Monday, June 21, 2010

A Mother's Advice

Here is another passage from Anna Bicknell's biography of Marie-Antoinette:
Before the last heartrending embrace, Maria Theresa gave her daughter a plan and rule of life "to be read over every month." Part of this seems to be the "cut-and-dried" advice taken from a devotional book; but here and there, more particularly in a private supplement of instructions, the eager, earnest tones, evidently of the Empress herself, are in marked contrast with the rest.
 "Have no curiosity — this is a point on which I have great fears for you. Avoid all familiarity with your subordinates. Ask Monsieur and Madame de Noailles, and even insist, that they should tell you what you ought to do; and request that they should warn you sincerely of anything to be corrected in your manner or your speech, or in any other respect. Do not be ashamed of asking advice, and do nothing out of your own head. At the beginning of every month I will dispatch a special messenger to Paris; meanwhile you can prepare your letters so as to send them immediately on the arrival of this messenger. Mercy will have orders for his return. You can also write to me by post, but only on unimportant matters such as every one may know. Destroy my letters, which will enable me to write to you more openly; I will do the same as regards yours. Say nothing about domestic affairs here; there is nothing but what would be uninteresting and even wearisome. Speak of your family with truth and moderation."

Elsewhere she says very sagely: " I should in no wise be desirous of your introducing any novelties or doing anything contrary to the custom of France; you must pretend to nothing peculiar to yourself, nor quote what is done here, nor try that such should be imitated.

It seems that neither mother nor daughter burned the letters.


Julygirl said...

Sadly, being young and somewhat headstrong, she did not comply with her mother's wise admonitions. But perhaps, tragedy was inevitable in any case.

Leah Marie Brown said...

I think any woman who grew up with a domineering mother can sympathize with poor Antoinette. Though, now that I am a mother of a headstrong daughter, I can also sympathize with Maria Theresa.

Though I believe she tried to embrace French culture, Antoinette did not adhere to her mother's advice very well. Certainly her perference for Gluck did not sit well with the French.

Still, I rather appreciate her determination. She knew what she liked...

elena maria vidal said...

Also, she was familiar with subordinates, such as the Polignacs. Even Madame Campan said that the Queen was "too democratic."

Julygirl said...

I may be wrong, but I do not get the impression that Empress Maria Thresa was domineering in a negative way, but mostly guiding and structuring her children whom she loved dearly. I equate the word domineering with being more on the despotic and arbitrarily controlling side.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Julygirl. I think that the Empress's advice comes only from her concern for her daughter's success in her vocation, with all of the wisdom of her own experience in the same role.

The North Coast said...

You can see from the letters of the mother that she knew only all too well what her daughter was stepping into when she married the French crown prince. Maria Theresa must have very much regretted having ignored Antoinette's education and induction up until about 15 minutes before she was to go to France and assume one the most important roles that could be thrust upon a woman of that era.

I always felt for the impulsive, fun-loving, headstrong, independent, kind-hearted young girl who could have very little idea of what was expected of her, and how much baggage attached to being an Austrian princess in France. She really could not realize that every "faux pas" on her part had the potential to become an international incident, and she could not know who really had the power in her new home. Had the same attention been paid to her education that was lavished on that of her brother, the future Austrian Emperor, she might at least have been more politic and avoided earning the hatred of the most powerful people in the country by the time she'd been there a few years.