Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette by Carolyn Meyer

The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette by Carolyn Meyer

In the 18th Century, Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen (Antoinia) is the youngest daughter of the formidable Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Strict, politically astute, and demanding, the Empress seeks to arrange the most beneficial marriage for her youngest daughter. At the age of 12, on the brink of entering womanhood, Antonia is promised to Louis-Auguste, Dauphin of France, son of King Louis XV. In preparation for the wedding, the Empress subjects Antonia to intense training, which included painful operations to straighten her teeth, lessons in French and etiquette, dancing, and fittings for a most elaborate wardrobe.

On May 7, 1770, Antonia was officially handed over to France to marry the Dauphin, leaving behind all that she knew of her life and relinquishing her Austrian heritage. Maria Antonia is transformed to Marie Antoinette. She is wed by proxy to her new husband and is brought to the court of Versailles where everything is new and strange. Court etiquette is so cumbersome, its rules so intricate and smothering, that she finds herself immediately unhappy, restrained beyond her imaginations. To make matters worse, she soon learns of her unpopularity with the French who dub her “Autrichienne” (The Austrian bitch).

Although a friendship blooms between her and her new husband, lovemaking does not occur and Marie-Antoinette soon faces additional pressures to produce an heir. Seven years after their marriage, she delivers a daughter. Thereafter, several more children including two male heirs.

After several years, her frustration with court life reaches a crescendo and she decides to shun the stifling rules of the court and indulges herself. She orders elaborate new gowns and creates a towering new hair style. Amidst numerous parties, she learns to ride horses and wears breeches to do so. She even commissions the creation of an entire farm village complete with servants and architectural structures. Her spending knows no bounds. And all the while, the French people grow poorer, hungrier, and angrier.

This is the first novel I’ve ready by Carol Meyer, but it won’t be the last. It was one of the best novels of Marie Antoinette I’ve encountered. Although it is considered a Young Adult novel, it transcends all demographics and will appeal to adults too.

To research this novel, Carolyn Meyer travelled to Marie Antoinette’s homes in Austria and France. She walked the hallways of the castles and gardens to obtain the essence and a deep understanding of this fascinating woman of history. The result – a credible, profound story told in first person narrative that portrays Marie Antoinette’s life in a credible, larger than life way. The novel covers her life from her early youth to the day of her death. Her portrayal of this tragic queen who was so young and naive and ill prepared for the intrigues of the court is truly poignant and beautiful. A must read for women of all ages!