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: Marie Antoinette.
I gasp 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 for passage.
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, Mops.
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
Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!
No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
Solve this clue:
and be entered to win..
Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.
Your guide toexceptional books
BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.