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An "average woman"?

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An "average woman"?

Post  Sophie on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:07 pm

I found this interview with an actress who plays Marie-Antoinette in a recent play on the Vive la Reine blog: http://dctheatrescene.com/2014/09/18/kimberly-gilberts-big-reveal-marie-antoinette/. There are some interesting points and ideas in it that are worth for a discussion Smile

"I think his [Zweig's] point for that is while, of course, she was feisty and she was beautiful, but mainly she was average. Anybody could have been in her place. [...] And that gave me good insight about this girl. She wasn’t a saint. She wasn’t a devil. And she wasn’t an asshole. And she wasn’t an angel. She was an average person, meaning that she had faults, she had good and bad, and her biggest fault was being born at the time she was born in with the family she was born with."

Do you agree with this statement (I mean, that Antoinette was "an average woman" and "anyone could have been in her place"? I have my own opinion, of course, but I am curious about yours, too, and it's a forum for discussion, anyway Very Happy

And the other thing I realized about this play - apart from that Kimberly Gilbert calls Antoinette "Marie" all the time tongue - is the summary they try to sell it with. It's, how surprising, exactly the opposite of what Gilbert says in the interview. (Emphasis made by me.)

In a world of empty celebrity and economic crisis, how’s a teen queen to keep her head?

Cake enthusiast and infamous one-percenter Marie Antoinette opens Woolly’s 35th season with a burst of high fashion and shaky morals. Through David Adjmi’s incisive contemporary lens, history’s most notorious teenager becomes a full-blooded, complex, and tragic heroine who realizes too late that there’s an unstoppable revolution brewing outside her window.

Kimberly Gilbert returns to the Woolly stage as Marie, reuniting with visionary director Yury Urnov (You For Me For You) for a play about a society—not unlike our own—that might just be consuming itself to death."

I don't have a feeling that the real Antoinette "realized" the Revolution too late. On the contrary, she knew from Maria Theresa's and Joseph II's letters, Mercy's and Vermond's advises, and later from her own judgment, that poverty is terrible and the crisis will occure some day. I think the only one she didn't realize was court politics, I mean, that she shouldn't victimize her royal dignity for the purpose of making friends and having a free private life. But it's only important if we analyze her specific story, not her (lack of) impact on her whole land... And still far from some "cake enthusiast" party girl who remains a teenager even in her thirties, and is totally surprised of the Revolution...
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Re: An "average woman"?

Post  Didishroom on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:42 pm

I guess it's how you define "average." Gareth Russel had an excellent article on why movies about MA are so boring and concluded that MA herself is kind of boring. While I am not sure I agree 100% I think he had an excellent point. MA's greatest appeal to most people comes from her tragic end juxtaposed with her glorious beginnings. From a historian's point of MA is almost completely irrelevant. She is mentioned in passing if the focus is on the Revolution itself; no one serious about history whether they sympathize with the revolutionaries or not believe MA was responsible for instigating the revolts or provoking the crisis.

She was no inventor, no law maker, no warrior, no maker or breaker of policies. She was by all accounts a fairly normal queen. She bore heirs, attended court functions, granted requests and favors, gave high court positions to friends, set fashion trends, sponsored the arts and music, gave generously to charity, supported religious orders and for the most part defended and stood by the king and his policies. If not for the Revolution she would be a blip on the historical narrative.

Now at the same time I am not someone who sees her only in light of her death. I have mentioned before how I can't stand narratives and biographies that are constantly foreshadowing her end right from her birth and focus over every court etiquette infraction as another step towards her inevitable doom! Duh dah duhhhh!!!

What I find so fascinating about MA is how such a relatively average princess and queen could be so hated and reviled despite her never harming so much as a fly. How could this headstrong, indomitable girl with a careless and imprudent judgement and feisty spirit could be such a sweet and loving and generous woman? How did this girl with no real clue to policy and politics know from the start the Revolution was a bad idea even before there was a Revolution? How did she know that even the opening of the Estates General would be bad for the country? That the destitution of many of the lower classes was the brewing of storm clouds? How did she know that the Freemasons were dangerous and a threat to their security? How did this woman with zero intellectual pursuits(Im not saying she was dumb but some could easily call her shallow), a woman with an affinity for simplicity, tranquility, friendship and maternity could completely metamorphose into this strong unconquerable woman who literally stood down angry murderous drunken mobs? How did the girl who bore infinite grudges against those who slighted in her at court never seek revenge and destruction of her enemies? Where did the dancing princess disappear to? How did the girl who skipped her prayers become a martyr for her faith and principles to the end? She lost her clothes, her jewels, her crown, her palaces, her little Trianon. And yet in the end it was only her husband and children she cared for, fought for, defended for. She never shed tears for Versailles of her dairy.

Her life is an almost coming of age story that is cut too short. We weep for her tragedies and the torments she suffered, But she died with grace, courage, dignity and her principles intact. I don't think the Revolution changed her into a lioness. I think the lioness was always there but she was never properly tested. Her life was filled with pointless rituals, banalities and shallow battles. She never got to exercise her full talents until her death. She didn't get to prove that yes, she too, was a daughter of Maria Theresa, until they deprived her of every one she loved. In some ways that's the real tragedy-both she and Louis were very simple people who had no grandiose ambitions or agendas. The were the children of greatness and neither wanted to be great though they always had it in them. They both just wanted to love and be loved. They WANTED to be average! For most of their lives they WERE average! But they were denied that and when push came to shove they showed, somewhat reluctantly, how great they really were. But by then it was all over. I don't know-maybe I'm rambling.

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Re: An "average woman"?

Post  Elena on Sun Oct 05, 2014 7:04 pm

Excellent points! Thank you for introducing this topic, Sophie! No, I do not think MA was an average woman. I think she rose to the heights of heroic virtue when put to the test. And even before, she was incredibly generous and insisted upon virtuous behavior in the court. Her beauty and her fun-loving nature made her a target for those who were jealous and who wanted to overthrow the government.

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Re: An "average woman"?

Post  Bunnies on Mon Oct 06, 2014 5:39 pm

I guess it's how you define "average." Gareth Russel had an excellent article on why movies about MA are so boring and concluded that MA herself is kind of boring. While I am not sure I agree 100% I think he had an excellent point. MA's greatest appeal to most people comes from her tragic end juxtaposed with her glorious beginnings. From a historian's point of MA is almost completely irrelevant. She is mentioned in passing if the focus is on the Revolution itself; no one serious about history whether they sympathize with the revolutionaries or not believe MA was responsible for instigating the revolts or provoking the crisis.

There is a thread elsewhere on the forum in which we discussed the article you are referring to; I think, at the time, I agreed with Russel. I don't know if I do now. Could it be that Antoinette [often] falls flat as a character due to her mishandling by writers and not necessarily through any inherent deficiency of her own? She is so often pigeonholed into the role of reactive sacrifice - a character who never takes initiative, who has no role in her fate, who is merely acted upon but who never acts will, inevitably, lose her reader's interest. The question is whether Russel was right in assuming that Antoinette really took no initiative, really had no role, and was merely acted upon and never acted. I'd say...no. I understand that she's the darling of reactionaries but there is a difference between reactionary politics and reactionary characterization. The former can be appropriate, at times. The latter never is.

She was no inventor, no law maker, no warrior, no maker or breaker of policies. She was by all accounts a fairly normal queen. She bore heirs, attended court functions, granted requests and favors, gave high court positions to friends, set fashion trends, sponsored the arts and music, gave generously to charity, supported religious orders and for the most part defended and stood by the king and his policies. If not for the Revolution she would be a blip on the historical narrative.

The final sentence is what intrigues me here. Because to an extent - you are correct. A friend of mine once said, rather cruelly, that Antoinette's only role in history was to "get in the Revolution's way." But could we not apply this unit of measurement to any historical figure at all? If not for the Roman Conquest, Cleopatra would be a blip on the historical narrative. If not for the English Reformation, Henry VIII would be a blip on the historical narrative. If not for the American Revolution, George Washington would be a blip on the historical narrative. If not for the French Revolution, Mirabeau, Talleyrand, Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Bailly, Vergniaud, Carnot, Saint-Just, Louis XVI and, yes, Marie-Antoinette, would all be blips on the historical narrative. The bottom line is that the Roman Conquest, the English Reformation, and the American and French Revolutions did happen. I suppose we could argue that Antoinette did not "make" the French Revolution happen, that she merely got caught up in it - but again, this is hardly uncommon. Very rarely is an event triggered by the sole ego of one man. Even Henry VIII, that strapping king of England, would not have managed his Reformation without "a little help from his friends" and the implicit acceptance of the English people.

So, even if we acknowledge that Antoinette would not have raised interest had 1789 happened differently, how is this a slight against her as an individual? Because I reiterate, I do not see how this same rule of thumb would not apply to most other figures in history. Yes, if people don't leave a footprint on pivotal events, they tend to blip by the narrative.

Marie-Antoinette reminds me of Elizabeth Woodville, one of her ancestors. They have much in common. They both fit the conventional mold of "feminine" even as they endured unimaginable difficulties. Their claims upon history are both staked, largely, in the men they married: Elizabeth Woodville would be but a squire's wife had she never captured Edward IV, and had Marie Therese found other means to secure a French alliance, Marie-Antoinette may have just appeared on a litany of her mother's many children. Their worlds were rocked by events said to be "out of their control," ie., the War of the Roses and the French Revolution, but neither crumpled like helpless waifs. Quite the opposite, they schemed and struggled to secure their children's inheritance. There's never a sign of surrender. But Elizabeth Woodville has been garnering street cred these days due to the popularity of Philippa Gregory's novels, even making cameo appearances in childish "top 10 most Bad A-- Queens in History" whereas Antoinette falls by the wayside as a mere "tragedy."
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Re: An "average woman"?

Post  Didishroom on Thu Oct 09, 2014 2:13 pm

"If not for the English Reformation, Henry VIII would be a blip on the historical narrative. If not for the American Revolution, George Washington would be a blip on the historical narrative. If not for the French Revolution, Mirabeau, Talleyrand, Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Bailly, Vergniaud, Carnot, Saint-Just, Louis XVI and, yes, Marie-Antoinette, would all be blips on the historical narrative."


There is a huge difference between the lives of MA and someone like Henry VIII. Yes, MA does seem to have an almost passive role in history. Without trying to diminish her one could argue that "things happened to her." Her marriage was arranged, the government was formed and put into practice without her involvement and a vicious revolution was carried against her and her husband.

Henry VIII-not so much. Of course no historical figure exists solely in vacuum-everyone in every time is effected by a number of factors-place of birth, sex, religion, status, friends, economics,politics, etc.. But for Henry VIII he made an active choice to dump Katherine for Anne, an active choice to break from Rome, an active choice to disinherit his daughter, an active choice to demand absolute submission which directly resulted in the deaths of his friend, Thomas Moore, and his relative, Margaret Pole. "Things" didn't "happen" to Henry VIII. He made "things" happen. The English Reformation was a direct result of his actions and wills.

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Re: An "average woman"?

Post  Didishroom on Thu Oct 09, 2014 6:54 pm

On the other hand, had MA been replaced by her sisters Elizabeth or Charlotte as the Dauphine as France there is no reason to suggest that any of the major events of the French Revolution would have played out differently.

And there is every reason to believe that had Arthur survived and ruled in place of his younger brother Henry there would have been no English Reformation-at least not the way Henry enacted it.

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Re: An "average woman"?

Post  Bunnies on Fri Oct 10, 2014 11:39 am

Yeeeeaaaah you got me there. silent Point taken!
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Re: An "average woman"?

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