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 What is the best biography of Marie Antoinette? 
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Post What is the best biography of Marie Antoinette?
Hi, I was just wondering if any of you could recommend a biography (in English) of la reine. I have heard that Antonia Fraser's boigraphy is excellent, but I would like other opinions.

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Sun Sep 17, 2006 9:38 pm
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Antonia Fraser's is my favorite, the best I've yet read, in my opinion. I like Zweig's also; his version is not as correct, but he expresses some very interesting thoughts and I do like his style.

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Mon Sep 18, 2006 7:36 am
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Vincent Cronin's "Louis and Antoinette" and Desmond Seward's "Marie-Antoinette" are my favorites. My problem with Fraser's bio is that it follows Zweig too closely in giving a psycho-sexual interpretation to everything, insisting that the teenaged queen spent money and played cards and danced because she was sexually deprived and her desire for motherhood frustrated. If she was thirty years old, I would accept that theory but at 18 she was just young and extroverted and fun-loving. She became a mother at 22 - is that such a delay? Also Fraser insists that the queen had a physical affair with Count Fersen without giving solid evidence, which to me is another of the big flaws in what would otherwise be a very thorough, well-researched biography.

I also enjoy Nesta Webster's "Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution" which is excellent as long as the reader is aware of Webster's proclivity for conspiracy theories.

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Mon Sep 18, 2006 2:04 pm
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I completely agree with Therese's views on Fraser's book, as well as on Webster. If you read French, I would recommand Bertière and Delorme. They have been discussed elsewhere on this forum.

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Mon Sep 18, 2006 3:53 pm
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The biography "Marie-Antoinette" of Evelyne Lever published 1991 is very well too :D

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Mon Sep 18, 2006 4:12 pm
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Louis-Charles, what in your opinion are the strengths (and weaknesses) of Lever's interpretation?

And Pim, what do you think of Evelyn Lever?

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Mon Sep 18, 2006 4:44 pm
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Ah very good question dear Thérèse!
:D
It's true that in my opinion Lever is an historian to be put aside.

I think that she can be objective and judicious in her writings, which enables him to write very correct and right biographies.

But I reproach Lever some hazardous interpretations, as in his book "Marie-Antoinette, Journal d'une Reine" where she write things with Marie-Antoinette in an inventive way.

her book on the Correspondences of Marie-Antoinette is very well also, damage there are not all the letters of Maie-Antoinette.

But her biography published in 1991 must be her best book on Marie-Antoinette, because she was satisfied to say the broad outline with nevertheless precise anecdotes.

And as a whole I agree rather with what she says in her interviews. It's necessary just that she avoids being caught for Marie-Antoinette and to write in her place :D

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Mon Sep 18, 2006 5:06 pm
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Louis-Charles, others have given me a similar asessment of Lever, as an historian to be approached with caution, as someone who is very thorough about some matters but then seems to resort to fiction fantasies on other levels.

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Mon Sep 18, 2006 5:30 pm
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Ah, dear Therese... I must admit Lever's books about Marie-Antoinette are not my favorite ones. I agree with Chou-Charles that her biography is her best work, but it was written in 1991, and she does not take into account the Giraut de Coursac's discoveries. For instance, she portraies Marie-Antoinette while arriving at Versailles tall and almost adult, and, of course, she emphatizes a lot on the Fersen affair.

Bertière and Delorme relies more on the Giraut de Coursac, and it's important, for their researchs changed the point of view on Louis' and Antoinette's relationships.

Her fictitious diary may be interesting for it contains a lot of details you won't find elswhere, for example about Antoinette's health. But it's very difficult to put oneself into other's shoes, and madame Lever does not really succeed, in my opinion. Her Antoinette is a quite bored and boring girl... We don't find in this diary the wit we actually read in the queen's letters to her friends, most of all to Rosenberg.

But, most of all, I regret that, sometimes, Evelyne Lever uses manipulations. Let's take her introduction to her (not complete) edition of Antoinette's correspondence. The author goes from an interrogation about the Fersen affair to a mention of "these tragical lovers". So, from a legitime question to a rather strange affirmation, for she gives no further evidences.

That's why I have the deepest admiration for Philippe Delorme's works about Antoinette, for instance. They are full of suggestions and interrogations, and they really question testimonies while other authors don't.

I also admire Stanley Loomis, even if I don't agree with his conclusions, for he is sincere, and deeply question sources other writers never did (he disagrees on Alma Soderjhelm's interpretations, which are always consider the bible). So, he offers another way of reading them, other perspectives and interpretations.

With these writers, the demarcation between testimonies and personal interpretation is very clear, while it is not always so in Lever's books. The sources she proposes are rich and interesting, but her process is not exempt of a priori, I'm afraid.

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Last edited by Pimprenelle on Mon Sep 18, 2006 6:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Sep 18, 2006 5:42 pm
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For me it's especially her book "Marie-Antoinette Journal d'une Reine) who is not really historical (even if I read it very well).

Lever can tend to disperse in ideas suitable for her which are not inevitably true.

But I think Lever is a good historian and I liked the majority of her books : I learned there much things about Marie-Antoinette :wink:

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Hello it's me again.

I was wondering if anyone could tell me the titles of the works by Bertiere and Delorme. They seem to be the ones most liked by everybody. And also, even though Fraser's biography may be too conscerned with pseudo-sexual physcology, is it still a worthwhile read? I mean does it have any good points?

Thank you!
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Mon Sep 18, 2006 6:25 pm
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I enjoyed Fraser's book, really, for it is very sympathetic, and even empatique. Maybe too... I mean, I found her Antoinette too politically correct. She lacks the salt you find in her own letters. This you can find, for instance, in Annie Duprat's book ("Une reine Brisée", it's an essay). She is the first one to take Antoinette's words to her mother, "I am making a mantel for the king, which does not go quick, with god's help let's hope I'll finish it in one or two years" (quoted from memory, sorry... :oops: ), with humour. To madame Duprat, this is a joke ! Interesting interpretation, isn't it ?

But back to your question dear Louis XVI ! Philippe Delorme wrote a series about queens of France, one of these books about "Marie-Antoinette", and Simone Bertière wrote "Marie-Antoinette, l'insoumise".

None of these are translated in English, I'm afraid...

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Mon Sep 18, 2006 6:47 pm
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Thank you very much, dear Pimprenelle. I am afraid I cannot read French, as I have never studied it formally. I think I will buy Fraser's now (or check it out from the library) and see what I think. Perhaps it is too 'politically correct' as you say. I think I shall have to learn some French before I can delve into Bertiere and Delome...or at least hope they come out with an English edition! Ah well...

Thank you again for your expertise, all of you! :D


Mon Sep 18, 2006 7:00 pm
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There is also this edition of "Marie-Antoinette l'insoumise" of Bertière:

Image

I've this book and it contains very very beautiful paintings :wink:

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Mon Sep 18, 2006 7:01 pm
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Yes, I agree that Fraser's book has many interesting details and is favorable to the queen, as long as one keeps in mind that Fraser is preoccupied with political correctness, and wants to present a Marie-Antoinette who will appeal to the modern reader. (I personally think the queen has a timeless appeal without making her into a 21st century diva.)

I hope and pray that the works of Delorme and Bertiere are soon translated into English. I know that M. Delorme is trying to make his book on the queen available to the English-speaking world.

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