MARIE ANTOINETTE by Desmond Seward


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An effusive biography of Marie Antoinette that reads like a historical romance--or a royalist tract. As usual, the Queen's life is handily bifurcated. Part One: the undereducated Austrian princess is driven by the formality of the Bourbon court and the sexual inadequacy of her ""amiably bovine and phlegmatic"" husband to distract herself with ""flash friends"" and expensive pleasures. (""It was only natural that such a healthy and energetic girl should try to find an outlet for her frustration and do so with the most manic enthusiasm."") Part Two: a mother at last (i.e., no longer ""a barren woman""), she begins to settle down; and none too soon, for around the comer looms a world-shaking political crisis--the French Revolution--which she confronts as best she can (""She would make terrible mistakes, but so did practically every French politician""), until she is brought down by the calumny of her inferiors. Along the way, Seward (Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Hundred Years War) sprinkles the text with: excuses (""Undeniably Marie Antoinette was foolish and spendthrift, but she was also a very innocent young woman""); blind assumption (apropos of Swedish diplomat/savior von Fersen--""Physical relations would have destroyed the magic for both of them""); clichÉ (""a tower of strength,"" ""the soul of discretion""); downright gush (""Soon it was evident that he was enchanted""); and unnecessary snobbishness (during the royal family's imprisonment, ""the servants left much to be desired""). There may indeed be ""room for a new biography,"" as the author suggests; but alas (a favorite word), not this one. For the present, interested readers must remain content with Philippe Huisman's well-illustrated study (1971), Andre Castelot's highly readable narrative account (1957)--or Dorothy Mayer's calmly sympathetic portrayal (1969).

Pub Date: April 9th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's