Friday, March 12, 2010

Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser

Reviewed by Julie

Published: 2001

It's about: This chunky book details the entire life of Marie Antoinette, from her childhood in Austria until her beheading after an interesting journey as the Queen of France. (If anyone didn't know she got beheaded...sorry about that unceremonious spoiler. Haha.)

I thought: I've grown up reading a lot of historical fiction, which was a delight for me, but have stayed quite away from historical non-fiction because, well, it's real. Real can equal boring. War facts, government stats, etc, can all become very old very quickly. But Fraser, who is known for her thoroughly engaging historical non-fiction (The Six Wives of Henry VIII, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605) didn't disappoint. In 458 pages, she describes not only the standard facts of the life of a royal in eighteenth-century France, but tiny details contributed by dozens of first-hand witnesses to the queen's activities, temperament, wardrobe, choices of friends, political involvements, etc. The story jumps out at you and smacks you in the face with interestedness and you really can't stop reading.
I've called this my "dessert" book, since I've been reading it in my spare time for months, but it's really quite remarkable. No fluff at all. Besides the fact that she's a dem good researcher, Fraser's writing style reminds me of an essayist's, as opposed to a stuffy old textbook writer's.

Verdict: On! The! Shelf! On! The Shelf! My copy is borrowed; I'm buying one of my own, stat.

Reading Recommendations: If you're interested in these people already, Louis, Marie Antoinette, their children, Madame Campan, the old empress, Du Berry--this book will delight you to pieces. If you're not really interested in them, it will probably still delight you. Don't try to read this fast and/or all scholarly-like, the details will bury you quickly. Just enjoy it.

Warnings: Very long! Many dates. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't reading this for a class and that I was allowed to forget most of the specific dates and remember favorite quotes from the queen and tidbits from her life.