Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Queen of Fashion

Here is an interesting take on the book about Marie-Antoinette's clothes that came out a few years ago. To quote:
What the author does not convey, because she does not understand them, are Marie Antoinette’s more serious and abiding character traits: her faithful love for her husband at a debauched court; her emotional closeness to her children; her love for France; her bravery in captivity and at her trial; above all, her dignity in facing a deliberately humiliating death at the hands of the revolutionaries. Essentially the book peters out in 1789, when the royal family was forced to return to Paris from Versailles and to live in gilded captivity in the Tuileries palace. Though these final years, from 1789 to 1793, show the Queen at her noblest, they are the least interesting for Weber because the lavish court costume drama is over for ever. Indeed, her treatment of Marie Antoinette’s time in the Temple, where she lived before being taken to the prison of the Conciergerie after her husband’s death, is almost perfunctory.

The Queen’s last letter, written to her sister-in-law, Madame Elizabeth, in the early hours of 16 October 1793, the day of her execution, is referred to without comment, yet it is easily the source of our keenest insight into the mind and personality of this tragic woman. In it Marie Antoinette declared her love for her family, to whom she was forbidden to say goodbye; she humbly asked "God’s pardon for all the mistakes I have made"; desired forgiveness for her enemies (who had mercilessly slandered her moral reputation); finally, every inch a monarch and the daughter of an emperor, she expressed the hope that she would be able to die with courage.

The last glimpse posterity has of her is the quick sketch made by the revolutionary artist, David, as she was taken by tumbrel to the scaffold. The graceful and charming woman is shown prematurely aged by suffering, her hair white, dressed in a plain white smock and bonnet, with her hands tied behind her back. Yet her posture is erect and she sits with an aura of pathetic dignity and calm. She was much more than a "queen of fashion".