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 Book Club for May 

Which book will our club focus on for the month of May?
Poll ended at Sun Apr 16, 2006 3:30 am
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser 25%  25%  [ 1 ]
Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman by Stefan Zweig 0%  0%  [ 0 ]
Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever 0%  0%  [ 0 ]
Trianon: A Novel of Royal France by Elena Maria Vidal 25%  25%  [ 1 ]
Farewell, My Queen: A Novel by Chantal Thomas 50%  50%  [ 2 ]
Total votes : 4

 Book Club for May 
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No, I never heard of the carlin or the name Baps. Never at all. My understanding is that Antoinette was deprived of every comfort in the Conciergerie and was lucky to have books to read, although her eyesight was failing. She had to use quill pens as knitting needles in order to knit and any toiletries she had were due to Rosalie's resourcefulness. In "Trianon" there is chapter on the Conciergerie told from Rosalie's point of view, Rosalie being the young girl who worked at the prison. The jailers gave her little privacy in which to dress or change her linens, which was especially awful since she was bleeding heavily (it was her monthly period but some think she may also have had unterine cancer.) Rosalie had a difficult time just getting her to eat. The queen seemed indifferent as to her own fate but wept copious tears at the least reminder of her children, especially little Charles, who was being tormented in the Temple prison.


Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:10 pm
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That's exactly how I feel about this imprisonment, dear Therese...

The book I'm reading now insists on the plot by Rougeville and de Batz to rescue the queen. I guess it's a little bit "Alexandre Dumas" like... Marie-Antoinette is described ill but still strong enough to resist her awful condition. I on the contrary have always suspected that there were some terrible times, where, indeed, she even refused to eat.

Some French biographists don't want to rely on Rosalie's testimony, for she testified during restauration, and this is thus doubtful. She may have empathized her role. In "l'Autrichienne", we see a very young girl, sweet and terrorised by the gards. She would like to be kind to Marie-Antoinette, but she dares so little... I guess this could cope to reality, don't you think so ?

I have another movie, a rather old one "la mort de Marie-Antoinette", where her imprisonment is depicted almost sweet ! So French, you see... "Well, Monsieur, would you be so kind as to give me my work back, for I had to take yarns from this tapestry, here, you see..." or "Ah, Monsieur Michonis, have you some news from my little one ?"
All this so cute ! Why not cart games ?

When will they admit Revolution simply humiliated, destroyed, and finally killed this poor woman ? :evil:

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Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:37 pm
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Well, they say the same about Mme Campan as they say about Rosalie, that they were trying to win points with the Bourbons. Andre Castelot, who is pretty skeptical about hagiography of either Louis or Antoinette, seemed to think Rosalie very reliable. Louis XVIII, during the Restoration, did not always reward people who had been kind to his sister-in-law, although he did elevate persons like Fouche and Talleyrand, who had worked for Napoleon and contributed to the Revolution. Marie-Therese did what she could, but she herself was so tormented about it all. As for Madame Campan, look at all the things she wrote about Louis XV (just the truth), and Charles X so devoted to his grandfather.


Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:48 pm
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Pimprenelle, what you say about "card games" makes me laugh. The point is, most people now are children of the Revolution and the society we now live in was shaped by the succeeeding revolutions. To admit that the French Revolution was not the greatest world event is seen as heresy in our times. Marie-Antoinette HAS to be portrayed as giddy and selfish or worse, and Louis as an idiot, in order to justify the cruel way in which they and their family were treated by the Revolution. Otherwise, if people see the REAL Louis and Antoinette, they will question, WHY?


Tue Apr 11, 2006 1:53 pm
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You're right, Therese, alas... Let's hope they finally will open their eyes ! I've been insulted or mocked more than once on French forums, you know...

I keep some doubts about Rosalie anyhow. She said for instance that the queen told her that she would take her as chambermaid, later... I find this adorable, and I see all Marie-Antoinette's temper in this promise : generous and always believing in better times to come. As if she always kept a tiny flame burning inside of her soul...

But, in the meantime, I wonder... Maybe she and Rosalie never were so close, for this would have been impossible, with these terrible gards ? Rosalie did the best she could, but that was not much... and, later, she said that hoping for some rewards ?

She also said she called Antoinette "ma princesse". Would she dare ? She was risking her head for speaking so !

I honestly wonder... As well as for Campan. To me, her memoirs are pure hagiography ! And she exagerates her role, it's obvious from contradictions in her narrative and others about the necklace affair. In the movie "the affair of the necklace", she becomes Marie-Antoinette's close friend !

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Tue Apr 11, 2006 3:19 pm
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Oh, Pimprenelle, I think you are getting Campan mixed up with Madame La Motte of the necklace scandal. They did not even show Campan in the movie "L'Affaire du Collier," not at all. She was truly the femme de chambre of the queen, which meant she oversaw the actual work of running the queen's apartments. She was really very close to the queen, even if they were not friends, since Campan was a servant. She had formerly been Reader of Mesdames Tantes and her memoirs are full of all the scandals of Versailles, of which she heard an earful, not at all edifying. I think she was brutally frank about the corruption of the French court. I don't know, we must be thinking of two different people. As for Mme de la Motte, she had never met the queen; Antoinette had no idea who she was when the necklace scandal broke.

As for Rosalie, you are right, she did her best to help the queen in spite of the guards. Two of the guards were sympathetic and gave her more privacy, as well as letting the priest bring her Communion, and others who had been in the Conciergerie testified to this, not only Rosalie. Such happenings ocurred frequently during the Revolution, secret Masses and Communions, final absolutions from a distance, not just with the queen but with many other persons who were imprisoned, and authors such as Cronin, Castelot, Seward seem to think the testimony reliable. Many people in those days were Catholic and continued to practice their religion even after it was essentially banned. Also, Rosalie was the maid of the jailer's wife Madame Richard, who was later arrested as well, probably because she tried to be kind to the queen, bringing her little boy in to see her. There are many, many testimonies of such happenings by people who had nothing to gain, small kindnesses and acts of faith, amid the cruelty of the Revolution.

Yes, Rosalie was probably very poor and hoped to gain a little something afterwards. Many people came clamoring to Therese, and she did what she could to help all of the people who had helped her parents, or at least claimed that they did. I think she was pretty prudent about making inquiries about people when it was possible.


Tue Apr 11, 2006 5:25 pm
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Dear Pimprenelle, you are right that one must be very discerning of the sources and read several, primary and secondary, so that one has a full picture. Not that anyone can have the complete picture....


Tue Apr 11, 2006 6:59 pm
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I'm talking about a recent movie by Shyer or something, starring Joely Richarson. The woman sitting with her when she receives the jewellers is Madame Campan. And the queen falls in her arms, laughing to death !

In my view, the opinion we now have that Madame Campan was very close to Marie-Antoinette precisely comes from her memoirs ! In fact, some historians believe that she wasn't in that privacy.

I have read a lot of books about this necklace affair, and it seems obvious that Campan's testimony comes into contradiction with others, as Gorgel's for instance. The reason must be that she always exagerates her role next to the queen.

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Tue Apr 11, 2006 9:57 pm
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Oh, my. I don't remember that part from the movie. Yes, the one with Joely Richardson. But then, dear Pimprenelle, that movie had so much that was wrong about it, I could barely stand to watch it. I really hated that movie, sorry.

I never heard Gorgel's testimony (or maybe I just don't remember it. Please do tell. :) ) What I remember from Mme de Campan's memoirs is that she was helping the queen memorize her lines for a play when Boehmer sent his bill. Tell me more, s'il vous plait.

Well, we may have a rare moment of disagreement here, dear friend, because I don't believe that Madame Campan was totally unreliable. I mean, if she had been making it up that she was the queen's femme de chambre, it seems that the later Bourbons would have had her arrested for libel. They did not honor her, because she had taught the Bonaparte ladies at that little school of hers, but they did not punish her either. I do not doubt that you have read the testimony of historians in this regard, it is just different from what I have read.


Tue Apr 11, 2006 10:14 pm
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I think I do now remember that part from the movie and I thought it was so inaccurate and inappropriate. Antoinette would never have behaved in such a familiar way with her femme de chambre.


Tue Apr 11, 2006 10:15 pm
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:) who knew you could find such an interesting discussion in a thread all about choosing a book!

I'm happy to go with the majority and read the Chantal Thomas book. I haven't read Trianon which is why I voted for it, but it's a while since I read Farewell My Queen so a little refresher will do me the world of good.

For future book chats we will make a very early decision on the text to give everyone enough time to find a copy and to read it or reread it before the discussion is set to begin - will that help? I may even open the next poll in the first week of May to give a good three weeks after the decision is made to find the book and import it if necessary. I buy often from amazon.com and find their international deliveries to be pretty good in terms of wait time, even with standard shipping.

Anyone else out there in the forum want to join our book club? Don't be shy - we'd love to have you join us!

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Wed Apr 12, 2006 5:38 am
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Thank you for organizing it, dear Adrienne. I would really be glad to take part in this reading sessions !

I haven't ordered "Trianon" yet, for I'm not happy with amazon's services. I'm still waiting for the 3 books I have ordered from them since ages ! Or at least 1 month... it's long, isn't it ? The other sites (ebay, priceminister, alapage) are much quicker !

I just hope they haven't forgotten me ! :cry:

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Wed Apr 12, 2006 6:11 am
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Of course, Therese, the whole Campan's work is not to throw away ! But I don't rely on her, for the reasons I already explained : she makes hagiography, and she exagerates her own importance.

Actually, as many historians stated, the problem with Marie-Antoinette is that there are so many contemporary documents ! And most of them highly partial...

Louis Hastier made a pretty good job about the necklace affair, and he is very suspicious considering Campan's narrative. More than once, he said, she lies... and her testimony is for instance in contradiction with Bertrand de Molleville's ones.

Her aim seems to be to appear closer to royals than she actually was. In fact, it sounds she never was asked to burn secret papers, and she searched for personal security... while she wrote she wanted so much to share the royal family's fate !

More specificly about the necklace affair, Hastier and Flammermont notice contradictions between two different versions Campan herself gives ! She is also in contradiction with abbé Georgel's testimony.

Well... this lady simply was a chambermaid among others, and didn't share Antoinette's secrets. But, as she pretends to, she invents sometimes... Actually, she wasn't important at all, she's not even mentioned in Mercy's correspondence, nor in Bachaumont's memoirs ! However, many modern specialists still rely on her testimony...

... and, in this movie we were discussing about, there's only one person "des entours de la reine" : Campan ! Absurd !

Anyhow, dear Therese, and even if historically inacurate, I did enjoy this movie, for its symbolical antagonistic portraits. The ghosty queen versus the red thief, dying monarchy versus raising revolt. I love the way Lamotte, representing people (I know it's highly inacurate !) replies to the proud queen (whom she never met, I know !) : "You ignored me !"

In a sense, Marie-Antoinette was humiliated and eventually killed by persons she "ignored"...

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Wed Apr 12, 2006 6:41 am
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That sounds great, Adrienne. I will find a copy of "Farewell."

Oh, Pimprenelle, so many interesting things to respond to, and I have not had my coffee yet, so I will be back when I wake up more. I understand, sometimes there are movies that we enjoy even when we know that they are not accurate, just because they capture the essence of the era. I feel that way about "Braveheart" and the old "Anastasia."


Wed Apr 12, 2006 12:11 pm
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Here I am again, fortified by coffee and bagels. Dear Pimprenelle, what you say about the Diamond Necklace is very interesting, and while Campan may have exaggerated her role and closeness to the queen, as sometimes older people do exaggerate their memories, I personally doubt that she deliberately lied. We may have to agree to disagree on this point, ma chere amie. :wink: To me, much of her testimony has a ring of truth, for instance, when she reports the queen's comment about her husband's aunt Mme Louise, who was a nun, and generally regarded by many as a saint (and she has indeed been recently beatified). Antoinette said, "She is the most scheming little Carmelite in the kingdom!" as Campan reports, and I really can picture the queen saying such a thing, slightly irreverent but frank.

For Campan to boldly lie would have required an incredible temerity since there were so many people who had known the queen who were still alive at the time, including Artois and Therese and other members of the royal family. Not to mention the members of the various royal entourages who had lived at Versailles, such as Turgy, Clery, M. and Mme. de Serent, M. and Madame Hue, that nasty Saint-Priest, Mme d"Agoult, all who would have known enough to protest at blatant falsehoods. I do hope Campan exaggerated the vices of Louis XV because she portrays him as a sexual predator of young girls. (Unfortunately, I fear it to be true!) :cry:

I compare what Campan said to the testimony and memoirs of other people who were connected to the court in various degrees, such as Princesse de Lamballe, Catherine Hyde, letters of Madame Elisabeth, Madame de la Tour du Pin, Mme. Vigee-LeBrun, Abbe Edgeworth (he was Mme Elisabeth's mentor and confessor at the Tuileries), the letters between the queen and her mother, Mme de Gontaut (a cousin of the Polignacs) so that one gets a balanced picture. Many (not all) of them also spoke of the Queen in the highest terms, as a virtuous woman who took her faith seriously, albeit not in a narrowly pietistic fashion.

I look forward to reading Chantal Thomas' book!


Wed Apr 12, 2006 2:01 pm
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