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64 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marie Antoinette removed from the shadow of the guillotine.
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...
Published on 22 Jun 2001 by Fiz

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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps not quite the definitive biography
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."...
Published on 3 July 2004 by sfweston


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Antonia Fraser's best books, 6 Jun 2009
This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Paperback)
This biography of a very much misunderstood queen is one of Antonia Fraser's best books, giving us a real look at the woman behind the prevailing image. Who hasn't heard of the words 'Let them eat cake' which Marie Antoinette is supposed to have said when told the French peasants had no bread? This book scotches that myth for a start, along with many others.

I particularly enjoyed the account of Marie Antoinette's younger days, when she was a princess of Austria, the daughter of the formidable Empress Maria Theresa and one of a large family. Antonia Forest reminds us how the children of monarchs were pawns in a complicated game of royal chess, daughters in particular knowing they would most likely marry a foreign prince or king and thus have to live their life away from their home country. In Marie Antoinette's case we're shown how she was expected by her mother and later by her brother to remember she was Austrian and to promote Austria's interests even while she was Queen of France. This, of course, was one of the reasons for her downfall, as the French people vented their hatred of the 'Austrian woman' and in the end led to her death.

But politics is not really what this book is about; it's about the woman herself, from her girlhood until her death. The years in between show us the daily life of the princess/queen, her likes and dislikes, her friends, her homes, her clothes and jewels. We also learn of her relationship with her husband and about her children. Antonia Fraser is good at breathing life into her subjects and this book is no exception; we feel we know Marie Antoinette, how she thought and acted, the kind of woman she was. Some people have said the portrayal is one-sided and perhaps in some ways it is, but this may be because the author wants us to see just what an impossible task Marie Antoinette had, trying to please her blood family back home in Austria while at the same time trying to please the French people, being loyal to France while having to put up with the outrageous things being said and printed about her. She became the focus of hatred by the French people, more so than any other royal or aristocrat, yet there seems no real reason why that should have been so, other than her Austrian background.

The account of the royal family's imprisonment is heartrending, especially when they are split up. How must Marie Antoinette have felt when her husband was executed, knowing the chances that the same thing would happen to her were high? She had hoped Austria would have done more to rescue them, but as always politics and pragmatism came above sentiment and she was abandoned to her fate. She showed courage of a high order in the face of death - I'm glad Antonia Fraser let us see how she met her death by guillotine without faltering.

The book ends by tracing what came afterwards, including Marie Antoinette's daughter Marie-Therese's return to France after exile.

A wonderful book by the best biographer in the business!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cracking piece of popular history., 21 Aug 2003
By 
This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Paperback)
This was the first book by Antonia Fraser I had read, and also the first book relating to the French revolution. Indeed, my knowledge of French history runs from Francis I to Henry IV, so it would be apt to describe myself as a stranger to the period of history Fraser was writing about. It was with great pleasure, therefore, that I found this to be one of the most accessible history books I have read in some time.
Marie Antoinette is usually castigated as a monster of history, yet Fraser does an admirable job in demolishing the myths surrounding her subject. From the notorious “let them eat cake” incident to her numerous alleged infidelities, the stories surrounding Antoinette are effectively demolished, and what we are left with is a surprisingly vulnerable woman.
The Antoinette of this book is constrained from many different sources, and in such a way as to negate the criticisms levelled at her. Her femininity was used as a political tool to form alliances through marriage, and it was from this point that her problems began to build up. The Hapsburgs who she was leaving behind expected her to exert a robust influence at court, yet at Versailles she found a system where woman were not allowed to have a voice, and where her primary function was to provide children for France. She was at the mercy of her husband in this, who was unable to consummate the marriage for a number of years, leaving her vulnerable to claims that the children she bore were not fathered by Louis VXI. The frustrations of the Hapsburgs demonstrate that when the castigation started, the picture of her as l'Autrichienne was exaggerated. She became a scapegoat for the failings of the ancien régime, when she had had little to do with the decision making process.
The book has been criticised by a number of other Amazon reviewers for not covering the cause and effect of the French Revolution enough. Yet it is to Fraser’s credit that she has represented events only from Antoinette’s point of view. The book is meant to centre upon Antoinette, not events happening around her, and the revolution with reference to Antoinette is well documented, and is a worthy attempt to present events from her point of view, instead of providing any moral or political justification for what happened..
Overall this is a superb biography. Fraser’s writing is clear and precise, and she applies insightful analysis to all the major events of Antoinette’s reign. She steers away from any sort of agenda, and does acknowledge her failings, even allowing for the indulgences of the court. The minutia of the court is well documented also, and anyone with a passing interest in royalty or history, would find that interest well served by this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sentimental look at Marie Antoinettes life, 22 July 2012
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This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Paperback)
I had many issues with this book. I bought Antonia Fraser's book based on many of the positive reviews I read here and because I found the subject of Marie Antoinette fascinating, but I had little background in French history, in general, or the French Revolution, in particular. This caused quite a problem.

First, readers like me should be forewarned that if they do not have this historical background as I mentioned above, they will have a hard time following some of the background events. Antonia Fraser assumes the reader is educated in all this history, so she casually mentions people and events without giving any context or background information. Among other examples, I had to research the Diamond Necklace episode from other sources, because I could not tell from Fraser's book exactly what happened, in what context it was happening or what the real political problem was and why she was blamed for all this. Thankfully, I read Deborah Cadbury's book The Lost King of France: The Tragic Story of Marie-Antoinette's Favourite Son right after and gained a much clearer and concise overview of this event and the whole of the French Revolution, for that matter. Furthermore, her writing style is unclear and she often mentions the numerous family and courtiers surrounding Marie Antoinette without reminding us who they are and how they are relevant. Again, the author assumes we know all this.

Second, I too, felt that the author was quite apologetic for all of Marie Antoinette's weaknesses and problems. All are explained away as being the result of youth, bad education, a strict mother, few friends, ostracism from politics, etc...She is never forced to assume responsibility for herself or for the country of which she is Queen. In truth, the Court of Versailles was out of touch with the realities of French society and the severe economic problems that were plaguing it. The unpopularity and ultimate execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette must be seen in this context, but here Antonia Fraser fails us. Until the end, she is consistently excused for everything, some external injustice being committed against her. That is not to say that she deserved to have her head cut off, but it is important to have a more balanced perspective on just who she was and represented and what she had done as monarch of France.

Third, along the same lines as above, Fraser consistently presents Marie Antoinette as noble, graceful, and caring to all who encounter her. In fact, she often goes out of her way to present her like this, by explaining away many of the inconsistencies that might alter this picture. She does this by presupposing thoughts, feelings, and even actions on the part of many of the people surrounding Marie Antoinette and on the Queen herself.

All that being said, however, it is clear that Antonia Fraser has given us a much broader view of Marie Antoinette than history has provided us until now. We can see from where she came, her childhood and education, and her life at the court of Versailles. This context helps us to understand more fully why she behaved in such a manner and does give a more complete picture of Marie Antoinette in all her roles as wife, mother, and Queen. It seems that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette came to love and rely on each other, and their last years together are touching and poignant. I enjoyed this private look into her life, but due to the deficiencies above I can only give it three stars.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN AMAZING, POWERFUL AND ULTIMATELY MOVING BOOK..., 29 Jun 2001
This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Hardcover)
Like the previous reviewer I have read every book available to date about Marie Antoinette published in England and France. I really did have my doubts that anything new could be said about this ill fated Queen but had faith that Antonia Fraser could produce an exceptional biography regardless. What she produced is more than exceptional! It is much more in depth than any other book on this subject that I have read and certainly pays more attention to Marie Antoinette's early life and also her children than previously. The sheer size of the book is also a plus as is the huge amount of illustrations (some of which seem quite rare). I would recommend it to anyone and really feel (sadly) that now there really does not seem any need for any further evaluations -- at least not for a long long while!!...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint hearted?, 3 Oct 2013
By 
This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Paperback)
I'm happy to admit that i'm a fairly slow reader generally. It's taken me almost 2 years (on and off) to read this book which will probably provide a subtle hint as to how the rest of this review is going to pan out.

If, like this reader, you approach this Biography with very little previous knowledge of Marie Antoinette you are going to struggle. It will also help if you have an understanding of French, the French Revolution, Regency French Politics and other related subjects. If you don't you are really going to struggle.

Antonia Fraser is a historian of some repute and the book is obviously meticulously researched and is full of minute detail on the life and times of the tragic Queen of France. It is very sympathetic to her cause and sticks quite firmly to the positive aspects of her life . It is clear that history has not been kind to MA and she certainly does not deserve the reputation that ignorant public opinion has given her.

For me, however, the book was, for long periods, dry and unremarkable. The author has several irritating writing habits which went some way to ruining the experience for me. One prime example is her habit of referring to a character by their title on one page and by their given name on the next. It's extremely difficult trying to keep track of who's who, who's related to who and in some cases (as many of the titles are written in French) what gender the character is. In a few short chapters there are so many different characters with so many different agendas that it feels like an over complicated mess. I would also strongly recommend keeping a dictionary close to hand as you will be referring to it on a regular basis.

The most readable section is left to last and the story surrounding the trail and execution of MA is a moving and emotional recollection.
There are some very nice photographs and prints contained in the edition i own.

All in all i can't recommend it for the casual reader who is simply looking for the main story of MA. It's much to confusing and detailed for that.

You have been warned.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well reserched, 30 Nov 2011
By 
J. Willis (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Paperback)
I picked this book up originally because I quite enjoyed the Sophia Coppola film staring Kirsten Dunst. I know many critics panned it and it only told Antoinette's story of life at court and missed out the whole getting her head shopped off bit, but I liked it. The film also contained parts that seemed so far fetched that I just had to find out if they were true (they were).

One of these moments was a bizarre ceremony involving the Austrian Maria Antonia being handed over to the French in preparation for her marriage to the Dauphin of France. She was made to strip off all her Austrian clothes, say goodbye to her Austrian attendants and then was dressed in French clothes before entering France as Marie Antoinette. She was not even allowed to take her Austrian pug.

This was the beginning of her life in the French court at Versailles and it seems Marie had a hard time of it from the beginning. Called 'that Austrian woman' by the French people while at the same time frustrating the Austrians for having little political impact in the French court, she also had to contend with a sexless marriage and a very public court where all her daily movements were watched closely by courtiers.

Antonia Fraser paints Versailles as being a bit like living in the Big Brother house.

'Ceremonies framed the royal day; these included the ritual of morning dressing at which the formal toilette was performed which much assistance, and the ritual evening undressing. The Rights of entry to these ceremonies, which despite their apparently intimate nature had nothing private about them, were prizes as an indication of personal prestige.'

Meals were also conducted in public and it was not unusual for the Royal family to be dinning while crowds of onlookers ventured in and out of the room stopping to watch. Its no wonder that Marie commented to her mother 'I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world.'

Of course Marie Antoinette's main role was of course producing children, in particular a new Dauphin. But for some reason the marriage was not consummated for seven years. Fraser does try to speculate why this was the case but its not something we will ever know. What is clear is that during these seven years Marie surrounded her self with a close circle of friends and spent a large part of her time gambling and generally enjoying herself.

When the marriage was eventually consummated and Marie gave birth she appears to have gone through a change as she started to focus more on her children and her image of a mother. Not that the business of child birth was any more private than her day-to-day life, the room was filled with courtiers at the time and a few onlookers even made it to the inner rooms and were found 'perched aloft' in order to get a good look.

The strength of this book are the descriptions of court life at Versailles and these were the most enjoyable parts of the book to read. While I enjoyed the second part of the book which focused on the Royal family life during the French revolution, I didn't find there was quite enough information on the background of the revolution in order to give me any great deal of understanding as to how the Queen met her fate. The average life of a poor person living in France at that time was not really mentioned, nor is there any analysis of the general culture or of the revolution. Fraser is very reluctant to put any blame at all on either her subject, there are not even sufficient reasons given as to why the King and Queen were incarcerated or beheaded.

The Queens last few years were quite detailed and included her life in prison and the reasons she did not escape (that would have meant leaving her children) its just a little politics in this section would have helped me to understand more why she was there in the first place.

Overall this is an extremely well researched book and Fraser seems to have made the most of all the source material she had to hand. The book is not too difficult to read although a book of this size and subject is never going to be described as an 'easy' read. I found the majority of it quite fascinating and I would most certainly read another of Fraser's books (the one the six wives of Henry VIII appeals.)
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, thorough but one-dimensional, 4 Mar 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Hardcover)
As an aristo herself, one could expect Antonia Fraser to sympathise with her subject here. Indeed, she does an excellent job of putting us in Marie Antoinette's place, and of exploding many of the savage and malicious myths surrounding this controversial character. But it is very much a top-down view, and Fraser is extremely reluctant to allow any kind of blame or blemish to attach to her subject. Ultimately it reads like some kind of apologia for the lifestyle and rights of absolute monarchs. The book is also completely devoid of any kind of context. We hear only of the nobles: the bourgeoisie appear only in the guise of the uppity Third Estate, and the working classes only as a mindless, ungrateful mob. This creates a strangely isolated picture of life at Versailles. At one point, MA is the darling of France. Later, with no explanation, she is the most hated person in the country. Fraser's failure to explain this, or to provide any kind of context, robs the book of any depth.
The work is full of detail. We can hardly have a Comtesse enter the scene without knowing the colour of her dress. Given the rosy picture Fraser paints of the noble life, sometimes rather gushingly, always with approbation, this makes the text veer dangerously close to the style of romantic fiction - perhaps even some sort of 18th century 'Hello' magazine. If you share Fraser's apparent view that those born to this life deserve all the privilege they can get - while others around them are starving - and don't feel like asking any difficult questions, then maybe this is the book for you.
Don't read this for analysis of life, culture or politics - there isn't any. The detail is superb, even if sometimes irrelevant. And the book provides a vivid portrait of the (often bizarre) life at court, with its labrynthine and frequently peurile rules of etiquette. But if you want to know why there was a revolution, read Simon Schama's 'Citizens'.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The journey - Marie Antoinette, 27 April 2003
By 
Elizabeth (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Paperback)
From the Beginings of a political pawn in Austrian-French politics, Antonia Fraser takes us on the Journey of Marie Antoinette's life.
Fabulously written, with womanly flair, Antonia Fraser once again shows her extensive research on her subject.
In gripping style, the author relates to the reader the "travesty" of the trial, and the "humiliating" death of Marie Antoinette, as impartially as possible, although one cannot help but get caught up in the emotion of it.
A brilliant read, leaving the reader wondering what did become of the royal children, and what has happened since. Which the author also provides in her epilogue.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A stereotype made human, 26 Mar 2010
By 
Oracle - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Paperback)
I found this book extremely interesting as it really brought Marie Antoinette to life. Under Fraser's deft narrative and extensive research Marie Antoinette stepped out of her caricature to become a real person for me and brought to mind interesting parallels with today's frivolous heiresses. Here was someone bound equally by her privileged status and her lack of political nous and I could see how a shrewder, more sensible woman might have avoided her fate. I never really liked Marie Antoinette as a person, although I pitied her; this respect makes this book a good historical lesson but one where the main subject is difficult to root for.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A true masterpiece!, 28 Aug 2009
By 
Christian Dahoui (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Marie Antoinette (Paperback)
Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser is a true masterpiece. Ms. Fraser brings Marie Antoinette back to life in this comprehensive and thorough book. This is not an analytic or academic account of the life of Marie Antoinette. It does not, for instance, discuss the causes of the French revolution in depth. Yet, it is difficult not to feel that one is a direct observer of history in reading this book. It is like watching a film of the life of Marie Antoinette, complete with insights as to how she must have felt and what she must have thought in different points of her life. It is difficult to overstate how much I enjoyed this book.
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Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette by Lady Antonia Fraser (Paperback - 30 May 2002)
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