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Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

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Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  May on Wed Nov 02, 2011 11:58 pm

First topic message reminder :

An excellent series of articles by Elena Maria Vidal, exploring the true relationship between the Queen of France and Count Axel von Fersen the Younger, a Swedish emissary at the court of Louis XVI.

http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/2007/06/fersen-legend-part-1.html

Too often in the many articles about Marie-Antoinette that have surfaced in the last year due to the Coppola film, Count Axel von Fersen is referred to as the "queen's lover" or as her "probable lover." It is repeatedly disregarded that there is not a scrap of reliable historical evidence that Count Fersen and Marie-Antoinette were anything but friends, and that he was as much her husband’s friend as he was hers. People are free to speak of Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour as “lovers” since they openly lived together for many years. But to speak that way of Marie-Antoinette, who was known for her purity among her circle of close friends, of whom a courtier said: "Her soul was as white as her face," (Vincent Cronin's Louis and Antoinette) who lost her life because she chose to stay at her husband’s side, is the height of irresponsibility.

The Swedish nobleman was in the service of his sovereign King Gustavus III and Count Fersen’s presence at the French court needs to be seen in the light of that capacity. The Swedish King was a devoted friend of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and Gustavus, even more than the queen’s Austrian relatives, worked to aid the King and Queen of France in their time of trouble. Fersen was the go-between in the various top secret plans to help Louis XVI regain control of his kingdom and escape from the clutches of his political enemies. The diplomatic intrigues that went on behind the scenes are more interesting than any imaginary romance. (The queen’s relationship with her husband is more interesting as well.) However, books and movies continue to add this sensationalism to the queen’s life, as if anything could be more sensational than the reality. Serious modern and contemporary scholars, however, such as Paul and Pierrette Girault de Coursac, Hilaire Belloc, Nesta Webster, Simone Bertiere, Philippe Delorme, Jean Chalon, Desmond Seward, and Simon Schama are unanimous in saying that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that Marie-Antoinette violated her marriage vows by dallying with Count Fersen.

The origins of the legend of Marie-Antoinette’s affair with Fersen began not with her revolutionary foes, who certainly would have picked up on anything of that nature to discredit the queen at her trial. Fersen’s name came up at the trial only in regard to the fact that he had driven the royal family’s coach out of Paris in June 1791 as they tried to escape. It was a courtier, the Comte de Saint-Priest, who made insinuations about the queen and Fersen in his memoirs, probably to cover the humiliation that Fersen had slept with Madame de Saint-Priest, his wife. Madame de la Tour du Pin, a former lady-in-waiting of the Queen, in her memoirs mentions that “the Count de Fersen, said to be queen Marie-Antoinette’s lover, also came to see us everyday.” She says this in a paragraph about her childhood where she is discussing the various men who, according to gossip, were “considered” to be in love with with her mother, Madame Dillon. So the Fersen affair is lumped in with what must be seen as idle rumors.

As Jean Chalon points out in his biography Chere Marie-Antoinette, Fersen, who had many mistresses, saw the queen as an angel, to whom he offered reverent and chaste homage. According to Chalon, Marie-Antoinette knew about sex only through conjugal love, where she found her “happiness,” her bonheur essentiel, as she wrote to her mother. If there had been any cause for concern about Count Fersen’s presence at the French court as regards the queen’s reputation, the Austrian ambassador Count Mercy-Argenteau would surely have mentioned it in one of the reams of letters to Marie-Antoinette’s mother Empress Maria Teresa, to whom he passed on every detail of the young queen’s life. Count Mercy had spies whom he paid well to gather information, but Fersen was not worth mentioning. Neither is he mentioned in a romantic way by other people close to the queen in their memoirs, such as her maid Madame Campan and the Baron de Besenval, a close family friend.
http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/2007/06/fersen-legend-part-2.html
http://teaattrianon.blogspot.com/2007/06/fersen-legend-part-3.html
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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Didishroom on Tue Sep 16, 2014 6:22 pm

So Ferson himself really did hope/believe she loved him?

And excellent point about the languages!

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Elena on Tue Sep 16, 2014 6:38 pm

Sophie wrote:
Elena wrote:Fersen claimed that the queen had once used his seal on her letters. His seal had the motto: Tutto a te mi guida. “Everything leads me to thee.” Nesta Webster claims that the Queen had also used the seal of Quintin Crauford in her correspondence – using other people’s seals was a subterfuge employed in sensitive diplomatic correspondence, but Fersen thought the words were meant as a message for himself. Rolling Eyes

I never understood why is the sentence in Italian if both Fersen and Antoinette had other native languages, and they communicated in French. It might be only a coincidence, but Eleonore herself was an Italian woman by birth. I find it so kitschy, anyway, that people repeat this sentence as a "motto" of Antoinette. Yes, everything led her to him, that's why she never left her children, even from the prison, and refused to escape without her family... Razz

Exactly! If anything the motto was in honor of Eleonore!

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Didishroom on Tue Sep 16, 2014 6:56 pm

Wasn't Elanor's last name, Sullivan?

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Elena on Tue Sep 16, 2014 7:26 pm

Didishroom wrote:Wasn't Elanor's last name, Sullivan?

Yes, she had been married to an Irish officer. Here is her rather colorful bio.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanore_Sullivan

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Elena on Tue Sep 16, 2014 7:31 pm

Eleonore financed the escape to Montmedy and Crauford hid that huge coach.

In 1791, Sullivan and Craufurd was asked to participate in the Flight to Varennes, which they did. Craufurd hid the carriage, which was to be used by the royal family, in his stable, while Eleanore Sullivan financed the escape: evidently, she provided one third of the amount necessary. Sullivan and Craufurd safely reached Brussels, while the escape of the royal family failed. Sullivan and Craufurd later returned to Paris themselves. In 1792, Axel von Fersen returned secretly to Paris in an attempt to arrange another escape of the royal family, during which he was hidden by Eleanore Sullivan under the official alias of her illegitimate son with the Duke of Württemberg. No further escape attempt could however be arranged.

Eleanore Sullivan and Quintin Craufurd left France for the Austrian Netherlands some point after this.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanore_Sullivan



Last edited by Elena on Tue Sep 16, 2014 7:34 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Elena on Tue Sep 16, 2014 7:33 pm

Didishroom wrote:So Ferson himself really did hope/believe she loved him?

Yes, especially after the Queen's death he became obsessed with looking for signs from the next world that she had really loved him. His biographer Kermina writes a great deal about that.

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Didishroom on Thu Sep 18, 2014 11:58 am

Oh wow-I don't know why I ever noticed this before. Thanks for all the info!

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Sophie on Thu Sep 18, 2014 6:38 pm

Elena wrote:Yes, she had been married to an Irish officer. Here is her rather colorful bio.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanore_Sullivan

So she and Craufurd weren't married at all? I thought she had more husbands, but then, she just lived with Craufurd as an "official mistress". But what happened to Sullivan? How could Fersen think about his possible marriage to Eleonore in 1793 if she was still married, and lived at Craufurd's household (so she was economically dependent from him)? These are so interesting questions...

What if someone would write Fersen and Eleonore's real love story? I would like to read it! Eleonore lived a more exciting life from a novelist's point of view than Antoinette did before the Revolution. She was that kind of "18th century female adventurer", an emancipated woman in some way, that many people want to identify with Antoinette herself (who wasn't allowed to leave her room if it was against etiquette, while Eleonore traveled around the Earth). This story would contain everything people generally want to read, but would be based on real sources and letters, not on weak interpretations.
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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Sophie on Thu Sep 18, 2014 6:45 pm

Elena wrote:Yes, especially after the Queen's death he became obsessed with looking for signs from the next world that she had really loved him. His biographer Kermina writes a great deal about that.

I think the whole legend comes from this point. In the 1800s, he understood that the most essential part in his life was his relationship with the French royals, and especially with the Queen, with whom he was (I think) really in love. So he built a kind of "image" based on this. He succeeded - see how his name is widely known as "Marie-Antoinette's lover". Those gentlemen who also helped her and her family, but didn't find this relationship so important, are never accused of being her Perfect Lover Guy. (Esterházy, Jarjayes, Coigny - OK, he's sometimes also accused with it -, Besenval, Léonard, Barnave... Craufurd Laughing ... and maybe even more men who stood at her side in her worst times!)
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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Elena on Sun Oct 05, 2014 7:09 pm

They all were accused of being her lover, especially Artois. But for some reason people focus on Fersen..... Rolling Eyes

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Sophie on Sun Oct 05, 2014 7:47 pm

Elena wrote:They all were accused of being her lover, especially Artois. But for some reason people focus on Fersen..... Rolling Eyes

Yes, I mean, in her own age, nearly everyone was considered as her lover, including her best female friends, priests, sister-in-law, children... But, apart from some singular arguments (like the Farewell, My Queen-movie with the Antoinette/Gabrielle-pairing), historians never really discuss, whether these rumors could be true. They are seen as malicious lies to blacken the Queen's name. At the same time, after discussing this topic of pamphlets and court gossip, 99% of the books switch to "the only man with whom she really had an affair", and write the narrative of a romantic love with Fersen. Sometimes sexuality is also included, sometimes not, but Fersen is always a "separate category". I find it very unlikely, however, that a woman loves a man from 1774 to 1793 the very same way, regardless of changing circumstances. That's why I developed the "theory" that the whole romantic love story is based on Fersen's personality in 1791-92, and this is projected back to the '70s and the '80s, too, as if he would be a static and archetypical figure rather than a normal human. Even if there's no proof that the Queen chose him as a very close confidant before the Revolution, or that she loved him more than any other friends, the legend has been evolved and spread by movies, documentaries, novels and even biographies.
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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Elena on Sun Oct 05, 2014 9:44 pm

Sophie wrote:
Elena wrote:They all were accused of being her lover, especially Artois. But for some reason people focus on Fersen..... Rolling Eyes

Yes, I mean, in her own age, nearly everyone was considered as her lover, including her best female friends, priests, sister-in-law, children... But, apart from some singular arguments (like the Farewell, My Queen-movie with the Antoinette/Gabrielle-pairing), historians never really discuss, whether these rumors could be true. They are seen as malicious lies to blacken the Queen's name. At the same time, after discussing this topic of pamphlets and court gossip, 99% of the books switch to "the only man with whom she really had an affair", and write the narrative of a romantic love with Fersen. Sometimes sexuality is also included, sometimes not, but Fersen is always a "separate category". I find it very unlikely, however, that a woman loves a man from 1774 to 1793 the very same way, regardless of changing circumstances. That's why I developed the "theory" that the whole romantic love story is based on Fersen's personality in 1791-92, and this is projected back to the '70s and the '80s, too, as if he would be a static and archetypical figure rather than a normal human. Even if there's no proof that the Queen chose him as a very close confidant before the Revolution, or that she loved him more than any other friends, the legend has been evolved and spread by movies, documentaries, novels and even biographies.

I totally concur with your theory. I think that is exactly how the legend came to be. pirat

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Elena on Sat May 23, 2015 7:14 pm

Here is the first episode of Tea at Trianon Radio, which explores the truth behind the Fersen myth. "Author and historian Elena Maria Vidal launches Tea at Trianon Radio with an in-depth discussion of the truth behind the legend of Queen Marie-Antoinette's romance with the Swedish Count Fersen. The legend has been featured in novels, films and even many biographies. But is there any historical evidence of an affair? Did the Queen really love Fersen? What were her feelings for her husband Louis XVI? Such questions and more will explored in a thirty minute segment based upon scholarship both old and new."

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/teaattrianon/2015/05/23/marie-antoinette-and-the-fersen-legend

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Kaitlyn Lauren on Sat May 23, 2015 11:04 pm

Very informative and interesting, Elena! Thank you, as a always, for imparting your knowledge about the Queen. I can't wait for the next episode! I hope more people will learn the truth and that historians in the future will not be as quick to assume that they were lovers in any definitive sense.
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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Elena on Sun May 24, 2015 12:35 am

Thank you, my dear! queen

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Kaitlyn Lauren on Sun May 24, 2015 12:38 am

You're very welcome! Smile I can't wait for your book to come out.
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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  Elena on Sun Jan 17, 2016 4:17 pm

Some great posts from Anna Gibson, refuting the claims made by the new book by Evelyn Farr.

http://vivelaqueen.blogspot.com/2016/01/dont-they-ever-get-tired-of-these_16.html

This is the second part in new series of posts discussing the onslaught of new claims which are being made about the nature of Marie Antoinette and Axel Fersen's relationship.

(You can read part one in this series here).

In addition to claims regarding the parentage of Louis-Charles and Sophie, the recent wave of articles regarding Evelyn Farr's claims put a sharp focus on the phrase "I love you madly," which also happens to be the title of Evelyn Farr's upcoming book. The phrase is included in most prominently in a letter written by Marie Antoinette to Fersen, dated January 4th, 1792. I will be talking about the context of this letter in this part, but I would first like to tackle the claims regarding the phrasing as evidence of a physical affair.

Claims #3-4: '‘I love you madly" is something you don't say to a good friend and implies a physical relationship

The letter of January 4th, 1792 includes this phrase, which was later covered with ink: "I am going to close, but not without telling you, my dear and very tender friend, that I love you madly and never, ever could I exist moment without adoring you." (Or in French: Je vais finire, non pas sans vous dire mon bien cher et tendre ami que je vous aime a la folie et que jamais jamais je ne peu être un moment sans vous adorer.)

The phrase was covered with ink sometime after it was written. There is still debate about who, exactly, redacted these phrases; there is currently still work being done by researchers at the French archives regarding the blotted out phrases in Marie Antoinette's letters, and I do hope that they will be able to date the 'redacted' ink which may help in coming closer to discovering who actually covered them. Given the difference in copper concentration between the ink used to write the letters and the ink used to cover it, it is unlikely that Marie Antoinette herself covered the phrase.

To continue: Telegraph quotes Farr as saying: "‘I love you madly’ is a very strong phrase – you don’t say that to a good friend. It’s really telling; it implies a physical relationship. They were lovers."

There are actually two claims being made here: one, that "I love you madly" would not have been used for a good friend but only to a lover; two, that it implies a physical relationship existed between those two people.

In French, what Marie Antoinette wrote to Fersen was that she loved him 'à la folie.' This exact phrase (loving someone à la folie) was used by the queen several years earlier, when talking about her love for her son Louis-Charles, in a letter to the duchesse de 'Polignac dated December 1789: "The Chou d'amour is charming, and I love him madly." Madame Elisabeth, her sister-in-law, used that same phrase in letters describing the sister of Mirabeau's love for her brother: "I pity his unfortunate sister, who is very pious and loved him madly."

From these examples, we see that loving someone "madly" was not a phrasing which existed solely for lovers in the 18th century. And if "I love you madly" must imply physical relationship, then from these two examples--well, you get the idea.

Critically, the claim that "I love you madly" is for lovers only and that it implies a physical relationship does not hold up when you compare it to other contemporary letters from that time period. The claim also wavers when you take into consideration Marie Antoinette's personal style of writing. "I love you madly" does not differ very much from phrases Marie Antoinette regularly wrote to people she genuinely adored.

The intensity with which Marie Antoinette wrote to people she considered her cherished companions cannot be overstated. Her letters to these few--people she knew from childhood, people she brought into her intimate 'Trianon' circle, and those who remained loyal to her during the Revolution--are contain such gushing phrases as "I kiss you tenderly," "It would be a great pleasure for me to kiss you," "My feelings for you are tender and grow every day," "my tender heart," "my dear heart," "I kiss you with all my heart," "I embrace you with all my soul," "I will never cease to love you," "I kiss you hard," and other flourishes that would easily be considered romantic today. Marie Antoinette wrote to Yolande de Polignac saying that "nothing but death could make me stop loving you."

Could lovers have used the phrase? Of course. But in the context of Marie Antoinette and Fersen, it's not some outlier phrasing that is totally incongruous with Marie Antoinette's normal style. It shows that she considered him an intimate, loved companion who wasn't just loyal to her but was, by all her accounts, fighting for her life and the life of her family. If there was any point where Marie Antoinette was going to use her trademark tender, romantic phrases, the years where Fersen was an almost sole outside devotee when she was living in a country that was increasingly hostile to her is definitely that point.

And remember: "I love you madly" was not hidden by the queen. It was written plainly in her letter to Fersen, as were her romantic phrases in letters to her other cherished loved ones.

If this was a phrase reserved for lovers, it is extremely unlikely that Marie Antoinette would ever risk everything (her security, the future of her children, the stability of the monarchy, her reputation to the European powers, to name a few things) by so casually revealing something that was considered treasonous. So what does the phrase mean? The answer is genuinely simple: Marie Antoinette wrote passionately, romantically, gushingly to people she considered intimate friends. Before and after the revolution. And she knew how to use that flattering language to keep people on her side, when she needed to do so, and she definitely needed to bring Fersen back around after his recent criticisms and fears, which I will get more into below.

The role that Fersen played in the last years of Marie Antoinette's life was an intense one, that in all likelihood bonded them emotionally in a way that is difficult to imagine today. He was, in the queen's estimation, working to save their lives. He was one of the few people who was willing to take an active role in saving the royal family and the crown, beyond vague promises by foreign rulers or the dangerous behavior of the emigrated Artois and Provence elsewhere in Europe or the royal family's distrust of moderates who claimed to be working in their favor. Is it any wonder that Marie Antoinette wrote to him as she did other intimates like Polignac, so favored that she had to flee France? In my estimation, no.

As with the use of gossip as evidence, using this phrase and similar phrases as evidence that the two were physical lovers does not stand up to an extrapolating critical view. Marie Antoinette wrote this way--many women of that time period wrote this way.

If "I love you madly" proves that Marie Antoinette and Axel Fersen were physical lovers, then it stands to reason that "Nothing but death can make me stop loving you" should be used as proof that Marie Antoinette and Yolande de Polignac were also physical lovers. Yet once again, I doubt historians would claim that because the Queen wrote romantically to Polignac, they were lovers, physical or otherwise, due to the context of Marie Antoinette's personality and the general romantic writing style of her contemporaries.

The context of January 4th, 1792

The context of the letter of January 1792 is important.

This was, politically speaking, a very tense time for Europe, France, and of course Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. For the last several months, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI had been embarking on course of action that none of their allies--Fersen included--had really approved. That course of action was to play both sides: ally themselves with Barnave and other constitutionals, all the while keeping up their correspondence with Fersen, Craufurd, Breteuil, and various European monarchs. In September of 1791, Louis XVI had also accepted the Constitution and the royal couple decided to outwardly support the Constitution, not just to appease the rumblings in the government but to, as Louis XVI put it, show the people that the Constitution could not work by following it to the letter.

Abroad, this had the effect of sending the emigres, the king's brothers and European monarchs into a war-minded frenzy. The king's brothers were stirring the pot by spear-heading the raising of emigre-based armies with the intention of sending those armies into France to take back control over the country.

On December 14th, 1791, Louis XVI--without consulting or notifying Fersen and the others in contact with the queen--addressed the Assembly and declared that any European powers which did not disband emigre-based troops by January 15th, 1792 would be considered enemies of France. Furthermore, he declared that the wrote to Leopold II and informed him that he was fully prepared to declare war on Austria if those troops were not disbanded.

Eight days later, Fersen wrote Marie Antoinette a lengthy letter which contained what the queen later referred to as 'scoldings.' In this letter, Fersen admonished the queen for not being openly affectionate towards people he was trying to get on their side. M. de Toulangeon was "hurt by the coldness with which his good intentions were received," which Fersen followed up with: "Do you not think that, without too highly distinguishing them, it would be well to show persons of good-feeling and good-will certain marks of kindness?" He wrote in a similar way regarding the queen's unease about attempting to win over the Duke of Brunswick: "[He] is a man of intelligence, talents, and a great ambition. Do you not think it is important to win him?"

Yet the 'scoldings' in this letter did not stop there. Fersen then wrote that he was astounded and grieved by the king's unsupported decision, and that he now saw only "embarrassment for you, additional dangers, and the bad effect that this will have in Europe." Fersen went on to suggest that Marie Antoinette should not have acted without consulting Fersen and Breteuil, and that by doing so she invited disastrous consequences.

He also questioned the queen's confidence in him, particularly in light of his own gushing devotion: "I have the vanity to think that my past conduct ought to take you from the possibility of doubting mine; it ought, rather, to convince you of their purity, and of the zeal, attachment, and devotion I have consecrated to your service. My sole desire is to serve you; my sweetest recompense, the only one to which I aspire, is the glory of succeeding in that--I want no other. I should be but too much rewarded if I could know you were happy and think that I had been happy enough to have contributed to it."

Is it any wonder that Marie Antoinette, who had excelled at charming people from an early age, knew how to reassure Fersen--who, by the tone of this letter and those leading up to it, was becoming increasingly critical of her and wary of her decisions? Fersen himself said it best: "Do you not think that it would be well to show persons of good-feeling and good-will certain marks of kindness?" Fersen wanted reassurance that the queen trusted him, that she accepted his devotion, and that she considered his confidence worthy of respect. And she did just that, as she had throughout the last year to this years-long friend who she saw as fighting for the salvation of her family and, from her view, for her country.
Read more: http://vivelaqueen.blogspot.com/2016/01/dont-they-ever-get-tired-of-these_16.html

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

Post  janet11 on Wed Apr 19, 2017 7:20 am

i think the book is interesting

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Re: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen

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