History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

03 November 2010

Happy 255th Birthday, Marie Antoinette!

On November 2, 2010, history buffs and Francophiles the world over, as well as those who still refer to Louis XVI's beheaded consort as La Reine Martyre, or "the martyred queen,"celebrated the 255th birthday of Marie Antoinette.

I am still, well, neck-deep in revisions for my novel on Her Majesty, so this will be a visual post in her honor. I fell in love with Marie Antoinette during my research on her marriage to Louis Auguste, the dauphin of France (and future Louis XVI) for NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES

Many of the negative opinions I had long held about her were exploded by the facts, and by a deeper look with sympathetic eyes into the circumstances that shaped her -- foreign and domestic, social and political, those that came from her own powerful Hapsburg family and those that came from her equally powerful Bourbon in-laws. It spurred my passion to turn my novelist's pen to her story. Much indeed has been written about her, but my research uncovered content and ideas that have never before been explored in the realm of historical fiction, and those became my springboard.

Marie Antoinette was one of many famous women throughout history who became famous for reinventing themselves through their physical appearance; allowing fashion to make the statement for them.
Madonna and Lady Gaga have merely taken their cues from the queen of them all.

Do you have any opinions of Marie Antoinette? Did you once have certain opinions of her that were changed in some way by something (The Antonia Fraser biography? The Kirsten Dunst movie? Another source?)
And Happy (slightly belated) birthday, Your Majesty. We all know that you never uttered the phrase "Let them eat cake," but may we please have a slice, in your honor?


Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

As you know, Marie and I share a birthday and I dressed up like her last year at Lady Jane's. I've read many biographies of her, including the Stefan Zweig and I have a review planned of the Norma Shearer film. I guess the greatest discovery for me, was how young she was and how ill-prepared for her role when she first arrived in France. Like many women, she finally grew up, but gossip and propaganda refused to see the changes. It was much easier to tar and feather her so to speak,k than to see that she had moved beyond the frivolous young girl. I'm still dying to own the Marie Antoinette Barbie. Anyone have $400?

9:29 AM  
Blogger Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Leslie,
Thanks for the visual tour. I don't really have an opinion one way or the other about Her Majesty, but your description made me think of the singer Madonna. She's reinvented herself many times through fashion. And like Marie, some love her and some...not so much.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Happy belated birthday to you, too, Kerri! I drool over that $400 MA Barbie as well, but it feels like one of the queen's more frivolous extravagances, when I think that same $400, if I had it to spare, could go to, oh, research books, or a night in Paris. Now there's an idea. Or 2 bottles of 1999 Cristal.

Thanks for stopping by, Tracey! In my view, Madonna's greatest talent lies in her ability to promote herself and her reinvention is all a part of it. When her public seems to be tiring of an image, she changes it. Marie Antoinette changed her appearance through fashion for different reasons at different times in her life. She famously said "I am terrified of being bored," and that was one reason. Another was when her p.r. was bad, she reconceived her image. Criticized for her extravagance, she began dressing like a milkmaid. Criticized for dressing like a milkmaid (and infuriating the French silk merchants), and later deciding that once she hit the age of 30 she was too old to pull off the filmy virginal "Gaulles," she began dressing in simple, regal velvet gowns in jewel tones.

5:35 PM  
Blogger elena maria vidal said...

Wonderful post! A Happy Birthday to our Queen!

6:03 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I've always found her to be a very sympathetic character. If not for the stupidity of her husband, it's quite likely she and the children would have escaped and then returned to reign again.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous kathrynn dennis said...

I am curious, Leslie---why is she so often depicted with hair (wigs) that were grey? Was grey the fashion? I see sometimes the wigs were white, but apparently grey hair, even grey wigs, were not considered a sign of aging.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Welcome, Elena Maria! I'm so glad to see you here. For my fellow hoydens and readers, Elena Maria Vidal is the author of a beautiful, lyrical novel of Marie Antoinette and the other women in her life, titled TRIANON.

I would not necessarily characterize Louis as "stupid," Isobel, but he was excessively stubborn. He certainly believed himself to be the captain of his ship and when he had opportunities to bail (long before the ill-fated flight to Varennes in 1791), he insisted on staying put. I would agree that he truly had no comprehension of the large picture of the revolution, having been so insulated and having never traveled -- not only around his kingdom, but even around his capital city. Throughout his reign he was surrounded with ill-chosen ministers.

Another thing to consider about the notion of escape is Marie Antoinette's view of it. She was raised to believe in the divine right of kings and (again, until Varennes), believed in staying put, as long as the king intended on remaining in France. They would not abandon their kingdom to the revolutionaries. And she was a devoted wife who insisted that her place was beside her husband. If he decided that the best thing to do was to remind their subjects who was in charge, and that it would be a sign of cowardice and capitulation to flee, then her place was beside him, and she strongly believed in keeping the family together at all costs.

For all the gowns and jewels and parties, she was a devoted wife and mother and family came first.

Kathrynn, according to my research, the women and men of Marie Antoinette's era powdered their own hair (and sometimes the powder was tinted in a pastel, or a gray shade). Although I'm thinking that white (or gray) powder over most hair colors would tend to make it appear gray anyway. Our resident costume maven, Isobel, may be more up to snuff, as it were, on why gray was the color of choice -- or why one wore pomade and powder at all. Clearly, the pomade and powder of one's own hair replaced the white wigs ... but why at all, would be the question.

Time for me to hit the books again! :)

6:21 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Hair powder came in many colors, but the most commonly used were white and blue (both of which come out looking gray). And yes, they powdered "their own hair", but "their own hair" was often combined with numerous additions and "improvements" (wigs, poofs, wiglets, fringes, etc.). This was true fro large parts of history, including the 18th and 19th centuries (even during the Regency, women sometimes wore wigs, and not just old women).

9:49 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Leslie! I've always been quite sympathetic to Marie Antoinette as well (while also being quite sympathetic to a number of revolutionaries). La Nuit de Varennes was probably the first film that brought her to life for me. And there was a wonderful exhibit of treasures from the Trianon at the Legion of Honour Museum in San Francisco a few years ago.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I adored La Nuit de Varennes as well, Tracy! I think it's time to add it to my Netflix queue, since I haven't seen it since it came out.

6:43 PM  

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