The New York Times
Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinetteby Sena Jeter Naslund
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, she warmly embraces her adopted nation and its citizens. She shows her new husband nothing but love and
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, 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 her 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.”
Sena Jeter Naslund offers a dramatic reimagining of this truly compelling woman that goes far beyond the popular myth.
The New York Times
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
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.
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Read an Excerpt
AbundanceA Novel of Marie Antoinette
By Sena Jeter Naslund
William MorrowCopyright © 2006 Sena Jeter Naslund
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAn Island in the Rhine River, May 1770
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 hisreality.
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 arms out 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.
Excerpted from Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund Copyright © 2006 by Sena Jeter Naslund. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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For one who knew almost nothing about Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution or the Reign of Terror before reading this historical novel, the book was fascinating. It was well-written. Its appeal lay in both transportation to another time and place, and the glamor of European royalty, but also in its grittier parts. I thought it achieved a balanced, sympathetic view of major and minor characters -- none were painted as mastered by the darker side of human nature or innocent of significant flaws. I admired the author's statement in the preface that she believes Marie Antoinette's life a valuable one. The brutality of the Reign of Terror is appalling and fearsome 'some of it reminded me of stories of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the fate of the Romanoff dynasty'. And I wasn't aware of the Parisian 'gutter press' of France's 18th century, or the sordid quality of the apparently unfair allegations of debauched behavior by Marie Antoinette. We have it easy, don't we? I thought 'Ahab's Wife' was brilliant and have yet to read Ms. Naslund's novel 'Four Spirits,' but am looking very much forward to it, and any other novels that she writes.
I loved this book. I loved Naslund's use of Marie Antoinette's own words, combined with her fictionalized thoughts in the same tone, to paint a portrait of a relatively normal woman, despite the completely abnormal situations into which she was born and married. I was absolutely wrapped up in her story and engrossed in her thoughts, from beginning to end. My friends are all lined up to read it, too--I recommended it to just about everyone.
I myself am a Marie Antoinette junkie. I have read many books from her point of view, and also, non fiction. I bought this book thinking it would also be going on my bookshelf as soon as I read it. Unfortunately, this book was monotonous in some points, and the most exciting parts were the beginning and end. I hate to even admit this, but I even didn't WANT to read anymore. Believe me, this is a VERY rare occasion in my life. There were plot holes that didn't go anywhere (hidden room) and inconspicuous lies according to Marie Antoinettes life that have been proved wrong by history. For me, this was a waste of time, but if you are a person who likes sugarcoats, this is the book for you.
One of the best Historical fictions that I have read in a long time. Felt as if you were actually with the Royals.
I will start by saying this is the first book of M.A. I've read - and then say 'Wow!'. It was a wonderfully written book. It grabs you and transports you to M.A.'s time, leaving you at the end with a profound understanding of her life. The letters included in the book were wonderful, and from my own research during and after reading the book, accurate. Of course, it's hard to say what M.A. was feeling at any given moment, but I think the author did a marvelous job of portraying M.A. in this new light. Very much recommended!
I loved Naslund's Ahab's Wife, and this novel strikes the same chord. Her Marie Antoinette makes the reader feel compassion and empathy for the infamous queen. The voice of Marie Antoinette is so seductive and alluring that I was saddened at the end even though I knew how her story ended. I strongly recommend this book to readers who love characterization at its finest!
I had just finished reading the 'Thirteenth Tale' and was wondering if I would soon find another book just as intelligent and entertaining. I was so fortunate to select 'Abundance'. I couldn't put it down. The author treats her readers with respect and intelligence. I highly recommened this book. I read histories, mysteries and literature. I read at least one book a week and find books like 'The Thirteenth Tale' and 'Abundance' do not come along as often as I would wish.
Marie Antoinette was an Austrian princess named Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen who went to France at fourteen years old and married Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette had many conflicts such as not being able to conceive a Dauphin, keeping the people of France under control, being in love with Axel von Ferson and having an affair with him, and more. Her conflict when she was a child was that her father died, and she was very close to him. However, the main conflict in the middle of her life was marrying the Louis XVI, who at that time was the Dauphin, and having to conceive at fourteen. However, Louis XVI doesn¿t pay attention to Marie Antoinette and focuses on hunting, which means that Marie Antoinette wasn¿t considered a full wife. She also fell in love with Axel von Ferson during this time and had to manage an affair with him while having either his or Louis XVI¿s five children: Marie Therese (born December 19, 1778 died October 19, 1851 of age), Louise Joseph (born October 22, 1781 died June 4, 1789 of tuberculosis), Louis Charles (born March 27, 1785 died June 8, 1795 in a prison), a miscarriage, and Sophie (died at nine months old). Her later years in life conflict was with the people of France, who wanted to kill her because she didn¿t do anything about the bread shortage in France that would starve the people- instead she just bought more outfits and fired some of her servants, leaving 173 servants left (and she complained she had no servants to do anything)!