Summary and book reviews of Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser

Marie Antoinette

The Journey

By Antonia Fraser

Marie Antoinette
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2001,
    608 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2002,
    544 pages.

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Book Summary

Never before has the life of Marie Antoinette been told so intimately and with such authority as in Antonia Fraser's newest work, Marie Antoinette: The Journey. Famously known as the eighteenth-century French queen whose excesses have become legend, Marie Antoinette was blamed for instigating the French Revolution. But the story of her journey begun as a fourteen-year-old sent from Vienna to marry the future Louis XVI to her courageous defense before she was sent to the guillotine reveals a woman of greater complexity and character than we have previously understood. We stand beside Marie Antoinette and witness the drama of her life as she becomes a scapegoat of the Ancien Regime when her faults were minor in comparison to the punishments inflicted on her.

The youngest daughter, fifteenth out of sixteen children, of Austrian empress Maria Teresa and Francis I, Marie Antoinette was sent on a literal journey by her mother from Vienna to Versailles with the expectation that she would further Austrian interests at all times. Yet, Marie Antoinette was by nature far from interested in state affairs and much more inclined to exert a gracious, philanthropic role, patronizing the arts especially music, as royalty would come to behave in the nineteenth century. Despite this the French accused her of political interference and wrote scandalous tracts against her, mocking her lack of sophistication. Meanwhile, longing for a family and the birth of an heir who would have cemented the Franco-Austro alliance, the French queen had to endure more than eight years of public humiliation for her barren marriage before the delivery of her first of four children.

As these problems unfold, Antonia Fraser also weaves a richly detailed account of Marie Antoinette's other, more poignant journey: from the ill-educated and unprepared girl who sought refuge in pleasure as a consolation into a magnificent, courageous woman who defied her enemies at her trial with consummate intelligence, arousing the admiration of even the most hostile revolutionaries.

Brilliantly written, Marie Antoinette is a work of impeccable scholarship. Drawing on a wealth of family letters and other archival materials, Antonia Fraser successfully avoids the hagiography of some the French queen's admirers and the misogyny of many of her critics. The result is an utterly riveting and intensely moving book by one of our finest biographers.

Chapter One
A Small Archduchess

"Her Majesty has been very happily delivered of a small, but completely healthy Archduchess." Count Khevenhuller, Court Chamberlain, 1755

On 2 November 1755 the Queen-Empress was in labour all day with her fifteenth child. Since the experience of childbirth was no novelty, and since Maria Teresa, Queen of Hungary by inheritance, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire by marriage, hated to waste time, she also laboured in another way at her papers. For the responsibilities of government were not to be lightly cast aside; in her own words: "My subjects are my first children." Finally, at about half past eight in the evening in her apartments at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Maria Teresa gave birth. It was a girl. Or, as the Court Chamberlain, Count Khevenhuller, described the event in his diary: "Her Majesty has been happily delivered of a small, but completely healthy Archduchess." As soon as was practical, Maria Teresa returned to work, signing ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How important was Marie Antoinette’s childhood in Austria–historical enemy of France–in influencing her career? Would it ever have been possible for an Austrian princess to have a satisfactory life in France?

  2. Was Marie Antoinette’s relationship with her mother, the Empress Maria Teresa, a damaging or a supportive element of her life?

  3. Marie Antoinette’s marriage to the Dauphin, later Louis XVI, remained unconsummated for seven and a half years. What effect did this have on her character–and her relationship with her husband?

  4. Were the accusations of extravagance and frivolity leveled against ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Fraser's sizable new portrait avoids the saccharine romance of Evelyne Lever's recent Marie Antoinette, balancing empathy for the pleasure-loving queen with an awareness of the inequalities that fed revolution after all, Marie herself was fully conscious of them.

Booklist

Did Marie Antoinette, the notorious and ill-fated queen of France, actually respond to the peasants' clamor for bread with, Let them eat cake? Such myths and fallacies associated with the consort of the guillotined Louis XVI are cleared up in this vivid, well-rounded biography by the popular British author.

Library Journal

A well-researched biography that may cause one to rethink the role in which history has cast Marie Antoinette, this complements but doesn't replace Evelyne Lever's slightly less sympathetic Marie Antoinette The Last Queen of France.

Reader Reviews
Katie

Truth Unfolds
I really loved this book. It proved how wrong people can be sometimes and how history can really mess things up. The book showed Marie Antoinette as she really was and told nothing but the truth. I believe every word it says and feel that history has...   Read More

Laura Elizabeth

Antonia Fraser's book on Marie Antoinette will not be listed as one of her better works. Ms. Fraser is so obviously, painfully, an Antoinette devotee. There is little to no historical objectivity in this book and there are factual errors.

I am ...   Read More

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