I was always a fan of the English kings and queens. Like a lot of American girls in the 1970’s I read all those books by Jean Plaidy and I know people still read the ones by Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir. I always wondered why the French monarchy never received as much attention as the British (at least in the realm of light history and historical fiction written in English). Is it because it all ended so badly for them?
It seems like this has been changing recently, as far as one queen goes. I first noticed it a few years back with the release of Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser, a book I gave as a gift to my mother-in-law, but which I never got around to reading myself. A quick check of Amazon reveals several new books as well: The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette: A Novel, by Carolly Erickson; Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, by Caroline Weber; and The Private Realm of Marie Antoinette, by Marie-France Boyer and Francois Halard. All of these have been released since 2006. And of course I did see the delightful movie Marie Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola.
Now we have Marie-Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie-Antoinette’s Daughter by Susan Nagel. I think this must be more scholarly than some of the titles I list above, more in the vein of the Fraser book. It’s certainly not a secret diary or a fashion study. I enjoyed it a lot, though it went kind of slowly. It’s dense with history, but not so dense as to overwhelm. It would be a good entry to the period for someone who didn’t know much about the French Revolution and wasn’t sure which book to start with.
Marie-Therese endured violence, imprisonment, the murder of her parents and brother, and was for many years a refugee with no secure home. Yet she maintained her grace and intelligence throughout her life. She is an inspiring figure, and this book does her justice.
(Book 21, 2008)