Friday, 17 February 2012

Marie Antoinette

I've read a couple of these books now. Titanic, which was ok. And Pompei, which didn't inspire me enough to actually blog about it. But you can check out the Wondrous Words it inspired. Twice. Neither of those was a Royal story, and of course I'm quite interested in France, so was interested to try Marie Antoinette. Although of course, Marie Antoinette was actually Austrian, not French.

We meet Marie Antoinette as a 13 year old Austrian Archduchess, Maria Antonia, about to become engaged to Louis-Auguste, the Dauphin of France, who was to become Louis XVI. It's rather astonishing to realise that one of the most famous women in history. One of the most famous queens in history was married at 14.

The descriptions of her preparations to travel to France, the journey and her early days in Versailles make captivating reading. Maria Antonia becomes engaged to a man that she has never met, has never seen, and doesn't really know anything about. She waits anxiously for months for a miniature portrait of Louis-Auguste to be sent to her, and a painter comes from France to paint a portrait of her to be sent to Versailles.  Through the marvels of Wikipedia we too can see her likeness.

Very hard to believe that she is 13

Dolls were sent to her in Australia to model potential dress designs for her to choose. Rather ingenious really. Her journey to France as described is extraordinary. Coaches with chandeliers! What a rattle they must have made. She was then forced to strip naked to step onto French soil on an island in the Rhine River, as a symbolic rebirth as a future French Queen leaving behind her Austrian self.

The descriptions of court life at Versailles are also extraordinary. The family dine in public several times per week, with hundreds of people watching them eat. Three times a week everyone is required to attend the Grand Levee (Rising of the King), where the king goes through a reenactment of getting up and dressed. Every action is strictly controlled by etiquette, but there aren't enough toilets in Versailles, so visitors frequently void up against the walls or in the corners, and so the palace smelled like a urinal! Marie Antoinette's wedding procession passed through the Hall of Mirrors on the way to the Chapel. The book suggests her dress was encrusted with 4,000 diamonds. Certainly, it was a lavish affair, which would put modern day celebrity weddings to shame.

It's amazing to think that now just anyone, even Aussie tourists can wander the halls

and look at the same amazing sights that Marie Antoinette did

Even royal births are public spectacles. Over 150 people crushed into Marie Antionette's bedchamber to witness the birth of her first child, Princess Marie Therese, who sadly was to die before her first birthday. For such a rarified, privileged society this all seems truly bizarre. And this is before we start considering the behaviours involving official mistresses.

I hope she at least had some bed curtains to hide behind
The epilogue and historical note at the end of the book outline the rest of her tragic life. She had 4 children only one of whom was to survive into adulthood. And there goes my notions that one day my excursions into family history will turn up Marie Antoinette as a distant cousin.

In reading fictionalised history it's always difficult to know what's true. Certainly the facts of her life are true. Married at 14 to a 15 year old future king. The diary only covers the period from 1769 to 1771. But it's a fascinating glimpse into this period of world history, and a blessed relief from monsters stalking the streets of Paris.


Susan said...

Her life story is fascinating- and what an incredible time period she lived in. There are so many novels out about her, it's hard to know which to choose. Our kids ranked Versailles as one of the best things we did while in Paris. It is pretty amazing.

Louise said...

She certainly was fascinating. I'm not sure if I'm interested in novels about her for some reason. This diary format was nice. Versailles is amazing, I've been thinking about it all week.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, I don't envy her life at all. There was lots of excess, but it sounds like there was no privacy either. Sounds like a fascinating book!