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Marie Antoinette Trilogy - Juliet Grey

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Marie Antoinette Trilogy - Juliet Grey

Post  Kaitlyn Lauren on Fri Jul 11, 2014 2:50 am

First topic message reminder :

Has anyone read the three book series on Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey? I remember being very anxious to read these upon first hearing about them!

I enjoyed the first book "Becoming Marie Antoinette" very much. The author clearly did her research and presented 18th century Versailles very well.

Young Louis and Antoinette were portrayed charmingly and very sympathetically. I enjoyed seeing how their relationship progressed. I was also glad to see an accurate portrayal of du Barry. She was considered a refined, polite woman (despite her checkered past and loose morals) and not the nasty, vulgar representation found in Coppola's film.

Speaking of which, the author claims to despise the Coppola film, yet I couldn't help but draw some similar comparisons. Her Louis appears wholly disinterested in his wife and refuses to consummate the marriage while Antoinette tries in vain to seduce him. Very reminiscent of Coppola's film. She also included the phimosis theory which is outdated, as we have discussed elsewhere on this forum.

Furthermore, she bought into the old Freudian theory of the correlations between MA's unhappiness and spending. And there were certain parts where Antoinette appeared quite shallow and immature and self absorbed as well, even as a grown woman. She also focused far too much on MA's "relationship" with Lauzun and had her with a serious crush on the man!

And Louis, while endearing, was portrayed too weakly and there appeared no attraction between the couple at all. Louis was slender, tall, and handsome during his youth and should have been depicted thus. I dislike how MA seemed to disdain her husband at first and find him almost annoying. Yes, they had different interests and it took time to know each other and grow close to one another but I don't believe it was as bad as that. She did have a gambling problem and went out late as a teenager which was fairly represented.

Overall, the first book was a promising start.

My biggest contention with the second book was the inclusion of MA's "affair" with Fersen. What was particularly off-putting is how the author had Antoinette comparing the men. She said her husband was clumsy in the boudoir and that she never felt pleasure and also apparently that he did not know how to kiss and she was still "unschooled in the ways of love." I was disgusted. This made MA sound rather cheap, even more so than in a usual extramarital affair.

Grey had her feeling guilty which was better than others might do. Yet, she is unable to stop sleeping with him and even believes Louis is to blame for not being a better lover! Antoinette also constantly complains how infrequent her husband's conjugal visits are. Well, he wasn't a sex maniac true, but they conceived a fairly good number of children in relatively quick succession so I don't think that's quite accurate. Good Lord, woman. Where do you think they came from?!

As I said, after her first encounter with her lover, it didn't end there. Fersen becomes almost an obsession for her and she cannot give him up. If she were really regretful she would have had nothing more to do with him for fear of more temptation. She also pines for him while he's away and I just can't envision that. He had mistresses and she was too independent and devoted to her family and religion to invest so heavily in an illicit relationship. It only gave credence to the belief that she went to Trianon to have sex.

I also felt that her motherhood was not as central a part as it could have been. There were some rather touching scenes involving her and Louis however after her miscarriage in 1783 and later, during the revolution, when Louis had breakdowns and their children were dying.

Overall, I was disappointed with how their relationship was portrayed. Maybe it wasn't passionate but it was devoted which I felt was lost due to the insertion of Fersen. There was not nearly enough mention of MA's turning to the ways of devotion. In fact, religion is not mentioned much at all which explains why Grey had the relationship between Axel and Antoinette consummated. The initial guilt was there but then quickly dissipated and she seemed to no longer care. She was just driven by this new experience with this handsome, more experienced man. In real life, if she did "give into passion", in a moment's weakness, I believe she would have had no more contact with him, for fear of trespassing again, as I said earlier. In this novel, she wasn't very concerned and the affair continued for gears.

I will say that the final novel was not too bad. Especially, at the end, where Louis is to be executed. He and Antoinette exchange tender words and she appears to regret not loving and appreciating him earlier until it was too late. I also did not like how the Queen was triumphant at her trial that the revolutionaries did not mention Fersen as her lover, even though, in this book, he had been.

Overall, I found the books to be interesting reads and the portrayals sympathetic, but not the best. It's hard to find good non fiction that is not too harsh on either Louis or Antoinette and even harder to find decent fiction that portrays them as a loving, devoted, and devout couple. Too many of the old stereotypes and insinuations were included in these novels as well as other books. But it was a work of historical fiction and people are allowed interpretations and an artistic license.

Wow. I didn't mean for this post to get so long! Please share what you thought about this series if you've read them. Smile
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Re: Marie Antoinette Trilogy - Juliet Grey

Post  Sophie on Mon Jul 21, 2014 6:04 pm

Bunnies wrote:You'll be walking a fine light between boring and infuriating your reader.

Of course, a balanced usage of personal and political matters would be required. I don't imagine a dry history book that is pretending to be a novel, because it also wouldn't interest anyone, including myself. I just expect a little bit of complexity, that's all. Authors like the above mentioned Druon or Graves could do it - their books are entertaining and one can also learn from them! OK, they contain fantasy, I don't say that reading historical fiction is the same as reading serious historical works, but it awakened my interest to read more about the respective historical events and people. This is one important aim of historical fiction, isn't it? From Grey's trilogy, according to the reviews, the only thing one can "learn" (or recognize) is the zweigian point of view. Not only outdated and disproved, but also totally irrelevant.

As you also stated, everything is political, but an author also can keep balance by showing the opposite parties as no good and evil, but in an equally ambivalent way. The Revolution is a perfect example: there were alleged "heroes" and "villains" on all sides (I mean, from a novelist point of view), and it's a personal choice whom/what to emphasize from them. Everything is better than missing a portrayal of something just because it's "boring". Even the most boring events can be written excitingly with a little bit of talent and a lot of hard work... Wink
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Re: Marie Antoinette Trilogy - Juliet Grey

Post  Kaitlyn Lauren on Mon Jul 21, 2014 11:55 pm

I agree with you both entirely! Very Happy

Instead of focusing on her mythical romance with Fersen it would have done better to talk about more of the political situation. Grey spent way too much time on the superficial. There were many shallow aspects of these books and I was disappointed that more myths were not dispelled and there wasn't more substance.

There are such things as wholesome romances and I wish if she chose to depict a romance then why not focus on the devotion between Antoinette and her husband.
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Re: Marie Antoinette Trilogy - Juliet Grey

Post  Bunnies on Sun Aug 31, 2014 5:16 pm

Sophie wrote:
Bunnies wrote:You'll be walking a fine light between boring and infuriating your reader.

Of course, a balanced usage of personal and political matters would be required. I don't imagine a dry history book that is pretending to be a novel, because it also wouldn't interest anyone, including myself. I just expect a little bit of complexity, that's all. Authors like the above mentioned Druon or Graves could do it - their books are entertaining and one can also learn from them! OK, they contain fantasy, I don't say that reading historical fiction is the same as reading serious historical works, but it awakened my interest to read more about the respective historical events and people. This is one important aim of historical fiction, isn't it? From Grey's trilogy, according to the reviews, the only thing one can "learn" (or recognize) is the zweigian point of view. Not only outdated and disproved, but also totally irrelevant.

As you also stated, everything is political, but an author also can keep balance by showing the opposite parties as no good and evil, but in an equally ambivalent way. The Revolution is a perfect example: there were alleged "heroes" and "villains" on all sides (I mean, from a novelist point of view), and it's a personal choice whom/what to emphasize from them. Everything is better than missing a portrayal of something just because it's "boring". Even the most boring events can be written excitingly with a little bit of talent and a lot of hard work... Wink

Oh, I'm sure it could be done. I'm just saying: it would be hard.

But I’d argue against the idea that the inordinate focus on Antoinette’s personal virtues in contrast with her political acumen is solely because the latter is perceived to be “boring.” Effectively, the current trope is this: Define the Royal Family by their relationship with one another and their personal virtues and talents. Define the revolutionaries by their politics, which will be watered down to ill-defined "moderate" [Less Satanic] and "radical" [Most Satanic]. This way, even a reader who disagrees with the concept of Absolute Monarchy will still sympathize with the royals, because they like their personalities, and any reader who might have subscribed to republicanism will recoil from the revolutionaries, because they have no personality beyond decapitating. It’s a skewered perspective and I’d argue that, at least subconsciously, it’s a political Trojan horse, insidiously condemning a movement without really letting it speak for itself.

Rather than a snapshot of a complicated political overhaul this desanitizes the Revolution to a quarrel between Nice People Who Are Trying Their Best and People Who Are Beheading People For No Reason. And so the French Revolution is effectively contorted into an historical fairy tale, with good and noble princes harassed by hideous savages. The revolutionaries are caricatures, cardboard cutouts, and we’re not really supposed to ask for their motivation. You don’t ask the ogre’s motivation in a fairy tale: he’s just an ogre.

Tropes are recycled because we like them, and we like them because they are familiar. But…well, I think sanitizing your antagonists into cardboard cutouts is boring. If you want Marat to be an antagonist – fine, more power to you, he can make a good one! But then give him a dang motive. Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter haven’t burrowed into the public consciousness because they were flat Bad Guys who were Bad for the sake of Being Bad. The best villains are the heroes of their own story. …But then, to do this, to give Marat motivations beyond vague “I demand 500 thousand heads because somethingsomething RADICALISM” you have to explore, at least briefly, the political landscape of the Revolution, which is what the aforementioned Fairy Tale aggressively avoids doing, for reasons that might range from “I have a genuine political agenda to discourage people from questioning their governments” to “I have no idea what the political landscape was.”

Which is to say, that the formula works as a political proponent and as a simple beach-read and this is probably why it has been rehashed over and over. It's simple, it's appealing, it doesn't raise any questions, and - let's face it - it's much easier to write, insofar as crafting blunted characters is simpler than crafting nuanced ones. But I would hardly say that the alternative, a complicated tour de force of politics, would necessarily have to be boring.
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