Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Becoming Marie Antoinette (fiction) - alliances, intrigue, braces
On a World Wednesday, we look at what was it like before she became Queen of France.
This novel begins when she was just a little girl in Vienna, one of Empress Maria Theresa's many daughters, all destined for marriage into political alliances to benefit Austria.
As dentists put gold braces on her teeth and tutors smoothed her accent, Maria Antonia was completely refashioned into a princess in the French style, one whom the teenage Dauphin would desire as his wife.
The young strawberry-blond Dauphine despaired over many things in the unfamiliar French court, especially that her marriage to Louis-Auguste was not consummated for seven years - a male heir to the throne must be produced!
And author Juliet Grey (pseudonym of nonfiction author Leslie Carroll) reminds us that, as queen, Marie-Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake!" First book in a trilogy, to be followed by Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow in 2012.
Book info: Becoming Marie Antoinette / Juliet Grey. Ballantine Books, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]
My Recommendation: As younger daughter of the Empress, Maria Antonia knows her life path already – to be married into a political alliance someday. But as a young girl, she would rather pick wildflowers than practice foreign languages, would rather chase butterflies than learn court etiquette. To her, the French ambassador’s visit to Austria in 1766 was a surprise; his announcement that she was now betrothed to the King’s grandson was a shock! Someday, the Dauphin would become King of France – someday, this shy 10-year-old girl would reign beside him as Queen Marie Antoinette.
However, there was much to be done in the years before their wedding. Antonia’s healthy complexion had to become pale in the French manner, her crooked teeth straightened (yes, she truly wore golden braces, agonizingly painful in their beauty), her accent polished, even her hairline had to recover from all those tight-pulled ponytails of childhood.
In the meantime, smallpox claimed members of the Austrian court and threatened the Empress, another sister was promised in marriage to the far-off King of Sicily, and Antonia finally receives a portrait of the Dauphin, so handsome and serious, waiting for her at Versailles.
At the grand ceremony on the French-Austrian border, a proxy stands in for Louis Auguste who must remain with his grandfather the King of France as they are declared married and numerous treaties are signed. Maria Antonia leaves behind her childhood as she crosses the river, becoming Marie-Antoinette, a young teenager without allies in a foreign court full of intrigue.
Written as a diary, Antonia’s observations about the differences between life with her 15 brothers and sisters in Austria and the scandalous behavior of French courtiers trying to move up the social ladder at Versailles are fascinating. First in a trilogy, Becoming Marie Antoinette ends just as the Dauphin becomes King of France. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.