Marie Antoinette: The Journey

Article excerpt

DOUBLEDAY CANADA, 2001

Marie Antoinette is popularly known for her cruel response to the starving French populace, embodied in the quip, "Let them eat cake!" But according to her biographer, Antonia Fraser, she never said those words. Fraser argues, on the contrary, that this famous Queen of France was slandered and vilified in her own time and over the past 200 years as extravagant, cold-hearted, uneducated, naïve, malicious and licentious. She was, in short, the victim of political manipulation and bad press, and was not the cause of the French Revolution. Born in Vienna in 1755, she married the future king of France at 14, and died at the guillotine in Paris at 37, found guilty by her anti-monarchist enemies of plotting against her adopted country.

Fraser certainly sees Antoinette's character flaws, but she is more forgiving than most, arguing that she had neither the training nor the temperament to be politically influential. She also brings to her biography a consciousness of the queen's vulnerability as a woman, and an understanding of her attempt to defend herself against her enemies on the grounds of her status as the king's wife, and especially as the mother of the heir to the throne. …