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Marie Antoinette: The Journey Hardcover – September 18, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

In the past, Antonia Fraser's bestselling histories and biographies have focused on people and events in her native England, from Mary Queen of Scots to Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot. Now she crosses the Channel to limn the life of France's unhappiest queen, bringing along her gift for fluent storytelling, vivid characterization, and evocative historical background. Marie Antoinette (1755-93) emerges in Fraser's sympathetic portrait as a goodhearted girl woefully undereducated and poorly prepared for the dynastic political intrigues into which she was thrust at age 14, when her mother, Empress Maria Theresa, married her off to the future Louis XVI to further Austria's interests in France. Far from being the licentious monster later depicted by the radicals who sent her to the guillotine at the height of the French Revolution, young Marie Antoinette was quite prudish, as well as thoroughly humiliated by her husband's widely known failure to have complete intercourse with her for seven long years (the gory details were reported to any number of concerned royal parties, including her mother and brother). She compensated by spending lavishly on clothes and palaces, but Fraser points out that this hardly made her unique among 18th-century royalty, and in any case the causes of the Revolution went far beyond one woman's frivolities. The moving final chapters show Marie Antoinette gaining in dignity and courage as the Revolution stripped her of everything, subjected her to horrific brutalities (a mob paraded the head of her closest female friend on a pike below her window), and eventually took her life. Fraser makes no attempt to hide the queen's shortcomings, in particular her poor political skills, but focuses on her personal warmth and noble bearing during her final ordeal. It's another fine piece of popular historical biography to add to Fraser's already impressive bibliography. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

A child-princess is married off to a husband of limited carnal appetite. Her indiscretions and na‹vet‚, scorned by elderly dowagers, are coupled with charity, joie de vivre and almost divine glamour but her life is cut brutally short. The queen of France's life is rich in emotional resonance, riddled with sexual subplots and personal tragedies, and provides fertile ground for biographers. Fraser's sizable new portrait avoids the saccharine romance of Evelyne Lever's recent Marie Antoinette, balancing empathy for the pleasure-loving queen with an awareness of the inequalities that fed revolution after all, Marie herself was fully conscious of them. Her subject shows no let-them-eat cake arrogance, but is deeply (even surprisingly) compassionate, with a "public reputation for sweetness and mercy" that is only later sullied by vituperative pamphleteers and bitter unrest. She would sometimes be trapped by ingenuousness, and later by a fatal sense of duty. Yet her graceful bearing, acquired under the tutelage of her demanding mother, the empress Maria Teresa, made her an unusually popular princess before she was scapegoated as "Madame Deficit" and much, much worse. The portrait is drawn delicately, with pleasant touches of humor (a long-awaited baby is conceived around the time of Benjamin Franklin's visit: "Perhaps the King found this first contact with the virile New World inspirational"). Fraser's approach is controlled and thoughtful, avoiding the extravagance of Alison Weir's royal biographies. Her queen is neither heroine nor villain, but a young wife and mother who, in her journey into maturity, finds herself caught in a deadly vise. Color and b&w illus. (on sale: Sept. 18) Forecast: Fraser needs no introduction to American audiences. She will come over from England for a five-city tour, and with widespreand favorable reviews, this should have no trouble making the bestseller lists. It's a BOMC, History Book Club, Literary Guild and QPB selection.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (September 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038548948X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385489485
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (201 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #823,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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224 of 231 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Spady on November 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
True or false? 1) Marie Antoinette was a frivolous princess who became a clever, manipulative queen 2) She ruled France through her weak husband 3) She said of the bread-less French, "Let them eat cake." 4) In her spare time, she enjoyed dressing as a milk maid and wandering around a fake farm she had built at Versailles. If you answered "true" to any of these questions, you will want to read Antonia Fraser's detailed, engrossing biography of Marie Antoinette. Fraser's work is well-documented and scholarly, but it is neither dry nor slow reading. She provides sufficient background information to put the historical events in context, but does not allow the facts to hinder the flow of the story. Her writing has an immediacy that pulls the reader so deeply into the story, it is easy to forget that we already know the ending of this historical life. (When the royal family attempts to escape their French captors, Fraser allows us to think-to hope-they might get away.) Through Fraser's eyes, we first sympathize, and then empathize with the princess who only became queen by accident. In addition, Frazer gives us a thorough education in the social order at Versailles, the complex bureaucracy (and attendant jobs) of the French court, and the political infighting that ultimately was the downfall of the entire system. This is a thoroughly engrossing biography-a keeper.
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134 of 140 people found the following review helpful By Tiggah on June 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is only the second book that I've read by Antonia Fraser, the other one being her last, Faith and Treason. Although I enjoyed that book well enough (for Fraser is a very capable writer, able to both capture and hold the reader's attention), I was more than a little uncomfortable with the obvious bias that shone through an otherwise excellent treatment of England's Gunpowder Plot. I was hesitant, therefore, about purchasing this one; but as it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed this 488-page hardcover (with 429 pages of actual text). I found it to be enthralling, captivating, eye-opening, informative, and insightful, making it a joy to read and a book that I could not wait to get back to. Additionally, it is amply illustrated (48 pages, mostly colour), and I found Fraser's treatment to be fairly thorough (though perhaps not quite so thorough as I've come to expect with Alison Weir's books). Most importantly, I came away from the book with not only a greater knowledge and understanding of (not to mention sympathy for) one of the most famous women in history, but a much deeper understanding of the French Revolution and of the various factors leading up to it.
Fraser does write in a manner that is sympathetic to Antoinette. I do feel authors of historical subjects ought to be as objective as possible; perhaps, though, it is as Fraser says: "[I]s [looking without passion] really possible with regard to the career and character of Marie Antoinette?" (p. 422). This was a woman who, in her lifetime, was either greatly admired or vehemently loathed (sentiments which don't seem to have softened much with the passage of time). More significantly, however, this was a woman who was clearly maligned.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on January 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
With "Marie Antoinette", Lady Antonia Fraser has written one of the more memorable biographies of recent years. She has taken a woman who had been turned into a caricature, a "poster-child" for a "typical" example of reactionary, frivolous royalty, and turned her into a real, and sympathetic, human being. And, if Lady Antonia has perhaps stacked the deck a bit too much in favor of her subject- playing up her positive qualities and playing down her negative ones- by the time you reach the end of the book your gut feeling is that you really can't blame her. For this was a woman who, before she was physically destroyed by the forces of revolution, had been emotionally worn down by years of abuse at the hands of her political enemies. This was a woman who had very high moral standards, yet was constantly being accused in the pamphlets of the time of being heterosexually and homosexually promiscuous; a generous, sensitive and intelligent woman accused of being selfish, heartless and stupid; a woman who wasn't a political animal- who wanted to do "good works" and to be a good wife and mother- but was subjected to pressure right after her marriage (by her mother Maria Teresa) to do what was best for Austria rather than what was best for France. Even if Antoinette had been politically inclined, her influence was never very great- Louis XVI, despite what the pamphlets said about him, was far from being a fool. His main interest may have been hunting, but he was intelligent, well-read, and he had a mind of his own. (And he had been warned in his youth to be wary of wily Austrian women!) But after years of anti-Antoinette and "fool Louis" propaganda, the people were primed to mistrust and hate "The Austrian Woman".Read more ›
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By "jimp2001" on September 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As in the case of her history of "Mary, Queen of Scots," Antonia Fraser has taken a much mis-understood and maligned Queen and told her story with as much clarity and understanding as possible. Used by her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, as a pawn for European politics, Marie Antoinette was thrust into the vicious and decadent French court at an early age and had to endure years of humiliation from all sides because of her seemingly inability to produce an heir to the French throne (the Daulphin's impotence and stupidity notwithstanding). Once an heir was produced, three more children followed of which two died young. Lady Fraser is very adept at balancing Marie Antoinette's faults as well as her virtues in producing a portrait of a woman forced by circumstance to go her own way through French politics - because of this, she created many loyal friends and dangerous enemies. Her long time affair with Count Fersen as well as the diamond necklace fiasco has been told with clarity which finally puts to rest the many distortions and lies which have been handed down by less astute (and bias) historians. The final chapter is heart-rending to say the least, in which one finally glimpses Marie Antoinette's final hours in which she goes to her death serenely and forgives her enemies (the blood of Mary Stuart prevails at the end). Thank you Antonia for a truly unique reading experience.
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