Thursday, November 25, 2010

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

I learned a lot from this book.  About history, about the personal life of Marie-Antoinette, about human nature.  There were so many facts, so many interesting ideas and concepts.  So many statements that could have been true, so many affairs that might not have been true.  Marie-Antoinette and her story are one big puzzle - one that will always be difficult to solve and sort through.  (And one that will always be worth it in the end.)  No one can know which facts are true and which are not; many have been deemed false.  The most famous of Marie-Antoinette's quotes - "Let them eat cake!" - has been studied by many historians over time and most agree that is was one of the (many) lies told about her.

Marie-Antoinette was raised in Austria until she was fifteen years old, where she grew up the youngest of fifteen children.  Most had been married long before, and now was time to watch the last few sisters and brothers leave and marry the man or woman who would best protect the Austrian throne.  Antonia, as she was called in Austria, is to be married off to the dauphin of France - the next in line to the French throne.  With all the work to do to get Antonia presentable to her future husband, Antonia has no time - nor the desire - to think about what lies ahead.
When she is ready to be married, Marie-Antoinette is sent to France, where she begins her life as the dauphine of France.  But what she finds there is not what she was expecting.  At first life is rocky - adjusting to the new rules, such as wearing stays and no riding horses, and learning who it "looks good" to talk to and who it doesn't.  Then it is smooth - as soon as she gets a hang of French life, no matter how much she dislikes it, Marie-Antoinette begins to live life like she believed she was entitled to as queen of France.  She builds theaters, designs lavish gardens, makes beautiful dresses and order the most expensive of jewels.  She commits herself to gambling, wasting her husband's money away for the sake of a desire that could not be quelled.

This is only the beginning - the beginning of her downfall.  While she trying to build herself up, Marie-Antoinette only paves the way for a major failure.  After falling in love with Count Axel von Fersen but staying faithful to her husband (or so this book claims), the country begins to decline.  The people of France are poor, they have no bread, and they blame it on the gambling, wasteful queen, Marie-Antoinette.  The rumor on the streets is that when asked what to do with the poor, starving French men and women at the gates of Verseilles, the bad queen answered, "Let them eat cake!"  The people are furious, enraged, and they are going to have vengeance.

The story does not end happily.  If you are looking for sappy romance with an ending that makes everyone warm and fuzzy inside, not read this book.  However, I highly recommend it.  For those of you who like historical novels, this is a treat.  And for those of you who dislike historical novels but like romance, adventure, and intrigue, this is a treat.  The only thing that I would say against this book is that it is probably not a young man's first pick...but that's ok.  Not every book is.  And this book, while being excellently written and planned out, is not for young readers.  Marie-Antoinette's life is very PG-13...from the things she did to the things that people said she did to the things that happened to her.  Not only is this book fairly violent (more than I was expecting, that's for sure), but it holds some mild sexual comments and issues that should be considered.  Marie-Antoinette's married life and court life mostly revolved around the fact that her husband would not visit her bed, and how she didn't become pregnant until she'd been married for around seven years.  Her husband's lack of desire and actual fear of "the act" (as it is called) is often discussed; and Marie-Antoinette's almost-affair with Count Fersen is touched up on a bit.  Menstrual cycles and other couples' happiness in marriage (or unhappiness, for that matter) are alluded to.  These topics are crucial to the story and the facts of Marie-Antoinette's life, and Meyers handles them with great care.  However, because they are more mature topics, I think this book is geared toward teens fifteen and older.

If I could sum up this entire book in one word, I'd choose the word chilling.  It was excellent, but it made my heart race and goosebumps form on my arms.  Especially the end.  I couldn't believe the incredible ability with which Carolyn Meyers relates the last few years of Marie-Antoinette's life.  It was cold, depressing, and full of sorrow.  It really happened.  The life of this bad queen was not meant to end happy, and the way Carolyn Meyers portrays it is so realistic that I cannot help but believe that this is almost exactly how the queen of France and her family must have felt as she and her husband faced their deaths at the dreaded Madame la Guillotine.

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