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Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

by Susanna Burney (Read 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, 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.

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.”

Product Details

Sound Library
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7.06(w) x 6.62(h) x 1.55(d)

Read an Excerpt

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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