Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson

The inside flap reads:

Imagine that on the night before she is to die under the blade of the guillotine, Marie Antoinette leaves behind in her prison cell a diary telling the story of her life - from her privileged childhood as Austrian Archduchess to her years as glamorous mistress of Versailles to the heartbreak of imprisonment and humiliation during the French Revolution.

Carolly Erickson takes the reader deep into the psyche of France's doomed queen: her love affair with handsome Swedish diplomat Count Axel Fersen, who risked his life to save her, her fears on the terrifying night the Parisian mob broke into her palace bedroom intent on murdering her and her family, her harrowing attempted escape from France in disguise, her recapture and the grim months of harsh captivity, her agony when her beloved husband was guillotined and her young son was torn from her arms never to be seen again.

I guess that this would be considered a warts and all kind of telling story of one of the more famous figures in history. Whilst Erickson is obviously a fan and a student of Marie Antoinette (she has also written a non fiction book called To the Scaffold that is also about Marie Antoinette) it is not a one-sided account. She does not neglect to tell of the excesses that Marie Antoinette had around her, even when she thought that she was economising, right down to the fact that it was decided that the Queen should have her satin slippers resoled so that she could wear them at least two to three times. The delusions that Marie Antoinette held were never more evident than when she was trying to plot her escape from France disguised as servants and she ordered a grand new carriage, "a spacious new travelling carriage with a stove and dining table so that we can eat on our way. It is a large and handsome vehicle painted dark green and yellow with upholstery of white velvet." And yet, these episodes were not portrayed as meanness as the famous "Let them eat cake" that is attributed to her would suggest, just in the way that this is all she has ever known. On her journey through life, she changes from a pampered princess to a beautiful queen and then to one of the most reviled people of her time.

I learnt quite a few things whilst reading this book, and enjoyed it for that. It also bought back memories of my trips to Versaille and Vienna. It did not however really grab me in a "I can't put this down" kind of way. There are several of Erickson's non fiction books that I will be trying to track down as she has a very easy to read writing style, which I think was hampered a little with the diary style of writing, particularly when it came to writing background type information.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read, but not a great one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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