Marie Antoinette Online Forum

how perceptions of M.A have changed through time&lit.?
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Author:  seirahalsey [ Sun Nov 16, 2008 9:05 pm ]
Post subject:  how perceptions of M.A have changed through time&lit.?

Hey all ~
I'm currently writing an essay on how perceptions and views of Marie Antoinette have changed/evolved for the better/worse throughout literature,
comparing modern lit. about her to primary sources/lit./articles written during her time.
What do you guys think ?? :)

Author:  Hans Axel [ Mon Nov 17, 2008 1:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: how perceptions of M.A have changed through time&lit.?

I think that people's perceptions of Antoinette are quite wrong, harsh and negative BEFORE people read about her. Then, when you start to read about her and her life, I think you get a more positive opinion of her. The whole "let them eat cake"-view collapses if you read more about her.

If we talk about perceptions during time it is more difficult. There have been both negative and positive literature about her - in the past and the present. Even during her life people were sometimes "with her" and sometimes "against her". She was both loved and hated even before the Revolution (from people from all classes of society). During the Revolution she was also both loved and hated, but now the love came more from her friends etc... But then it was more common for people like Antoinette's friends to write - so literature from that time is not all about how horrible a woman she was. Many memoirs were "pro-Antoinette" and many pamphlets were not! After the revolution came people like Napoleon, who benefited on her being "bad". --- And during history it has been like this, people against her (spreading rumours and getting caught on the bad stuff) and people liking her (and writing about her in a nice way).

The "problem" - I think - is more that people do not read about her. If more people would then I think people's views of her would be more positive, certainly more fair and - above all maybe - right (because many like her/think good of her even though they think she was just like the Coppola-Antoinette). For people who do not know so much about Antoinette (and most people do not) it is easier to believe the "rumours" too. Like "let them eat cake", the Fersen-love-story and things like that. Even if most of this is simply not true or deeply exaggerated. In a way it is more fun to believe these things, and it is very hard to get rid of such hearsay - especially when people hear these "lies" over and over again... (When you hear something often enough then it must be true?)

And there we have another trouble with perception of Antoinette in literature. Because even if we today know that Antoinette never said things like "let them eat cake" it makes a better film with her saying the phrase, and then denying it! - Coppola. This certainly does not help to clear her name... So even today people both hate her and love her - like it has always been. One could think that we today would have a more proper picture of her life (because it is much easier for us to understand where the bad reputations comes from when reading all sorts of sources and science etc makes it easier to get the real deal - her being good), but that is not the case.

Though if we compare the time of the Revolution with today we have to admit we like her much more today! Even if people do not know the truth about her and even though many people today dislike her... Our view is not as harsh as it has been.

Author:  Ludy [ Wed Nov 19, 2008 10:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: how perceptions of M.A have changed through time&lit.?

That is quite an interesting topic.

MA's was used for political purposes in France throughout the XIXe century. Her image was deeply controversial, and the views contradictory. On one hand, the royalists strived to present her as a kind of saint, and she was exploited by Louis XVIII, regardless of his personal participation in all the propaganda against MA during her life time. She also exerted a kind of fascination, due, in a way, to the controversions and mystery that revolved around her (see Dumas' novels). But now, as Bertière states it, "passions have simmered down", so that it would have been possible, from now onwards, to analyse MA's life in a more unbiased way.

I think that, until Stefan Zweig, nobody really paid attention to MA's personnality, but only followed the clichés about her, whether they were inspired by the Revolution or, on the contrary, royalist. Of course Zweig work is questioned nowadays. But Bertière is right when stating that he "gave life again to MA".

That being said, even nowadays, works on MA are influenced by political ideologies. Jean Chalon for instance totally follow the royalist interpretation in his biography Chère Marie-Antoinette, which is not, truth be told, a masterpiece. Girault de Coursac also are in a way. But judging by what I read about their work, their biography is quite critical about MA, although the work is reported to be amazingly painstaking and accurate.
Other biographer tend to show less sympathy for MA, such as Castelot, who really foregrounds her extravagance and superficiality. Bertière is also apt to be somewhat severe about MA, because she already devoted previous biographies to the other queens of France and put MA's "rebeliousness" in perspective with the other queens' submissiveness and their understanding of their role. But her analysis, thanks to this, is also a way to emphasise how impossible it was for MA to carry out her duties as a queen, given the overwhelming gap between the role that was ascribed to her and the actual evolution of society, which, at the end of the day, is quite lenient towards MA.

Now the tendency, following Fraser's book The Journey, is to "victimize" MA, stressing that, after all, her extravagance, for instance, was not uncomon among the people she mixed with.What's more, her political role, so controversial since the Revolution, is accounted for by the relativity of political ideas. This view is partly accurate, but on the other hand, by trying to deny that MA had failures, those biographers describe quite an insipid and passive queen, which does not dovetail with her actual personnality, as far as I know it.

There is a very interesting thesis in France Marie-Antoinette et ses biographes[/i],which is available. THe author analyses every aspect of MA's life,comparing the main biographies of MA. It's enthralling as long as your interested in historiography. There is also La reine brisé by Anne Duprat, which, as far as I know, deals with the manipulation of the queen's image during her life time.

Author:  dreamoutloud [ Wed Nov 19, 2008 11:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: how perceptions of M.A have changed through time&lit.?

Thank you, Ludy! That was an excellent review of the historiography of Marie Antoinette. I am rather a historiography geek and the work you mentioned at the end sounds very interesting. Do you know the author?

Author:  Délicate fleur [ Thu Nov 20, 2008 12:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: how perceptions of M.A have changed through time&lit.?

I'm not entirely sure, but Ludy might be talking about 'The Wicked Queen: Origins of the Myth of Marie Antoinette' by Chantal Thomas and Julie Rose (translator).

It does not have fantastic reviews. To wit:
I have long been obsessed with Marie Antoinette. I am, in fact, writing a book set in the court of Louis XVI. You can imagine my delight when I was informed about the pending release of Ms. Thomas's book. I had hoped her book would provide many examples of libel against the queen. I was hoping this book would detail who wrote what and when. I found this book to be an excuse to print a lot of nasty words. Ms. Thomas's views, while educated, were tired and repeated over and over again. Nothing in this book was thought-provoking or fresh. It did not illuminate or entertain. Very little was devoted to the effects of the words against the queen. How did this effect MA emotionally, physically? What did it do to the marriage of the King and Queen? What were the long-term impacts of these libelous ditty's? How did they effect journalism as we know it today? How did they contribute to the Revolution? All in all, a disappointment.

Author:  Ludy [ Thu Nov 20, 2008 9:16 am ]
Post subject:  Re: how perceptions of M.A have changed through time&lit.?

dreamoutloud wrote:
Thank you, Ludy! That was an excellent review of the historiography of Marie Antoinette. I am rather a historiography geek and the work you mentioned at the end sounds very interesting. Do you know the author?

Marie Antoinette, la reine brisée, by Anne Duprat

and Marie antoinette et ses biographes by Cécile Berly. It was first a academic thesis, and then it was released and can be now easily found in bookstores.

I wouldn't bet on the two books' being translated in English, especially the second one.

I have thumbed through another interesting book : Marie Antoinette face à l'Histoire. It stems apparently from a conference organized by the French Bourbons, following Coppola's movie. Several historians take part in it, and evoke different themes surrounding MA's life, stating their opinion. Evelyne Lever is part of it, and I was amazed, judging by what I read, to notice how disatisfied she was about Coppola's movie. She even reproaches Coppola to show the Fresen affair as a fact, whereas it has not been proven. It is indeed clamied that E. Lever was barely consulted, whilst she was to be a major adviser. The book seems interesting, however, it is certainly not translated and is also quite expensive considering its content.

Author:  dreamoutloud [ Fri Nov 21, 2008 12:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: how perceptions of M.A have changed through time&lit.?

That's alright, I live in Paris and I speak French, so I'm sure I can easily find them. Thanks!

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