A book that I’ve been meaning to read for years is Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, the biography which was the inspiration for the Sofia Coppola film I adore. I bought the kindle edition of the book years ago but never finished it.
Marie Antoinette: The Journey tracks the development of its subject from a both indulged and neglected archduchess in Austria to a lonely and unfulfilled dauphine in France, to a despised queen, and then a heartbroken widow awaiting execution. The story of the last queen of France is one of a young woman, a flighty and badly educated fourteen year old who, by accident of fate, was sent to do a job she was not suited for and did not want, that of a quasi ambassador who would support Austrian interest in France. The same could be said of her husband. The awkward and introverted but good natured Louis XVI was unsuited to the cutthroat world of French court politics and too indecisive to be able to weather the coming socio-political storm. Antonia Fraser paints the ill fated royal couple as tragic and sympathetic. Despite being vilified in her own lifetime as a greedy, extravagant, and manipulative intriger and adulteress, Marie Antoinette would have been better suited to a simple and cosy domestic life.
As a figure of glamour, luxury, and indulgence, as well as tragedy, Marie Antoinette continues to captivate us today. I think the reason I feel such a connection with her is because we share a number of personality flaws with her: extravagance, capriciousness, ennui, and a tendency to compensate for our frustration and unhappiness with excessive self indulgence. If I was in Marie Antoinette’s position, in an unhappy marriage and constantly under the scrutiny of a hostile court, and had her unlimited access to the best of French fashion and culture, I would probably go a bit overboard as well.
I found reading this book highly enjoyable. It is very well written and paints a vivid picture of Marie Antoinette and her life at the dazzling but vicious court of Versailles and how she incurred the wrath of the increasingly resentful French population, who would later rise up and destroy her and her family, try as did to prevent this disaster. Fraser’s prose held me from the beginning and the read did not feel like a chore to get through, as it sometimes does with non fiction.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Marie Antoinette and the time period she lived through, and in French history in general, and anyone who is a fan of the Sofia Coppola film.