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5.0 out of 5 stars Marie Antoinette's Head, 19 Oct 2013
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This enjoyable and informative biography looks at the life of Leonard Autie, the celebrated and famous hairdresser, who personally cared for the locks of Queen Marie Antoinette. Just when you thought that you had read every possible volume about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, this entertaining book comes along - which focuses on a minor player in events, but nevertheless one who found himself in the very heart of the action.

Leonard Autie arrived in Paris in 1769, as a young man in his mid twenties, armed only with his luggage and a "big bundle of vanity." Talented as a hairdresser, he felt he had artistic genius - he certainly had charisma - and he was "greedy for gold and fame." His parents were domestic servants in a small town, and Leonard's arrogance masked the fact that he was all too aware of his provincial status. Still, through a friend, Fremont, he was introduced to a young actress at the Nicolets Theatre. She was a minor and less than successful member of the company, but once Leonard had dressed her hair, she found herself a sudden sensation. The onset of sudden applause gave both her and Leonard newfound fame. It wasn't long before Leonard was introduced to the Court, where he became a favourite of Madame du Barry. Later, he witnessed the arrival of the young dauphine, Marie Antoinette, and eventually became her personal hairdresser.

This book has all the intrigue of Versailles, along with the Court's many excesses. Leonard's hairstyles were so elaborate that women risked their hair catching fire, or had to lean their heads out of the carriages on the way to attend the theatre or masked balls, in order to have their hair styled in one of his amazing creations. Eventually, limits were put on the size of a ladies hair if they were to attend the theatre, as the audience's view was obscured by his clients hairstyles. Working for Marie Antoinette gave Leonard success, but limited his work outside of the Court. Fearful of losing other custom through needing to be constantly available to Marie Antoinette, Leonard used his friend, Fremont, and his brothers, to make sure they could dress the hair of every noble lady who requested his services. Soon he was rich beyong his wildest dreams; he even merited a small apartment at Versailles. Yet, all was not as wonderful as it seemed. The Queen was seen as frivolous and sacrificed popularity for seclusion and lack of etiquette. Discontent was in the air and Marie Antoinette was targeted by those looking for change. Leonard was her almost constant companion during her years as monarch and one of her most trusted advisors. He was there during "the Affair of the Necklace" and he witnessed the revolution.

Although Leonard had a better understanding than most of the people's grievances, his heart "still broke for the royal family." During the years of trials and executions, Leonard remained loyal to Marie Antoinette. He undertook dangerous missions for the royal family and even acted as a spy. This book also follows his travels after the revolution, when exile from France led him to take his talents to many other countries, including the Court in Russia. As well as being a fascinating glimpse into the life of someone so associated with the French Court, this is also the story of Marie Antoinette, of the revolution and the aftermath, as witnessed by someone who was there. For anyone with any interest in that era, this is a wonderful read. The author really brings the period and the characters to life and it is also packed full of great illustrations, including some of the most bizarre and elaborate hairstyles you could ever imagine.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read, 1 Jun 2014
By 
D. J. Williams (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution (Hardcover)
Interesting read giving a familiar story a new angle. The book tells the story of the royal hairdresser both during and after the reign and execution of the unfortunate Queen Marie Antoinette.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read.....however...., 24 April 2014
This review is from: Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution (Hardcover)
I very much enjoyed this book. I have read quite a few books now about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. This one was most enjoyable seen from the view of her hairdresser and telling his story is a totally different viewpoint to the norm and certainly gives the reader a glimpse into the world of an eighteenth century entrepreneur! Being the hairdresser to the Queen one would obviously expect that he was the confident to many a royal secret. In the book where Axel Von Fersen was mentioned (Marie Antoinette's long term lover) Leonard's memoirs show that Count Fersen was little more than a friend. Surely being within the queens inner circle he would have known that Marie Antoinette had a great love and affection for Count Fersen. It was even rumoured that Fersen was the father of two of her four children. He helped orchestrate the flight to Varennes. He did this with military precision and he even loaned a large amount of money to help finance this that he was still paying back long after the guillotine had taken the lives of the very people he was trying to save. This book makes his role seem very minimal and in my opinion upgrades Léonards role.

Also when The author writes about Madame du Barry he states that she spent fifteen years in a convent after the death of Louis XV, however she only spent one year in the convent. I just think if little things like that are wrong then what else is?

Now...after my niggles have been aired! What I will say is that I did enjoy reading the story of the man who created such very wild hairstyles! With poufs that could be three feet tall you know that Léonard was never going to be a wall flower! I think Bashor tells Léonards story very well and it is obvious that he has highly researched his subject. I have given this book a five rating as my niggles did not hinder my enjoyment of this book. If you ate interested in eighteenth century French history and how the French Revolution really turned around the fortunes for not only the Royal family but everyone who was close to them; even their hairdresser then you may find this an interesting read!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hairdressing was a much more intriguing profession in seventeenth-century Paris, 15 Feb 2014
I hate to begin my review with a cliché, but Will Bashor’s Marie Antoinette’s head: the Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, and the Revolution is proof that in history there are true stories waiting to be found and told, stories which are more exciting and intriguing than fiction. Although aware of, and often envious of, Marie Antoinette’s extravagant hairstyles, I knew nothing of the artists behind such creations. Bashor brings to life Léonard Autié, from his arrival in Paris, through his triumphant reign over royal and noble heads, to his activities and international travels during, following, and as a result of, the Revolution, until such time as he returned to live, work, and die in his native France, in 1820.

Will Bashor has used predominantly primary sources, including a two-volume edition of Léonard’s own memoirs, drawing on his diaries and correspondence, published eighteen years after his death, the Souvenirs de Léonard, coiffeur de la reine Marie-Antoinette, by the Baron Lamothe-Langon. Bashor acknowledges that these memoirs were received by some with a certain scepticism immediately after their publication, which he acknowledges throughout the book. We also see Léonard through the eyes of members and employees of the royal court, of those who knew him, as Bashor uses their correspondence and accounts of life at and away from court to bring the drama of the time to life through the existence and adventures of one man.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Bashor’s knowledge of his leading man and of the times in which he lived shows that he has spent a long time researching. His writing style is clear, dynamic, and entertaining. I came away from reading the book with a deeper understanding of the complexities of life spent in service of the rituals of the French court, and a greater appreciation of its inhabitants, while at the same time being thoroughly entertained. Whether you want to learn more about the historical realities of the Revolution and those who lived through it, or want an exciting historical story, this book will meet your requirements perfectly.

Beginning the book with a description of Marie Antoinette’s last hours, highlighting her change of circumstances through the changes in her hairstyles, and, most strikingly, through the differences in the way she was treated by her previous and her final hairstylists, was an excellent decision. I expect most readers to be, as I was, ignorant of Léonard’s existence, and his introduction through the moving evocation of his most famous client’s final days reminds us that we are already familiar with his most visually-striking work.

A hairdresser is typically a confidant to his clients, and Léonard assumed this role in Marie Antoinette’s life. When in France, he did what he could to help the Royal Family escape, and when abroad, he sought to raise money to help them in their imprisonment. Léonard’s movements brings him into contact with famous historical characters of the time is a great opportunity for Bashor to weave into his narrative the lives of these people. I was particularly taken by Madame du Barry’s adventures following her departure from court, and have a whole new appreciation of her now.

Given the book’s title, you can justifiably expect rich descriptions of hairstyles, clothes, hats, make-up, and jewellery. You won’t be disappointed, and I hope that, like me, you will appreciate the way in which such descriptions are used to clarify personal, political and social complexities throughout the story. Bashor very neatly demonstrates how Marie Antoinette’s choice of hairdresser, and their creation of new and daring hairstyles, upset the social order of the court, and how said hairstyles were used against her as proof of her neglect of the people of France. If you’ve seen Sofia Coppola’s beautiful film Marie Antoinette (2006), I recommend Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, And The Revolution for its explanations of what was happening under the surface of the film, thus enriching and giving substance to the film’s undeniably sumptuous superficiality.

Physically, the book is well laid-out and easy to read, in a clear crisp font of a good size. Bashor’s introductory notes on the use of titles at the French court was enormously helpful, and his inclusion of Léonard’s family tree helps the reader in the unravelling of the mystery of the hairdresser who died twice. The quality of the illustrations is excellent, having been drawn primarily from the Bibliotheque Nationale’s collections, and are used well to show the hairstyles and being created and to give us a look at characters as they are mentioned. The endnotes are perfectly placed so as not to distract from the book as narrative, and provide a great variety of references for readers who wish to learn more; the bibliography is similarly impressive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Quite simply brilliant!, 4 Feb 2014
By 
Karen E. Proctor (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution (Hardcover)
I am a big fan of historical fiction and ten to be quite critical but I can’t fault this wonderful book. A delight to read, author Will Bashor writes in engaging and witty, prose that spin the tale of a minor historical player into someone far more noteworthy. I suspect he has taken a little artistic liberty but who am I to judge when the result is as good as this. If you haven’t discovered Will Bashor yet, don’t delay!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great historical romp!, 28 Jan 2014
This review is from: Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution (Hardcover)
The title alone should grab your attention, but fans of historical fiction will love this Parisian romp. I have to be honest and say I knew little about the main character but having read the book I did some research of my own and think Will Bashor has done a marvelous job of researching his character. Don't hesitate on this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hair Raising, 4 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution (Hardcover)
A real page turner, I enjoyed this book tremendously. I had assumed for such a long time that Leonard was a bit of a fop but not so. He was a very accomplished character, this book is a must for anyone interested in Marie Antoinette. I is an excellent companion to What Marie Antoinette Wore To The Revolution.
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