Marie Antoinette Was 'One of Us': British Accounts of the Martyred Wicked Queen

By Binhammer, Katherine | Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Summer-Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Marie Antoinette Was 'One of Us': British Accounts of the Martyred Wicked Queen


Binhammer, Katherine, Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation


Like many other feminist intellectuals I know, I found myself weeping in the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. In those sad and sensational days following her death, many of "us"--that is to say, women (for it was primarily women who flocked to the floral shrine at Kensington Palace)--were surprised by our unaccountably emotional responses to the death of a woman whose only claim to fame was that she had given birth to the future King of England. Many well-known feminists published sympathetic elegies mourning the "People's Princess." Carol Gilligan, for example, meditated in the New York Times on why she felt "such a raw edge of grief for this woman I did not know." (1) In many cases, the tears were understood through an intense identification that women, including feminists, felt for Diana. Do you remember hearing, or perhaps even uttering, the oft repeated remark that Diana was "one of us"? Women could understand and identify with the tragedies of Princess Di's life: she was imprisoned in a loveless marriage with a cheating husband and a evil mother-in-law; she, too, suffered from body image problems which had led to bulimia; and she, too, struggled against the social stigma of single motherhood. Her bad marriage and bulimia, her victimization at the hands of patriarchal femininity, made her like "us." This woman who lived in a palace, had a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz, and wore a different designer dress every day became, in those first heady weeks after her death, the figure of Everywoman. She, too, was a woman. "One of us."

It would be preposterous to venture that Marie Antoinette could be considered the "People's Queen." She certainly was not popular with her subjects at the time of her death and Versailles witnessed no scenes comparable to those at Kensington. Across the channel in Britain, however, popular public sentiment following the guillotining of the Queen in Paris on October 16, 1793, was often reverential. (2) Like Princess Di, Marie Antoinette was a woman in her mid-30s, also a young mother who died of unnatural causes, and in both cases, commentators evoked sympathy through turning a powerful royal figure into a symbol of sacrificed and victimized womanhood. How does the identification of one very unique woman--a queen or a princess--come to stand in for all women, all mothers, all wives? This essay probes various representations of Marie Antoinette--some constructing her as wicked, others as the martyred royal--with the intent of unpacking how the category "woman" operates in the moment of the royal woman's death. For some British writers and feminists, Marie Antoinette was "one of us," a woman like "us" whose essential femininity was the basis for sympathetic mourning. For others, she was "one of them," a woman whose essential femininity aligned her, instead, with a corrupt female sexual power. The first half of the essay takes a broad survey approach to Marie Antoinette and cursorily discusses how a wide variety of writers (French feminists, Edmund Burke, pornographers, journalists) figure her relation to "woman" through invocations of sexual difference (that is, the difference of "woman" from "man"); in the second half, I turn to the responses of 1790s British feminists to this image of public womanhood with the interest of unraveling the tensions within feminism between how the singular woman is included in the larger political category of women. My curiosity about Marie Antoinette in Britain began when I encountered two radically different accounts of her within 1790s feminism. While Mary Robinson reveres Marie Antoinette as a symbol of victimized womanhood, Mary Wollstonecraft, even as late as 1794, was decrying the Queen as a sexual and political abomination who was the corrupt head of an oppressive political state. Why the difference in views? And what does this say about their own understandings of feminism, "woman," and sexual difference?

Feminists have long posited the difference between Woman (the patriarchal ideal of what a woman is, a constraining symbol of femininity) and women (the commonality of real embodied beings who are sexed female). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Marie Antoinette Was 'One of Us': British Accounts of the Martyred Wicked Queen
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.