Excerpt of Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund
(Page 2 of 3)
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A flock of goose bumps sweeps over my bare flesh.
Antonia, the pretty mouths of my ladies
breathe, Antonia. Their
eyes glisten with unshed tears, for I am about to abandon my old name.
The stern French require that I step forward, naked,
with no ribbon, memento, ruby, or brooch of Austrian design. To my ladies, I
display my open palms so they may witness and affirm that I leave empty-handed
and am beholden in no way to my native Austria
. Resplendent in rich colors, they draw near, in a solemn circle, to
regard my vacant hands.
My nakedness complete, now I die as
Maria Antonia, Archduchess of Austria,
daughter of Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria.
To be her worthy daughter, I will that my chilled
flesh unpucker itself and become all smooth and lovely. Clothed nobly in
nothing but my own skin, described as
pearly by some in its
translucent sheen, I begin the donning of French clothes, no longer
Maria Antonia but
my French self, now named:
my first damp breath of French air on this small island embraced by the arms of
the rushing Rhine and re member the admonition of my mother: Do so much good to
the French people that they can say that I have sent them an angel.
So said my mother, Empress of Austria, and I will love them, and they will love
me, and I will love my husband, who is shy, they say, and the old King, Louis
XV, who is not my future husband's father (that Dauphin having died without his
ever having become king) but his grandfather; and I will love the maiden aunts
of my future husband, Louis Auguste, who will become Louis XVI, God willing (but
not soon, not soon I hope and pray, for in fact I know that not only my unformed
body but also my spirit is still that of a child), and I will love the Ducde
Choiseul, the great foreign minister of France, who has made my happiness come
about by mating me with Louis Auguste, whom I have never seen yet and I will
love the Count Mercy d'Argenteau, for he is Austrian Austrian! and my mother's
friend and our no, not "our" but "the" Austrian ambassador to France. I will
love them all, especially Choiseul the foreign minister and Mercy the Austrian
ambassador, even as I have been instructed always to love those who further our
cause the peace of Europe. And I will find new friends, my very own friends, to
love as though they were sisters.
But now they say Mops is not to accompany
me. Mops! More precious than any ornament of silver or gold because Mops is a
living being who scampers across my heart with all four of his fast little feet!
My loyal companion, Mops is not a thing to be abandoned! Mops has tender
feelings. But it is this very loyalty, and mine to him, that disqualifies him
I place the heels of my hands, like broad stoppers, against my closed eyelids,
behind which hot tears are collecting. Unfortunately, when I press inward, tears
gush out and track my cheeks. Someone is pulling my hands away from my face. I
must present a cheerful countenance to the French no one needs to remind me.
Making myself cheerful is my own chore, a task
I must spare these kind souls around me. Because I hold no handkerchief or
possess not so much as a sleeve with which to dry my tears, I hunch up the round
of my bare shoulders, on each side, to wipe my eyes and cheeks.
Then Mops, Mops! I cry again, while my imploring hands beseech the empty
air. He lifts his darling black-button pug nose and howls and yaps. Tossing his
forelock from his brown eyes, he struggles to leap from the vise grip of strong
female hands. He cannot prevail, so he wags his tail like a little plumy flag,
the best flag, the flag of my own heart to try to cheer me. Au revoir,
The foregoing is excerpted from Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Naslund. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022