Marie Antoinette : the journey

by Antonia Fraser

Paper Book, 2001




New York : N.A. Talese/Doubleday, c2001.


France's beleaguered queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous "Let them eat cake," was the subject of ridicule and curiosity even before her death; she has since been the object of debate and speculation and the fascination so often accorded tragic figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted, privileged, but otherwise unremarkable child was thrust into an unparalleled time and place, and was commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in history. Antonia Fraser's lavish and engaging portrait of Marie Antoinette, one of the most recognizable women in European history, excites compassion and regard for all aspects of her subject, immersing the listener not only in the coming-of-age of a graceful woman, but also in the unraveling of an era.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member cabegley
As a kid, I really enjoyed biographies, but I have only just gotten back into reading them recently. I have particularly fallen in love with Claire Tomalin, whose biographies of Jane Austen and Samuel Pepys captivated me over the past few years. Antonia Fraser didn't grab me with that same intensity, but her biography of Marie Antoinette was solid, if light on in-depth analysis and broader context.

Fraser paints an extremely sympathetic portrait of Marie Antoinette, a caring family woman who was dreadfully wronged and maligned in her time and for the over 200 years since her violent death. While I would have preferred a more balanced look at the Queen's life (while she surely wasn't the sole, or even a major, cause of France's economic woes in the latter part of the 18th century, Marie Antoinette's lavish spending and her attempts to forward Austria's interests in French politics certainly didn't help matters), I appreciated the side of the story I did get. Married off to the French Dauphin at the age of 14, the youngest Archduchess of Austria was sent by carriage away from her beloved family, home, and friends to a 16-year-old husband who vastly preferred hunting to being with his new wife. Living in a highly ritualized, rigid court existence where her every move was watched--some to copy, and others to condemn--Marie Antoinette endured the humiliation of seven years of unconsummated marriage that was earnestly discussed by everyone from her mother (in scolding letters to her) to the pamphleteers (who speculated, wrongly, on her finding sexual consolation with many of the men and women of her inner circle). Is it any wonder she turned to an increasingly frantic party lifestyle?

When Marie Antoinette and the mild, indecisive Louis XVI finally became truly man and wife three years or so into his reign, and (most importantly) started producing heirs, their domestic tranquility would have turned them into no more than a brief paragraph in French history if not for the Revolution. It was only under extreme adversity that Marie Antoinette came into her own, showing strength and courage through four long years of terror.

Fraser's epilogue lays out the analysis that I longed to have ongoing in the book, which was filled instead with too many portents of doom ("In her enjoyment of Figaro, Marie Antoinette could not imagine the consequences to her personally of the piece's wild popularity . . .") for my taste. And I longed for a timeline and a "Cast of Characters" to help me keep everything straight. All in all, though, Ms. Fraser's exhaustive research makes this a worthwhile read.
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LibraryThing member thom001
The French queen who emerges from the pages of Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey is a sympathetic figure, a well-meaning yet flawed woman tragically caught up in political and social forces beyond her control. In this biography, Fraser achieves an effective mixture of exhaustive research and engaging storytelling, weaving together the documentary evidence to produce a rich narrative of the Austrian archduchess who became a French queen. A reading of this work enhances the viewing of Sofia Coppola's 2006 film Marie Antoinette, based rather closely on the first two-thirds of Fraser's book, up to the day when the royal family was forced to decamp from Versailles to Paris; symbiotically, a viewing of the Coppola film brings many of the characters and events described by Fraser vividly to life, illustrating key episodes in Marie Antoinette's reign as dauphine and queen consort of France.

One failing of Fraser's biography arises from the very complexity of its subject. Even though the author includes a number of supplementary aids to understanding the history – genealogical charts, a map of 18th-century Europe, a detailed index – the sheer number of characters and the overwhelming complexity of French revolutionary politics sometimes make events difficult to follow. Additional appendices, for example a list of major historical figures and a simplified timeline of events, would help the reader in making sense of all the details of the narrative. But even without them, Fraser has skillfully accomplished a remarkable feat. She breathes new life into a legendary historical figure who lost hers over two centuries ago, and in doing so she makes the story of Marie Antoinette and the history of her times as compelling as any adventure novel, as touching as any romance.
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LibraryThing member setnahkt
Well, she never said “Let them eat cake”, and was actually fairly kind to the poor for a person who had no idea how they lived. Her story is really rather sad – groomed from infancy to be a royal bride, she learned all sorts of court etiquette and the noble accomplishments – playing the harpsichord and virginal, embroidery, flirtation and diplomacy – but was never able to read or write with fluency. Her education apparently did not include the activities of the birds and the bees, since her brother (the Austrian emperor) had to visit the court of Versailles and have a long private talk with King Louis on bedroom activities before they had children. (One of the problems of royalty is total lack of privacy – diplomatic letters from Austrian agents in France detail exactly what the King was doing wrong, but nobody but a fellow ruler could explain it to him, and apparently Marie didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing either). About half the book takes place after the Revolution started; ironically King Louis more or less fell apart while Marie, belying her reputation as an airhead, pulled herself together and kept herself more or less intact until the end.

Antonia Fraser is, as usual, excellent and does justice to Marie Antoinette’s life and reputation. I had no particular interest in her but picked up the book on remainder – I’m glad I did.
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LibraryThing member Angelic55blonde
This is an awesome book, written on such an intriguing person in history. Marie Antoinette has gotten a bad rap throughout the years, the whole French revolution has been blamed on her, which is wrong. There are MANY MANY reasons why the revolution happened, and many don't have anything to do with her. It's a great book and the movie by S. Coppolla is also great (if you liked Clueless, you'd like this because it has an innocent air to it). The Marie Antionette in this book comes off a little more sympathetic because the reader is able to see how young and vulnerable she was. We must remember she became Queen of France at such a young, immature age and it's no wonder she had all those lavish parties. This is a great book by a great author and I highly recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member k8_not_kate
In terms of royal biographers, it doesn't get much better than Antonia Fraser, and this book is no exception. Skillfully painting Antoinette's life in a way that makes her a real person and not the surreal legend she's become, Fraser's biography shows us a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time. Having comitted the crime of not being a natural-born leader (unlike her formidable mother) and marrying a man not cut out to be king, Antoinette is introduced as a simpler, more relatable woman that popular history potrays. "The Journey" is an excellent read and a wonderful biography.… (more)
LibraryThing member Fluffyblue
This was initially a good, fast read, but as I got further into the book I found myself tiring of Marie Antoinette and wanting to read something else. It became a bit of a chore. I was disappointed because I'd always had an interest in finding out more about her since I saw a documentary on Blue Peter was I was very young.
LibraryThing member PCorrigan
My Amazon review:
Wow, another (also her Mary Queen of Scots) outstanding female biography of a very misunderstood person of history. I think Fraser struck a good balance between speculation and fact. You cannot write a biography that holds much human interest without make some forays into the speculative arena. So maybe she was 'with' Fersen, maybe not. Does it matter all that much? Fraser does her best to present the whole person of Marie Antoinette, but she emerges from these pages as a real heroine, standing in awesome dignity amidst the increasing abuse heaped upon her. Think about it, married into the insanity of the French Court at 15 and expected to figure all that out AND grease the wheels of 18c international diplomacy? So she escaped into her Trianon and some other fairly harmless episodes (like love?) at times. But I think the evidence is convincing that she treated people with fairness and respect through her life of ups and unimaginable downs and was a loving mother and probably a true wife. My only real criticism is that the book could have used a name glossary and possibly a date chronology. There were way too many Counts and Duc's names that were almost as bad a Russian history! Knowing that a particular Duc is a brother to the King would help a lot. Altogether though I came away with great sadness. The French Revolution was despicable in so many ways but the murder of Louis and Antoinette was just indefensible on any human level. Was there ever a King murdered (much less a Queen) killed for less? As a symbol? Yikes, aren't people fun?… (more)
LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
Antonia Fraser is a biography machine; I mean that in the best possible way. Her output is prodigious and she manages to turn out a pretty consistently high quality product.
Her interpretation of Marie Antoinette avoids the cartoonish depictions of her as an uncaring monsterous slut who bled France dry for her own pleasure; nor does Fraser portray the queen as a innocent victim of circumstances, who had little or no part in her ultimate downfall. Instead Fraser skillfully charts a middle course and shows Marie Antoinette as a girl and woman who despite her advantages suffered from human temptations and failing, and despite her failings showed eveidence of real character.… (more)
LibraryThing member Suva
Fraser’s biography is often described as sympathetic to Antoinette, which at once tells us that this is something notable enough to somehow distinguish it. Marie Antoinette is still a figure who is loved and hated. When Sofia Coppola’s film based on this book first premiered in Cannes both cheers and boos were heard from the audience. It may be true that Fraser does give us a portrait that focuses more on the sinned against than sinning aspects of her life, but I would think anyone, especially the mothers among them, would find it hard not to feel sorry for Antoinette throughout most of the book.
Even though the queen spent the last four years of her life in captivity, it seems as if her life was not her own from birth. She was unlucky in many ways and was made a scapegoat for some of the massive problems France faced at the end of the eighteenth century. Fraser tells us that Antoinette’s tomb is behind black metal bars with the French fleur de lis surmounting them. If any sight could claim to summarise Marie Antoinette’s life, Fraser’s well compiled biography suggests that there is no better one than this.
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LibraryThing member triminieshelton
France's iconic queen, revered and reviled in her lifetime, has been the object of debate, speculation, legend. This portrait excites compassion and regard for the queen and offers a perceptive analysis of her times. Poor Antoinette was in a lose-lose situation from the day she set foot on French soil at the age of 14. There were many points at which things might have gone differently and yet did not, so that one senses almost the element of fate at work as in a Greek tragedy. Impressive were her unfailing grace under fire and bravery, even equanimity, when friendless and alone at the end. A true queen, and not in name only.… (more)
LibraryThing member Meggo
A well researched and interesting look at a controversial 18th century figure. Heavy sledding in the early going, this book felt like it skimmed over Marie Antoinette's latter years too lightly for my taste, although this may be due to a combination of paucity of sources and lack of activity during her imprisonment. An interesting work, but not a light read.… (more)
LibraryThing member bhowell
There are many history books and novels about Marie Antoinette, but Antonia Fraser is always better. She has the ability to write history with intelligence and accuracy yet most books are quite readable. If you would like to start reading some history in addition to historical fiction, Antonia Fraser is a great place to start.… (more)
LibraryThing member strandbooks
I read this for my book club. Otherwise I don't think I would have tackled it. I found it way too detailed in some areas and not detailed enough in others. There was so much about court life, but not enough about the pressure and stress of the people. I felt somewhat bewildered at how Marie became the scapegoat and a victim of such absolute hatred and violence.… (more)
LibraryThing member trench_wench
Fascinating. And not as much hard work as I thought it would be! Fraser presents an objectively researched account, in a very readable manner. I read about lots of things I knew, lots of things I THOUGHT I knew, and lots of things I didn't. Made watching the Sofia Coppola film more interesting too.
LibraryThing member kguris
I liked this book a lot. I had to put it down and come back to it quite often as I had so much going on in my life at the time. I also wouldn't recommend trying to read it before bed each night... Sometimes the overwhelming detail and mass of information would make my eyelids heavy :) However, the book was very informative and enlightening. I might reread some sections again later just to refresh my mind of some of the chain of events that led to the French Revolution. I feel Antonia Fraser was a just historian in presenting all sides of the story - In some respects, I feel Ms. Fraser has vindicated Marie Antoinette from some of the harsh and undue criticism still thrown at her today while also presenting the situations and decisions that set Marie Antoinette up to be the scapegoat of the aristocrats in the French Revolution, some of which were her own doing. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves well-written and well-research history.… (more)
LibraryThing member mansfieldhistory
A little hard to get through at points, but a good solid read.
LibraryThing member laceym19
Good book, very factual. Can be a bit dry but full of information. I felt it focused a little too much on the social aspects of Marie Antoinette's life, rather than the political problems of the time which made parts of the book hard to follow. It took me a long time to read but i am glad i saw it through to the end.
LibraryThing member Joles
Antonia Fraser does a great job of making history interesting. Not only does she tell the story of Marie Antoinette but she relates it to what else is going on in the world at the time and what may have caused certain events, etc.

She adds some speculation to things, but I found it easy to tell when she was taking artistic license as opposed to telling the history outright. She relates anecdotes and her resources are impressive.

I read the book because I saw the movie (starring Kirsten Dunst) and am very glad it brought me to the wonderful works by Antonia Fraser.
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LibraryThing member Melissande
Very nice and not so boring as some biography are
LibraryThing member fiercebunny
This is a very enjoyable and understandable biography of a time, a place and a woman. It's very accessible to non-history minded people, but would be good for history buffs as well.
LibraryThing member tairngire
An enlightening biography about one of the most gossiped about women in history. Though not necessarily a intensely in-depth history, it is both well-researched and an enjoyable read. Fraser is known for having a sympathetic view towards the Queen, yet her tone comes across as trying to right a 300 year old subject of yellow journalism and public scapegoat rather than painting her as squeaky clean. Overall a good read.… (more)
LibraryThing member catzkc
This is coming from someone who typically does not read noon-fiction. I have a hard time staying awake whenever I make the attempt. So please consider these notes in that light.

This book is obviously well-researched. I can't imagine there isn't anything about MA that isn't covered in this book. Even I can tell this historian really knows her stuff. And the reading wasn't as dry as I had feared. She is a great writer.

This book is great for not only learning and understanding about MA and her life, but also about life in the French court under Louis XV and Louis XVI, and the society, culture and politics of that time, both in France and between France and other countries.

It's really sad. They did try to change things in their own way. Make things simpler. But forces around them proved too great to surmount.

My only complaint is all the name dropping! This was my greatest struggle with this book.

It was immediately apparent to me that no way was I going to be able to keep track of all the people she mentions - with all the titles; Duc, Madame, Duchess, Comte, Comtesse, Count, Marquis, Princess/Prince. And of course it seems like most of them are named Louis, Louise, Marie, Maria, Marianne, Christine, Caroline, Therese, Theresa, Joseph, Josepha - you get the point (not that the author can be blamed for that point). One paragraph I counted had at least 14 names, not counting MA's! It's good for someone really into doing research, but that's not me. After I kind of gave in and just let that go (which is something that is really difficult for me to do - I have a need to comprehend and understand every sentence I'm reading in a book), our became a little easier. I figured I would probably recognize the most important ones when I needed to. It was most definitely worthwhile sticking it out!
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LibraryThing member mstrust
This is a nice, thick non-fiction about the life of the French queen, from birth through to her execution. It's my first bio of Antoinette so even though Fraser writes from an almost completely sympathetic angle, and that isn't to say a skewed angle, I learned so much. I didn't even know that the woman wasn't French but Austrian!
After reading hundreds of pages, seeing her go from a rather neglected Austrian princess to a neglected French princess, living through the early years of her marriage to Louis XVI, who seems to have pretended she was invisible for about the first ten years until they became so attached to each other, it really was sad to read of how they and their children were treated by the men who drove the revolution.
Bios can seem a little dry in the beginning, but I never had my interest lag in this one, and now I actually understand what led up to the French Revolution. And no, she never said, "Let them eat cake."
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LibraryThing member TGPistole
Excellent. Fascinating insight into the French royalty before and during its transient fall.
LibraryThing member LibraryCin
As a little girl, Marie Antoinette was an Archduchess of Austria. She later married Louis XVI, the future king of France. They ruled France in the late 18th century, but that came to an end via the French Revolution. They had to run for their lives, which in the end, they both lost. This is her biography, so it's nonfiction.

This was very good. I must admit to not knowing a lot about her, the time period, or the other people involved, so I learned a lot. Because I don't know as many people, at times there were a lot of people to try to keep straight, but I think Fraser did a pretty good job of at least keeping clear the main “players”. It's a long book, but it was very good. And I think it's the first I've read by Fraser. I'm sure I'll pick up more and I'll likely read more about Marie Antoinette, as well.… (more)


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