September 2003 Archives

Marie Antoinette: The Journey

Antonia Fraser

I’ve read several of Fraser’s royal biographies, including Mary Queen of Scots and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. I was very much looking forward to Marie Antoinette – I resisted buying it in hardcover, and made myself wait til I had time to devote to the paperback (500+ pages).

Marie Antoinette is, for me, one of those historical figures who ubiquitousness (yes, it’s a word) led me to believe I knew everything I needed to know about her. Fraser’s book, however, details a genuine riches-to-rags saga filled with minutiae of the French and Austrian courts, the events that culminated in the deposition and execution of Louis XVI, and the fall from grace of the French queen.

I’m sure that many of these details are easily found elsewhere, but I do enjoy Fraser’s approach, even if she is unapologetically apologist. I do think the book would have benefited from some careful editing – some of the minutiae is repetitive or altogether unnecessary – and unlike other historical bios I’ve encountered, this one didn’t include any family trees or other visual representation of the major players. In this case, where the vast majority of ‘characters’ are titled, it’s not always easy to keep track of them – especially when titles are passed on to heirs, exchanged voluntarily or by royal decree, or forsaken for a more Republican name after the Revolution.

I also found myself very occasionally put off by Fraser’s insistence that her reader already knows all the salient facts, and is merely looking for hypothetical explanations. Granted, this approach is better than a condescending one that assumes complete ignorance; but given that I didn’t know about the infamous Diamond Necklace Affair, for instance, I would have appreciated some explanation of why it’s such a big deal to historians.

Overall, I enjoyed the journey, and I’m glad I know a little more about Marie Antoinette, who never, ever, invited the peasants to eat cake.

Call this one a recommendation if you like that sort of thing.

The Million Book Club

Our somewhat sporadic book club met last night to discuss Everything is Illuminated. As usual, some of us loved it, some us, not so much. Also as usual, the conversation was stimulating; I always love talking shop with other readers, gleaning new insights and approaches, discovering anew how different the reading experience is for each reader.

I was particularly appreciative of Danielle's invocation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez - despite how much I enjoyed Everything is Illuminated, I hadn't taken the time to question exactly why. With the mention of Magic Realism, and in particular One Hundred Years of Solitude, everything was, indeed, illuminated. So, to add to my previous recommendation, if you liked OHYS, you'll probably enjoy EII.

Our next book is George Singleton's The Half-Mammals of Dixie, a collection of short stories set in the American South.

Call me a cynic, but...

Sharon's right-hand man, Ehud Olmert, says that killing Arafat is definitely an option. This follows Israel's threat to force Arafat into exile. It also follows widespread demonstrations, in reaction to the exile idea, from Palestinians and others in support of Arafat.

Prior to the initial threat of exile, many Palestinians would have been nonchalant about the voluntary resignation of Arafat, and would likely have rallied behind a new leader in the hopes of finally resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 'Let's get back to the so-called road map' was the prevailing sentiment.

Not surprisingly, at the first hint of an imposed exile, Arafat is newly popular, a beloved leader that Palestinians are 100% behind.

Imagine what their reaction would be if Israel makes good on the assasination threat.

First of all, removing Arafat is a useless gesture that will only serve to ascerbate the situation and create a martyr around whom the anti-Israeli movement can rally. In the introduction to her newest edition of The Demon Lover, Robin Morgan makes the point that removing the leader from a terrorist organization will no more end terrorism that would Bill Gates' having a heart attack end capitalism - nor, as a friend commented, would it end Microsoft.

Secondly, many would argue that the only difference between Arafat and the hawkish Sharon is international recognition - and that the only difference between the Palestinian war effort and that of Israel is tanks and uniforms. Can the Palestinians reply that sure, they'll dump Arafat, provided the Knesset ousts Sharon? We'll depose our leader if you depose yours? How can the Israelis legitimately call for a clean slate on one side without putting forth some of their own representatives who are a little more flexible and a lot less retaliatory?

It all makes me wonder if the Israeli leaders are even remotely interested in the famous road map. Maybe what they're really looking for is an excuse to eradicate the problem - if we can provoke a big enough Palestinian revolt, we'll have no choice but to go in there, guns blazing, and just get rid of the problem once and for all. After all, if there are no Palestinians, there can be no Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Who will we stare at now?

Bennifer is no more. Everyone from CNN to the BBC is fascinated. According to these various sources, however, the break-up (if there is one) may be only temporary. Phew.

There is no mention of this latest tragedy on the official J.Lo site. The Baffleck site is temporarily down for reconstruction. Perhaps he's having all references to the Jersey girl eliminated?

More great moments in journalism

An Italian company offers collector series bottles, including a series devoted to Adolf Hitler.

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The bottles were the subject of a small item in today's Gazette. I suspect the copy editors were indulging a rather dark sense of humour. The headline?

Hitler wine labels in Italy spark German furor

But it's not about the money

Private Jessica Lynch, now honorably discharged for medical reasons, has signed a book deal. For one million dollars, she will tell us all about growing up in America - for this, it seems, is the premise of the book, not her Iraqi adventures.

The book is to be titled I am a Soldier, Too.

Is that in the sense of "I may be a photogenic blonde willing to compromise the truth for a photo op and a good story, but I'm a soldier, too?"

Apparently, she's not a writer, too - the book will be co-written with Rick Bragg. Bragg is the Pulitzer-winning journalist who resigned from the NY Times last spring "after the newspaper suspended him over a story that carried his byline but was reported largely by a freelancer."

None of the articles I've seen disclose who will be on the committee to review the book for conformity to the official version of events.

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