“Marie Antoinette Had on a White Dress and Her Hands Were Tied Behind Her Back”

So the London Times reported the execution of the ex-Queen of France on October 23, 1792. “She looked firmly round her on all sides. and on the scaffold preserved her natural dignity of mind”. For over 200 years, Marie Antoinette has continued to fascinate us: her clothes, her court life, and her intrigues. Delve more deeply into the life of the Queen and other women who were part of the French Revolution by checking out some of the library’s historical fiction, biography, and history, plus a few videos – over Messidor, Thermidor, and Fructidor (aka June, July, and August – as the summer months were renamed by the French Revolutionaries).

For the facts, Antonia Fraser’s biography Marie Antoinette the Journey is a good beginning - available in print, audio book on cd, and in a downloadable version from Listen NJ.

For fun with facts, watch the film Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst as the Queen). And then, compare the clothes of Kirsten/Antoinette to the 18th century fashions described in glorious detail in Queen of fashion: what Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber. Many novelists have been inspired by the Queen. The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette: a Novel by Carolly Erickson covers Marie from her Viennese childhood to the days before her execution as does Sena Jeter Naslund’s abundantly historically detailed Abundance: a Novel of Marie Antoinette.

Only one child of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette survived the revolution, their daughter Marie-Thérèse, and you can read about her difficult life in Marie-Thérèse, child of terror: the fate of Marie Antoinette's daughter, a biography by Susan Nagel.

Yet, not every aristocratic woman in France faced the guillotine – some only came to the edge. For “amid all these pleasures we were laughing and dancing our way to the precipice” wrote Lucie de La Tour du Pin, lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette, eyewitness to the French Revolution and later, the fall of Napoleon, wife of a Marquise, and at one point attendant to the Napoleon’s Empress Josephine. Her incredible life is described by Caroline Morehead in Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie de La Tour du Pin and the French Revolution. Lucie even farmed for a few years in upstate New York - selling butter embossed with a coronet. If you want to read even more about Lucie de La Tour, there is the novel based on her life by Sheila Kohler Bluebird, or The Invention of Happiness.


In Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France read about fascinating women who played roles during the Revolutionary era: Germaine de Stael, authoress of one of the early Revolution’s constitutions, Manon Roland, a supporter of the Revolution, who did not survive its excesses, the political activist Theroigne de Mericourt, Pauline Leon, a chocolate-maker, feminist and revolutionary, the beautiful, Theresia de Fontenay, imprisoned by Robespierre, and Juliette Récamier, icon of neoclassic art, and after whom the récamier sofa is named!

For a completely unhistorical, but Gothic thrill, curl up with the Alexandre Dumas short story The Slap of Charlotte Corday in Demons of the night: tales of the fantastic, madness, and the supernatural from nineteenth-century France where the guillotined, but still chatty head of Charlotte Corday has a few thoughts to share – remember she stabbed the Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat to death in his bathtub.


So kick back in your récamier and read the revolution!






-Karen S.

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