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Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman (Grove Great Lives) Paperback – July 8, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German

About the Author

Stefan Zweig (born November 28, 1881, Vienna, Austria – died February 22, 1942, Petrópolis, Brazil), was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer was one of the most successful and popular authors of the 20th Century. Although he wrote in German, his works were translated into English and several other languages. Zweig was a prolific writer. In the 1930s he was one of the most widely translated authors in the world. His extensive travels led him to India, Africa, North and Central America, and Russia. Zweig's friends included Maksim Gorky, Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, and Arturo Toscanini. Strangely, at the peak of his popularity and having just completed his autobiography while still working on four other books, Zweig committed suicide in Brazil with his new wife by them both taking poison. In 1939, he had married Charlotte Altmann, his secretary from 1933. She was twenty-seven years his junior. Zweig left a suicide note stating that he had done so because of the Nazi takeover of his country of Austria and because Europe was destroying itself with World War II that was taking place.
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Product Details

  • Series: Grove Great Lives
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Grove Press Ed edition (July 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802139094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802139092
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #287,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Pascal Tiscali on May 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is the perfect introduction to the French revolution. It presents a 'visual guided tour' of the life and death of the tragic queen Marie Antoinette. Written in 1932 by the Viennese Jewish novelist and professional biographer Stephan Zweig, the book dips fairly deeply into psychoanalytical thinking, and sometimes the veneration given to Freudian ideas can seem questionable by today's standards. However, the scholarship is truly masterful, and draws on extensive research into the letters and diaries of the most minor characters, without sacrificing narrative style or readability. Zweig writes books that move swiftly, but are rich in detail, and could repay a second reading.

Married at fifteen, crowned queen at nineteen, and beheaded at thirty-seven, Marie Antoinette went from the heights of heedless frivolity into the depths of isolation and despair. Zweig argues that she converted the arrogance and narcissism of her early years as the "queen of rococo", into a brave and selfless defense of the aristocratic lost cause. Surrounded by the mounting violence and insanity of the revolution, which mirrored the earlier unreason of a decadent aristocracy, she was stripped of her power and prestige, but passionately refused to surrender her honor. In the end the force of her character vindicated the nobility which her years of frivolity had discredited. But it was too late, the damage had been done, and she more than any other was the symbol against which the revolution was fought.

Independent of the historical significance of the topic, this book is magnificently written, it moves at a rapid and exciting pace, and it contains many deep moral lessons. The Freudian prejudices of the author should be borne in mind, but in some ways they add to the phenomenal drama this book evokes.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By E. Villarreal on October 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Marie Antoinette... many things go through one's mind when thinking of that name. Many say she was cruel, pampered, and spoiled, and that she was the main couse of the French Revolution, yet, she was just a woman, a woman born a princess in the Austrian court, married to a French boy whom she had never met by the age of 15, crowned by 19, and beheaded by 35.
Life went by so fast by Marie Antoinette!!, and never gave her a chance to choose what she wanted out of it.
Stefan Zweig is a marvelous writer, and manages to gives us an intimate portrait of at times very hated, at others very loved and admired woman, an ordinary person who only wished for a normal life with her family, a little place of her own, where she didn't have to adjust and adapt to the many different rules impossed on her.
He describes the life of the French court as only he could, and you feel like you are part of the story, hearing about Versailles, Louvre, the revolution and the people involved, which makes this an excellent book to learn about history, about life in the French court, and about France's last great queen.
So, was she cruel, spoiled, and ignorant? read and decide for yourself....
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Alberto M. Barral on August 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
This biography was the first well researched effort to present the life of the unfortunate Marie Antoinette in alignement to the facts and also adding psychological insight.
Prior to this effort all renditions tended to idiolize her as a martyr or deride her as the personification of all the evils of the old regime. She was neither of the two, but as correctly assesed here, a quite ordinary, uneducated woman that led an extraordinary life due to the historical components that surrounded her fate as a member of a ruling house.

Not just ordinary, she was also very naive and not at all intelligent, as when she arrived in France it took seven years for her to get pregnant and it would have taken more had her brother not pushed the husband into the operation that he desperately needed to be able to perform. This is an incredible contrast with a similar situation encountered, much earlier by Catherine de Medici when she married Henry II and did not get pregnant for several years, but Catherine was a Medici and she found a solution to that problem, and all the others that came with her long reign. It is not the youth and lack of experience that were as important as the willingness, the initiative that is missing from her character. This is also the reason that she was almost illiterate when she arrived in France, as shown by her primitive handwriting when she signed her marriage document. The book is particularly accurate in relating the transformation that occurred in this otherwise ordinary woman when the sufferings of the Revolution brought out a character of great depth and tragic dimension that completely stole the limelight from the Revolution with her tragic trial and execution.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Constant Viewer on May 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I owned a copy of this book in my teens, but somewhere along the line it was lost, strayed or stolen. My primary reason for acquiring a new copy was nostalgia; I also wanted my collection to include all the books I could identify about this tragic woman. Readers should be aware that Zweig's work has long since been superseded, and rightly so. Zweig was a novelist and cultural writer, but he never studied historical method and was heavily influenced by non-historians, with the almost unavoidable result that his work on Marie Antoinette, though an excellent "read," is deeply flawed as a work of history.

Zweig was a friend and associate of Sigmund Freud, and his biography of Marie Antoinette bears the imprint of Freud's ideas, which were new and invigorating when Zweig's study of Marie Antoinette appeared (1932). Zweig's thesis, that sexual frustration in the seven years of the queen's unconsummated marriage led to her flighty, spendthrift behavior, is unmistakably Freudian in its inspiration. That alone would not limit the book's credibility, but in his eagerness to offer an intellectually "modern" interpretation of Marie's life, Zweig juggled his evidence, highlighting documents that would support his theory and suppressing others available to him that contradicted it.

The most blatant example of this historical fudging involves the explanation Zweig advances for Louis XVI's failure to consummate his marriage for seven years. At the beginning of Chapter 2, Zweig quotes a letter to Madrid from the Spanish ambassador at Versailles; because of the text's intimate nature, early editions of Zweig's book discreetly left the letter in the original Spanish. It reports gossip that Louis' foreskin was tight and inelastic, so it could not retract properly and made intercourse painful.
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