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 biographies of marie antoinette 

Which biography do you prefer?
Antonia Fraser 38%  38%  [ 11 ]
Stefan Zweig 14%  14%  [ 4 ]
Carolly Erickson 0%  0%  [ 0 ]
Lever Evelyne 10%  10%  [ 3 ]
Haslip Joan 3%  3%  [ 1 ]
André Castelot 3%  3%  [ 1 ]
others 31%  31%  [ 9 ]
Total votes : 29

 biographies of marie antoinette 
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I have read portions of them. The problem with those 'Memoirs' is that they were written in prison by the princess under the watchful eye of a revolutionary spy. She herself later disavowed them and tried to purchase every existing copy to have them destroyed. It is typical of victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome, which I believe Therese suffered from, to change their story many times. Due to the nature of the trauma, as they go through life they gain a deeper comprehension of what they suffered, and remember more things which they had once tried to forget.


Thu Apr 06, 2006 11:26 pm
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I must say I haven't read many biogrphies of Marie-Antoinette but as a History insatiable reader I have read a lot about XVIIIth century and French revolution. I read Goncourt brothers' bio, which is interesting as a source of primary details of her life, but I think they lack an objetive vision to judge the Queen. I mean, I love her but I want to be objective about her life, as I see her a human being and as any of them she had qualities and stains, but she must be respected first of all. I read a great site about French Revolution called diagnosy, it is so well made to follow the complete history of the revolution. I also got from the Internet my so long longed for Mme. Campan's Memoirs, I read them a month ago and it was almost a dream come true to me!
I also liked very very much a work by French author Georges Bordonove, named "The Kings that made France", as it is the story of each Bourbon in five volumes, so the Louis XVI's one is full of Antoinette's stories and deeds, and I like it so much because the author is vey accurate and objective.

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Thu Apr 27, 2006 8:43 pm
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I agree, Archiduque. Only when one sees her weaknesses and humanity does one comprehend her greatness.


Thu Apr 27, 2006 8:48 pm
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So far, Fraser's is my favorite...I'm reading Zweig's now, and I think it's also quite good. A little more dismissive of Antoinette than I like, but well-written with some very good insights.

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Fri Apr 28, 2006 7:49 am
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I definitely disagree with his freudian explanation. He thinks that Marie-Antoinette was frustrated, sexually and in her desire for having children, so that she lost herself into disordered pleasures.

I don't think so, for she was far too young for being sexually frustrated ! She was 14 and looked 12. She just wanted to have fun, like any little girl. And she loved children indeed... but to play with them, for she was but a child herself !

In my view, this explanation based on frustration/compensation contributited to damage Marie-Antoinette's image... for years... for Antonia Fraser still followed this way ! She answer while interviewed : "she had no sex, so, she spent money" ! Using her husband's creditcard, maybe ?

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Fri Apr 28, 2006 9:51 am
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Zweig's is well-written and was in many ways a breakthrough work but his way of viewing Marie-Antoinette in terms of what he perceived to be unfulfilled biological urges set the tone for the modern way of looking at her, which is a shame, because there was so much more to her than a mere set of frustrations.

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Mon May 01, 2006 1:46 am
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I agree, Therese, and the more I read of Zweig the more I find myself frowning. He seems to have been unnecessarily unkind toward both Antoinette and the king, and I find many of his assumptions unfair and dismissive.

I can see now how the dislike of Antoinette has been kept alive, perpetuated by writers like him... :(

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Mon May 01, 2006 5:59 am
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Athlynne, you are so right. Also, Zweig's interpretation of what happened to Louis XVII and the abuse he suffered from his jailers is very bizarre. He rather downplays what they did to him and draws some Freudian conclusion that the little boy accused his mother of incest because she had caught him abusing himself, rather than the fact that the revolutionaries had exposed him to pornography, whiskey and prostitutes.

His entire view sugarcoats what really happened and tries to make the queen responsible for the Revolution because her "needs" as a woman were not being met. Many people have taken this interpretation and run with it, including Coppola (even though she is "officially" basing her film on Fraser's book.)

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Mon May 01, 2006 11:55 am
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That's normal, Therese, beacause Fraser's book, even if sympathetic, contains this same freudian analysis. Eventually, she gets back to this portray of a frustrated girl who drowns her soul into compensations. In an interview, Antonia Fraser said : "she had no sex, so, she spent money" !

That's ridiculous ! First of all, Marie-Antoinette was just a girl in the beginning, and then a teen. Should she be sexually frustrated aged 16 ar 17 ? We may discuss about that...

We too often forget we actually are judging a very young woman, if not a girl ! All these excesses she committed before her 25 birthday ! Looking back to my own youth I just have to admit... how many stupid things and mistakes did I make !

On the other hand, she did nothing more than the other members of the court. Yes, she gambled, she bought expensive clothes and jewels. Well... everybody did, so what ? It way a way of living...

That does not mean that all these people were sexually frustrated and need for huge compensations ! That would be ridiculous !

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Mon May 01, 2006 12:57 pm
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Pimprenelle, I could not agree with you more. She was a young girl. And other people in the French court, who were enjoying unbridled sex, spent much more money than she did. I mean, it does not even make logical sense, that freudian analysis of Marie-Antoinette.

As you and I have discussed elsewhere, Pimprenelle, there are many problems I have with Antonia Fraser's book, even though she does say some very nice things about the queen. Her portrayal of Maria Theresa as cold and ruthless to send her daughter off to be married, when most other mothers were doing the same thing; her insistence on the Fersen legend, and most of all, the claim that Marie-Antoinette used birth control!!! To be subjected to the image of Fersen and Antoinette fiddling with prophylactics is more than I can stomach. I have never read any other biographer make such a claim, not even Zweig or Castelot! I know that people like Louis XV and Orleans used such devices with their mistresses, and other nobles who were libertines did also, especially those who consorted with prostitutes. But such people did not go to confession regularly or receive communion, not until they were dying, like Louis XV.

There were strict rules about receiving the sacraments, and one had to have permission from one's confessor to take communion. Marie-Antoinette was known to confess and communicate regularly, which means she probably did not make a lifestyle out of adultery, in spite of her many human failings and weaknesses. Louis XV did make it a lifestyle, although he was a believer, but he had enough respect for his religion not to receive communion while he was doing things that were contrary to his moral code, a code he believed in but did not follow. (BTW, there were rumors that he was secretly married to Madame du Barry, which I find hard to believe, but one never knows.) As for condoms, people in those days, those who were not necessarily devout or religious fanatics, but had basic religious beliefs and practices, stayed away from using those things. Even Protestants thought birth control was immoral, and Jews, too, because of the the story of Onan in the Book of Genesis; it was not just a Catholic prejudice.

I think too many modern writers project their own issues and attitudes upon eighteenth century people. Yes, there was a great deal of vice and corruption but there were many spouses who were faithful to each other, and many people who had very large families, especially most of the Habsburgs. Children were, for the most part, seen as a gift and an asset, especially because of the high infant mortality rate, even illegitimate children.

Marie-Antoinette's inner circle of friends regarded her as being a very pure and chaste woman, even when they themselves had love affairs. Was it not the Prince de Ligne who said, "Her soul was as white as her face." She was this way not just because of religious conviction but also she had a sense of honor as a queen and of her dynastic duty. It was just not her way to cheat.

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Mon May 01, 2006 2:11 pm
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You know, dear Therese, that I'm less aware about Marie-Antoinette's religion than you are. However, I regard this Fersen affair with a great suspicion too, especially for dynastical reasons. She would never have a lover that could put the Burbons genes in danger, in my view ! She too persuaded of her duties as an Habsburg archduchess.

And, as far as Fersen is concerned, he was too aristocratic and too respectful of royals to act so, I think.

Following their correspondence, there is room for heart and soul, and very romantic feelings... but no doubt not for trivial condoms ! :shock:

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Mon May 01, 2006 5:59 pm
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Oui, Pimprenelle! Lol! D'accord! And if there had been anything between Fersen and the queen, it did not necessarily have to be consummated in order to be a great love. However, such a grand romance, however mythical in my view, would have been very passionate. It would not have been a trivial affair of rolling around in the bushes like two bored teenagers after school, saying, "Oops where is the condom?" As you know, several reputable and professional scholars, such as Simon Schama in "Citizens," contend that it was never a physical affair, and some doubt if it was even an emotional one.

As for the queen's spending (with or without Louis' credit card :wink: ) she went through a period where she went crazy over clothes, and sported the high coiffures and wide panniers. In her thirties, she simplified things quite a bit. However, she always had a sense of style and a flair for dressing elegantly. (Queens of France before her had been usually slightly dowdy as well as semi-cloistered.) Nevertheless, she did not spend as much in her entire life as Madame Pompadour did in one year.

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Mon May 01, 2006 6:20 pm
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I actually think that The book The Last Queen of France was extremely interesting but I wish it would go in depths with her friends and family.


Fri Jun 02, 2006 6:48 pm
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Antonia Fraser's biography goes deeper in psychology than Lever's. Lever is better for political background.

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Fri Jun 02, 2006 7:23 pm
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Antonia Fraser is also a very engaging writer who makes history come alive.

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Fri Jun 02, 2006 7:26 pm
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