TO THE SCAFFOLD by Carolly Erickson


The Life of Marie Antoinette
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 A fast-paced biography by a talented and prolific historian of ill-fated royalty (Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1988; Bloody Mary, 1977) and unsettled times, (Our Tempestuous Day: A History of Regency England, 1985), emphasizing the manners, customs, and extravagant style of the court of Louis XIV. Erickson opens in 1755, when the future queen of France, the 14th child of the busy empress of Austria, is born in a birthing chair, and closes 38 years later, as the gaunt, widowed Antoinette, prisoner #280, bleeding profusely from a menstrual disorder, mounts the scaffold to be beheaded. Such artful symmetry shapes the entire book-the carefully constructed decorum of the first half, depicting life at Versailles, replaced by the chaotic, brutal, impulsive destruction of mobs in the second. Erickson conveys even familiar material with vivacity and charm: there are memorable images of the withdrawn and sluggish Louis, porcine and irresolute, leaving his lockmaking and cartography to trust the Paris mobs who ultimately cheered at his beheading; of doll-like Antoinette, her coiffures and costumes, her toy village and lover, surrounded by 40 ladies-in-waiting who assisted in her morning rituals, and of her opulent but squalid court at Versailles overrun by thieves, dogs, scandal, and human waste that befouled the air. There is an odd emphasis on reproductive lore, from Louis's reluctant operation to correct a defective penis that prevented his consummating his marriage to the queen's giving birth before so many spectators that her life was endangered. Well detailed and colorful, though politically retrograde, evincing a reverence for royalty last seen in Edmund Burke.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1991
ISBN: 0-688-07301-8
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1991


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