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Book Review: Marie Antoinette: The Journey

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

The biography of the infamous French queen that inspired the 2006 movie. Antoine was born an Archduchess of the Holy Roman Empire, she was a rather obscure member of her large family until a smallpox epidemic that killed some of her sisters raised her profile. She and she alone was the only Archduchess left to marry the heir to the throne of France. Her mother the Empress unwisely ignored the fact that she was an ill-educated, unprepared teenager. Antoine was sent off, with orders to promote Austrian interests at all cost.

Although Antoine, who upon her marriage was renamed Marie Antoinette, has been blamed for the entirety of the French revolution. That is a massive over-simplification of debts, stresses and social unrests that had been building for generations before finally erupting. Fraser shows how Marie Antoinette's extravagance was no more or no less then any other member of the royal family and shows how at first she was loved by the people. But worsening national conditions, some ill-advised decisions by Marie Antoinette and general scapegoating made her a hate figure. So hated was she that she spent her last days in a squalid prison cell accused of vile and terrible crimes, before being executed before a baying mob.

Fraser sympathetically shows how the course of this ill-fated women's life and decisions made when she was still a baby shaped her destiny. And How revolutionary forces longed for a death and her own family would not aid her. Fraser does acknowledge that the Queen was not blameless and points out some of her flaws like how she was too easily influenced by those with their own agendas, though she does gloss over the Queen's arrogance and bullying of certain members of the court.

This is an engrossing read of the last days of a decadent and decaying court and one woman's hapless search for pleasures and peace came to naught.
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