rating: 5 of 5 stars
This historiography of Marie Antoinette is deeply researched and rich with important paradigm-shifting propositions so overdue for the story of one of the most hyperbolically, undeservingly villainized people, much less, women, in history. It's a thick read (heavily detailed), but always points to the humanity of the figures being studied- their flaws, limitations and steadfastness in light of fates they had little power to alter. It's a remarkable story of survival by a not-so-spectacular young girl funneled into roles she had no choice in, but who, though enmeshed in the hedonistic culture of 18th century France, defined herself by honor and duty, to the end. It's tragically ironic that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette should have suffered such violent deaths in a political tsunami, when as Royals, they were possibly the least controversial figures in the history of the French monarchy, if not Europe in general. You take a young man who seems to have been systematically taught how not to make a decision or think for himself, and a girl, barely educated, married off into one of the most powerful courts in Europe at the age of 14, and you end up with a King and Queen who, understandably, have little orientation or vision beyond the doors of their personal chambers. If they were terrible rulers, it was because their sphere of influence was a million times greater than their exposure or training. Tragedy lies both in the helplessness that was bred into them, and the Machiavellian portraits the scandal hungry media propagated of them.
Fraser's book is an outstanding achievement in compelling, compassionate historical biography, that continually prompts the reader toward a checks and balances system of evaluating how we label/interpret the actions of those who have gone before us.
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