Friday, January 1, 2016

Book Review - "Marie Antoinette: The Journey" by Antonia Fraser

This was my second Antonia Fraser book, the first being The Wives of Henry VIII. Thorough research and minute attention to details is the clear mark of both. Personally I found the writing of Marie Antoinette: The Journey to be more lucid and less confusing.

Perhaps this passage in the Epilogue best sums up the book:-

“A scapegoat was in fact what Marie Antoinette became. Among other things, she would be blamed for the whole French Revolution, by those who optimistically looked to one “guilty” individual as a way of explaining the complex horrors of the past.”

I am inclined to think that Marie Antoinette probably had a lethal fault in her stars that put her in the wrong place at the wrong time. Be that as it might, she, and for that matter, the French aristocrats, could have used more common sense and curbed her/their appetite for pleasure-seeking and extravagance at a time when most French commoners were seen to be poverty-stricken. These vested interests were simply blind to the public’s seething disgust for their hereditary privileges (like exemption from taxes, among other things). Added to this apparent obtuseness on the part of the royalty was the rapaciousness of France’s monarchic neighbors (including Austria, the Queen’s homeland), who had been prowling on her borders and waiting for her domestic troubles to explode in her face. It would not be surprising, under these circumstances, to see the “Austrian woman” (as Marie Antoinette came to be called) becoming the receptacle of the French people’s full wrath, through the vicious manipulation of public opinion by power-hungry demagogues.   

This biographical work on whom one might term as “the most slandered French Queen in the history of France” also reminds one of how deadly calumnious propaganda can turn out to be. Wicked lies, if repeated often enough, can very easily become verity in the minds of the less enlightened. It also brings to mind how little we’ve advanced in terms of achieving social equality and fairness since those revolutionary days.

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