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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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08/21/2006 Archived Entry: "Book Review: Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette"

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette
By Sena Jeter Naslund
Published William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Publication date: October 2006

Reviewed by Kathryn Ramage

This is a sympathetic view of the Austrian-born French queen, written in the first person, beginning on the day she first arrives in France as an underdeveloped 14-year-old girl to be married to the Dauphin, and ending as she waits for the guillotine blade to descend.

It's also an attempt by the author to dispel some of the myths that have accumulated around Marie Antoinette (for example, she never said anything like "Let them eat cake."), while at the same time acknowledging some of the queen's faults and errors that led to her downfall, and the downfall of the ancien regime: her extravagances, her gambling, her financial support of favored friends, and her propensity to overlook what was going on in France and pay more attention to her games of "pretend," such as her elaborate plans for a rustic play-village within the grounds of Versailles.

Most of these faults, however, are placed in the context of a young woman distracting herself from her own impossible position: as wife of the Dauphin and later King Louis XVI, her primary purpose in life was to produce an heir, but as long as her marriage remained unconsummated, she simply didn't have the opportunity to have any children--and, of course, she was the one held responsible even though it was Louis who had the problem. Actually, he suffered from phimosis, a condition of the foreskin that makes intercourse painful if not impossible.

The novel is filled with an incredible amount of detail on the daily life at Versailles--the clothes they wore, the foods eaten, the hairstyles worn, the portraits painted, and the entrenched court etiquette--all the results of extensive research. Perhaps it's too much detail, for the book is over 500 pages, and the earlier parts of the story move very slowly. If there is a plot here, it involves waiting for the poor princess to have her marriage consummated; after 7 years of marriage, when it finally does occur, the author provides a suitably romantic and sexy scenario for the occasion.

Things begin to pick up after Louis XV dies, and the Dauphin and Antoinette become King and Queen. As the Revolution approaches, it's a swift and horrifying slide down toward their destiny at the guillotine. I think it speaks for the author's presentation of this final part of the story that, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen to the royal family after Bastille Day, I had difficulty putting the book down. The final chapters are enthralling and inescapably tragic, and worth reading even if you skip a bit on the earlier sections.

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