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Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever: A Book Review

Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France
Author: Evelyne Lever
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: 2000
Pages: 374
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Married for political reasons at the age of fourteen, Marie Antoinette was naive, impetuous, and ill equipped for the role in which history cast her. From her birth in Vienna in 1755 through her turbulent, unhappy marriage, the bloody turmoil of the French Revolution, her trial of high treason (during which she was accused of incest), and her final beheading, Marie Antoinette’s life was the tragic tale of disastrous circumstances colliding.

     Drawing upon diaries, letters, court records, and memoirs, Evelyn Lever paints vivid portraits of Marie Antoinette, her inner circle, and the lavish court life at Versailles. Marie Antoinette dispels the myth of the callous queen whose supposed response to her starving subjects was the comment, “Let them eat cake.” What emerges instead is a surprisingly average woman thrust into a position for which she was wholly unprepared, a combination that proved disastrous both for her and for France. this revealing story of how Marie Antoinette kept her dignity and courage when Fate turned its back and she lost everything: throne, children, husband, and-- in a very public and cruel execution--her life.

     My Review: Marie Antoinette has always been one of history’s most hated figures. She is known to be the evil queen of France, whose response while watching her subjects starve was, “Let them eat cake!” Indeed, my French grandmother told me stories of Marie Antoinette’s horrible evil deeds that would scare as a child. My grandmothers first words of the story was, “Marie Antoinette was evil, Lauralee, so very evil.” Indeed, at the end of her tale, my grandmother would say, “It was a good thing for Marie Antoinette to be beheaded. She deserved it because she did not care about her people.” However, in Evelyn Lever’s biography of Marie Antoinette, I got the opportunity to separate fact from fiction. It turns out that Marie Antoinette did not say, “Let them eat cake.” Instead, this book tells the tragic tale of Marie Antoinette’s life starting from her idyllic life in the court of Austria to the end of her life at the French guillotine.

     Marie Antoinette, in the beginning of the biography, is described as lazy. She did not like to study and would like to play with her siblings and put on plays. At 14, her mother used her as a pawn to strengthen Austria’s alliances with the most powerful country at that time, France. When she married the Crown Prince of France, Marie Antoinette is stubborn, judgemental, easily gullible, and naive. She makes the wrong decisions that will eventually lead to the French Revolution. During the French Revolution, we readers do admire her courage, and we feel sorry for her losing both her husband and her children.

     Overall, this is a balanced biography of Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette lived a sad life, for even at the court, there were pressures that were demanded of her, and when she did not fulfill those pressures, she was mocked, slandered, and criticized. Her life is both a horror story and a morality tale. Indeed unlike the fiction in my grandmother’s tales, I found Marie Antoinette to be a victim rather than a villain. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history, and who is interested in learning about the true story of Marie Antoinette.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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