Marie Antoinette: The Journey

Marie Antoinette: The Journey

by Antonia Fraser

Paperback(First Anchor Books Edition)

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Overview

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

The national bestseller from the acclaimed author of The Wives of Henry VIII.  France’s beleaguered queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous “Let them eat cake,” was the subject of ridicule and curiosity even before her death; she has since been the object of debate and speculation and the fascination so often accorded tragic figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted, privileged, but otherwise unremarkable child was thrust into an unparalleled time and place, and was commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in history. Antonia Fraser’s lavish and engaging portrait of Marie Antoinette, one of the most recognizable women in European history, excites compassion and regard for all aspects of her subject, immersing the reader not only in the coming-of-age of a graceful woman, buaimedt also in the unraveling of an era.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385489492
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/12/2002
Edition description: First Anchor Books Edition
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 130,273
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 7.96(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

Antonia Fraser is the author of many internationally bestselling historical works, including Love and Louis XIVMarie Antoinette, which was made into a film by Sofia Coppola, The Wives of Henry VIIIMary Queen of ScotsFaith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot, and Perilous Question: Reform or Revolution? Britain on the Brink, 1832. She is also the author of Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter. She has received the Wolfson Prize for History, the 2000 Norton Medlicott Medal of Britain’s Historical Association, and the Franco-British Society’s Enid McLeod Literary Prize. She was made a Dame of the British Empire for services to Literature in 2011

Read an Excerpt

chapter one

A Small Archduchess

"Her Majesty has been very happily delivered of a small, but completely healthy Archduchess."

Count Khevenhuller, Court Chamberlain, 1755

On 2 November 1755 the Queen-Empress was in labour all day with her fifteenth child. Since the experience of childbirth was no novelty, and since Maria Teresa, Queen of Hungary by inheritance, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire by marriage, hated to waste time, she also laboured in another way at her papers. For the responsibilities of government were not to be lightly cast aside; in her own words: "My subjects are my first children." Finally, at about half past eight in the evening in her apartments at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Maria Teresa gave birth. It was a girl. Or, as the Court Chamberlain, Count Khevenhuller, described the event in his diary: "Her Majesty has been happily delivered of a small, but completely healthy Archduchess." As soon as was practical, Maria Teresa returned to work, signing papers from her bed.

The announcement was made by the Emperor Francis Stephen. He left his wife's bedroom, after the usual Te Deum and Benediction had been said. In the Mirror Room next door the ladies and gentlemen of the court who had the Rights of Entry were waiting. Maria Teresa had firmly ended the practice, so distasteful to the mother in labour (but still in place at the court of Versailles), by which these courtiers were actually present in the delivery room. As it was they had to content themselves with congratulating the happy father. It was not until four days later that those ladies of the court who by etiquette would formerly have been in the bedchamber were allowed to kiss the Empress. Other courtiers, including Khevenhuller, were permitted the privilege on 8 November, and a further set the next day. Perhaps it was the small size of the baby, perhaps it was the therapeutic effect of working at her papers throughout the day, but Maria Teresa had never looked so well after a delivery.

The Empress's suite of apartments was on the first floor of the so-called Leopoldine wing of the extensive and rambling Hofburg complex. The Habsburgs had lived in the Hofburg since the late thirteenth century, but this wing had originally been constructed by the Emperor Leopold I in 1660. It was rebuilt following a fire, then greatly renovated by Maria Teresa herself. It lay south-west of the internal courtyard known as In Der Burg. Swiss Guards, that doughty international force that protects royalty, gave their name to the adjacent courtyard and gate, the Schweizerhof and the Schweizertor.

The next stage in the new baby's life was routine. She was handed over to an official wet-nurse. Great ladies did not nurse their own children. For one thing, breastfeeding was considered to ruin the shape of the bosom, made so visible by eighteenth-century fashions. The philandering Louis XV openly disliked the practice for this reason. The traditional prohibition against husbands sleeping with their wives during this period probably counted for more with Maria Teresa, an enthusiast for the marital double-bed and the conception—if not the nursing—of ever increasing numbers of babies. As the Empress said of herself, she was insatiable on the subject of children.

Marie Antoinette was put into the care of Constance Weber, wife of a magistrate. Constance, according to her son Joseph Weber, who later wrote his memoirs, was famed for her beautiful figure and an even greater beauty of soul. She had been nursing little Joseph for three months when she took over the baby Archduchess, and it was understood in the family that Constance's appointment would improve all their fortunes. As the foster-brother of an archduchess, Joseph Weber benefited all his life; there were pensions for Constance as well as his other brothers and sisters. During Marie Antoinette's childhood, Maria Teresa took her to visit the Weber household; there she showered gifts upon the children and, according to Joseph, admonished Constance: "Good Weber, have a care for your son."

Maria Teresa was thirty-eight years old and since her marriage nearly twenty years earlier, she had produced four Archdukes as well as ten Archduchesses (of whom seven were living in 1755). The extraordinarily high survival rate of the imperial family—by the standards of infant mortality of the time—meant that there was no urgent pressure upon the Queen-Empress to produce a fifth son. In any case it seems that Maria Teresa had expected a daughter. One of her courtiers, Count Dietrichstein, wagered against her that the new baby would be a boy. When the appearance of a girl, said to be as like her mother as two drops of water, meant that he lost the bet, the Count had a small porcelain figure made of himself, on his knees, proffering verses by Metastasio to Maria Teresa. He may have lost his wager but if the new-born augusta figlia resembled her mother, then all the world would have gained.

If the birth of an eighth surviving daughter was not in itself a disappointment, was there not perhaps something inauspicious about the date itself, 2 November? This, the Feast of All Souls, was the great Catholic Day of the Dead, when the departed were solemnly commemorated in a series of requiem Masses, in churches and chapels heavily draped in black. What this actually meant during the childhood of Marie Antoinette was that her birthday was generally celebrated on its eve, the Feast of All Saints, a day of white and gold. Besides which, 13 June, the feast of her patron saint St. Antony, tended to be regarded as Marie Antoinette's personal day of celebration, just as the feast of St. Teresa of Avila on 15 October was the name-day of her mother.

If one looks to influences, the baby born on the sombre Day of the Dead must have been conceived on or around a far more cheerful feast of the church: 2 February, the traditionally candle-lit celebration of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. An episode during the Empress's pregnancy could also be seen as significant. In April, Christoph Willibald Gluck was engaged by Maria Teresa to compose "theatrical and chamber music" in exchange for an official salary; this followed his successes in Italy and England as well as in Vienna. A court ball at the palace of Laxenburg, fifteen miles from Vienna, on 5 May 1755, marked his inauguration in this role. Two tastes that would impress themselves upon Marie Antoinette—a love of the "holiday" palace of Laxenburg and a love of the music of Gluck—could literally be said to have been inculcated in her mother's womb.

In contrast, the fact that a colossal earthquake took place in Lisbon on 2 November, with 30,000 killed, was not at the time seen as relevant. This was an age of poor European communications and news of the disaster did not reach Vienna until some time afterwards. It was true that the King of Portugal and his wife had been engaged to stand as the coming baby's godparents; the unfortunate royal couple had to flee from their capital at about the time Marie Antoinette was born. But, once again, this was not known at the time. In any case, royalties were not expected to be present at the event; according to custom, proxies were appointed in their absence: the baby's eldest brother, Joseph, and her eldest sister, Marianne, aged fourteen and seventeen respectively.

The baptism took place at noon on 3 November (baptisms were always held speedily and in the absence of the mother, who was allowed to recover from her ordeal). The Emperor went with a cortege to the Church of the Augustine Friars, the traditional church used by the court, and heard Mass, including the sermon. After that, at twelve o'clock, as Count Khevenhuller noted in his meticulous diary, which is an important source for our knowledge of events in Maria Teresa's family, the baptism was held in "the new and beautiful Anticamera" and performed by "our Archbishop," since the new Papal Nuncio had not yet made a formal appearance at court. The imperial family sat in a row on a long bench. Two galas were ordered: a great gala for the day of the baptism, and a lesser gala for the day after. On 5 and 6 November there were two more spectacles that were shown to the public for free, and on those days there was no charge to the public for entry at the city gates. It was all a very well established ritual.

The baby in whose honour these celebrations were held was given the names Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna. The prefix of Maria had been established for all Habsburg princesses in the days of the baby's great-grandfather, the Emperor Leopold I and his third wife Eleanora of Neuburg; it was intended to signify the special veneration of the Habsburg family for the Virgin Mary. Obviously in a bevy of eight sisters (and a mother) all enjoying the same hallowed prefix, it was not going to be used for everyone all the time. In fact the new baby would be called Antoine in the family.

The French diminutive of the baptismal name, Antoine, was significant. Viennese society was multilingual, people being able to make themselves easily understood in Italian and Spanish as well as in German and French. But it was French, acknowledged as the language of civilization, that was the universal language of courts throughout Europe; Frederick II of Prussia, Maria Teresa's great rival, for example, preferred his beloved French to German. It was French that was used in diplomatic despatches to the Habsburgs. Maria Teresa spoke French, although with a strong German accent (she also spoke the Viennese dialect), but the Emperor Francis Stephen spoke French all his life, not caring to learn German. In this way, both in the family circle and outside it, Maria Antonia was quickly transmogrified into Antoine, the name she also used to sign her letters. To courtiers, the latest archduchess was to be known as Madame Antoine.

Charming, sophisticated, lazy and pleasure-loving, an inveterate womanizer who adored his wife and family, Francis Stephen of Lorraine handed on to Marie Antoinette a strong dose of French blood. His mother Elisabeth Charlotte d'Orleans had been a French royal princess and a granddaughter of Louis XIII. Her brother, the Duc d'Orleans, had acted as Regent during the childhood of Louis XV. As for Francis Stephen himself, although he had Habsburg blood on his father's side and was adopted into the Viennese court in 1723 at the age of fourteen, it was important to him that he was by birth a Lorrainer. From 1729, when his father died, he was hereditary Duke of Lorraine, a title that stretched back to the time of Charlemagne. This notional Lorrainer inheritance would also feature in the consciousness of Marie Antoinette, even though Francis Stephen was obliged to surrender the actual duchy in 1735. It was part of a complicated European deal whereby Louis XV's father-in-law, who had been dispossessed as King of Poland, received the Duchy of Lorraine for the duration of his lifetime; it then became part of the kingdom of France. In return Francis Stephen was awarded the Duchy of Tuscany.

The renunciation of his family heritage in order to soothe France was presented to Francis Stephen as part of a package that would enable him to marry Maria Teresa. On her side, it was a passionate love match. The British ambassador to Vienna reported that the young Archduchess "sighs and pines all night for her Duke of Lorraine. If she sleeps, it is only to dream of him. If she wakes, it is but to talk of him to the lady-in-waiting." Wilfully, in a way that would be in striking contradiction to the precepts she preached as a mother, Maria Teresa set her heart against a far grander suitor, the heir to the Spanish throne. The medal struck for the wedding bore the inscription (in Latin): "Having at length the fruit of our desires."

The desires in question, however, did not include the bridegroom's continued enjoyment of his hereditary possessions. As his future father-in-law Charles VI crudely put it: "No renunciation, no Archduchess." Maria Teresa of course believed in total wifely submission, at least in theory, another doctrine that she would expound assiduously to her daughters. Her solution was to tolerate and even encourage her husband's Lorrainer relations at court, as well as a multitude of Lorrainer hangers-on.

The marriage of Maria Teresa's sister Marianna to Francis Stephen's younger brother Charles of Lorraine strengthened these ties; Marianna's early death left Maria Teresa with a sentimental devotion to her widower. Then there was Francis Stephen's attachment to his unmarried sister Princess Charlotte, Abbess of Remiremont, who was a frequent visitor. She shared her brother's taste for shooting parties, in which she personally participated. In the year of Marie Antoinette's birth, a party of twenty-three, three of them ladies, killed nearly 50,000 head of game and wild deer. Princess Charlotte fired over 9000 shots, nearly as many as the Emperor. This strong-minded woman was so devoted to her native Lorraine that she once said she was prepared to travel there barefoot.

Thus Marie Antoinette was brought up to think of herself as "de Lorraine" as well as "d'Autriche et de Hongrie." In the meantime Lorraine had become a foreign principality attached to France, so that princes of Lorraine who made their lives in France had the status of "foreign princes" only and were not accorded the respect due to foreign royalties nor that due to French dukes. This ambiguous status was one from which the foreign princes ever sought to escape, while those of superior birth in French courtly terms sought to hold them down. A seemingly small point of French etiquette—small at least to outsiders—was to be of considerable significance in the future of Francis Stephen's daughter.

This was an age of multiple intermarriage where royal houses were concerned. Insofar as one can simplify it purely in terms of her four grandparents, Marie Antoinette had the blood of the Bourbons—the Orleans branch—and of Lorraine on her father's side. More remotely, her Orleans great-grandmother, a Palatine princess known as Liselotte, brought her the blood of Mary Queen of Scots via Elizabeth of Bohemia—but this was to go back 200 years. On the maternal side, Marie Antoinette inherited German blood from her grandmother Elizabeth Christina of Brunswick-Wolfbuttel, once described as "the most beautiful queen on earth." Her appearance at the age of fourteen enchanted her husband Charles VI: "Now that I have seen her, everything that has been said about her is but a shadow devoured by the light of the sun." However, if exceptional beauty was to be found in the pool of genes that Marie Antoinette might inherit, it was also true that the lovely Empress became immensely large and dropsical in later years.


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Absorbing as ever, Fraser’s blend of insight and research persuades us that this unfortunate queen deserves neither the vilification nor the idealization she has received.”
The New Yorker

“Fascinating. . .filled with thorough research, fast-paced writing and loving attention to detail.”
The Globe and Mail

Reading Group Guide

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“Fascinating . . . the court at Versailles comes alive.” –The Washington Post

The introduction, discussion questions, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Antonia Fraser’s acclaimed biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey.

1. How important was Marie Antoinette’s childhood in Austria–historical enemy of France–in influencing her career? Would it ever have been possible for an Austrian princess to have a satisfactory life in France?

2. Was Marie Antoinette’s relationship with her mother, the Empress Maria Teresa, a damaging or a supportive element of her life?

3. Marie Antoinette’s marriage to the Dauphin, later Louis XVI, remained unconsummated for seven and a half years. What effect did this have on her character–and her relationship wth her husband?

4. Were the accusations of extravagance and frivolity leveled against Marie Antoinette justified–both during her own lifetime and since? Marie Antoinette was also the target of numerous vicious libels about her sexuality. What part did these libels played in blackening the image of royalty in France, and how valid were they?

5. Assess the political role of Marie Antoinette in the years shortly before the French Revolution: Should she have tried to influence Louis XVI more or was she correct to let history take its own course?

6. Marie Antoinette was a patron of the arts and a nature enthusiast. Is philanthropy an essential part of the royal role?

7. Once the French Revolution started, Marie Antoinette could probably have escaped by herself, or with her little son disguised as a girl. Instead she saw it as her duty to remain at the King’s side. Knowing that she was an unpopular queen, why did she make that decision?

8. Marie Antoinette’s courage and composure at her trial and execution aroused widespread admiration at the time, even from her enemies. How much had her character changed since her youth? Or were such qualities always latent in her personality?

Interviews

Exclusive Author Essay
"Et in Arcadia Ego": Even in Arcadia death is lurking.... Madame de Staël, thinking of the "brilliance and gaiety" of Marie Antoinette's early life in contrast to her later sufferings, was reminded of Poussin's great picture on the theme of the omnipresence of death: the reveling shepherds in the forest glade brought up short by the sight of a tomb with this menacing inscription. Yet hindsight can make bad history. In writing this biography, I have tried not to allow the somber tomb to make its presence felt too early. The elegiac should have its place as well as the tragic, flowers and music as well as revolution and counterrevolution. Above all, I have attempted, at least so far as is humanly possible, to tell Marie Antoinette's dramatic story without anticipating its terrible ending.

My concern, as the subtitle of the book indicates, has been to trace the twofold journey of the Austrian-born French queen. On the one hand, this was an important political journey, from her fatherland to act as an ambassadress -- or agent -- in a predominantly hostile country where she was nicknamed in advance L'Autrichienne. On the other hand, there was her journey of personal development from the inadequate 14-year-old bride to a very different mature woman, 20-odd years later.

In the course of tracing this journey, I have hoped to unravel the cruel myths and salacious distortions surrounding her name. Principal among them must be the notorious incident that has Marie Antoinette urging the poor, being without bread, to eat cake. This story was first told about the Spanish princess who married Louis XIV 100 years before the arrival of Marie Antoinette in France; it continued to be repeated about a series of other princesses throughout the 18th century. As a handy journalistic cliché, it may never die. Yet not only was the story wrongly ascribed to Marie Antoinette in the first place, but such ignorant behavior would have been quite out of character. The unfashionably philanthropic Marie Antoinette would have been far more likely to bestow her own cake (or brioche) impulsively upon the starving people before her.

On the subject of the queen's sex life -- insatiable lover? voracious lesbian? heroine of a single romantic passion? -- I have similarly tried to exert common sense in an area that must remain forever speculative (as indeed it was in her own day).

Biographers have their small, private moments of perception, the importance of which was recognized by the Goncourt brothers, admiring biographers of the queen in 1858: "A time of which one does not have a dress sample and a dinner menu, is a time dead to us, an irrecoverable time." Lafont d'Aussonne, author of an early post-Restoration study (1824), found an ear of wheat made out of silver thread on the floor of the queen's former bedroom at Saint Cloud at a sale -- and pocketed it. Two hundred years after the death of Marie Antoinette, I found the experience of being asked to don white gloves to inspect the tiny swatches in her Wardrobe Book at the Archives Nationales both appropriate and affecting, the pinpricks made by the queen to indicate her choice of the day's costume being still visible. I had, however, no desire to emulate Lafont d'Aussonne's act of pious theft -- if only because two gendarmes stood close behind my chair.

The Baronne d'Oberkirch, writing her memoirs just before the deluge, gave an unforgettable vignette of the aristocrats returning from an all-night ball at Versailles in their carriages, with the peasants already doing their rounds in the bright morning sunshine: "What a contrast between their calm and satisfied visages and our exhausted appearance! The rouge had fallen from our cheeks, the powder from our hair...not a pretty sight." Such a vision seems to sum up the contrasts of the ancien régime in France -- including the baronne's innocent assumption that the peasants were calm and satisfied. Certainly the wealth of female testimonies to the period and to the life of Marie Antoinette gives special immediacy to researchers. The women who survived felt an urgent need to relive the trauma and record the truth, a compulsion often modestly disguised as a little gift to their descendants: "C'est pour vous, mes enfants...," wrote Pauline de Tourzel, an eyewitness to some of the horrific incidents of the early Revolution, of her reminiscences. Probably no queen in history has been so well served by her female chroniclers.

In a book written in English about a French (and Austrian) subject, there is an obvious problem to do with translation. Nor does it have an easy solution. What is tiresomely obscure for one reader may be gratingly obvious to another. On the whole I have preferred to translate rather than not, in the interests of clarity. With names and titles I have also placed the need for clarity above consistency; even if some decisions may seem arbitrary in consequence, intelligibility has been the aim. As ever, it has been my pleasure and privilege to do my own research, except where individuals are specifically and most gratefully acknowledged. The sources are, with equal gratitude, listed in the References and Reference Books. (Antonia Fraser)

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Marie Antoinette 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 102 reviews.
mercury_falling More than 1 year ago
I've read this book twice, and think it is absolutely wonderful. I knew almost nothing about Marie Antoinette before I read it, except some of the rumors, such as the infamous "Let them eat cake" comment, which Fraser is careful to dispel. This book presents a touching portrait of a queen who fell spectacularly from grace in the eyes of her subjects, and the events that led to her fall. Fraser does not absolve Marie Antoinette of spending lavishly while her subjects went hungry, but at the same time does present reasoning and understanding so that readers may comprehend that among the nobility she was not unique in this and was following an accepted standard. Though some may accuse Fraser of being too compassionate toward the queen, I think her research and insights are dead on, and am happy to read a biography that does not justify, but works against the vilification of a queen already made infamous by slander and libel in her own time and years after her death. To me, this book gives a much fairer picture of Marie Antoinette, coupled with a harrowing glimpse of the French Revolution as it began. Very informative, a great read if you are interested in this particular time in history.
Savvy More than 1 year ago
If you read only one book about Marie Antoinette, let it be this one. And if you don't like history or nonfiction, don't let that daunt you either; even as non-fiction, this book beats all the fictionalized novels about Marie Antoinette. In this case, the real story is just as thrilling. Fraser's research is great, and the attention to detail and emotion is stronger than in most non-fiction or history books. This one is the best!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had been wanting to read this book for quite sometime, and I was thrilled when I checked it out from the library. It was a brillant book! It had everything: drama, action, tragedy, romance, and even some comedy, and it wasn't even fiction! Antonia Fraser is a fantastic writer, and I plan on reading some more of her books. Normally, I don't cry while reading a book, but this one made me tear up when Louis was forced to leave his family and be executed. Also, it makes you see Marie Antoinette, not as the spoiled, cruel, vicious adultress who seduced every man[though she did conduct one affair], but as a brave, compassionate, loyal, and wonderful person. Someone who didn't derserve to be exuecuted.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Never has a history book been so interesting. I'm usually a fan of fictional historical romance or of fiction books. But this book was so captivating that i read it in a matter of 2 weeks 'it's a pretty long book'. I was never bored reading this and i certainly learned some history
Guest More than 1 year ago
Takes a little while to get into the story. A lot of names, dates, places, etc to remember. Once Marie Antoinette settles into Versailles you start to keep up with the names and such. But this story gives Marie Antoinette a human aspect, not just a historical figure who said 'let them eat cake' (which is debunked by the way). By the time it gets to the revolution and this desperate family is trying to find ways out you really start rooting for their side. You want them to escape and get away from the mobs. I actually got teary-eyed when poor Louis XVI is carted away to the guillotine. Antoinia Fraser doesn't let Marie Antoinette get away with being the 'perfect queen' though, she was far from it. All in all a very good read and I will probably read it again. If you are going to see the Sofia Coppola movie, read this, it will clear up some historical questions you may have.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read this book over and over again. It is so well written that i not only learn about this extaordinary woman but also get lost in her world. I bought it on my Nook because my paperback was falling apart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was inspired to read Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette after having read Alison Weir's biography about Henry VIII and his wives. Fraser's book was a wonderful read - well researched, and very engaging. She did a good job of presenting the facts of her research while at the same time offering just enough of her own opinion or interpretation of the facts to keep the book interesting (although the straight facts were very interesting on their own.) The pictures that were included with the book were a great addition and added to the reader's ability to feel drawn into the world of Marie Antoinette and Versailles. Overall, I thought this was a wonderful book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in historical figures.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was an excellent biography of the life of Marie Antoinette. Fraser did a great job setting the record straight on the whole 'let them eat cake' fiasco and explained the reasoning for why she is considered the biggest scapegoat of the French Revolution. If you saw the Sohpia Coppola bio-pic then you know she didn't do the queen justice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book after first seeing the movie- which I loved!!! This book is a great read for anyone who is looking to learn about history. Admittedly it can get a little slow at times, but not so much that you lose interest in the book. It is by far one of the most interesting and well-done biographies that I have read and I truely do suggest that anyone with even a mild interest in Marie Antoinette give it a shot- and if you find the book too dry, watch the movie!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a bit intimidating to a person who usually reads books by Janet Evanovich and J.K. Rowling but I found myself not wanting to put the book down. The author did a tremendous job of taking what is taught in grade schools and showing the other side of the story. I have visited the Versailles and have seen the money that was put into the castle versus what should have gone to the people but I can't help feeling sad and very very bothered by the outcome for the entire royal family.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey is a very well written biography of the often misunderstood Queen. While presenting all the details, Antonia Fraser pulls the reader in to the life of this Austrian princess. Although the book is rather long, it is only a tough read, when attempting to finish it in a weekend. I highly suggest this great book to all considering it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love stories of royal families. I have read a couple biographies but this one is by far the best! It really transports you back in time to the royal court of Versailles and the beginning of the Terror in France. I really recommend this book for history fanatics like me!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent study of Marie Antoinette, the ways of the French court, and the why's and wherefores of the revolution. Unlike the biography by Evelyn Lever, Ms. Fraser doesn't get bogged down in the political issues but stays focused on the French Royal family and their surrounding courtiers. Of all the bios of Marie Antoinette available today, this one is the absolute best. Highly recommended reading!!
thom001 on LibraryThing 6 days ago
The French queen who emerges from the pages of Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey is a sympathetic figure, a well-meaning yet flawed woman tragically caught up in political and social forces beyond her control. In this biography, Fraser achieves an effective mixture of exhaustive research and engaging storytelling, weaving together the documentary evidence to produce a rich narrative of the Austrian archduchess who became a French queen. A reading of this work enhances the viewing of Sofia Coppola's 2006 film Marie Antoinette, based rather closely on the first two-thirds of Fraser's book, up to the day when the royal family was forced to decamp from Versailles to Paris; symbiotically, a viewing of the Coppola film brings many of the characters and events described by Fraser vividly to life, illustrating key episodes in Marie Antoinette's reign as dauphine and queen consort of France.One failing of Fraser's biography arises from the very complexity of its subject. Even though the author includes a number of supplementary aids to understanding the history ¿ genealogical charts, a map of 18th-century Europe, a detailed index ¿ the sheer number of characters and the overwhelming complexity of French revolutionary politics sometimes make events difficult to follow. Additional appendices, for example a list of major historical figures and a simplified timeline of events, would help the reader in making sense of all the details of the narrative. But even without them, Fraser has skillfully accomplished a remarkable feat. She breathes new life into a legendary historical figure who lost hers over two centuries ago, and in doing so she makes the story of Marie Antoinette and the history of her times as compelling as any adventure novel, as touching as any romance.
bhowell on LibraryThing 6 days ago
There are many history books and novels about Marie Antoinette, but Antonia Fraser is always better. She has the ability to write history with intelligence and accuracy yet most books are quite readable. If you would like to start reading some history in addition to historical fiction, Antonia Fraser is a great place to start.
trench_wench on LibraryThing 7 days ago
Fascinating. And not as much hard work as I thought it would be! Fraser presents an objectively researched account, in a very readable manner. I read about lots of things I knew, lots of things I THOUGHT I knew, and lots of things I didn't. Made watching the Sofia Coppola film more interesting too.
laceym19 on LibraryThing 7 days ago
Good book, very factual. Can be a bit dry but full of information. I felt it focused a little too much on the social aspects of Marie Antoinette's life, rather than the political problems of the time which made parts of the book hard to follow. It took me a long time to read but i am glad i saw it through to the end.
triminieshelton on LibraryThing 7 days ago
France's iconic queen, revered and reviled in her lifetime, has been the object of debate, speculation, legend. This portrait excites compassion and regard for the queen and offers a perceptive analysis of her times. Poor Antoinette was in a lose-lose situation from the day she set foot on French soil at the age of 14. There were many points at which things might have gone differently and yet did not, so that one senses almost the element of fate at work as in a Greek tragedy. Impressive were her unfailing grace under fire and bravery, even equanimity, when friendless and alone at the end. A true queen, and not in name only.
Angelic55blonde on LibraryThing 7 days ago
This is an awesome book, written on such an intriguing person in history. Marie Antoinette has gotten a bad rap throughout the years, the whole French revolution has been blamed on her, which is wrong. There are MANY MANY reasons why the revolution happened, and many don't have anything to do with her. It's a great book and the movie by S. Coppolla is also great (if you liked Clueless, you'd like this because it has an innocent air to it). The Marie Antionette in this book comes off a little more sympathetic because the reader is able to see how young and vulnerable she was. We must remember she became Queen of France at such a young, immature age and it's no wonder she had all those lavish parties. This is a great book by a great author and I highly recommend it.
mansfieldhistory on LibraryThing 7 days ago
A little hard to get through at points, but a good solid read.
strandbooks on LibraryThing 7 days ago
I read this for my book club. Otherwise I don't think I would have tackled it. I found it way too detailed in some areas and not detailed enough in others. There was so much about court life, but not enough about the pressure and stress of the people. I felt somewhat bewildered at how Marie became the scapegoat and a victim of such absolute hatred and violence.
siew on LibraryThing 7 days ago
A thoroughly engrossing read, this was a much-needed reconsideration of a much-maligned personage. Occasionally, Fraser indulges in the tabloid rumour-mongering that she professes to deplore (i.e. particularly where Fersen is concerned, and his true relationship with the Queen), however ignoring these 'juicy' tidbits that are offered, the evidence-grounded look at Marie Antoinette's life is certainly refreshing and successfully looks beyond the myth of the icon to create a more rounded and truer account.
k8_not_kate on LibraryThing 13 days ago
In terms of royal biographers, it doesn't get much better than Antonia Fraser, and this book is no exception. Skillfully painting Antoinette's life in a way that makes her a real person and not the surreal legend she's become, Fraser's biography shows us a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time. Having comitted the crime of not being a natural-born leader (unlike her formidable mother) and marrying a man not cut out to be king, Antoinette is introduced as a simpler, more relatable woman that popular history potrays. "The Journey" is an excellent read and a wonderful biography.
Meggo on LibraryThing 13 days ago
A well researched and interesting look at a controversial 18th century figure. Heavy sledding in the early going, this book felt like it skimmed over Marie Antoinette's latter years too lightly for my taste, although this may be due to a combination of paucity of sources and lack of activity during her imprisonment. An interesting work, but not a light read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ive read this book a few times now. Its wonderfully written.