry the 15-year-old Dauphin and peacefully conjoin France and Austria. Unfortunately, Burney continues in this insipid tone throughout her reading, which is understandable as Naslund (Ahab's Wife) portrays Marie as Little Mary Sunshine until the moment of her death by guillotine at age 38. Her love affair with a Swedish diplomat is strictly platonic and her inability to empathize with the French people is laid to her paternalistic advisers. All this may or may not be historically true, but it leaves listeners with Marie's diary-style descriptions of her personal and court life: the Dauphin's sexual limitations, the birth of her children, her clothes and hairstyles, girlish friendships and expensive banquets. The abridgment reinforces this focus by cutting little early on, then skipping quickly from one incident to another as the revolution evolves. Naslund's writing is clear and vivid, but offers little for those seeking a deeper understanding of the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Simultaneous release with the William Morrow hardcover (Reviews, May 29). (Oct.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Lush with description and deep with historical detail, Naslund's (Ahab's Wife) latest novel weaves the epic of Marie Antoinette in all her misunderstood glory. Beginning with the ceremony that transforms the Hapsburg archduchess into the dauphine, the story captures a young girl's becoming the product of her circumstances. From her struggles to be diplomatic with her new family and subjects, to her marriage left unconsummated for years, Marie recalls her life in intelligent and mature observations. And when the first tremors of the French Revolution are felt, we see her struggle with her wishes to keep her children and husband safe. Immersing us in the life of the French court at its most vulnerable and decadent time, Naslund's marvelous work is more detailed and has more depth than Carolly Erickson's The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 6/15/06.]-Anna M. Nelson, Collier Cty. P.L., Naples, FL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The French queen traditionally portrayed as a vain, heartless epicurean tells her own story in the industrious and versatile Kentucky author's fourth novel (Four Spirits, 2003, etc.). Scrupulously researched and vividly presented, it's the highborn beauty's account of her journey from Austria in 1770 (regretfully leaving her indulgent mother, Archduchess Maria Teresa), at age 14, to wed Louis Auguste, the 15-year-old Dauphin who, a few years hence, will ascend to the throne of France as Louis XVI. Determined to avoid "mistakes" in her unfamiliar surroundings and new role, Marie maintains correspondence with her mother, seeks friends and mentors among various ladies of the court and men of the world-and patiently endures prolonged virginity, as her husband, more interested in hunting than in his beautiful consort, waits years to consummate their marriage. Marie's ingenuous sweetness is charming, but Naslund perhaps tips the scales unduly in portraying her as a woman of pure benevolence who never foresees the march of world-changing events, as revolutions break out in America and elsewhere, and "bread riots" trouble the peace of Paris while she and Louis enjoy their coronation. Still, it's an irresistible story, and Naslund handles its big moments-indulgent spectacles at the palace of Versailles, the notorious Affair of the Diamond Necklace (in which Marie is falsely accused of adultery with a dissolute cardinal) and the beginning of the end as the royal family's flight to Varennes ends in their capture by Revolutionary forces-with impressive assurance. The last 125 pages pass with blinding speed-exactly as events must have been experienced by victims of "the Terror"-and the numerousforeshadowings sprinkled throughout the text are cruelly fulfilled. Naslund has done her homework, and imagined her complex, bewitching protagonist in persuasive depth and detail. The result is an exemplary historical novel.
Booklist (starred review)
“Readers of serious historical fiction will revel in it.”
People Magazine
"Exceptional...A richly detailed portrait of an opulent, turbulent time. 4 stars."
“Exceptional...A richly detailed portrait of an opulent, turbulent time. 4 stars.”
Columbus Dispatch
“The portrait that emerges is sympathetic but realistic...Absorbing.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Intimate experiences and thoughts run beautifully rampant through the pages...[a] smart delicious lesson in history.”
Washington Post
“Naslund recreates Marie so sympathetically that we can’t help aching for the queen.”
Daily News
“Opulent. . . . Recreates the glories of Versailles and the political malice that wafts through its many doorways.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The novel is abundant, full of color and detail. . . . An engaging portrait of one of history’s bright-colored butterflies.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Perceptive and literate.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Fascinating...A richly detailed look at the doomed queen.”
Sunday Denver Post
“Naslund uses her words as if they were a camera to record life in late 18th century France.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“An enthralling work of fiction, one that captures the details of a family reign and a time period long gone.”
Christian Science Monitor
“A wealth of period details...even the most cynical reader will wish for a last-minute pardon.”
"Readers of serious historical fiction will revel in it."
Raleigh News & Observer
“Both a realistic and romantic novel (with) immediately engaging characters...offers a rich, panoramic depiction of an age.”
Seattle Times
“Intensive historical inquiry enables Naslund to re-create Marie Antoinette’s life with empathy and irresistibly piquant detail.”
Birmingham News
“Naslund’s writing is rich with minute details that put the reader into the world of Versailles. A page-turner.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Enchanting...Opulent and fabulous, as encrusted with detail as one of Marie’s shimmering dresses...a complete page turner. Grade: A”
USA Today
“Sumptuous...gripping...beautifully poignant. If you read one book about Marie Antoinette, let it be Sena Jeter Naslund’s.”
Boston Globe
“ABUNDANCE is intelligent, beautifully written, and uncomfortably relevant, and Naslund makes her heroine convincing and even sympathetic.”
Buffalo News
“An absorbing, detailed read.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“With skillful dialogue Naslund re-creates a time and place fresh and fearsome.”
San Diego Union-Tribune
“Naslund mixes historical observation with delight and tension that makes it hard not to turn the page.”

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Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette

An Island in the Rhine River, May

Like everyone, I am born naked.

I do not refer to my actual birth, mercifully hidden in the silk folds of memory, but to my birth as a citizen of France citoyenne, they would say. Having shed all my clothing, I stand in a room on an island in the middle of the Rhine River naked. My bare feet occupy for this moment a spot considered to be neutral between beloved Austria and France. The sky blue silk of my discarded skirt wreathes my ankles, and I fancy I am standing bare footed in a puddle of pretty water.

My chest is as flat as a shield, marked only by two pink rosebuds of nipples. I refuse to be afraid. In the months since I became fourteen, I've watched these pleasant rosebuds becomeing a bit plump and pinker. Now the fingers and hands of my attendants are stretching toward my neck to remove a smooth circlet of Austrian pearls.

I try to picture the French boy, whom I have never seen, extending large hands toward me, beckoning. What is he doing this very moment, deep in the heart of France? At fifteen, a year older than myself, he must be tall and strong. There must be other words than tall and strong to think of to describe him, to help me imagine and embody his reality.

My mother, Empress of Austria, has told me how to anticipate the meeting of our bodies and all the events of my life to come; I am always in her prayers. Every month I will write to her and she to me, and our private letters will travel by our own couriers between France and Austria. When I try to picture my future husband, Louis Auguste, standing in the forests of France with hands and armsout stretched to me, I can only envision my most dear mother, dressed in black, sitting behind me like a dark wedge at her desk; she awaits the courier bearing a white rectangular packet, the envelope that represents me.

After I am married at Versailles, when Louis Auguste and I are alone in bed, certain events will follow. We will copulate through the door at the bottom of my body; next, I become pregnant. Nine months after my marriage I give birth to a baby. There will be many witnesses when my body, then age fifteen, opens to produce a future king. Years from then, after my husband has died, this baby will be the seventeenth Louis, King of France. This is what I know.

While my ladies flutter like bright butterflies around me, I glance at my naked body, a slender worm. Louis Auguste and I must be much the same, as all humans are really much the same, except for the difference of sex. We all have two legs mine are slender supporting a torso; two arms sprout on either side of a bodily cabinet, which contains the guts and bladder in the lower compartment and the heaving lungs and heart in the up per section. In between, for women, is the chamber called the womb. From the trunk, a neck rises up like a small lookout tower whose finial is the head.

Mine is a graceful body made strong by dancing and riding and of a milky porcelain color. Recently a few curly threads emerged from the triangle between my legs. Squeezing my thighs together, I try to shelter this delicate garden because my new hair seems frail and flimsy.

The French word for him, the prince who will become my husband and king, is Dauphin, and the French word for me, who will be his bride, is the same, but with a small letter e, curled like a snail in its flinty house, at the end of the word: Dauphine. I have many French words to learn.

My darling Austrian ladies sail around me in their bright silk dresses cerise, and emerald, deep blue with yellow stripes; their throats and sleeves bedecked with frothy, drooping lace. Like dancers, they bend and swoop to gather the garments I've shed; other ladies, standing patiently, hold my new French clothing folded across their forearms, cloth of gold and filmy lavender.

A flock of goose bumps sweeps over my bare flesh.

Antonia, the pretty mouths of my ladies breathe, Antonia. Their eyes glisten with unshed tears, for I am about to abandon my old name.

The stern French require that I step forward, naked, with no ribbon, memento, ruby, or brooch of Austrian de sign. To my ladies, I display my open palms so they may witness and affirm that I leave empty handed and am beholden in no way to my native Austria. Resplendent in rich colors, they draw near, in a solemn circle, to regard my vacant hands.

My nakedness complete, now I die as Maria Antonia, Archduchess of Austria, daughter of Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria.

To be her worthy daughter, I will that my chilled flesh unpucker itself and become all smooth and lovely. Clothed nobly in nothing but my own skin, described as pearly by some in its translucent sheen, I begin the donning of French clothes, no longer Maria Antonia but my French self, now named: Marie Antoinette.

I gasp my first damp breath of French air on this small island embraced by the arms of the rushing Rhine and re member the admonition of my mother: Do so much good to the French people that they can say that I have sent them an angel.

So said my mother, Empress of Austria, and I will love them, and they will love me, and I will love my husband, who is shy, they say, and the old King, Louis XV, who is not my future husband's father (that Dauphin having died without his ever having become king) but his grandfather; and I will love the maiden aunts of my future husband, Louis Auguste, who will become Louis XVI, God willing (but not soon, not soon I hope and pray, for in fact I know that not only my unformed body but also my spirit is still that of a child), and I will love the Ducde Choiseul, the great foreign minister of France, who has made my happiness come about by mating me with Louis Auguste, whom I have never seen yet and I will love the Count Mercy d'Argenteau, for he is Austrian Austrian! and my mother's friend and our no, not "our" but "the" Austrian ambassador to France. I will love them all, especially Choiseul the foreign minister and Mercy the Austrian ambassador, even as I have been instructed always to love those who further our cause the peace of Europe. And I will find new friends, my very own friends, to love as though they were sisters.

Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette. Copyright © by Sena Naslund. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Sena Jeter Naslund is a cofounder and program director of the Spalding University (Louisville) brief-residency MFA in Writing, where she edits The Louisville Review and Fleur-de-Lis Press. A winner of the Harper Lee Award and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction award, she is the author of eight previous works of fiction, including Ahab's Wife, a finalist for the Orange Prize. She recently retired from her position as Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Louisville.

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Abundance 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 74 reviews.
Orwick_Girl More than 1 year ago
The book is presented in first person by the last Queen of France herself. It goes from her becoming French to her execution. However, since it shows Marie Antoinette in such a positive light, I found myself wondering who she really was. Every one seems to know her as either this evil queen the led France into poverty or the girl misunderstood. If your looking for answers, this is not the book for you. If you just want to indulge in the life of royalty (the parties, not the execution) this is the book for you.
Versaille More than 1 year ago
Set in the luxurious palace of Louis XV (and later Louis XVI) this historical fiction novel about the Marie Antoinette was lovely! I could imagine all the details of life at court, and I was caught up in the intriguing plot line. Naslund follows the life of Marie Antoinette from the age of 14 (when she first moves to France) all the way to her untimely death at the guillotine. A must read for fans of historical fiction with a touch of romance!
IHS_Colorguard More than 1 year ago
Oh my goodness. I think I just found my new favorite book. I swear, this book was absolutely fantastic! It is by far the BEST historical fiction novel about Marie Antoinette that I've ever read. Easily. And I've read quite a few. My favorite part about this book was the historical correctness. Very few historical novels stay as true to the real events as this one did. I mean, why do authors always want to add in outrageous twists into Marie Antoinette's life? Ms. Naslund definitely understood that Marie Antoinette's story didn't need any major embellishments. Sure, she added very minor things in here and there, but they didn't change the main plot at all. They were mostly just little points that just enhanced the story and made it better. She didn't feel the need to add in completely fictitious events, like a trip to Sweden (like in Carolly Erickson's The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette). Like the saying goes, why fix what isn't broken? (Or why change what isn't boring? is probably a better phrase). So, obviously, Sena Jeter Naslund did absolutely fantastic research. Almost every anecdote that I've read about in biographies was at least mentioned, but many of them were actually talked about in detail. Also, the author used REAL letters and quotes in her novel (but please note that not ALL the quotes are real!). This absolutely added more to the authenticity of it! I thought it was a really nice touch that not a lot of authors do, which really is a shame. Why not use the resources you already have? I loved those parts, because I really felt like I was learning so much more about Marie Antoinette. And, of course, I HAVE to mention Axel Fersen. However, for the first time, it's not something bad I have to say. While Naslund did say include the love affair between Marie Antoinette and Count Fersen, I think that she did it in a way that actually made it more believable than a lot of biographies present it . Naslund actually wrote it how I imagined it. I always thought that they were just innocently in love, not a passionate, physical affair. That's just the impression that I always got for some reason. I really felt like Naslund and I were on the same wavelength. I thought that she was particularly good at portraying Marie Antoinette's relationships. She effectively showed the innocent love and friendship between the King Louis XVI and the queen; the true friendship that Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe shared; the true, motherly affection that she had for her children, and her relationships with everyone else. I felt like each character had a unique bond with Marie Antoinette, and there were always different characteristics of each person that attracted them to each other. It really added depth to the characters and made them seem like actual people instead of just imaginary, 2-D people. As you can tell, I absolutely, 100% loved it! The only thing I didn't like was the cover design and art. I thought it looked much too busy, but it doesn't matter. I highly recommend this one over other Marie Antoinette novels, because this one actual teaches you what really happened, but in the form of a not-biography (since biographies seem to turn people off). It's more personal and emotional, so read it!!!
Kerri Huber More than 1 year ago
Marie Antoinette is captivating. Naslund depicts her in true Hapsburg/Bourbon form, as an elegant, gracious , and often misunderstood soul
Sar_Saylor More than 1 year ago
I'm the type of person who always finds something wrong with historical novels. Especially when it's on an event or historical figure that I love which is the case with Marie Antoinette. Ms. Naslund had a perfect understanding of Marie Antoinette and the events surrounding her life. After I finished the book I was completely in shock with myself that I loved every detail of this book. It's one that I could read over and again and enjoy it as much as I did reading it the first time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Intriguing and fascinating. This book really helped me understand and feel for the queen
Dianne Levtchenko More than 1 year ago
Fantastic read...truly an insightful view into the life of the Queen. I couldn't put it down! So much attention to detail.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wasn't expecting much when I purchased this book on sale. What a lovely surprise!! This book takes you in and you feel as though you are there sharing the moments. I am so glad I purchases this book and I would recommend it to all Marie Antoinette fans!
Superwomen More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful historic fiction book. It shows another side of Marie that is not often potrayed in movies.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was very happy with this book it was much better than the movie.It was very well written I recommend this book to Marie Antoinette fans you will be pleased.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Abundance offers a richly embellished glimpse into the personal life, thoughts and actions of Marie Antoinette. Ms. Naslund's book is written in such a way as to resemble an intimate diary of the life of the queen who we think we know so much about. It is made all the more personal because we know how it will end. Thoroughly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ill be shaded kit.
OKP More than 1 year ago
Had a lot of pleasure reading. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such an interesting, intriguing tale! It made me feel like I was reading a tell-all written by a personal servant with segments of a personal diary intertwined with history. I only wish the history classes I took were as fascinating! Bravo author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved Ahab's Wife and was reluctant to read this for fear I would be disappointed. I was not. Though fiction, it does give you a sense of the "prison" in which she must have lived her incredibly opulent, and generally mundane life. She was a wife and a mother and perhaps did not deserve her final terrible fate. You decide.
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I liked the fact the book was writted in first person. It got a little too wordy with some of the descriptions. I wasn't fully aware of the goings on during this period in history, so found it educational as well as entertaining. A little long, but a good read.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very good book and I highly recommend to people who enjoy books from the very early years of Europe.