Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Marie-Therese, Child of Terror by Susan Nagel

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)


Anonymous said...

And when I was in Paris in March there was a huge exhibit on Marie Antoinette at the Palais de Congres. One of my Parisian friends, who works at the Louvre, explained that this was the first time many of the documents relating to M.A.'s life were available for viewing. Turns out she wasn't the "Let them eat cake" (she used the word "brioche") airhead we all think she was.

Anonymous said...

If you are interested in Marie-Antoinette, I would highly recommend "Farewell My Queen," a novel by Chantal Thomas. Chantal Thomas is a French historian and also the author of "The Myth of the Wicked Queen," which is non-fiction. Both works have been translated into English.

Unfortunately that is not the case with the award-winning bio of Marie-Antoinette by Simone Bertiere. I hope that will happen someday.

And Susan, I posted on the Marie-Antoinette exhibition at the Grand Palais. Indeed it is a very interesting show. Still on until June 30!

Becky Holmes said...

Catherine, thank you for your comment. Your blog is beautiful and your book looks good. Thanks for all these recommendations. I am also interested in that movie about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. That's another book I keep meaning to read....

Anonymous said...

"......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)....".

One reason could be that America was once a British colony under an English King.

Another reason is that the British monarchy speaks the same language as Americans, which is to say English.

Another reason is that the British monarchy is still functioning, hence Larry King's fascination with it.

I recommend yet another book - a novel in fact - about Marie Antionette - "Abundance" by Sena Jeter Naslund.

Doreen Orion said...

I was so fascinated by royalty that I read Antonia Frasier's book, "Mary, Queen of Scots" in sixth grade. Guess I was a bit of a nerd, too.

Apparently, I haven't gotten over my fascination, but wish I'd retained a bit more nerd.

Becky Holmes said...

Doreen we must be about the same age because I remember my mother reading that book when I was in about sixth grade also. I think I tried to read it, but never managed to finish it. And I think it was right around then that I discovered the Jean Plaidy books which were written much more on my level.

Doreen Orion said...

Sigh. So, you're saying I was nerdier than you? As long as you weren't a cheerleader, I can live with that.

Becky Holmes said...

Doreen, no, I think I am saying that you are smarter than I am. And no, I was certainly not a cheerleader.

Doreen Orion said...

I kid, I kid!

IF I ever was smart, I feel rather brain-depleted these days. I certainly couldn't read all the books AND write all the wonderful reviews you do. One a week. Amazing.

It's certainly something I'd like to strive for (the reading, at least. I'll leave the reviews to you). My biggest problem is not with books I hate (I have no issue not finishing those) it's with those I'm only lukewarm about. I tend not to look forward to reading, so they take a long time. I'm currently in the midst of one that's taking forever for just that reason. I'd like to see what happens, but I'm not passionate about the book.

This is the one case where I'd probably skip the rest and go straight to the movie - if there was one.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the topic of the numbers of books one reads, below is the link to a fascinating article from the website of The Atlantic, which shows how excessive reading off the internet alters something in our brains, making the reading of books more difficult ever afterwards.

For what it's worth, I'm now, as a voracious reader off the internet, experiencing the same difficulties with reading books as the author of the piece and the other people he mentions.


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