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Marie Antoinette Paperback – 30 May 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; Reprint. edition (30 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 075381305X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753813058
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 4.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 42,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Marie Antoinette, Antonia Fraser's first book in five years, heralds the welcome return of her wonderfully lucid, engaging style as she disentangles myth from fact regarding the life of the still controversial, and misunderstood, wife of Louis XVI of France. It is also perhaps her most assured work to date. The daughter of Empress Maria Teresa of Austria, the 14-year-old Marie Antoinette, or l'Autrichienne, was sent to France to marry the Dauphin in 1770 in an act of political union between the two countries. Despite her husband's preference for the hunting field over the bedroom, and a somewhat inexpressive personality--his final terse diary entry was to be, appropriately, "Rien"--a decade of French courtly exuberance entailed. Her disappointment in marriage gave way to an enjoyment of her position, especially on turning 30, yet an increasing number of libelles and scandalous rumours about the new Queen and her sexual proclivities grew from Versailles' whispers to the shouts of what was to be the revolution of 1789. This was followed by her own awful demise and beheading four wretched years later, after the appalling torture of her own young son falsely testifying that he had been sexually abused by her.

Those are the skeletal facts of her life, but Fraser fleshes out the story with her customary composed authority. Her stated ambition is twofold. The book's subtitle, "The Journey", refers to Marie Antoinette's political significance in a union over which she had no control, but also her own personal story, from the ill-educated, overwhelmed teenage bride to the despised monarch who bore the brunt of all the ills of the ancien régime. Fraser, arch debunker, necessarily removes the apocryphal--Mozart the child prodigy saying that he would marry her, the infamous "let them eat cake" comment that preceded her by several hundred years, dressing as a milkmaid at her model village in the grounds of Versailles--to reveal a woman whose misfortunes, she concludes, outweighed her failures. Like the Jemima Shore detective novels she also pens, Fraser displays an unerring ability to ask the right questions. Most of all, though, she writes with an understated, unadorned clarity that imparts her learning with an ease to be both envied and savoured. In 1789, Marie Antoinette famously said to a deputation from the Commune of Paris, "I've seen everything, known everything, and forgotten everything". There could be no wiser, compassionate and judicious reclaimer of her besmirched reputation than Antonia Fraser.--David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


That fatal combination of a magnificent story, magnificently well told. It's the perfect book in which to lose yourself when you can afford to do nothing else for a day or so. (Lucy Worsley WAITROSE WEEKEND)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Fiz on 22 Jun. 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read every single book published in England about Marie Antoinette, and I think Antonia Fraser has done the impossible. Every other book is written 'in the shadow of the guillotine'. Ms Fraser removes this. The young Arch-Duchess Antonia had no idea of her fate until the last few years of her life, and as a result of the way this book is written, we see the young Dauphine Marie Antoinette as a warmand loving princess, who longed to serve her adopted country and cared greatly about the poverty and suffering she saw around her. None of this impressed the frivolous French courtiers who were only too happy to criticize the Austrian Princess. Antonia Fraser also consigns to the wastepaper basket of history the comment, 'Let them eat cake'. Antoinette never said it: it has long been known that this remark was made by Marie Therese, the dim-witted wife of Louis XIV, and was resurrected by those who wished to weaken the monarchy still further. Antoinette's marital difficulties are not smoothed over, but again, Antonia Fraser removes the myth of the 'petit operation' which was said to have been performed before Louis XVI could make his queen a mother. Yes, Marie Antoinette was frivolous as a young woman, but aren't most young women of 14-20? As soon as she became a mother, as she had long wanted to be, her concerns changed and she became a mature and much more sensible woman. She supported her husband and family throughout the terrible traumas of the Revolution, and her courage and dignity in the face of the guillotine make her worthy to be the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa. This is, without doubt,the best biography of Marie Antoinette I have read.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Myrtle on 19 Mar. 2003
Format: Paperback
A biography of Marie Antoinette is a bit of an old chestnut, like Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Jackie O, there can't be much more to say - or can there? In the case of this book, I would answer a resounding yes!
If you are looking for a sensational soap storyline, if you want to climb the hill of false indignation of reviling someone who apparently told the starving to eat cake, you'll be disappointed. Fraser debunks the myths that the gullible and small minded seem to find so satisfying. Very few people, if any, are all bad or all good and that holds true throughout the years and centuries.
We can never know fully what it is like to be in someone else's shoes, but I suspect that this gentle, engaging and ultimately enthralling book is about as good as it gets.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By sfweston on 3 July 2004
Format: Paperback
I don't think it's particularly fair to label this book (as one Amazon reviewer has done) as "a royalist's view" of French history - although, interestingly, in terms of Marie-Antoinette's life, royalists have traditionally gotten it more right than others. I'd also completely reject the notion that this is "definitive" and/or "overly preferential to its subject."
This book's plus points are the wealth of detail Antonia Fraser presents about court etiquette at Versailles; the way in which minor characters, like the Queen's maid Rosalie Lamorliere, are brought to life, and its excellent epilogue which explores Marie-Antoinette's place in history and the tragedy behind this most public of royal lives.
However, at times Antonia Fraser seems to be almost tripping over herself to be PC and unbiased. We're so used to hearing detrimental things about Marie-Antoinette that any biographer who goes complete the grain will inevitably be accused of "whitewashing." But the truth is that the real Marie-Antoinette bears almost no resemblance to the Marie-Antoinette of popular imagination, so why did Antonia Fraser's "defence" of this queen seem convoluted and riddled with qualifiers? More accurate portraits of Marie-Antoinette's character and her role as queen have been presented in two modern studies - "The Lost King of France" by Deborah Cadbury and "The Fall of the French Monarchy" by Dr. Munro Price.
Antonia Fraser also fails to fully explain Marie-Antoinette's enormous political influence after 1789, something properly highlighted in Price's book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By ncmc on 9 Jun. 2008
Format: Paperback
This is the first of Antonia Fraser's historical biographies that I have read and on the strength of it I have already bought her biography on Henry the Eighth and his six wives and I intend to buy more. I absolutely adored the way this book was written, she sets the scene in such a realistic way that you can almost hear the baying of the angry mobs and smell the stench of the prison where Marie spends the last of her days.

Some historical biographies get too bogged down in historical data, quoting endless facts, dates and figures until you feel your brain can hold no more. This is the perfect biography in that it gives you the important information you need in order to understand the causes and effects of the revolution, yet the book never forgets the main subject which is Marie A herself. This book charts her course from a naïve, slightly uneducated child, pawn in her mother's imperial game into the most hated woman in all of France. This book succeeds in cutting through the gossip and anecdotes of the time, which haunt Marie A to this day, and gives her a human face. Yes she was flawed, but in this account we find some of the reasons behind her faults and ultimately come to see her as misguided rather than a bad person.

If this book has a flaw, it is that Antonia Fraser is maybe TOO sympathetic to Marie, in parts of the book you nearly feel like she is making excuses for all of Marie's bad behaviour rather than admitting when she was at fault. However this is the only flaw I could find in this book. Her descriptions of life at Versailles are truly stunning. I particularly enjoyed her description of the pomp and ceremony involved just in getting Marie dressed every morning! Overall, if you want a historical biography with flowing prose and true heart, then you will not find better than this one. I for one came away from the book with a new understanding of probably the most misunderstood woman in history.
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