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Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles; Austria-France 1769 (The Royal Diaries)

Review

Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles; Austria-France 1769 (The Royal Diaries)

Marie Antoinette, one of the most renown queens of France, began life in 1755 as Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, the youngest daughter of Maria Theresa, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire in Vienna, Austria. She is a sweet and intelligent child when this book begins, and she lives a privileged but disciplined life. It's a privileged life because she lives in winter palaces and summer palaces, and if there is not enough snow to play in, her mother orders it to be delivered from the mountains. It's a disciplined life because she is going to marry Louis Auguste, the Dauphin, which is the future king of France, and she must learn many things to prepare to be the Dauphine, the future queen of France. She must learn how to read and write in French, how to play card games, and how to dance and even walk as a French queen must do. She must learn all the etiquette of the French Court, such as which servant may hand her underwear to her and which servant may pass the soap to the servant who may wash her body when she bathes.

Everything is very complicated, and a lot of it seems silly to her, but Maria is excited about her upcoming marriage, and she studies hard to learn all that she must do. As the time gets closer when she must leave Austria, however, things get darker and darker. She overhears remarks that worry her, such as hints about a woman in the French Court. She begins to wonder who she is becoming. She knows that she must always sparkle and smile, no matter how she feels, because she is always on display and never able to show her true feelings. She must sign the Acts of Renunciation, renouncing all claim to her birthright as an heiress to her family's throne, on behalf of herself and any future children. Her name is changed to Marie Antoinette. She is informed that when she leaves her country, she can take nothing of her own with her --- none of her favorite servants, or personal possessions, or even her clothes. At first her mother tells her that she can't even take her dog, Schnitzy; but she begs for him, and the French and Austrian officials change their minds about that.

When she arrives at the border between Austria and France, she must enter a building where she will be delivered to the French. Half of the building is on Austrian soil and half on French soil. She is officially handed over, the Austrians leave, and she is left alone with French strangers. She must go into a room where her Austrian maids tell her to undress; then she must walk naked through a door to the French side of the building, where her new French servants will dress her in French clothes and take her away.

As difficult as all this is, her life in the palace of Versailles is worse than anything she could have imagined. The people in the French Court are shallow and disgusting. Nobles urinate against marble walls and people pretend not to see. The beautiful palace stinks worse than the sewers. The king's mistress, Madame du Barry, is a coarse woman from the lower classes, and she hates Marie. She may even be trying to poison her. Marie refuses to speak to her, and this causes political problems between Austria and France. Marie's husband, who is only 15, has dirty fingernails, a pimply face, and ill-bred manners. Even from Vienna, Marie's mother controls her, telling her how she must behave in order to do her duty to Austria.

Almost worse than anything else is the lack of privacy at Versailles. Noble men and women pay bribes to come to the Dauphine's bedchamber and watch her servants apply her rouge and style her hair. The royal family and leading courtiers must attend the king's rising in the morning, to watch his servants tell him what he will wear and dress him. The members of the royal family are nothing but animals in a zoo to the nobles --- their entertainment --- to be watched whatever they do.

The book ends when Marie is 15, before she becomes queen in 1774, at the age of 18. After a difficult time in power, Marie's life ended on October 16, 1793, during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution (so-called because, in 10 months, the revolutionaries executed 15,000 people --- about 50 people every day). Queen Marie Antoinette was beheaded by guillotine for being an enemy of the revolution. She was 37 years old.

Like the other titles in this book series, MARIE ANTOINETTE is written in diary form, spanning Marie's life from age 13 to age 15. The book contains paintings of Marie as a lovely child, a glorious queen, and a condemned woman on her way to the guillotine. It includes historical summaries of her life, her children, and the times. It is beautifully bound and engrossing to read. You will enjoy reading about the customs and clothes, but most especially about how Marie handled the challenges of her childhood marriage with grace, kindness, and great courage. History has not always been kind to Marie Antoinette. This book reveals a little of how she became the queen she was, and something of what she could have been if not for the arranged marriage she had to endure.

Reviewed by Tamara Penny on April 1, 2000

Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles; Austria-France 1769 (The Royal Diaries)
(Royal Diaries #15)
by Kathryn Lasky

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2000
  • Hardcover: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
  • ISBN-10: 0439076668
  • ISBN-13: 9780439076661