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Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman by Stefan Zweig: A Book Review

Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman
Author: Stefan Zweig
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Release Date: 2010
Pages: 590
Source: Edelweiss/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Life at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette has long captivated readers, drawn by accounts of the intrigues and pageantry that came to such a sudden and unexpected end. Stefan Zweig's Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman is a dramatic account of the guillotine's most famous victim, from the time when as a fourteen-year-old she took Versailles by storm, to her frustrations with her aloof husband, her passionate love affair with the Swedish Count von Fersen, and ultimately to the chaos of the French Revolution and the savagery of the Terror. An impassioned narrative, Zweig's biography focuses on the human emotions of the participants and victims of the French Revolution, making it both an engrossingly compelling read and a sweeping and informative history. 

     My Review: Marie Antoinette is one of history’s most famous queens. Yet, Stefan Zweig’s classic biography of this queen tells us that if it was not for the French Revolution Marie Antoinette would most likely be forgotten in history. She would have been like many other French queens that came before her. Stefan Zweig also states that Marie Antoinette was neither a great woman nor a woman who deserved to be hated by the Revolution. Instead, Marie Antoinette was just an average woman who was thrust into the spotlight that the French Revolution cast upon her.

   It is obvious that Stefan Zweig had no love for his subject. He portrays her faults and is very critical of her personality. Marie Antoinette is often portrayed as vain, selfish, and a scatterbrain. She enjoys dancing, card games, and plays. She was pretty, charming, and pleasure-seeking. He states that she was always in her own little circle of friends and never reached out to the aristocracy or the poor. This caused her dislike among the aristocracy and the poor. When the time came for the French Revolution. no one wanted to help her. In the French Revolution, she becomes heavily involved in politics and has good diplomacy skills. Despite her adept skills in politics, she was too late. Stefan Zweig has also portrayed Marie Antoinette as haughty. Yet, in the French Revolution, her haughtiness becomes her charm and her strength.

    Overall, this was a very detailed biography on Marie Antoinette. While it is a biased biography, it gave me some insight into the people in Marie Antoinette’s life, especially her enemies. I got a better sense of which of her enemies were secret royalists and which were not. Even though Stefan Zweig wrote this biography in the 1930s, it is still mostly accurate. Most of the questions he debates about Marie Antoinette are still being discussed today. It is also very thorough and answers many questions about her life. The writing was very witty, engaging, and humorous at times. I found myself laughing at a couple of his passages. Therefore, Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman reads like a novel. Even though there were a few ideas about Marie Antoinette that I disagreed with, there was a lot of information to be enjoyed. Thus, I recommend this for any Marie Antoinette enthusiast. While Stefan Zweig’s description of Marie Antoinette can be off-putting for of her sympathizers, it is still a worthy read. You can still see why Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman is a beloved classic.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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