Name of Book: Becoming Marie Antoinette
By: Juliet Grey
Publisher: Ballantine Books (an imprint of Random House)
Copyright Date: 2011
Number of Pages: 435
Format: historical fiction
Reason for Reading: Michelle’s review had me immediately checking this one out at the library
“Well,” sighed my tutor, scarcely concealing his amusement, “you are correct; although you would do well to heed the lessons Queen Eleanor either flouted or forgot. Her own husband imprisoned her for more than fifteen years for daring to meddle in politics.”
“Ah, but that was her English husband!” I countered. “I am to marry a French king.”
And so my examination continued as I scampered down the branches of the royal family trees, from the Capets to the Valois and finally to the current reigning dynasty, the Bourbons. “Maria Theresa”—a name I could not possibly forget, as it was also my mother’s—”was the wife of Louis XIV, the Sun King. She was the Spanish infanta and the three-times-great-grandmother of the dauphin, Louis August, my future husband.”
“And?” Vermond gently nudged.
I racked my brain. “Oh, ja—I mean oui—a silly phrase. The French peasants were starving for want of bread and she dismissed their hunger, saying, ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.’ But what’s a brioche and why should they eat that, if they have no bread?”
Vermond laughed. “A brioche is a delicious breakfast bun baked with flour, butter, and eggs. And just a pinch of sugar, so it’s a little bit sweet—like a cake.”
I frowned, furrowing my brow. “Well, it’s a silly thing to say, then. ‘Let them eat cake.’ She should have gone out among the people and fed them. It’s what I would have done.”
Maria Antonia, youngest archduchess of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, is being groomed for a marriage treaty with France. She is abysmal at her studies and her French is atrocious. She is pretty and charming, but that is not enough for the French. Antonia undergoes an excruciating makeover that includes straightening her teeth, cramming her brain full of geography and facts, practicing French speaking for hours, and learning the Versailles Glide. After two years, the contract is officially offered. After her proxy wedding, she officially sheds her Austrian name and is to embrace everything French. She is now madame la dauphine Marie Antoinette. Once she arrives at Versailles, she finds a court vastly different from that at Hofburg. She must now live up to the destiny her mother has prepared her for.
Up until this book my knowledge of Marie Antoinette consisted of the following-the French hated her; the French Revolution happened on her watch; she was beheaded; supposedly was known to have said ‘let them eat cake’ in response to bread becoming too expensive for the poor; a movie was made about her by Sofia Coppola, a confection of color, music, and vignettes (not that it really advanced my knowledge of her story).
So I was thoroughly surprised to find that Marie Antoinette, thus far in her story is quite a sympathetic character. Not only was this story well-researched and well-written with great attention to detail, it was also full of many surprises for a Marie Antoinette novice such as myself:
-I was stunned to learn of the rigorous preparation she had to undergo in order to be deemed worthy by the king. I cringed when reading about her ‘braces.’ It sounded so barbaric. My heart ached for her.
-I was equally stunned to learn the dauphin refused to consummate the marriage. I remember one little scene from the movie after I read the wedding night scene, but previously, I had forgotten that detail. I was shocked as the years passed and still Antoinette remained ‘half a woman.’
-The court at Versailles!!! For all its pomp it sounded absolutely disgusting. Peeing on the floor is really becoming of aristocrats??? I’ll pass on that, thanks.
-The crazy rituals surrounding the lever and coucher ( waking and going to bed.) Um, no thank you.
-The detailing of Antoinette’s schedule to the minute. I was floored by how regimented her schedule was and how she truly had not an ounce of privacy outside of sleep.
I like learning new things through books. Reading subjects of interest that I know little about, fully captures my attention, my imagination, and feeds my appetite for new knowledge. Now my fascination is piqued and I want to do my own independent research to learn more about this fascinating person and this period in history.
Oh! There are also lots of goodies after the final page has turned! A bibliography!!! And! The author wrote about her experience researching and reading the book. I love learning those details, especially when the author is writing about real people that existed. Also, there is a sneak peek of the next book. I am impatient for waiting for books to be published, so I do appreciate a little tidbit to tide me over.
A very well-written, thoroughly researched, fantastically told story of the early years of Marie Antoinette.