Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey is the third and final book in her Marie Antoinette series, published by Ballantine. This series is a delightful read, with superb writing style, details, and momentum. As well, it’s of great historical value and I believe there is nothing on the market that quite compares to her series. She portrays a true picture of Marie Antoinette, who has forever been misunderstood and misrepresented.
Here on the site today, right below this review, there is a FABULOUS interview I had with Juliet Grey, also. In it, she gives lots of history and back story to her books and Marie Antoinette, as well as reasons why you might like to read it. So I’d definitely suggest sticking around and reading through it.
It’s probably the best idea to read the Marie Antoinette series in order, as it will give you a better glimpse in her life doled out in sections. However, if you chose to try this third book first, you’d be able to read it and enjoy it as well. It picks up right at the beginning with major action that propels you quickly through the first 50-100 pages and immerses you into the time period and place of Versailles (circa 1789) and a rebellious march against the King Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette. By this time, they also have two children, who are caught up in the turmoil as the family escapes to safety. The masses seem to want to kill the Queen for her rich extravagant lifestyle (when they have no food, mother’s can’t feed their children) and because though she has lived in France before most were born, because she is from their enemy, Austria. Marie has a hard time understanding these riotious women, and then men, because they seem to always be contradicting themselves. Of course, the masses were motivated by what were probably false claims being whispered in their ears. They revere their monarchy, but then also hate them.
Grey also uses a smart technique in utilizing the character of Louison Chabry (who actually was a real person), a sculptress, who is not quite a rebel, but is a commoner marching in the women’s cause. She becomes the reader’s link to learn things that the character of Marie Antoinette couldn’t possibly relate to the reader. She told another side of the revolution, a middle ground.
I certainly learned more of Marie Antoinette by reading this series than I ever have. She was shown to me in a new light. In this third book, I felt her heart, her strength, and understood her passions and issues. She was a wonderful mother and wife (though she did also love another man), very loyal, and concerned for her children’s education and welfare. She rises above the mantra of her frivolous stereotype in this book and dons a new image for me, one of a loyal, brave, and determined woman who wants to save her family and who true cares for France.
As for writing style, Juliet Grey is magical. Her words flow and turn with a lovely, smooth cadence that is easy to read and enjoy, yet is high in content structure, grammar, and vocabulary. She writes like Michelle Moran and Sophie Perinot, with a storytelling vibe that allows you to visually see in your head as if it was being acted out on the stage. Though she should be highly regarded as an expert and her book is filled with historical research much like Philippa Gregory is known for, Grey’s writing style does not tend toward the rugged, dark, and blunt writing of Gregory, or have a non-fiction feel at all. Even though some of the content was overwhelming or sad, Grey’s writing shines through in her luscious imagery and emotional buffet that she serves us. Even though the third book was tragic in nature, Grey is able to write to allow Marie’s true personality to over shine the dire circumstances and ending. You’ll smile at the woman you’ve been able to get to know in a whole new way and connect with her on a level you didn’t know you would. It’s a true tribute to Antoinette’s life and your heart will be crushed by the end; it’s a powerful novel!! It’s a series that will remain with you as you ponder the destruction of a family that was so undeserving of such brutality (really, were any of these famous people ever awful enough to incite such awful means?) and hatred.
Confessions of Marie Antoinette gives a superb ending to a fabulous series that shows that sometimes the best cases for causes can erupt tragically changing the lives and course of history for so many. Learning about the real Marie Antoinette (Grey’s research was authentic and deep) was amazing and reminded me of how there is always so much disconnect between the wealthy and the poor, many misunderstandings that somehow end up in chaos. There is always collateral damage and senseless violence.
Grey creates prose that is like a swift running river for readers, propelling in nature, suspenseful at every turn, and powerfully emotional. If you only read a few historical books a year, I highly recommended that Grey’s series be what you read, because it’s one of those you carry around and read with one hand while doing your other life duties with the other (it’s that absorbing)!!
Stay tuned below for the amazing interview with Juliet Grey!
CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, Synopsis~
Confessions of Marie Antoinette, the riveting and sweeping final novel in Juliet Grey’s trilogy on the life of the legendary French queen, blends rich historical detail with searing drama, bringing to life the early years of the French Revolution and the doomed royal family’s final days.
Versailles, 1789. As the burgeoning rebellion reaches the palace gates, Marie Antoinette finds her privileged and peaceful life swiftly upended by violence. Once her loyal subjects, the people of France now seek to overthrow the crown, placing the heirs of the Bourbon dynasty in mortal peril.
Displaced to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, the royal family is propelled into the heart of the Revolution. There, despite a few staunch allies, they are surrounded by cunning spies and vicious enemies. Yet despite the political and personal threats against her, Marie Antoinette remains above all a devoted wife and mother, standing steadfastly by her husband, Louis XVI, and protecting their young son and daughter. And though the queen and her family try to flee, and she secretly attempts to arrange their rescue from the clutches of the Revolution, they cannot outrun the dangers encircling them, or escape their shocking fate.
Author Juliet Grey, Biography~
Juliet Grey is the author of Becoming Marie Antoinette and Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow. She has extensively researched European royalty and is a particular devotee of Marie Antoinette, as well as a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit.
She and her husband divide their time between New York City and Washington D.C.
For more information please visit www.becomingmarie.com.
INTERVIEW with JULIET GREY~
Oh, for the Hook of a Book warmly welcomes author Juliet Grey! We are very happy that you are here to discuss your work and writing. The third book in your Marie Antoinette series, called Confessions of Marie Antoinette, released this week to great reviews and I look forward to learning all about it.
Juliet: I’m delighted to be here!
Erin: Wonderful! Let’s find a comfortable place to grab a hot drink and chat!
Juliet: Marie Antoinette would have enjoyed what they would have called “drinking chocolate”—somewhat like our hot chocolate, only bittersweet.
Erin: That would have to be my favorite drink ever, now. Sounds lovely!
Q: What inspired you to first write about Marie Antoinette? Did you plan your first book, Becoming Marie Antoinette, in order for it to be a series?
A: I always saw the book as a trilogy (and it was sold as a trilogy). The sections and events of her life neatly fit into three parts: the events of her childhood in Austria and the years before she became dauphine of France—the former, in particular, which are rarely given much page time in any detail in other novels about her life (book 1); her years as queen, including the two-year con and seminal event (the affair of the diamond necklace) that hastened her downfall (book 2); and the years after the fall of the Bastille that chronicle the French Revolution and led to the end of the monarchy and the execution of the sovereigns (book 3).
Q: You’ve done an amazing amount of research. What kinds of tactics does it take in order to really delve into research of an historical person like Marie Antoinette?
A: Massive amounts of reading of numerous biographies of the key personages involved as well as books about France and Austria during the eighteenth century and the French Revolution, books on the culture and architecture and fashion of the times; and perhaps most important of all, quite literally walking in the footsteps of my characters, visiting the places they lived to soak up the atmosphere, listening to the music these historical figures would have heard, and even wearing the type of clothing Marie Antoinette wore, right down to the corsets, as well as learning to execute the walk , known as the Versailles Glide, that was unique to the noblewomen of the French court. And, yes, I did the Versailles Glide through the halls of Versailles. My husband cupped his hand to his face to pretend he didn’t know me.
Q: Did you discover anything during research that you were surprised about? Did you uncover any details that you just knew you needed to tell the world about? Something that might enlighten the common notions about Marie or someone involved in her life?
A: EVERYTHING! Many of the preconceived notions I had held about Marie Antoinette and her husband the future Louis XVI, before I began to research them in depth for the trilogy—the sort of things you learn in middle school and high school textbooks, for example (the ludicrous attribution of the “Let them eat cake” quote for starters, which is STILL repeated by journalists today without checking the facts!) was incorrect or skewed. It’s famously said that history is written by the winners and Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were two of the 18th century’s biggest losers. The propaganda that was disseminated about them at the time, designed to discredit them, made its way into the history books. As a result, twenty generations of schoolchildren have parroted it as fact. I felt so impassioned about setting the record straight. Let me state that I have not written a different Marie Antoinette (and Louis) in the sense of creating an alternate history or version of the woman people think they know. I have written the factual, actual characters, which, yes, do often contradict the information that what I call “bad history,” (meaning propaganda, not grounded in fact and truth) have handed down to posterity.
Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in coronation robes by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775
Q: If people are semi-curious about Marie Antoinette, what do you feel are some reasons that you can tell readers about why they should consider taking a look at your series? What might they learn or enjoy?
A: If readers enjoy the glamour and atmosphere of the French court during the second half of the 18th century, complete with all its intrigue and backstabbing, as well as the glittering jewels and glamorous gowns; and they are interested in the history of the time, including how the French Revolution came about (because it didn’t happen in a vacuum) as well as how the French monarchy itself both contributed to its own downfall and helped to stave it off, then the novels should intrigue them. In the first book, readers will learn about the amazing transformation that Marie Antoinette had to undergo in order to become dauphine, information in great detail (which features her actual “Pygmalions,” who, I researched) and which they will not find in most other books about Marie Antoinette’s life because there isn’t enough page space to discuss it in a single novel format. Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, my middle novel, allows readers to see how much of an influence the Americans had on the French monarchy, when Benjamin Franklin came, hat in hand, so to speak, to request their aid for the American Revolution. That’s another detail that readers won’t often find in other novels about Marie Antoinette because there’s no space for it in the single novel format.
Additionally, in a trilogy I have the luxury of allowing her relationship with the Swedish diplomat Axel von Fersen to develop over time so that things between them blossom organically. And in the final novel, Confessions of Marie Antoinette, I have the space to show how the royal family was degraded, step by step, and how the Revolution gained momentum. I also show another perspective, through the eyes of a young woman who was an eyewitness to events Marie Antoinette could not have been privy to—a young sculptress who took part in the notorious Womens’ March on Versailles in October 1789. In Confessions, Louison Chabry, an actual person who is a mere footnote to history, has the perspective of an average subject of the king and queen, rather than that of the rabid revolutionary, yet she is swept up in the bloody tide of events. In essence, having more pages to tell Marie Antoinette’s story allowed me the chance to introduce lesser known events of her life, rather than jumping from one “greatest hit” to the next, with little chance for character development or for events to unfold so that readers can gain a fuller understanding of how the revolution came about and how Marie Antoinette came to be the scapegoat for the nation’s ills.
Q: France and Austria did not have a friendship in the 1700s. For readers who don’t know, how did Marie (who was the daughter of Austrian parents–Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa–who became herself Empress of Austria in the late 1700s) aspire to and become Dauphin and then Queen of France? How was she accepted?
A: France and Austria had been enemies for 950 years before the Empress Maria Theresa and Louis XV of France signed the marriage contract to wed her youngest daughter to his grandson and heir. A few strokes of a pen could not blot out nearly a millennium of enmity. Unsurprisingly, there were many at the French court, including most of Louis’s relatives (particularly his three maiden aunts, led by his aunt Adélaïde) who were adamantly against the marriage of Marie Antoinette and the dauphin from the time it was a pipe dream of Louis XV’s politically-minded mistress Madame de Pompadour. So from the moment Marie Antoinette set foot in France at the age of only fourteen, she had entered, without knowing it, a viper’s nest. And her ordinarily astute mother had no inkling that her husband Louis Auguste’s aunts were snakes in the grass and wished her ill. She had been told that they would be good role models, pious and virginal as they were, and so she encouraged her daughter to rely upon their counsel at court. It was in fact Adélaïde who coined the nasty nickname “l’Autrichienne” (the Austrian bitch)—a pun on Marie Antoinette’s nationality as well as the French word for a female dog; it was also a pun on the word ostrich), and who encouraged her to snub the king’s beloved mistress Madame du Barry, which got her off on the wrong foot with the monarch—her husband’s grandfather and the man she most needed to befriend at court.
Q: Always a question of discussion, did she start the French Revolution? Why or why not?
A: Of course not. The queen’s penchant for shopping (the number of pairs of shoes, gloves, fans, and garments a queen had for various occasions and seasons was set by royal protocol before she arrived) hardly bankrupted the country. But her detractors didn’t let little things like facts get in the way of their need to condemn her for every ill afflicting France for decades even before her birth, including events that were obviously out of her control such as bad harvests! For several reasons France was already bankrupt long before Marie Antoinette stepped onto French soil in May of 1770. Louis XV had run up enormous debts. His court and his government spent lavishly and on credit, the entire royal family spending well beyond their means, never called to account by their cowed creditors. The treasury hadn’t paid for the French and Indian War (as it is known in North America, and elsewhere as the Seven Years’ War)—fought when Marie Antoinette was still a child in Austria. She was less than a year old when it began!
Moreover, for centuries, the French had a system of taxation that exempted the first two of their social structure’s three Estates—the Clergy and the Nobilty—who were also, historically, the only two groups with any money. Consequently, only the middle class (the bourgeoisie) and the poor were taxed. And both of those groups were dependent on the harvests. One bad harvest could destroy the wheat crop, which meant no bread, which meant famine for millions. And although the French king was an autocrat, his word was not quite law: his edicts had to be ratified by the 12 parlements, or judicial bodies scattered across the kingdom. And the magistrates who sat on the parlements were nobility or clergy. The last thing they wanted was to pay taxes. Therefore, even when Louis XV, and later Louis XVI, had a far-seeing progressive minister who realized that for the financial health of the realm, taxes had to be levied on the first two Estates, the parlements would refuse to ratify the royal edicts. And so the rich stayed rich while the poor kept getting poorer, taxed to pay for more wars (including funding the American War of Independence—not because the French monarchs supported revolution, but because they wanted to checkmate their age-old enemy, the English) until they had nothing left to give. No wonder they became angry. But the clever demagogues who sought to discredit Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette told the people (who had no clue how the French system of government really functioned) that the king and queen (rather than the obstructionist parlements) were their enemies and the ones responsible for taxing them to death at every turn.
Q: I think one of the things that Marie is known for is her extravagant fashion. Why is this? What type of fashion did she wear? Was she a trend setter for her time or just eccentric?
A: Although Marie Antoinette is known as history’s biggest fashionista, when she first came to the French court she had no interest in the subject and was known for treating her garments shabbily and behaving like the fourteen-year-old hoyden that she was. It was not until the rivalry heated up between herself and the king’s mistress, Madame du Barry—a woman who set the tone at court for her extravagant couture and magnificent jewelry—that Marie Antoinette finally realized she should start dressing like the first woman in France, her official rank, despite her tender age. At first, her tastes were shaped by Rose Bertin, the modiste who also catered to Madame du Barry, among other high-powered women in the kingdom. Soon, Marie Antoinette’s collaboration with Bertin became well known and they worked together to create the incredible confections, particularly the sky-high hairdos known as “poufs” associated with Marie Antoinette’s look as a young queen in the 1770s. The unaffected milkmaid look of the early 1780s with the filmy white muslin, poufy-sleeved gowns known as gaulles or chemises à la reine, were also the brainchild of Bertin.
Marie Antoinette was absolutely a trendsetter of her day and everyone wanted to copy what she wore—to the point of her critics accusing her of bankrupting the kingdom (both literally and morally) because every woman so slavishly wanted to mimic her looks that they spent all their husband’s income, and were “forced” to then take lovers who would assume their dressmakers’ bills. Marie Antoinette had a contract with Rose Bertin stating that for a certain time period after she originated a look, it would not be available to anyone else. One type of garment that Marie Antoinette favored throughout her life and which she often ordered from England, was riding habits. These comparatively unadorned costumes demonstrate her inner strength and depict her in a decidedly unfussy light. She also used fashion as public relations. In the mid-to-late-1780s when she was accused of greed and frivolity and wanted to demonstrate to the world that her chief role was that of mother, she was painted by the court painter Elisabeth Vigée La Brun in her favorite style of the time: relatively simple and modest gowns in velvet jewel tones. She looks mature and maternal, not at all frivolous.
Q: I am assuming that the series is now complete. After readers enjoy this series, what can they look forward to from you in the future? Are you planning on writing another book?
A: Yes, the series is now complete. The third and final novel in the trilogy, Confessions of Marie Antoinette, was published on September 24. I have a nonfiction title in the publishing pipeline (Inglorious Royal Marriages: A Demimillennium of Unholy Mismatrimony), scheduled to be published in November 2014. And I have several other fiction irons in the fire.
Q: What is your favorite time period in history and why? What do you feel you’ve learned from exploring that time period or place?
A: I am passionate about the 18th century—the Age of Enlightenment—where it was not only perfectly acceptable, but encouraged, for women to be educated and curious and cultured and sophisticated and strong. It was an era of thinkers and doers, of great minds and great artists in music, literature, drama, fine arts, philosophy, and even politics. It was all right to have a bawdy sense of humor. It was an era sandwiched between other ages of repression, where religion took a back seat to reason. It was all right to have frank discussions of sex: prudishness and squeamishness were both in the past and yet to come (as a backlash to 18th c. sensibilities). It was all right to question authority on issues of moral repugnance (such as slavery), and the seeds of the abolitionist movement were planted as well. Additionally, during this time, the seeds of the feminist movement were planted, with the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, among others. It was an age of Big Ideas (along with the big skirts and big hair).
Q: Have you thought of any more amazing women in history that you’d like to write a book about? If so, who and why? What women of history do you admire?
A: Under the pen name Amanda Elyot I have already written about some of my favorite historical women: Helen of Troy, Lady Hamilton (the fascinating paramour of Lord Nelson—the greatest real-life love story in British history!) and Mary Robinson (an 18th c. royal mistress/courtesan/novelist/poet/editor/early feminist). I have “met” a number of incredible women from history through my nonfiction books about the lives and loves of royalty (under the name Leslie Carroll), and frankly, almost every one of them deserve their own book. Some authors have beat me to the punch with their novels about women I’ve been dying for years to write about in fiction because I connect with them so deeply, but honestly, how many books about Nell Gwyn is a publisher willing to buy? So I’m going to keep my hand of cards close to my vest and not tip it. So, sorry—no spoilers.
Q: Do you write with an outline or free write? How do you plan your writing process and make time in your day for it?
A: When my books are about an actual historical figure then the events of their lives shape the plots of the books. I tend to do my research very “analog”: handwritten notes in notebooks and often I’ll scratch out what I want in scenes on big index cards and shuffle them around until they’re in the right order for the narrative I wish to spin. I write my actual manuscript on the computer, but I have to revise/edit anything by printing out a hard copy. I get no sense of continuity by reading a long document on a screen, and I have to handwrite my revisions and then type them into the document. I write like a shark swims: I just keep going. I only stop for food or my daily gym class and otherwise spend all day writing, from the time I get up until the time I go to bed. I’m an inveterate multitasker, so I can be writing or researching while the TV is on to the news or a favorite show.
Q: You are an actress as well. What parts do you enjoy playing? What makes you love the stage?
A: I am classically trained and love Shakespeare, G.B. Shaw, Noël Coward, Sheridan, Molière, Chekhov, Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, but I also love some of the great 20th c. playwrights., like Tennessee Williams and Tom Stoppard. I am most attracted to dramatists who love and appreciate the power and beauty of words! I love playing strong, intelligent women, and have always been drawn to the stage: it’s an opportunity to get inside another character and personality (writers do that, too, which is why both of my professions are so complementary!) and a chance to wear their clothes and walk in their shoes and explore their decisions and choices, but because there is such magic in a live performance. The audience is like the extra character in the show; from performance to performance every audience is different, so you will always have a different, spontaneous reaction. I love the immediacy of stage work; the idea that the cast and the audience shares this experience for a couple of hours in a darkened space and takes the same journey, the same thrilling ride, together, is very exciting to me. And I love getting the immediate reaction to your work from the audience, the give and take when everything is happening right in the moment.
Q: Do you prefer D.C. or New York City more? If equal, what do you like about them both?
A: NYC is my hometown and nothing will ever come close. I return as often as I can and even when I see NYC on a commercial, movie, or TV show, I get homesick for it. My family, many of my childhood friends, former cast members, my editors, and agent are there; and some of my favorite places in the world are in NYC. You can get just about anything you want there at any time of the day or night. And I love the pace and the energy. I thrive on it. The soot of the subway system is in my veins. There is nowhere in the world like Manhattan. I adore it.
Washington is fun (I love being close to Georgetown because I like the 18th c. vibe, and oh, ok, the shopping!); and it was also incredible the other week to be able to pop over to the Library of Congress to source a book I needed for my nonfiction WIP (work-in-progress). My editor needed a photocopy of a quote I had cited in the manuscript. The book was otherwise unavailable. If the Library of Congress (the main reading room is like a temple to literature!) hadn’t been just a few metro stops away from me, I don’t know what I would have done. And last December, I was one of a bunch of roving carolers who went to sing outside the back of the White House and in front of the National Christmas Tree. How cool is that? And the Smithsonian is practically in my backyard. My husband and I went to see the cherry blossoms last spring and it was an incredible experience. But even after a year, I still feel like a very blessed tourist here. New York City will always be my home.
Q: What is your favorite treat for those long nights of writing or editing?
A: I don’t tend to write or edit at night because I kind of drop off by midnight. I’m not a night owl. If I absolutely have to pull an all-nighter and slog through (I try to be a better time-manager so I don’t, though, and burn the daylight oil instead!), then I’ll burn a scented candle and drink strong black coffee (if I don’t start my day with black iced coffee strong enough to stand a spoon in, no matter the season, then I can’t get my brain up to speed fast enough). No sugary stuff (like chocolate) late in the evening; it will only make me crash. Pirate Booty white cheddar curls is a pretty good snack, though.
Q: Where can readers connect with you?
A: My website is www.lesliecarroll.com, where people can see everything I’ve written and read excerpts from my books. They can also read all about the Marie Antoinette trilogy at www.becomingmarie.com. I am on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theLeslieCarroll and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lcarrollauthor.
Q: Where can your books be purchased?
A: Wherever books are sold: in big chain and in independent bookstores, as well as the online retailers. And yes, there are on Kindle and Nook.
Erin: Thank you so very much, Juliet, for the wonderful conversation. I am honored to be able to talk with you today and I know readers will find it very informative. Best wishes on your next endeavor!
Juliet: Erin, thank you so much for hosting me, and for these insightful and provocative questions! It’s been a pleasure.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/confessionsofmarieantoinettevirtualtour
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