Review: Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles

Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, Austria-France, 1769 (The Royal Diaries)Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles
by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles / 0-439-07666-8

"Marie Antoinette" was the first Royal Diary I read and, as such, I have it to thank for hooking me on this wonderful series. Re-reading it again, years later, I have to confess that I still think that this is one of the best offerings in the series.

Many, perhaps most, readers will have limited knowledge of Marie Antoinette past vague recollections of cake. I was surprised and pleased to come to know her as a girl over the course of this book, as she struggles as a young girl with her natural inclinations towards youthful vacuousness and vanity. She seems desperately aware, on some level, that a proper queen should do and be more than she is - should accomplish something greater than card games and endless parties - but the system into which she is thrust forbids her to be anything more than a public novelty, right down to the nightly observations of the royal dinner, and the barbaric practice of crowding publicly into the private bedchambers to witness the birth of royal children.

The story of Marie Antoinette is shown here to be a tragic story of two young people who were doubly cursed with neither the inherent spirit nor the proper training to rule. The monarchy had been slouching into a terrible state of disrepair for generations, culminating in a court that cost heavily (with constant parties, expensive decorations, and fantastic expenses) and yet provided almost nothing. Young Marie, fresh from the small, simple, informal, and above all frugal court of Austria, is dazzled by the size of the court, shocked by the astonishing list of rules and regulations she must memorize (right down to who may hand her a nightgown), hurt by the frosty family politics she must navigate, and overwhelmed and eventually inured to the incredible amount of excess with which she is surrounded.

A strong woman, perhaps, might have taken the throne and affected some changes - cut expenses, perhaps, despite custom and appearances. Yet the Marie here is shown to be neither evilly indulgent nor strong enough to resist the pull of luxury - she is, in the end, just a normal girl placed in a situation that very few could handle. As such, this book is approachable to all readers for, though we sometimes cannot imagine being a princess, most of us can remember (or are currently experiencing, in the case of younger readers) the pitfalls of youth.

~ Ana Mardoll

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