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.