Sunday, December 16, 2007

Marie Antionette

This is the book, by Antonia Fraser, that Sophia Coppola based her movie on. I, for one, loved both the book and the movie. I think the people who had problems with the movie should read the book, because Coppola nailed it.

What amazed me the most about Marie Antoinette is that she wasn't the person we've learned about in our history books. She never said, "Let them eat cake," for one. She was actually a devoted wife and mother - she insisted on nursing her babies in an era when wealthy women, especially royal women, sent their babies off to wet nurses. She also personally supervised her daughter's education. When things started going really wrong for the royals, Marie Antoinette was offered the chance to flee the country, but she refused, saying her place was with her husband - which sealed her fate.

Yes, she spent lavishly. Yes, she had lots of parties. But those things were expected of the women at court. She had seen how other queens had been relegated to minor positions in the court while their husbands carried on with mistresses and decided that she wanted nothing to do with that. Antionette carried on as if she was her husband's mistress, making sure to entertain him and keep him interested.

Much has been made of her building the Petit Trianon, when in fact the palace already existed. She just refurbished it. Antionette used it as her escape from the intensely public life at Versaille, where people were allowed to wander through as the King and Queen ate their meals. While at the Petit Trianon, she was also able to dispense with the rigid formaily of the court, where she couldn't get dressed in the morning without having 10 different women hand her various pieces of her clothing.

And while she was queen, with the resultant priveleges, she didn't always have it easy. Her one job was to produce an heir to the throne, but her husband went more than 8 years without consumating their marriage, despite Antionette's best efforts. Not only did she have all of France waiting for her to get pregnant, Antionette had a constant stream of letters from her mother and brother, the Empress and Emporer of Austria, castigating her for failing in her one job.

Marie Antoinette's end was incredibly tragic. She was separated from her husband and her children. She was put on trial and accused of horrible, and very untrue, crimes against the nation. But throughout, she behaved with dignity.

Fraser's book really was a revelation. It entirely changed my perception of one of the most loathed women in history.

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