- File Size: 1272 KB
- Print Length: 459 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publisher: Edition Venedi (January 12, 2013)
- Publication Date: January 12, 2013
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: German
- ASIN: B00B0OZTAG
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Not Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,671,949 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Marie Antoinette (German Edition) Kindle Edition
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Zweig has an energetic writing style and is able to evoke the reader's sympathy for this woman who in tragedy responded with the dignity and strength of her Habsburg forebears.
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. This condition is known medically as phimosis, and is routinely corrected by circumcision. Zweig argues that fear of the discomfort of adult circumcision led Louis to avoid the surgery until he was virtually ordered to undergo it by Marie Antoinette's brother, Emperor Josef II, during the latter's visit to Versailles in 1777.
Properly translated, the Spanish envoy's letter acknowledges from its first words that the envoy was only reporting gossip, not fact. Zweig never mentioned a second letter from the same envoy, sent immediately after the one Zweig does quote, in which the envoy unreservedly withdrew his first report. In other words, there is no factual basis for the belief that Louis XVI suffered with phimosis. Zweig's popularity as a novelist, however, and his assertion of an enlightened psychological interpretation, gave his argument undue weight. The belief that Louis XVI finally underwent circumcision in 1777 remained enshrined as fact in historical writings until the 1960s. It was then realized that the king's own diary proves that he never stopped riding to the hunt at any time in 1777. After such an operation he would have needed several weeks to recuperate, during which the pain caused to such an incision by riding horseback would have prevented him from hunting. But he never interrupted his activities in the field. The myth that Louis was only able to consummate his marriage after such an operation is now dismissed by Marie Antoinette's biographers (e.g. the most recent works, by Evelyne Lever and Antonia Fraser).
The simple fact is that Louis was an incompetent boudoir athlete. The true outcome of Josef II's visit to Versailles in 1777 was the realization that Louis was perfectly capable of intercourse but did no more than initiate the process. Once he inserted Tab A into Slot B, he lay inert for a few minutes and then withdrew without accomplishing anything that might have led to conception. Josef complained that both Louis and Antoinette were "complete fumblers" and that Marie herself was so disinterested in the whole business that she had remained virtuous not from pious reflection, but from an inborn disinclination to involve herself in bedchamber activities. Zweig never mentions the letter in which Josef shared this information with his brother Leopold. (Zweig, no historian, did little research for the book, but relied on assistants who went to archives to collect information. The material they provided survives among his papers, however, to show that he was probably aware of material that contradicts his argument.) Zweig does not refer to Antoinette's letters to her mother that report Louis initiated his odd variation on coitus interruptus in 1773, 3 years after his marriage. (For discussion, see Cronin's _Louis and Antoinette_.) Those letters, which refer to an audience with Louis XV in which the couple reported that they had consummated their marriage, make it clear that they thought that what he was doing did truly consummate the marriage. They remained thus deluded, or deluded themselves, until Josef enlightened Louis in 1777.
It must be admitted, too, that Zwieg was not well served by those who translated his book into English or edited it in that language. In the first paragraph of Chapter XII, for example, Zweig quotes from Marie Antoinette's letter to her mother of 19 August 1777 which, in the US edition, reads: "As regards my virgin state, it is unfortunately still the same." This is not what Zweig wrote. The original German text would correctly read, in translation: "As regards my [virgin] state, it is unfortunately still the same." In other words, Zweig himself inserted the word "jungfrauliche" (virgin) into the text, to be sure his readers were on track with his intended interpretation. He correctly used square brackets to indicate the word was his insertion, but his translators (or perhaps his US editors) removed the brackets, wrongly making it seem that Antoinette referred to herself as a virgin. She assured her mother that Louis was becoming more attentive to her, a major improvement. In fact it was no more than a few days later that the king finally sealed the deal; in a letter of 30 August 1777, Antoinette told her mother that her marriage had been "thoroughly consummated" more than a week earlier---so what Zweig calls "the undefended fortress" was captured sometime between 19 and 22 August 1777. Unfortunately Zweig then goes on to quote another letter from that same gossipy Spanish envoy, claiming that the great event took place on 25 August. But given Antoinette's first-hand account, which must be preferred, it happened no later than 22 August. Zweig does not seem to have noticed the discrepancy between Marie Antoinette's report of "more than 8 days" before 30 August and the Spanish envoy's claim of 25 August; both dates are still there to be seen in Zweig's account.
In addition to Zweig's dubious handling of his limited choice of documents, there are outright errors of fact here. A random case is his statement that on the scaffold, the executioner "thrust her into position, kneeling, with her throat in the lower half of the round." The guillotine used during the Terror in Paris did not make its victims kneel. The apparatus included a sliding plank that stood upright while the condemned was tied to it; then the plank was tilted over on its framework and slid forward to bring the victim's throat into the bottom portion of the window formed when the upper half of the wooden collar was lowered into place on the back of the neck. Zweig's description of the recovery of the queen's remains in 1816 is also erroneous, implying as it does that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were buried in mass graves in the Cemetery of the Madeleine. Most victims of the Terror buried in that cemetery were, indeed, thrown into long trenches, but the king and queen were, on orders of the governing National Convention, buried in separate graves 10 feet deep, liberally covered with quicklime to hasten dissolution of the remains. It is also untrue that the location of these graves was unknown; a witness to their burials, who watched from an upstairs window in a nearby house, noted the sites, subsequently cared for them with great reverence, and in 1816 guided searchers to the precise locations. True, as Zweig says, the quicklime slaked into hard layers that did help to identify the monarchs' graves. But Zweig then gratuitously says that only "a handful of pale dust" remained of the queen's body. As Antonia Fraser correctly reports, the queen's bones, including the skull, were intact, along with some of her hair and the garters she wore to her death.
The used copy I purchased of the original US edition (1933) is in immaculate condition; the only blemish of note, if it can be called that, is an inscription by a former owner of the date of purchase or gift (4 January 1939). This edition includes the illustrations that are not found in all US editions. Here again I must note a slip by Zweig or his editors: facing p. 414 are 2 portraits of the queen, one painted when the towering hairstyles associated with her were in fashion, the other allegedly painted from life while she was confined in the Conciergerie awaiting trial and execution. The earlier portrait is identified as a study by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun; it is in fact by Duplessis, the court artist at the time of Louis XVI's accession (1774). Duplessis had done a similar portrait of Antoinette in 1772, when she was still Dauphine, and at that time he did not sanitize the slight physical imperfections in her appearance---protruding eyes, high and uneven forehead, aquiline nose, heavy jaw and jutting lower lip---that were often unfavorably noted by the queen's contemporaries. In 1774, however, Duplessis was dealing with the Queen of France and his discreet camouflaging of these features are a model of diplomatic plastic surgery without surgery. True, Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun later became Antoinette's favorite portraitist, and it is probable that most of her portraits of the queen took as their model the Duplessis sketch we see in Zweig's book. But the authenticity of the supposed Conciergerie portrait is subject to considerable doubt, for the simple reason that she was allowed few if any personal visitors there, and at that time there would have been no reason to allow her to sit for a portrait. Whether it was painted from life is doubtful. It appears to be one of many "copies" of a "portrait" by a Polish artist, Kucharski, who had begun a portrait of the queen from life in spring 1791. Kucharski's work was halted by the ill-fated flight to Varennes in June 1791 and that portrait (which survives) was never finished. Kucharski later painted an imagined likeness of the queen in widowhood for which she did not pose, and many "copies" of that "portrait" of the queen in her black weeds were produced during the Bourbon Restoration, when idealization of the dead queen was politically sensible, and many monarchists wanted some memorial of her.
In sum, it's undeniable that Zweig's gifts as a novelist allowed him to pen an attractive and easily read text, factors that enhanced its appeal to readers and also seemed to confirm his veracity. His limited abilities as an historian, however, prevented him from giving his readers a trustworthy account of this unfairly traduced woman.
He is a true Renaissance man, with enormous knowledge of all facets of life. He has profound psychological insight.
I have read his full novels, most of his short stories, and only one biography, which is supposed to be his best form. I have no criticism whatsoever for any of them. He is truly a master of the written word.