Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Secrets of Marie Antoinette

Title: Secrets of Marie Antoinette
Author: Olivier Bernier
Publisher: Doubleday & Company Inc., New York, 1985
Category: Non-fiction, history
Price: Currently out of print
Number of Pages: 326

What it is about:
Bernier presents the translated letters of Marie Antoinette to her mother Marie Theresa, Empress of Austria, covering the period 21 April 1770 to 3 November 1780. Also included are some letters from the Austrian Ambassador, Florimond, comte de Mercy-Argenteau (often called Mercy) and some correspondence from Marie Antoinette's brother the Emperor Joseph II.

The book relies on three sources:
1. The correspondence between Maria Theresa and Marie Antoinette preserved in the Staatsarchiv, Venia (published in its entirety by George Girard, Correspondance entre Marie Therese et Marie Antoinette, Paris 1933).
2. The reports of Mercy, published by Arneth et Geffroy, Correspondance secrete entre Marie Therese et le comte de Mecry-Argenteau, Paris, 1874.
3. The letters written by the Emperor Joseph II to his brother Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany during his visit to Versailles in 1777 from the collection at Staatsarchiv, Vienna.

Why I Chose this book:
All of the books I have read so far are other people's research and analysis of the life of Marie Antoinette. I thought it would be fascinating to read Marie Antoinette's own words in her correspondence with her mother. It is amazing what you can find in your local public library!

Favourite Passage:
Extract from a letter from Marie Theresa to Marie Antoinette, 5 March 17775

"I can't prevent myself raising a point which many gazettes repeat all too often: it is the coiffure you use; they say that from the forehead up it is thirty-six inches high, and with so many feathers and ribbons to adorn it! You know that I always have thought that fashion should be followed moderately, without ever exaggerating them. A young and pretty Queen, who is full of attractions, doesn't need all these follies; on the contrary, the simplicity of your adornment will show you off better and is more suitable to the rank of a Queen...." (page 159)

Rating: A

How rare it is to read direct quotes (albeit translated quotes) from Marie Antoinette's correspondence with her mother. Usually by the time the "facts" are presented in a more current book, they have been distilled down to something else altogether.

It is plain that Marie Theresa was aware of the mistakes in judgment that Marie Antoinette was making in the French court, and yet in spite of her many protestations, her warnings were insufficient to change the course of history. Time and time again she was almost psychic in her predictions of doom for her youngest daughter and yet her warnings went unheeded. This book is fascinating reading if you can find it!

I will be posting extracts of this book on my fashion blog Fashion is My Muse in the coming days.