14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A cracking piece of popular history.,
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.