If a childhood crammed with fairy tales and princesses evolved into an adulthood filled with royal biographies, you quickly learned that being a princess wasn’t all flowy dresses and tiaras. In fact, the more of those biographies you read, the worse it looks. Strict upbringings (Queen Victoria), being shipped off to some foreign country where you may or may not have known the language (literally everybody), being shut up in a tower (Juana of Castile). It all makes being a peasant look better and better.
Is there a better example of the princess plight than Marie Antoinette? If so, please don’t tell me, because her story is depressing enough. I can’t handle anything worse. Immersing myself in her world (for science!) has me thinking about our collective fascination with the doomed queen. Which part do we like better, the doom or the queen? Or is it the combination of both that makes her so compelling? Would be still be talking about Icarus if he had made a successful flight? But I’ll spare you the philosophizing, which at any rate is better served alone with a glass of cognac than pinned to a blank page where it ends up squirming and looking quite small.
Every time I’ve mentioned this collection to someone IRL, their response can be summed up in one word. Cake.
Just...no. SHE LITERALLY NEVER SAID THAT. We all know that by now, right? The internet is full of very s-m-r-t people telling other people that Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake.” There’s so much proof. Like the fact that the whole story had been attributed to other royal women (it’s always the women, isn’t it?) for years and years before Marie Antoinette had even gotten to France. And there’s a whole thing about brioche vs cake that I won’t even get into. Because it doesn’t matter. Because she never said it.
It may seem like I’m getting overexcited about the cake thing. I’m not really mad at the people today who still pair that quote with Marie Antoinette (but seriously people, stahp) so much as I’m mad at the 18th century jerks who started the story in the first place. Anyone who knows me knows I can hold a grudge. Sure you’ve been dead for 200 years, but that’s NO EXCUSE. And the cake thing was the least of it. There was so much vile propaganda around Marie Antoinette that it’s crazy. Sooo many pornographic pamphlets. Not quaint 18th century porn, but straight-up gross-yes-people-were-just-as-awful-back-then-and-can-you-believe-it type porn. Google at your own risk.
Wow this took a turn. Which is probably exactly how Marie Antoinette felt when she was swanning about trying to do her queenly duties until a gang of merchant women marched from Paris and burst into Versailles out for blood. I’m not trying to put down the revolution. Let’s just say that it seems like their ire was not only misplaced but deliberately misdirected. And I have a lot of thoughts about how that happened and misogyny and the irony of the French deficit having been mostly due to their support of the American Revolution and why did Marie Therese who by all accounts was an amazing ruler of Austria raise her daughter to just do what the nearest man told her to do and also Louis XVI get it together omg.
I have a confession to make. I’ve paused my audiobook of Antonia Fraser’s The Journey with two hours left because I’m not sure I can handle the end. I want to picture Marie Antoinette at Petit Trianon milking her hand-washed cows into Sèvres porcelain buckets. I want to be her friend (you know, the one who tells you what to do and you kind of hate it but you kind of like it because she’s always right, dammit). I want to push her and frigging Louis XVI into the carriage before the Women’s March gets there (because they totally could have gotten away!). I would prefer not to end up with my head on a pike (do we even still have pikes?) like her actual best friend the Princess of Lamballe. I mean, can’t you just picture if instead of everyone getting their heads chopped off, the French royalty ended up like the Brits and how many articles there would be on fashion blogs asking “who wore it better” and they wouldn’t have to invent feuds between Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton because there would be a perfectly natural feud between the British and French royals?
In that world, everyone would talk about how Marie Antoinette wasn’t great at being queen but she did her best and she was actually a really nice person who tried to help peasants even though it wasn’t fashionable and how she had exquisite taste and contributed to the evolution of the decorative arts. I mean, they wouldn’t word it exactly like that. But you get the idea. And no one -- NO ONE -- would ever mention cake.