Marie Antoinette's Darkest Days by Will Bashor

Marie Antoinette's Darkest Days

Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie
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KIRKUS REVIEW

This scholarly work thoroughly documents Marie Antoinette’s imprisonment, trial, and execution. Bashor (Marie Antoinette’s Head, 2013, etc.), a professor of global issues at Franklin University, tells the story of Marie Antoinette’s last 10 weeks by drawing on contemporary sources as well as modern scholarship. The king was executed in January 1793; on Aug. 2, 1793, when this book begins, Marie Antoinette was taken to the Conciergerie prison in Paris. Her trial began on Oct. 14, and two days later she was found guilty and sent to the guillotine. Bashor describes the damp, filthy prison’s privations; attempts to help or rescue the queen; the revolutionary tribunal and the monarch’s trial with its prosecutor, indictment, jury, witnesses, testimony, and sentencing; and Marie Antoinette’s final moments. In all this, the author provides novelistic and empathetic attention to detail and personalities, as when he notes that Marie Antoinette recorded the heights of her children on the prison wall or how she kept busy by converting toothpicks into tapestry needles. He marshals a wide array of evidence, carefully distinguishing likely and trustworthy accounts from less believable ones and sorting out confusing episodes such as the Carnation Plot. In his readable book, Bashor shows that the Vienna-born Marie Antoinette, as a foreigner (and, probably, as a woman), became a scapegoat for the mob’s rage and that her trial was a sham. But while conceding that Marie Antoinette was “well known for her lavish expenditures and frivolous lifestyle,” he seems as puzzlingly reluctant as the queen to connect all the dots between that frivolity and the scapegoating. And while Marie Antoinette suffered in the Conciergerie, so did all his majesty’s prisoners before her, some no less innocent than herself. That the queen loved her children and went to her death with noble poise has captured much admiration—certainly Bashor’s—but this ought surely to be seen in the context of aristocratic France’s overwhelming human tragedies, which can never be told in so much detail. Extensive notes, a selected bibliography, and index are included. Impressive, well-researched, useful, and accessible, though some readers may feel that the book’s sympathies for the doomed queen remain misplaced.
Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4422-5499-2
Page count: 392pp
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2016




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