Sunday, July 17, 2011

Abundance- A Novel of Marie Antoinette

This novel is about Marie Antoinette, who I am sure many of you have heard of. She was the daughter of the Empress of Austria, the 10th child, and sent to France to marry the Dauphin at the age of 14, to forge an alliance between France and Austria. She was married to the Dauphin Louis, and was much beloved by the people and the King, Louis's grandfather. New to Court and the ways of the French, Marie was much loved for her beauty, grace, wit and charm. She had the help of Count Mercy, a friend of her mother's, to help steer her in the ways of what she should do. She also corresponded regularly with her mother throughout her life, until her mother's passing.

It took almost 7 years before their marriage was consummated. Marie loved Louis, despite his shyness, awkwardness, and failure to be a man for so long. He loved to hunt, work with locks and different tools. They often hunted together when they were young, and enjoyed each other's company. He treated her with love and respect, and she was a good wife to him. Her vices were gambling and losing large sums of money, and befriending women and paying for their large debts and jewels. They had 5 children, 1 of whom was stillborn and 1 that died as a toddler from some kind of epileptic seizure. They later lost another child, and soon were only left with Marie Therese, their oldest, and their son the Dauphin, Louis Charles.

The author describes Marie as quite a charming young lady; blond, slight and skinny, beautiful, kind and good. She wasn't perfect obviously, because people started writing seditious pamphlets on her and twisting her activities and making her into some kind of harpy. Upon the King's passing, it seemed the country turned against their new sovereigns. King Louis and Queen Marie, often tried to help the poor the best they could. He was too weak a ruler, and she was too loft in her spending. There were a few riots early on over the price of flour for bread. It seemed the people blamed everything on their king and queen- the weather, price of food, and their jobs. They held quite a responsibility, scary at times. Queen Marie Antoinette loved to act in plays, gamble, dance and be with her friends. King Louis often went to bed early, and she stayed up late long after him.

She had an affair with a captain, Count Axel von Fersen. It seemed King Louis must have known of it, but did not care. He desired his wife to be happy. She had herself painted a few times, and had a life long friendship with the artist Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun. The King's brother often started rumors and pamphlets on the Queen, and her image was tarnished. For once being so beloved, she was now known as quite the harpy and spender. Soon it seemed the country was in a deficit, and was out of money. They started to call Marie the Queen of Deficit. Soon King Louis had to create an Assembly of the Notables, but the aristocracy and nobles fought the change, and taxes. When this failed, The Estates General was convened, which hadn't happened in over 170 years. The three estates represented the general assembly of the nobility, clergy and the commoners. For each estate, a representative was chosen. 96% of the nation was the commoners, and they broke off and became known as the National Assembly. A man named Comte Mirabeau led the people to storm and destroy the Bastile, and soon the period known as The Terror began.

Soon the Revolution was in full force, and the King and Queen and their 2 children were forced to leave the palace of Versailles, to go to Paris. They were housed, virtually prisoners, while riots and deaths spread all around them. After many months, they make an attempt to escape at night. After a few days, they are caught and moved to another place, in an attic where they can be watched more closely. Fersen, the Queen's good friend, escapes to avoid punishment as well. He secretly works to free them, while they are imprisoned. They soon come to take the King, and he is tried for treason and then killed at the guillotine. He leaves a letter for his son, asking him not to seek revenge on his father's death. The scene is not quite as sad as it could have been, it seems the Queen and her children have lost all emotion by the time it happens.

They soon come for the Dauphin, and take him away. Marie fights against this, but has no say in the matter. A mob kills her good friend, and tries to wave her head outside their window. Marie refuses to see and hides her face. Some time passes, and they come for her. She has to leave her children behind, her daughter in the care of her aunt Elisabeth, and her son in the care of the vicious and mean men. After 9 months of imprisonment, Marie Antoinette is brought to the guillotine and killed. It is a bit anticlimactic, but if you start to feel as she must have felt, you can understand how she must have been ready for death. Her son later dies in prison from tuberculosis, and her daughter goes on to marry a cousin, and lives to the age of 73. The marriage was never consummated. The Queen's good friend, Axel, was later killed by a mob who believed he had poisoned the heir to the Swedish throne.

This was a time of great change, blood and death. Thousands were sent to the guillotine, and The Tower was widespread. Marie Antoinette was much misaligned and misunderstood, and many believed foul things of her. I liked this book because it followed the movie with Kirsten Dunst quite closely, and it seemed to show her character well, as I imagine it was. I would recommend this book if you are interested in this time period, and don't have a weak constitution.

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