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To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette Paperback – July 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This smoothly written biography concentrates on social history, although Erickson ( Bonnie Prince Charlie ) also details the political and economic background of 18th-century France. Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was raised the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa in the Viennese court of the Hapsburgs, at whose lavish balls and fetes as many as 10,000 guests might dine. But Versailles, where she reigned after marrying King Louis XVI of France, glittered even more, and Erickson recreates its life aptly, describing the elaborate clothes, the duties of courtiers, the rigid etiquette. While the queen's education had equipped her for the role of royal hostess, she was ill-prepared to deal with the intrigues surrounding her. At first timid, fearful and passive, Antoinettesic gradually grew brittle and hardened by "a constant surfeit of pleasures." The author believes the queen had only one extramarital love, a Swedish nobleman named Axel Fersen. And she argues that Antoinette, condemned to death by revolutionaries, finally showed courage and dignity: her last words were an apology to her executioner for accidentally stepping on his foot. Although the book does not add a great deal of new information, it is a highly readable account.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-- Much maligned in her lifetime, Marie Antoinette is likewise much misunderstood by history, which portrays her as a vain, selfish, and insensitive woman of limited intellect. Erickson attempts to right the wrongs and correct the image of this queen in an easily read biography that avoids both academic cant and "psychohistorical" pretension. Tracing Marie Antoinette from her childhood among her 13 brothers and sisters at the court of her legendary mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, the author portrays her not as the selfish queen of lore but as a reasonably intelligent, opinionated woman of decidedly conservative bent whose ultimate "crime," for which she paid with her life, was having the wrong title in the wrong place at the wrong time. To the Scaffold will be enjoyed by students of European and French history. --Roberta Lisker, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (July 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312322054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312322052
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #837,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Carolly Erickson is the bestselling author of many distinguished works of nonfiction and a series of historical entertainments, blending fact and invention. She lives in Hawaii.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 24, 1997
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most interesting and well-written biographies I've ever read. The author describes pre-revolutionary France as Marie-Antoinette came to it, compares many aspects of Versailles with her Austrian homeland, and continues with a captivating and delightfully interesting tale of life at Versailles. The revolution is explained in an easy to follow and fascinating manner. The reader comes to understand and sympathize with the king and queen as well as learn French history as never before told. I could't put this book down
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Tracy Davis on January 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In Carolly Erickson's biography of Marie Antoinette, "To the Scaffold", the author presents a wonderful picture of an often maligned historical enigma. We see Marie's origins as one of the many daughters of Maria Theresa of Austria (one of the most formidable rulers of all time), her arranged marriage to the future King Louis XVI of France (a man more comfortable in the woodshop than the palace), her fifteen years as Queen of France, and the revolution that portrayed her as silly and evil. Erickson evokes the atmosphere of pre-revolution France well, and little snippets of the excess and immorality of the French upper class was informative (apparently incest was common with fathers and daughters). However, I don't feel that I know much more about Marie than before I read the book. Almost half the book deals with others in her life or the political scene. Also given short attention is the Swedish nobleman who was Marie's long-term lover. It would also have been nice to have a wrap-up of the royal children and the others who played so prominently in Marie's life -- they are simply abandoned, and the book ends abruptly. On one level, this is very effective -- after all, with Marie's death the world she knew ended -- but so many digressions are in the rest of the book, a better ending would have been nice.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By "miscopia" on September 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"To the Scaffold" was one of the first biographies that I read on Marie Antoinette, and I must say that it was also one of the most enjoyable.
Erickson thoroughly covers Marie Antoinette's life from her youth in Austria to her last tumultuous days. As well, there are little additions about life in Versailles, and on the Paris streets.
One definite asset that this biography possesses is that one does not need much prior information about the Revolution to understand it. Different political ideologies, thoughts, and actions are carefully explained, yet the general flow of the book generally does not sway too far from Antoinette. This biography was also enjoyable to read because of the numerous (and sometimes amusing) quotations used, as well as the in-depth account of Antoinette's last days.
The only noticeable fault that I found was the tendency of the author to take sides. For example, it is said (with evidence provided in the footnotes) that Marie Antoinette and Fersen most definitely had an affair. This is, in my opinion, still a debatable topic.
Nonetheless, I highly recommend this biography to everyone. Novices to the revolution will find it an invaluable starting point, and the more knowledgeable will greatly enjoy the quotations and first-hand accounts recorded.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on January 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
I am always suspicious of biography that reads like it was historical fiction. Erickson's To the Scaffold is one of this breed. It reads well, particularly at the beginning, but I deeply disliked her narrating details as fact that could really only have been inferred from letters. A certain amount of that can be excused as atmosphere building. I am not too upset when she describes a historical person at a certain moment as pink with health, for instance. However, when she treats certain more controversial aspects of a historical figure as though it were fact instead of a disputed opinion, I get significantly more irritated (for instance, the supposed affair of Marie Antoinette). The way that Erickson uses detail and the unobtrusiveness of the historical sources lends her an unfair feeling of narrative omniscience.

I suppose that there is a case to be made that this sort of text opens accessibility to those who would not normally read historical books. In my view, this is more a kind of dramatization than a real biography. It was satisfying enough to read for entertainment, but I found it wanting as historical text.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By WambaughFan on July 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
This biography of Marie Antionette is well-written, well-researched, and quite enjoyable. It portrays Antoinette with as many personality facets as most of have: at times naive, sheltered, spoiled, lonely, materialistic, prideful, humble, cunning, generous... it doesn't show her as the evil Queen that the French made her out to be, nor does it try to show her as purely a victim. (Although, I do pity her unfortunate match with the young Dauphin, Louis XIV - yick!)

The last fourth or so of the book gets a little bogged down in political details, and it ends abruptly with Antoinette's death. It left me wanting to know more about her children and what happened next.

I am looking for more Carolly Erickson books!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Daniel H. Yeary on January 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Personally, I would have preferred to have been a cobbler as to have been born into royalty. The Parisian shoemaker may not have biographies written about him, but he probably had far less stressful life and kept his neck intact.
Poor Marie was the daughter of Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, Holy Roman Empress, and queen of Hungary and Bohemia...quite an impressive resume and a distant maternal figure who shuffled Marie off to wed the loutish Louis XVI when she was a mere 15. Until she arrived in France, she'd never even laid eyes on him.
A story ensues that is so deranged and tragic that, at it's end, you'll tap-dance with joy that you live in the 21st century.
This book was informative and not bad but the style of writing was a little less than inspiring and somewhat flat.
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