Sena Jeter Naslund has written a captivating novel of historical fiction about the life of Marie Antoinette. Anyone who is familiar with history will know the main events that occurred, and, of course, what happened to this Queen of France at the end of her life. Even knowing that, however, it is still well worth it to read through the 520-something pages of this book because it is so well written.
Naslund writes this story entirely from the viewpoint of Marie, herself. She gives the reader the treat of hearing the private thoughts of a Queen. Included are some letters Marie writes to friends and family, and also some letters written to her from loved ones.
At times, it feels like you are reading a private diary. This style successfully makes Marie into a real person, into a woman not so different from many of us, instead of just some Queen from a history textbook we had to read about in school.
The story starts with Marie, who is only fourteen-years-old, going through a ceremony to change both her name and her nationality. She is taken from her family, to a foreign country, to marry someone she has never met before. Her husband is next in line to be King of France, and is about the same age that she is. Both are awkward and unprepared.
After that, no aspect of her life is private anymore. The whole of two nations want to know everything. Has she had sex with her husband yet? Did she get her period this month, or is she pregnant? When will she give them another heir to the throne?
Marie doesn’t have her first child until many years after her marriage, because her husband doesn’t seem interested in sex. When she gives birth, she has an audience of many, watching the baby emerge. Imagine the pressure she must have been under!
Naslund has done a great job with all the little details of the story. I could easily picture each painting and sculpture described in the book. I could almost see the dresses and jewelry the women wore and how the styles of fashion changed as the years went by. Naslund makes the reader feel as though she is actually in the sumptuous rooms and colorful gardens Marie enjoyed.
From the time she was married, Marie had a court of nobles surrounding her. The group held dances, went on hunts, gambled, flirted, and spread rumors about each other. Some rather nasty rumors about Marie were published in newspapers and flyers, and sent around France. This sounds rather familiar to how many famous political figures and celebrities are treated today. It must have been stressful.
Marie Antionette became a very devoted wife and mother. The people of France loved her, as did her many close friends among the nobles. Naslund makes the reader like Marie as a person. This makes thing that much more dramatic when things start to go badly.
The American Revolution happens, which sparks the revolution in France. Suddenly, it seems, the people of France hate the King and Queen. Marie, and everyone she loves the most, are in danger, and many tense decisions and bold actions are taken. I found I couldn’t put the book down, even though I knew what the final outcome would be.