Bag Girl Reviews: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell.

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Sarah Vowell is an American historian and author known for her snarky and irreverent writing style and unconventional way of handling non-fiction prose. My father is an admirer of her and her work and that is how I am aware of it. When I decided to write my term paper on the Marquis de Lafayette and the beginnings of America’s relationship with France, I was reminded of this book and chose to use it as one of my sources. Vowell’s writing is unique among history books in that they have a much less formal and pedantic tone than is typically associated with the genre. Her books read more like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road than the history texts students are made to read in school. The structure of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is based around Vowell’s trips to sites associated with her subjects and she often goes into descriptions of the people and places she encounters on her excursions. As someone with a penchant for history related vacations, I find this format enjoyable.

Vowell begins the book with the question “How did the Marquis de Lafayette win over the stingiest, crankiest tax protestors in the history of the world?” The most fascinating question to ponder about this unlikeliest of founding fathers is why and how did a teenage French aristocrat end up becoming an important figure in the cause of American independence and wholeheartedly embraced, and was embraced by, a country so different from his own. Vowell’s central theme is what Lafayette, as one of America’s first national celebrities, was one of the few unifying figures in American history, which is riddled with social and political division.

During the research period for this book, Vowell visited a number of Lafayette related sites such as the Chateau de Chavaniac in the Auvergne region of France, Lafayette’s childhood home and the Brandywine Battle Site, where Lafayette fought his first battle as a general in the Continental Congress, and the sites of other battles where Lafayette fought such as Monmouth and Yorktown. Because Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is as much a travel narrative as a historical one, Vowell finds ways of incorporating these experiences into the narrative she is telling. Vowell describes her approach to history as thus “Having studied art history, as opposed to political history, I tend to incorporate found objects into my books,” she writes. “Just as Pablo Picasso glued a fragment of furniture onto the canvas of ‘Still Life With Chair Caning,’ I like to use whatever’s lying around to paint pictures of the past — traditional pigment like archival documents but also the added texture of whatever bibs and bobs I learn from looking out bus windows or chatting up the people I bump into on the road.” The final product is a hodgepodge of historical fact and amusing anecdote.

Vowell explores Lafayette as both a person and as symbol for both the Americans and the French of a relationship that was tense and complex from the beginning. Lafayette managed to form an alliance between two vastly different countries (the curmudgeonly and puritanical Americans and the haughty and effete French) which lasted over the centuries. He tried to use his revolutionary credentials to cool the worst excesses of the French Revolution but barely managed to get out of it with his head intact. In 1824, the sixty-seven year old Lafayette visited the now United States and was met with a superstar’s welcome. The 1824 American tour elicited the equivalent of a modern day media frenzy with crowds of thousands appearing to see the elderly Lafayette wherever he went. Entrepreneurs profited from the Lafayette mania through the very American phenomenon of commemorative souvenirs.

The title Vowell chose for her book Lafayette in the Somewhat United States refers to the main theme of the text, that Americans have been traditionally a divided people, broken up into a number of social, political, religious, and racial factions, and unwilling to cooperate and agree amongst themselves and other countries but Lafayette was one of the few things that united the American people and united them with France. Lafayette embraced America wholeheartedly and the feelings were mutual as the Lafayette mania of 1824 shows.

Almost as soon as the first Europeans arrived on North American soil, they began to squabble pettily with one another and their relationship with the outside world was marred by misunderstanding and outright xenophobia. The decision to break away from Europe and form their own society was much easier than coming to a consensus as to who should run that society and how it should be run. In today’s socio-political climate, the growing pains of the New United States feel familiar, relevant, and perhaps comforting. Viciousness, pettiness, and conflict are far from anything new in American political life and the country has gone through some nasty periods of strife but always come through it. One of the few things that can bring its diverse peoples with their diverse values together is a shared reverence for its founding fathers.

One of the things I find fascinating about studying the founding fathers, and I get the impression that Sarah Vowell does too, is that once you get past the image of wise and infallible sages that posterity created for them, you find that they are relatably flawed. Vowell enjoys affectionately taking her subjects down a peg. Washington and Lafayette were great men but even they had their shortcomings. Lafayette’s disobedience to the orders of the French government and departure for the Americas was the ultimate act of teenage petulance and rebellion and Washington was saddled with a position that no mere mortal could possibly handle without a lot of strain. We find stories of their outbursts and petty infighting interesting and amusing because such behavior is understandable and relatable. Who has not talked smack about someone they do not like.  

As much as I love history, I struggle with reading history books as do many people. The genre has a not totally undeserved reputation for being dry, intimidating, and unapproachable. This is why Sarah Vowell’s books come as a breath of fresh air. Her snarky, rambling prose filled with slang and pop culture references is the exact opposite of the textbooks I had to slog through for my history classes. I am also reading W.E Woodward’s biography of Lafayette as research for the term paper I am writing and saying that getting through the book is a chore to get through is putting it mildly. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is an ideal book for people with an interest in history but struggle with five hundred page biographies filled with footnotes, annotations, and other appendices.

Vowell’s informal and irreverent writing style makes the book more accessible than those of her peers but does not feel dumbed down. Her prose has the feeling of a casual conversation with an intelligent, interesting, and eccentric person. The road trip format of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States I find enjoyable as someone who loves to travel and whose childhood family trips were to historic sites such as Gettysburg and Colonial Williamsburg. The text is cobbled together from both the highbrow discourse of historians and conversations with the random people one encounters during a road trip. This style is effective because it shows how history relates to the world outside of academia. Vowell enjoys taking digs at America’s intertwined reverence and ignorance of its own history. She is tackling a well known but not understood subject. Most people have a vague knowledge of the American Revolution or the Civil War but have little interest in studying deeper into the subjects.  Yet we trot out our god-like adoration of the founding generation each Fourth of July and the Civil War still evokes violent feelings even today. Historic sites are popular and lucrative tourist destinations yet no one seems to want to pay tax money for their upkeep.

I would recommend Lafayette in the Somewhat United States especially if you are interested in the Revolutionary War Era and or Franco-American relations.

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A Bag Girl Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving Traditions

Because I am a huge fan of Broadway, I have watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade for years because Broadway frequently features into the parade’s yearly lineup. Musical numbers from shows such as Wicked and Hairspray are some of the highlights from past parades I can remember off the top of my head. Broadway stars like Cheyenne Jackson and Jonathan Groff have also made appearances. You just have to shift through all the annoying talking heads and screaming crowds.

Today when I tuned into the parade, the first thing I saw was a filmed performance of a song from the musical Waitress which I was in and out of because I have no interest in Waitress.

Cue the usual giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters (Pikachu from Pokémon was always my favorite), marching bands, pop stars on floats, and two minutes of content before five minutes of commercials. As usual, I just want the talking heads to shut up. Imagine being a small town high school marching band or cheerleading team who finally makes it to the big time and their entire community tunes in the watch them, only to have two morons talk through it. People want to watch the parade not listen to idiots yammer about the parade.

Christopher Jackson from Hamilton made an appearance talking about a television show he’s on right now. Other Hamilton cast members Leslie Odom jr. and Mandy Gonzales also showed up. Odom was riding the Sesame Street float and Gonzales was also talking with the heads.

The month or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of my favorite time of year and the arrival of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the perfect way to kick off this most joyous of seasons. I confess that I felt rather emotional when Santa showed up this year.

As an unashamed dog lover, watching the National Dog Show is one of my best loved Thanksgiving traditions. My mom and I were squealing over how cute the dogs are.

My favorite in the hound group was a whippet named Anna. The announcer said all of the dogs in her litter were named after characters from Downton Abbey which was what made her my favorite. Anna took home the prize for the best hound dog.

My favorite herding dog was an Old English Sheepdog named Sofia and she won her category.

The dog I was rooting for in the working category was the Samoyed because that’s such a beautiful breed of dog but the Portuguese Water Dog won instead.

I was rooting for the West Highland White in the terrier group because my aunt owns a dog in that breed. Louis, the American Staffordshire Terrier won and I was glad of the because the announcer was talking about how Louis’s owner brings him to visit V.A. hospitals. Louis was ecstatic when he won and was jumping up and down.

Chevalier King Charles Spaniels and Japanese chins are among my favorite dog breeds, so I wanted either of them to win the Toy Category but I was also rooting for the Yorkshire terrier since another of my aunts owns one of them. The Brussels Griffon took home the prize.

My mom said that the Red and White Irish Setter was pretty and that one became my favorite in the Sporting Category. Mom then said that I should choose from the ones the show walking around the ring because those are the ones with the best chance of winning. So I choose the golden retriever because golden retrievers are perhaps my favorite dog breed, and this particular dog, Gunner, is also a therapy dog but the springer spaniel won.

My favorite non-sporting dogs were the Dalmatian, Seven, the Boston Terrier, Prince, and French bulldog, who won with the Dalmatian in second place.

Our two favorites to win best in show were Anna the Whippet and Babe the French Bulldog, who appeared to be the frontrunners and audience favorites but the Brussels Griffon, Newton, won best in show.

Bag Girl Goes to Salem: Peabody Essex Museum and Witch Museum

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My film studies professor told us about an exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum called It’s Alive which features posters and props from classic horror and sci-fi films. It piqued my interest and so Jasmine and I decided that we would go downtown today since my only class was canceled and Jasmine did not have class until 3:05.

We were able to take the Salem State shuttle downtown. I had also wanted to see the Friendship, a reproduction East Indiaman ship which is sometimes docked in Salem harbor. Since it opens at nine o’clock, whereas the P.E.M. does not open until ten, we went there first but the Friendship was not in port. So we waited around until the P.E.M opened.

The It’s Alive exhibition is part of the collection of Kirk Hammett, lead guitarist for the band Metallica, who is a big fan of horror and sci-fi films. We walked through the doors, which made the creaking sounds often found in haunted houses, and saw posters for classic horror movies such as Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Dracula and film clips of their famous scenes projected onto the walls.

 

There was a piece of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory which zapped “electricity” in the form of light projection.

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as well as posters for films such as Lon Chaney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête

The next part of the exhibition was made up of posters for famous sci-fi films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Metropolis.

My favorite exhibits were of props from the films Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Flying Saucers which we dummies of alien creatures.

We also got to see posters for more recent horror classics such as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.

On our way out, we saw a cut out advertising the 1933 film King Kong.

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Because we are Salem State students, Jasmine and I can get into a number of museums here in Salem for free. One of them is Peabody Essex. Another is the Salem Witch Museum. Jasmine and I went there to get tickets for the one o’clock tour and then got lunch at our favorite pizza place. The first part of the Salem Witch Museum is a room with wax displays telling the story of the Salem Witch Trials. We sat in the center and lights came up on each of the displays and a narrator tells the story.

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The second part of the museum explores the changing perception of the witch from wise and kindly ancient wise women, to satanic hags, to modern-day Wiccans.

I saw an add on Facebook this morning saying that the Residence Hall Association was running buses downtown to see the Halloween parade. I went to the seminar room of our residence hall around four o’clock and met up with Jasmine around four thirty. We enjoyed pizza from our Omega’s, one of our favorite places before boarding the bus. To our surprise, instead of just watching the parade, we got to be in it, marching to represent Salem State University. Our bus dropped us off where the parade was to begin. I saw a trio of people dressed up as Ghostbusters as we were walking in.  

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The parking lot was filled with cars decorated with different themes such as movies like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws, Pirates of the Caribbean, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

The parade was set to begin at six thirty but since our group was at the very end, we did not get to leave until another forty-five minutes later. Jasmine and I volunteered to hand out candy to children as we passed. We also had our faces painted. I asked to be made to look like a broken porcelain doll, but I ended up looking like I have that grayscale disease from Game of Thrones. Jasmine was made to look like a black cat.

We walked through downtown Salem from the docks, where the parade began, to the Hawthorne Hotel, struggling to manage crowds of sugar crazed children. Salem is one of the best places to be during the month of October and today was an excellent kickoff to Halloween month.  

Bag Girl Goes to The MFA Boston

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Since 2017 is the fiftieth anniversary of 1967’s Summer of Love, The Museum of Fine Arts is showing an exhibition on this seminal moment in American pop culture. Mom and I were eager to go see it after falling in love with the work of artist Peter Max during our cruise.

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Orpheus and Cerberus by Thomas Crawford

Today was the perfect day to go into the city: sunny and pleasant with a crisp autumn coolness. We took the 10:13 am train to Boston and arrived around eleven o’clock. By the time we got to the MFA, around 11:30 am, I was starving and ready for lunch. After getting something to eat, we went to see the Summer of Love exhibition. 

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Summer of Love Album Covers

After getting something to eat, we went to see the Summer of Love exhibition. It was in a small gallery and mostly displays of album covers, some of which, I imagine, were designed by Peter Max, since I know that he collaborated with the Beatles on their cover art. What the Beatles were to the sound of the 1960s, Peter Max was to its look. 

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Summer of Album Covers

The Summer of Love exhibition had its own little gift shop, where I purchased a beautiful book on Max’s work with a foreword by Neil Degrasse Tyson of all people.

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Summer of Love Album Covers


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Ancient Egyptian Beadnet Dress- Art of the Ancient World, Gallery 105B

I had made a list of my favorite works of art on display at the MFA and which galleries they are in. First on the list was the ancient Egyptian beadnet dress on display in the Art of the Ancient World wing, Gallery 105B. In a little activity sketchbook that they were giving out for free, I sketched all of my favorite artworks, starting with the beadnet dress.  

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Mrs. Billington as Saint Cecilia by George Romney- Art of Europe, Gallery 141

Next was Mrs. Billington as Saint Cecilia by George Romney in Gallery 141 of the Art of Europe wing, a painting I saw on the MFA’s Instagram page this morning and felt that I had to go see. We also looked in an exhibit of eighteenth-century porcelain, which I wanted to take all of home. 

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The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit by John Singer Sargent- Art of the Americas, Gallery 232

Upstairs in Gallery 232 of the Art of the Americas wing hangs one of the MFA’s most iconic possessions: The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit by John Singer Sargent who is one of my favorite artists. Aside from sketching an outline of its composition in my book, I also drew the two giant Japanese vases, similar to those found in the painting, which flank it on either side. We finished up our tour of Art of the Americas by looking at depictions of the elegant and privileged lives of the turn of the century elite done by Sargent, Cassatt, and Whistler.

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Haymaker and Sleeping Girl by Thomas Gainsborough- Art of Europe, Gallery 246

Returning to Art of Europe, we passed through galleries of eighteenth-century rococo furniture, including my dream bed, to Gallery 246, where the next artwork on my list hangs. Thomas Gainsborough’s Haymaker and Sleeping Girl is a romantic image of a rustic country lad staring longingly at a refined young lady, asleep under a tree.

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Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer by Edgar Degas- Art of Europe, Gallery 255

Last on my list was Degas’s Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer in Gallery 255. The section of the MFA dedicated to the nineteenth-century French Impressionists is one of my favorites in the whole museum. One of my new favorite paintings in the MFA’s collection is La Japonaise by Claude Monet which features his wife, Camille, wearing an elaborate kimono. 

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La Japonaise by Claude Monet- Art of Europe, Gallery 252

Mom had me check to see what time the train was coming. The time given on the MBTA ap was 3:15 pm, so we made a dash back to North Station. After checking the schedule there, we found that I had been wrong; the train to Gloucester was not coming until 5:30 pm. There was a train to Beverly coming at 4:30 pm, so we had Dad pick us up there.

Bag Girl Attends the Boston “Free-Speach” Counter Demonstraiton

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I was disappointed last January when I was unable to attend the Women’s March in Boston, so when I heard that there was going to be an event in the city last weekend, I was eager to go. An alt-right “free-speech” demonstration was planned in the wake of the recent tragedy in Charlottesville VA. A counter demonstration gathered on Boston Common in front of the State House. My dad and I decided to go into the city with Steve and Nancy, some old friends of my parents. We met up at their house in Saugus, where I received a heart-shaped “love trumps hate” sign to carry, and took the T into Boston. 

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On our way to the State House, we stopped at the Holocaust Memorial. One of its glass panes had been smashed by a rock but bouquets of flowers had been placed all along the memorial, as well as, candles venerating Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed in Charlottesville. Visiting the memorial was a powerful reminder of what prejudices, like those espoused by the alt-right, can do if not stopped. This reminder was particularly relevant in light of recent events. The day started off cloudy and gray but by the time we got to Boston Common, it was sunny and beautiful.

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Our base camp for the events was St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, which was open those attending the counter demonstration. In its downstairs hall, they put out water, coffee, and baked goods. After using the restroom and grabbing a cookie, we went to see the counter-demonstration. Boston Commons was crowded with counter demonstrators, many holding clever signs.  They outnumbered the alt-right agitators, who were holed up in a gazebo, about a hundred to one. As we made our way up the hill to the capitol building, we saw a group dressed in black and pointy hats called “Witches Against White Supremacy.” I made sure to take pictures and send them to Jasmine, who I knew would get a kick out of it.  

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We also saw a man dressed in the uniform of a Civil War union soldier, who denounced the capitalist system and a boy who Dad said must be cosplaying as 60s radical Abbie Hoffman. 

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At the top of Capitol Hill is a monument honoring the 54th Massachusetts, the first African American regiment organized during the Civil War. From this vantage point, we listened to a man give an impassioned speech on prison refer, which encouraged its listeners to be “pains in the ass” and demand change in the socio-political system. When the speech was over, Dad and I returned to the 54th Massachusetts monument to join Steve and Nancy.

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At noon, Steve, Nancy, and I returned to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a prayer service, whose theme was love and acceptance. The story from the Bible was about Joseph forgiving the brothers who had sold him into slavery in Egypt. Being Episcopalian, the service was indistinguishable from the Catholic mass I am used to. On the scale of Protestants, Episcopalians are the closest to Catholics. The service was beautiful. It’s music, readings, and prayers were in keeping with the day’s message of love and world changing. The bishop announced at the end of the service that the alt-right agitators were beginning to disperse.

Dad, who had spent the past hour exploring, met up with us again after the service. We went downstairs to the hall where sandwiches were served. I had a ham and cheese which was delicious. On our way out, we thanked the clergy of St. Paul’s for their hospitality. The day made me feel optimistic about human nature. I was glad that more people showed up to represent love and acceptance than intolerance and that the demonstration and counter demonstration went about fairly peacefully.

Bag Girl Goes to Old Sturbridge Village

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I have not been to Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge MA since I was six or seven, which is going on fifteen or sixteen years ago. Today, it was open for free as part of the state’s “free Fridays” program, so my mom and I went there to meet Ruth,  an old friend of her’s. The drive from Gloucester was about an hour and forty minutes.

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Old Sturbridge Village is a collection of buildings from all over New England that are preserved how they might have looked in the early nineteenth century, specifically the 1830s. The first building we looked at was a lower class house which smelt sweetly of dried apples and herbs. Out in front of it was a large, enclosed pasture where sheep grazed. I was able to feed one of the sheep a handful of grass; it tickled when the sheep nibbled away the grass.

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The next two buildings we visited were religious meeting houses, one Quaker, the other Congregationalist. The Congregationalists are now known as the United Church of Christ, the church to which Ruth belongs and is an ordained minister. Near the Congregationalist meeting house is the parsonage, where a minister like Ruth would have lived in the 1830s.

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Among the other buildings we saw were a schoolhouse, a cobbler’s shop, and a potter’s kiln and workshop. 

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At the farthest end of the village is a small dairy farm, where I got to pet a two-week-old calf named Norman. Inside the house, some women were making cheese. I knew from watching a number of documentaries on historical farming that a substance called rennet, a digestive enzyme found in the lining of a calf’s stomach, is used to curdle milk and turn it into cheese. The barn was filled with sweet smelling freshly mowed hay.  

We had to choose between a ride on a river boat or a hay cart since we had to pay for both of them. The hayride was what was chosen, which I felt was something of a rip-off. It only did a quick loop around the village square which I felt was not worth the six dollars we paid for it.

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Near the square is the finest house in the village, an elegant home which is where I would choose to live if I was a nineteenth century Sturbridge resident, and a store where I purchased a sandalwood fan (my old one broke), some postcards, a book on crocheting, and a book called Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. 

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Also near the village square is a bank, where I flirted with a well-dressed gentleman and asked if they gave out student loans. We popped into a house where they were making a quilt and knitting comforters, and a reproduction store with displays of goods which would have been sold there. My favorites were the fans and jewelry. 

On our way out of Old Sturbridge Village, we passed through its vast gift shop. I bought a packet of columbine seeds and a copy of The Hamilton Affair, a romance novel based on the marriage between Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. We had a picnic of damp cold cut sandwiches on a grassy knoll near the parking lot. Mom and Ruth caught out while I did a preview read of The Hamilton Affair. I had to be at work in Gloucester by five o’clock. The traffic driving home was heavy and I had just enough time to quickly change my clothes and dash off to Market Basket.

Bag Girl Reviews: Reign Season 4

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Perhaps the most egregious television shows I can think of is the C.W series Reign, based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. The story lines are cliched and melodramatic and give only the slightest nod to the history it is supposed to be based on, the acting is hoaky and terrible, the costumes range from looking like tacky prom dresses to looking like school play costumes. It’s characters behave like your typical C.W style spoiled brats and it’s thin veneer of political drama comes second to bed hopping and petulant rivalries. But the strangest thing is that I got caught up in the show and have a strange soft spot for it.  It is my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. As an aspiring writer and a  lover of history who appreciates historical accuracy and artistic integrity, enjoying this pandering trash makes me feel like a hypocrite. If shows like Downton Abbey, Poldark, and Outlander are like a fine chocolate truffle, Reign is the television equivalent of eating a dozen pixie stixs. You know it is crap and bad for you and that there are better things out there, but sometimes you just need the hollow rush.

In this final season, Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) struggles to find her footing as the Catholic ruler of Protestant Scotland and makes a politically advantageous to Lord Darnley (Will Kemp) who tries to undermine her authority as queen. Her rivalry with Elizabeth I of England (Rachel Skarsten) escalates to an outright grudge match. Meanwhile back in France, Catherine de Medici (Megan Follows) tries to protect her increasingly unstable son Charles IX (Spencer MacPherson).

Poor Adelaide Kane is completely out of her depth as Mary, Queen of Scots. She is trying to be a dignified and queenly figure but comes across more as an overindulged little girl. Rachel Skarsten reads as more of a Regina George style alpha bitch in the role of Elizabeth I than the brilliant and pragmatic politician Elizabeth really was. Both are presented as strong, independent women in a man’s world but, in reality, are little more than the bitchy combatants in a soap opera catfight.

The best performance is given by Megan Follows as Catherine de Medici who is brilliant and steals the show.

There are a lot of bad things you can say about Reign. It is silly fluff and emblematic of the shallowness of the entertainment industry, mostly in how it thinks it needs to sacrifice authenticity in order to pander to the lowest common denominator. My opinion is that if you are going to make a film or television series involving some sort of history, the people who are most likely going to watch it are those who are interested in history, and you should not alienate that demographic. There is a terrible misconception that history is boring and not relevant to people today and this is not a mid set we should encourage or pander to. I find that history is fascinating enough without being turned into a costume ball version of Pretty Little Liars.

Romance and Feminism

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As with today, romance and relationships were a popular subject for fiction during the Victorian era and the early 20th century. Literature has long been used to highlight social issues such as social inequality, especially gender inequality. The period bridging the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, known as the turn of the century, was a period of great change, specifically in views on marriage, romantic love, and relationships between men and women. As one century faded into another, portrayals of women in fiction became more complex as real life women became more emancipated. Their identity was beyond that of just a virgin, a wife, or a whore. Authors championed the idea of marriage as a romantic partnership between equals and it was not always the happy ending of the story. The fiction of this time period reflected the changes that were going on and also perhaps influenced them. But the core values of society and its expectations of women changed little because they were still expected to conform to what men wanted.

Women during the Victorian and Edwardian eras were valued according their attractiveness and usefulness to men. A girl’s education would involve skills which would make her attractive to potential suitors such as dancing, singing and music, needlework, etiquette, and conversation; it was her job to catch the best husband she could. The fashions of the Victorian era emphasized natural beauty and femininity. The most attractive shape for a woman was a tiny waist with generous hips and bust and the most desired complexion was pale with rosy cheeks; both were signs of health and fertility. Corsets were worn throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras to control the waist and support the bust. A lady would not go outside without a hat or parasol to protect her pallor and would pinch her cheeks and bite her lips to give them color; wearing makeup was unthinkable because it was associated with actresses and prostitutes. After a girl was married, she would devote herself to running her household, raising her children, and pleasing her husband. A good woman was expected to remain sexually pure before marriage and only have sex in order to satisfy her husband and conceive children. Female sexuality was related to male honor; a woman who went against the sexual mores of the time made the men in her life vulnerable to shame and ridicule. The patriarchal social structure of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries took a rather simplistic view on women as either virgins, wives, or whores. Women were considered intellectually inferior to men yet, ironically, were put on a pedestal as the moral guardians of society but they used this role to enter public life.

Charity and social work were considered acceptable activities for a respectable lady. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were periods of great social reform. Women played a large and active role in these reforms and gained more social, political, and economic autonomy for themselves. This time period was also the first great era of manufacturing, advertising, and consumerism with many of its new products marketed at women, who were under the most pressure to look attractive and would be the primary consumer for the home. To make their products more appealing to female customers, advertisers gave the impression that these products would emancipate them. Household appliances would free them from the drudgery of housework and fashion and beauty products would turn them into a modern and liberated woman. Bicycling was a popular pastime during the turn of the century, and was championed by women’s rights activists because it gave women a degree of independence. But some argued that it was damaging to a woman’s health (specifically their fertility) and would make them seem masculine and unattractive (therefore unlikely to marry and fulfill the acceptable role of wife and mother). Bicycling was also seen as immoral because it involved riding astride (an unladylike position) and a woman could presumably go off unchaperoned to meet with lovers. Similar concerns were raised about the newfound access to higher education which women gained at the end of the nineteenth century. The big women’s rights debate of the era was whether or not to give women the rights to vote. Some of the reasons people had for not allowing women to vote were that women did not have judgment enough to participate in politics, that it would disrupt the social order ( which benefited men), that it would emasculate and feminize politics (because anything feminine must be bad) and would cause disharmony between the sexes.

The literature of the day presented models for behavior and also showed what happened when you did not live up to society’s expectations .It reflected and formed the values of the age. It’s heroines often suffered in an unequal and harsh world and were abused by cruel people, often male. Proto feminist literature featured male characters who were some sort of threat or obstacle for the heroine. Often they are romantically or sexually interested in her, wishing to marry her or take advantage of her. A happy ending featured the heroine overcoming all of her trials and marrying Mr. Right; the male character she has been pitted against learns to accept and appreciate her as an equal and turns out to be the perfect husband. An earlier example of this type of narrative is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The spirited Elizabeth Bennet and the haughty and introverted Mr. Darcy misunderstand each other and are thrown into conflict with one another. But the attraction that has been between them from the beginning overcomes their defenses and the novel ends with them marrying. By marrying Mr. Darcy, who is a wealthy nobleman, Elizabeth improves her socioeconomic status.  The goal of romantic love is the social and economic stability of marriage. A sad ending often involved the heroine dying tragically, a victim of the injustice and sexual inequality of the world. She often ended up as a victim by going against conventional ideas about female behavior. Her story could either be a warning about what happened when you broke the rules or a condemnation of a social system which judged her too harshly. Perhaps the best known of this type of story is   Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Anna, the wife of a Russian diplomat, is dissatisfied with her marriage and leaves her husband for her lover. She becomes a social outcast and ends up committing suicide. Even women who are portrayed sympathetically are punished when they step outside the boundaries of conventional behavior.

In 1891, German playwright Frank Wedekind wrote one of his best known plays,   Spring Awakening: A Children’s Tragedy. Around the same time, English novelist Thomas Hardy wrote what is perhaps his best known work,   Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. Both works were shocking due to their frank portrayals of sexuality and the fate of women who fail to live up to society’s ideal of female purity, and are in many ways similar.

Hardy’s heroine, Tess Durbeyfield, has a lot in common with Wendla Bergmann,   Spring Awakening’s   main female character. Both are innocent small ­town girls with a spirited and feisty side, and they go through similar experiences. Tess’s love interest, Angel Clare, and   Spring Awakening’s protagonist, Melchior Gabor, resemble the self-important, know-it-all, male characters common in proto feminist literature. Melchior and Wendla’s scene in the woods has a lot of similarities with scenes in Tess of the D’Urbervilles between Angel and Tess. When Angel is struck by Tess’s beauty, he compares her to classical goddesses such as Demeter, goddess of agriculture, and Artemis, goddess of purity. Melchior greets Wendla by saying she is “like a tree nymph fallen from the branches”. Both Angel and Melchior have had more access to education than their love interests and treat them patronizingly. Angel offers to educate and cultivate the less sophisticated Tess, who responds that the answers she is looking for are not found in books. Melchior bombards Wendla with cynical rhetoric about how he does not see the point of her charitable visits to the poor because they are unpleasant and possibly useless and is more interested in this moral dilemma than in Wendla’s actual answer, that she makes these visits because they are necessary.

The relationship between Melchior and Wendla then begins to resemble that of Tess and Alec D’Urberville in that they engage in consentually ambiguous sex. Both Tess and Alec’s sexual encounter in the woods and Melchior and Wendla’s sexual encounter in the hayloft are not explicitly described and open to interpretation. Views on sexuality when  Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Spring Awakening were written were different than they are today. Sex outside of marriage was not something which a nice girl was supposed to want and it was a trope of erotic literature to have the heroine be the victim of a quasi­rape. The purpose was to shift the blame for the act away from her and say that it was not her fault, so she would still be a “good girl” (Worsley Episode 3.) The forceful seduction is also used to present the heroine as a victim worthy of sympathy even though she stepped out of society’s bounds. Tess clearly regrets her encounter with Alec and her experiences with him are more explicitly negative but Wendla’s reaction to what she has gone through is much more cryptic.

“Why did I slip out of the room?­To pick violets!­ Because Mother sees me smiling. Why can’t I close my lips any longer?­I don’t know, ­I simply don’t know, I can’t find the words for it…The path feels like velvet, ­no stones, no thorns. My feet don’t touch the ground. How well I slept last night.­ This is where they were.­I feel so solemn,­like a nun at communion.­Such beautiful violets!­Calm down, Mother, I’ll wear my sackcloth from now on.­If only there was someone here now who I could embrace and tell everything.

( Spring Awakening , page 39-­40)

Wendla’s monologue suggests that she received some pleasure and excitement from the encounter, whether she wanted it or not.  The phrase “Calm down, mother, I’ll wear my sackcloth from now on,” refers to the long dress which Wendla’s mother gave her at the beginning of the story and can possible be interpreted as Wendla saying she is willing to accept sexuality and womanhood for good or bad. Both Alec and Melchior express guilt for what they have done and a desire to make amends.

I suppose I am a bad fellow,­a damn bad fellow. I was born bad, and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad in all probability. But, upon my lost soul, i won’t be bad towards you again, Tess. And if certain circumstances should arise, ­you understand,­in which you are in the least difficulty, send me one line and you shall have by return

whatever you require.”

( Tess of the D’Urbervilles , Page 61 )

“In the letter Melchior declares to this fifteen year old girl that his conduct give him no peace, that he has wronged her, etc, that he will of course stand by her in any eventuality,­she should not grieve, even if she feels consequence,s­he is already taking steps to secure help.­his expulsion from school makes such a course easier,­his transgression may yet bring about her happiness­,and more nonsense of a similar

nature.”  

( Spring Awakening , Pages 58­-59)

Of course their actions both have the predictable results.  Both Tess and Wendla berate their mothers for leaving them ignorant about the dangers of male desire. Tess says to her mother:

 

“Oh Mother, my Mother!… How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men­folk? Why didn’t you warn me?Ladies know what to fend hands against because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance o’learning in that way, and

you did not help me!”

( Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Page 65)

Tess’s rebuke of her mother can be summed up in  Wendla’s rebuke of her’s “ O Mother, why didn’t you tell me the truth?” ( Spring Awakening, Page 65).  Tess has to suffer the trauma of having to watch her illegitimate child die and not being able to bury him in in the church graveyard and is later rejected by Angel because of her past while Wendla is killed by abortion pills given to her by her mother. Had she not died and had gone through with her pregnancy, one can imagine that she would have met with similar experiences to that of Tess: slut shaming and a life as a social pariah. The play leaves us with the feeling that we should not be too sad about

Wendla’s death because she would have met with a worse fate had she lived. Alec offers to take Tess under his protection either by marrying her or making her his mistress, even though Tess wants nothing to do with him. Melchior, who is portrayed in a more sympathetic light, feels that he is such a horrible person that he should kill himself. In a world of shame and sexual inequality and double standards, physical desire and romantic love are at best, untrustworthy, and at worst dangerous.  

The Edwardian era ended in 1914, with the beginning of the First World War. Reform minded women supported the war effort by becoming nurses and munitions workers and other such things. A large percentage of the male population was killed during the war which meant that a large number of women would never marry and would have to support themselves (Worsley Episode 3.)  As women began taking a more active role in the world, the hemlines of skirts went up, the silhouette became straighter and less restrictive, and corsets loosened and then disappeared altogether. The 1920s saw many more women enter the workforce and engage in traditionally masculine activities such as drinking, smoking, motoring, and promiscuous sex. Clothing in the 1920s took on a straight, boyish silhouette with a drop waist, and arms and legs became more visible than they had ever been. Women began wearing short hair and it became acceptable to wear makeup. Women who embraced these new forms of liberation were known as “flappers”. Interestingly, the corresponding term for “flapper” in French is “garçonne”, the feminine version of the French word for boy which roughly translates into “tomboy,”. This shows how these women sought equality with men by adopting some of the trappings of masculinity.  

The silent films of the 1910s and 1920s picked up where Victorian literature left off. The so called “Victorian” view of women as either sweet, innocent, and asexual or dangerous and sexually aggressive man eaters, was already seen as dated, and the heroines of film were portrayed in more complex ways (Sharot 7386.) The personas of Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford were a continuation of the wholesome, child­like idea of femininity championed by the Victorians. Pickford’s characters were often feisty and rebellious, while Gish often played the tragic heroine who is a victim of the cruelty and injustice of her environment. With the 1920s came flappers like Colleen Moore, Clara Bow, and Louise Brooks. Colleen Moore had the appearance of a modern flapper but acted in a wholesome way, while Clara Bow represented the alluring and sexually assertive flapper but was kind hearted and never immoral. Each of these actresses played the liberated woman of the early twentieth century in a sympathetic and appealing way.

The films they starred in had similar stories and themes to those tackled by the Victorian writers. Lillian Gish starred in a 1920 film called Way Down East which bares many similarities with

Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Gish plays a poor country girl named Anna Moore who is sent to beg assistance from rich relations in the city, and is tricked into a false marriage by the caddish villain and is abandoned when she becomes pregnant. After her illegitimate child dies, Anna starts a new life working on farm and strikes up a new romance with the farmer’s son, which is threatened by the possibility of her past being revealed. The main difference between Way Down

East and Tess of the D’Urbervilles is that the former ends happily.  The 1922 Mary Pickford film Tess of the Storm Country (a remake of a 1914 film also starring Pickford) features Pickford’s titular raggamuffin agreeing to take in the illegitimate child of her landlord’s daughter and facing social ostracization, which threatens her romance with the landlord’s son. The illegitimate child dies and Tess has to plead for it to be allowed to be buried in the churchyard. Women who have children out of wedlock still faced social ostracism. Clara Bow’s most famous film is a 1927 film called It, where she plays sassy salesgirl, Bettylou, who claims her roommate’s baby as her own when social worker threaten to take him way became his mother cannot afford to support him. This gives  Bettylou’s love interest the wrong idea about her. Even though Bettylou is willing to use her liberated sexiness to attract a man, her goal is ultimately marriage and respectability. Louise Brooks starred in a 1929 film called Diary of a Lost Girl directed by G.W. Pabst and based on a novel by Wedekind contemporary Margarete Böheme, about a girl named Thymian, who is seduced and impregnated by her father’s assistant and is sent away to a girl’s reformatory. Brooks and Pabst also collaborated that year on a film version of Wedekind’s play Pandora’s Box. All of these films have the conventional happy ending where the heroine finds happiness, wealth, and love by winning the heart and then hand of a wealthy Mr. Right. Marriage was beginning to be seen as something based on romance and physical attraction rather than as a form of social and economic security. Romantic love was  supposed to overcome class distinctions and women were more liberated than ever before, but the happy ending of a romance usually features one of the partners improving their socioeconomic status and female characters were not supposed to break certain taboos.  

The quintessential novel of the 1920s is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s plot revolves around the problematic love affair between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Five years before the start of the novel, the poor Jay fell in love with the wealthy Daisy but their romance is interrupted by Jay having to go fight in World War I. In the meantime, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan, who is of her own social class. By the point at which the novel opens, Gatsby has now become fabulously wealthy and has built a house across from where Daisy and Tom live, where he throws lavish parties in hopes that Daisy might attend one of them. The romance between Daisy and Gatsby rekindles but Daisy is unwilling to leave her husband Tom and give up her comfortable life. The Great Gatsby’s two beautiful and glamorous main female characters, Daisy Buchanan and her friend Jordan Baker are emblematic of the 1920s flapper. But Fitzgerald shows the flapper in a negative light: Daisy is fickle and shallow, and Jordan is cynical and dishonest. Part of the reason Daisy appears in such a bad light is because Gatsby has so idealized her and has such unrealistic expectations. Men put women on pedestals and do not see them as complex and flawed individuals. Daisy famously says that she hopes her daughter will be a beautiful fool because that is the best thing a girl can be in life.

“And I hope she’ll be a fool­,that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

(The Great Gatsby, Page 17)

Whereas women in the Victorian era were supposed to demure and submissive, women in the 1920s were expected to be light hearted and giddy. Seriousness in women is still seen as undesirable and women are expected to conform to the mold set by society . Despite all of the outward trappings of liberation, such as economic autonomy and less restrictive clothing,, expectations of women have not changed all that much. Works of fiction such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles and The Great Gatsby can get us to think about how far society has come and how little has changed.

Works Cited

American Experience: Mary Pickford . Dir. Sue William. Perf. Laura Linney. Pbs. Film.

Barkhorn, Eleanor. “‘Vote No on Women’s Suffrage’: Bizarre Reasons For Not Letting Women Vote.”

The Atlantic . The Atlantic Group, 6 Nov 2013. Web. 29 September 2015.

In Vote No On Women’s Suffrage: Bizarre Reasons For Not Letting Women Vote, , the author states that different parts of the community, specifically blacks and women, did not always have the right to vote. Women had to wait longer for suffrage and women’s suffrage met with a lot of opposition for a number of different reasons.

Clara Bow. Dir. Hugh Hunro Neely. Turner Classic Movies. 1999 Film.

De época. “A Very British Romance.” Perf. and Writ. Lucy Worsley. Video. Youtube. BBC. 23 Oct. 2015. Web. 18 April. 2016.

Diary of a Lost Girl. Dir. G.W. Pabst. Perf. Louise Brooks.  1929. Film

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby . New York: Scribner, 1925. Print.

In The Great Gatsby , the plot revolves around the problematic love affair between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Five years before the start of the novel, the poor Jay fell in love with the wealthy Daisy but their romance is interrupted by Jay having to go fight in World War I. In the meantime, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan, who is of her own social class.

By the point at which the novel opens, Gatsby has now become fabulously wealthy and has built a house across from where Daisy and Tom live, where he throws lavish parties in hopes that Daisy might attend one of them. The romance between Daisy and Gatsby rekindles but Daisy is unwilling to leave her husband Tom and give up her comfortable life.

The Great Gatsby is considered the quintessential novel of the 1920s, and it’s two beautiful and glamorous main female characters, Daisy Buchanan and her friend Jordan Baker are emblematic of the 1920s flapper. But Fitzgerald shows the flapper in a negative light: Daisy is fickle and shallow, and Jordan is cynical and dishonest. Part of the reason Daisy appears in such a bad light is because Gatsby has so idealized her and has such unrealistic expectations. Men put women on pedestals and do not see them as complex and flawed individuals.

Daisy famously says that she hopes her daughter will be a beautiful fool because that is the best thing a girl can be in life. Whereas women in the Victorian era were supposed to demure and submissive, women in the 1920s were expected to be light hearted and giddy. Seriousness in women is still seen as undesirable. Despite all of the outward trappings of liberation, expectations of women have not changed very much.

Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the D’Ubervilles. Mineola:Dover, 2001. Print.

Haluk, Askun. “The Woman Question And The Victorian Literature On Gender.” Literature 2012 16:52.

Ekev Academy Magazine. Web. 29 Sept. 2015

It. Dir. Clarence G. Badger. Perf. Clara Bow. Paramount Pictures. 1927. Film.

Prior, Karen Swallow. “‘You Ain’t Ruined’: How Thomas Hardy Took On Victorian­Era Purity Culture.”

The Atlantic . The Atlantic Group, 8 May 2013. Web. 29 September 2015.

In You Ain’t Ruined: How Thomas Hardy took on Victorian Era Purity Culture, the author addresses  a movement in the Evangelical Christian community to stop stressing female purity. In addition she says that this debate is nothing new and cites the example of 19th century author, Thomas Hardy.

Women in Hardy’s day who lost their virginity outside of marriage were deemed “ruined” or “damaged goods” and were condemned by society. Prior points out that Hardy often tackled this subject in his writings and gives an example of his early work, a humorous poem meant to poke fun at how society ascribes an almost monetary value on female sexual purity.

Then Prior describes Hardy’s most famous work, the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which features a young woman condemned by society as “ruined”. The novel has the subtitle, “a pure woman faithfully presented” to suggest that even though Tess is no longer sexually pure, she is still morally pure which is contrary to the victorian belief that for a woman, chastity and goodness were the same thing and that a woman who is no longer sexaully pure is no longer morally good. Hardy’s Tess is a victim, not only of sexual violence but of a hypocritical society which judged her too harshly because of something which happened that was not her fault.

Prior ends the article with her belief that the issues raised by Hardy in this writing are still ongoing and worthy of debate and examination.

Sharot, Stephen. “‘New Woman’, star personas, and cross­ class romance films in 1920s America.” Gender

Studies March 2010: Vol. 19 No. 1,  73­86. Journal of Gender Studies. Web. 29  Sept. 2015. In, The ‘New Woman’, star personas, and cross­class romance films in 1920s America , the author talks about how the early 20th century was a time of growing social and economic independence for women and tells how this influenced the popular movies of the time by examining the star personas of three of the most famous actresses of the silent age: Mary Pickford, Colleen Moore, and Clara Bow. The 1920s saw a rise in women in the workplace as well as changes in views on women and romantic love. The so called “victorian” view of women as either sweet, innocent, and asexual or dangerous and sexually aggressive man­eaters, was already seen as dated, and people began to see marriage as something based on romance and attraction rather than as a form of social and economic stability. Mary Pickford, Colleen Moore, and Clara Bow all played the heroines in films about love between two people of different social classes. Often they were working class girls who win the love and the hand of a wealthy Mr. Right. The personas these actresses adopted in this films reflected how society was beginning to see women in more complex ways. Mary Pickford had a wholesome, girlish image, but the characters she played were often feisty and rebellious. Colleen Moore had the appearance of the modern flapper but did not seem like she would behave in a way that was immoral. Clara Bow epitomized the alluring and sexually assertive flapper, but was kind hearted and stayed within the bounds of acceptable behavior. Each of them portrayed the liberated woman of the early 20th century in a sympathetic and appealing way.

Strange, Lisa S. “The Bicycle, Women’s Rights, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.” Women’s Studies 2002:

31:609­626. Taylor & Francis. Web. 29 Sept. 2015

Sweet, Matthew. Inventing The Victorians. London: Faber, 2001. Print.

Tess of the Storm Country. Dir. John Robertson. Perf. Mary Pickford. United Artists. 1922. Film.

Wedekind, Frank. Spring Awakening. London: Nick Hern Books, 2010. Print.

Why Be Good? Sexuality & Censorship In Early Cinema. Dir. Hugh Hefner, Perf. Diane Lane. Alta Loma Entertainment, 2007. Film.  

Bag Girl Reviews: Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber

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If  Marie Antoinette’s legacy is as anything, it is as a fashion icon and a symbol of luxury and decadence. Her name and image has been used to conjure up visions of girly excess: cake, shoes, and elaborate and towering hairstyles. In her own time, France’s doomed last queen used her style choices to forge her own identity, which Caroline Weber explores in her book Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore To The Revolution.

As a member of the rigidly formal and etiquette controlled court of Versailles, Marie Antoinette’s clothing choices were limited. She was expected to lead a shy and retiring life and let a de Pompadour or du Barry hog the limelight, but this was not diva queen bee Antoinette’s style. With the help of the pioneering fashion designer Rose Bertin and her trusty hairdresser, Monsieur Léonard, Marie Antoinette created her own iconic look which provoked outrage as well as legions of imitators. Weber describes each of the fashion trends that Marie Antoinette helped launch, from the fabulously gaudy pouf to the scandalously revealing chemise à la reine, and how her reign as “queen of fashion” coincided with the birth of what we would know as France’s couture industry.

For someone of Marie Antoinette’s status, what you wore was political as well as personal. To wear an elaborate court costume complete with tower pouf, was to be seen as frivolous and uncaring about the plight of the poor; the powder which covered the wigs of the aristocracy was said to be made from flour stolen from hungry peasants. On the other hand, wearing a chemise à la reine and frolicking like a Rousseau inspired Shepherdess was seen as behaving in way which was unseemly for a queen and anti-french; the muslin from which a chemise à la reine was made being a foreign import. Colors, trimmings, and accessories were loaded with meanings which you ignored at your peril. Marie Antoinette, and her instantly recognizable wardrobe, were a fixture of both the burgeoning fashion press and seditious political pamphlets and cartoons. Her poufs and chemises became to epitomize all that was wrong with her and the world she represented.

Caroline Weber has an obvious enjoyment of both history and fashion which comes across in the book, which is well written and engaging, as side from a couple of language ticks which bugged me for some reason. She over uses the words “sartorial” and “ci-devant”; if you were to take a drink every time those phrases appear, you would quickly pass out.