Marie Antoinette: The Journey

In many ways Marie Antoinette was a remarkable and fascinating woman, as shown by the dignity and strength she had in facing the incredible events that took place throughout her life. These are described in great detail in Antonia Fraser’s book, as are all of Marie Antoinette’s personal attributes. In some circumstances, parts of this could be considered minutia, for example spending four pages describing how the King should be addressed by different people and who had the right to hand certain garments to the Dauphine.

When considering the dictionary definition of fascinating, ‘to capture the interest of; attract’, Marie Antoinette fulfils this description in many ways. She captured the interest of many – her mother, brother, the King of France and the populace. She said on her first visit to Paris in 1773, ‘How fortunate we are, given our rank, to have gained the love of a whole people with such ease’. Fraser recounts how, initially, the people of Paris loved their Dauphine, who was to become the Queen.

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As her life went on, she captured the interest of many more when she started gambling heavily. She was frivolous in the extreme, often earning a reproach from her mother, in either the form of a letter or verbally from the Comte Mercy d’Argenteau, her mother’s spy in Versailles. Marie and Louis’ problems in the bedroom also captured the interest of the Court, France, and many of Marie’s fifteen brothers and sisters. Louis had several problems consummating their marriage, which fell to many speculations outside the royal couple.

However, Louis merely required a simple operation, and when that was finally performed, many people fell to speculating when Marie’s first child would be. Marie Antoinette experienced an extremely interesting and fascinating life. Although she would have been too young to recall it, about six months after she was born, Austria and the rest of Europe were plunged into the Seven Years War. She coped with being the youngest female in her large family, and then being separated aged twelve on the grounds of misbehaviour from her sister, Maria Carolina, who was a close companion through early childhood.

They were then further separated when Maria Carolina was sent to marry the King of Naples. Aged fifteen, Marie Antoinette was sent to a foreign country to marry a foreign man, the Dauphin of France, Louis Auguste. She then was forced to live without giving birth for a long time, despite children being the love of her live, before finally giving birth to Maria Teresa in 1778. In this time she stood strong throughout the death of the King – a great friend to her – her mother, father and countless others.

After this, she had to bear the death of her firstborn son, Louis Joseph, and a daughter, Madame Sophie. She and Louis coped with the grain riots of 1789 and came out on top. She still managed to stand strong when France was in revolution, and she was taken prisoner. Even in the humiliation that was given to her before her execution, she had courage and dignity. Marie Antoinette therefore was fascinating, capturing and attracting the interest of many, and was also led an enchanted life, to look to the Latin, fascinatus.

Although Marie Antoinette was pretty, charming and graceful enough to attract attention, she was not very knowledgeable. She knew very little History of either Austria or France, and for many years was near enough illiterate. She often did not write essays, or for many years, traced over writing and pictures her easily charmed governess did for her. Learning French was a struggle for her, although it did improve once she lived in France. In some ways of her life, therefore, she was very ordinary, if not below average, and not at all fascinating.

When she went to live in France, she made many mistakes, besides her mother’s preparations. She discovered that the French Court was ruled by etiquette, which she found tiresome, and often ignored. Some of these early mistakes were grave and stupid ones, despite her discovery that she could flout even more rules as she got older and became Queen. Her mother and the Comte d’Argenteau continued to warn and lecture her on this behaviour, but she continued to ignore this help.

For many years Marie Antoinette behaved like a spoilt child, who insisted on having things her own way, despite the opinions and advice of others. It can therefore be stated that in these ways Marie Antoinette was not a fascinating individual, but an annoying child. Antonia Fraser’s account of Marie Antoinette’s life is definitely a fascinating one. The book describes all aspects of her life, including detailed descriptions of the portraits painted of her, with examples.

The author, uses a great deal of primary evidence to reinforce her narrative, and also shows all sides of the great story of Marie Antoinette’s life. A reader of this biography will gain an insight into the minute details of Marie Antoinette’s life, from her complexion to which gowns were ordered from which dressmaker. These minutiae can seem unnecessary and overemphasized at times, although it is essential to the biography. However, the narrative does tend to focus too much on the multitude of people that surrounded Marie Antoinette, which can render it a little confusing at times.

It also labours when giving elaborate detail of the different etiquettes of the French Court, especially in the chapter, ‘In Front of the World’, which describes all the varied ways different people had to address the King and the Princes of the Blood. However, in conclusion Marie Antoinette: The Journey is definitely a fascinating account of a fascinating individual, despite the occasional lapses into excessive detail whichdetail that deters the less conscientious lightweight reader. Even though Marie Antoinette had physical and literal imperfections, she is a strong role model for women today and her life story has enchanted many.