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Post  Elena on Thu Oct 20, 2011 5:00 pm


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Post  Duchess Lylia on Fri Oct 21, 2011 7:38 pm

Interestingly enough, I am a personal friend of (and used to work with) the author's sister and was fascinated when I first learned that Ms. Nagel was penning this biography! I am pleased to learn that you found her book to be interesting and worthwhile.

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Post  Elena on Fri Oct 21, 2011 7:54 pm

Did you really? Surprised Dr. Nagel was one of the few modern authors who seems to grasp the horror of the Revolution and did not try to make excuses for it as being a "necessary evil" on the path to democracy.

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Post  Duchess Lylia on Fri Oct 21, 2011 9:13 pm

Indeed I did -- her younger sister and I worked together doing legal recruiting and placement in New York City! A lovely and very accomplished family and I so enjoyed hearing about Susan's career and how she got into writing biographies (something I have always aspired to do -- thanks to Stefan Zweig, actually -- and thank you, also, for your wonderful reply on that, which I will study more thoroughly when I have more time).

I must read this book right away.

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Post  Elena on Fri Oct 21, 2011 9:39 pm

I thought it quite good. Now I did not agree with the part about Louis XVI having a love child with a servant and then having Madame de Polignac as a mistress, but other than those two rather bizarre interpretations it was a grand book.

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Post  Elena on Fri Nov 11, 2011 9:43 pm


Marie-Thérèse: Child of Terror
by Susan Nagel is a greatly anticipated biography which provides an overview of the turbulent life of the courageous daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Rare anecdotes and little-known incidents are pulled together into one volume to make for a consuming read. I would especially recommend it to the readers of the novel Madame Royale since it fills in many gaps which the novel, being a novel, did not cover. The Duchesse d'Angoulême, who was in looks and personality a total blending of both parents, is portrayed as emerging from a tragic situation to become one of the most powerful women in Europe. The reader shares in her triumphs, in her falls, in her heartbreaks.

I had reservations when first hearing that the new biography covered the Dark Countess legend, but since the story that Madame Royale was switched with another girl is all over websites and discussions boards, the author really had no other choice but to deal with it. Nagel presents the mystery of the Dark Countess and Dark Count (yes, there was a “Dark Count,” too) in a way that is intriguing, while making it clear that Madame Royale and the Duchesse d'Angoulême were unquestionably the same person. (Not that any doubt ever crossed my mind.)

I also must admit that in the opening chapters of the book I was a bit put off by the insinuations that Louis XVI had an affair with Madame de Polignac, Marie-Antoinette’s best friend. Not in any biographies of either Louis or Antoinette have I ever come across such an assertion, which includes Louis’ fathering of little Jules. Of course, I have not read everything and nothing is outside the realm of possibility, I suppose. It is known that Louis was close to Madame de Polignac and wrote her many letters, bestowing marks of honor upon her that he showed to no other lady. As outrageous as an allegation of an affair may be to those who are familiar with Louis XVI’s life, at least it goes against the stereotype of Louis as an impotent, asexual drone. However, I have to draw the line at the book’s claim of the king begetting a child with one of the servants. The image of Louis XVI chasing a helpless chambermaid produces too much cognitive dissonance. The biography is not footnoted as extensively as it could be, especially when otherwise unheard of claims are being made.

In most other respects, Nagel quotes directly from the various memoirs to produce a highly favorable portrait of the royal family, although their foibles and faults are not ignored. I do think that the scheming Louis XVIII is portrayed a bit too positively, though. The Revolution is seen mostly from Madame Royale's point of view, and her view is understandably not very benign, since as a young child she was forced to witness bloodshed and social chaos. One by one her immediate family members were led away to die. In the prison she could hear the tormented cries of her little brother but was not allowed to comfort him or visit him when he was sick. Did she hate the Revolution and all symbols of it? Yes.

With sensitivity and insight, Nagel does not hesitate to demonstrate how the faith of Marie-Thérèse sustained her through so many sorrows. The books also makes it clear that Marie-Thérèse was dedicated to France in almost the same way as a nun is dedicated to her vows. For Madame Royale, no sacrifice, personal or otherwise, was too great, if it benefited her country. She married, not out of love, but out of what she saw as her duty to France. Contrary to many past biographies, Nagel produces evidence that the marriage of Marie-Thérèse to her cousin the Duc d'Angoulême was indeed consummated. (It makes one feel more sorry for her; Angoulême was so unappealing.)

Rising above personal disappointments, Marie-Thérèse led a life rich in love, full of friends and devotion to the poor. I learned a great deal about her friendships with people such as Queen Louise of Prussia, Napoleon’s “beautiful enemy,” Louise’s mother being a childhood friend of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s. The Duchesse d’Angoulême’s love of simplicity and her ability to relate so well to small children are qualities of which ample evidence is given. Most remarkable was her talent for stealing the show at certain crucial events, when she would appear magnificently dressed, with jewels and plumes that heightened her regal bearing, leaving no doubt in the minds of onlookers that she was the greatest princess of all.

Marie-Thérèse’s struggles with her memories and sad feelings are explored and might have been explored a little more. The emphasis is on her energy and dynamism, which were certainly outstanding aspects of her character. The search for what happened to her brother and the various pretenders is touched upon, not exhaustively, but then there are other books which deal specifically with those phenomena. Many fascinating details of the life of the Duchesse d'Angoulême are included, most of which are taken from primary sources, and for those aspects I found it an enjoyable read. If a person is not an admirer of Marie-Thérèse and her family, they might find it all tiresome, but I hated for the book to end.

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Post  Bunnies on Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:42 am

Forgive me for reviving a dead thread, and with an argumentative statement at that, but I could not stop myself.
Dr. Nagel was one of the few modern authors who seems to grasp the horror of the Revolution and did not try to make excuses for it as being a "necessary evil" on the path to democracy.

I would just like to say that to condemn the Terror does not necessarily mean to exalt Absolute Monarchy. To disagree with absolutism does not necessarily mean that one would identify as a Jacobin, and to condemn the Terror is not to be an anachronistic royalist. It is perfectly reasonable to condemn both epochs as flagrant acts of tyranny.

On that note, I confess that I could not finish this book. I got about halfway through, to see Madame Royale safely ransomed off to Austria, before I set it down. Nagel need not be surprised. Her book reads like a novel, with its archetypical ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ with naught a splash of gray, and so I feel that I should be forgiven for finding the heroine’s cavalier escape from the Terror to be anticlimactic. True, that is how the history of the matter played out, but the book’s sensational style could but disappoint me.

Style aside, its characterizations were troubling. To Nagel Louis XVI was but a helpless victim in the midst of a bloody Revolution that he simply could not have avoided! While this may be soothing for Louis’ apologists, I could compare it to posthumous castration. The man was absolute monarch, and there is responsibility that goes along with that title aside from the fancy outfits. Nagel does not seem to grasp this, and her inability to understand the Revolution beyond “they are being mean to my beloved Bourbons!” shines through. Condemn the Revolution all you like but do not ignore its causes.
One of its causes was that Absolute Monarchy was a decayed system. Instead of acknowledging that even a pittance of reforms were necessary, any concession that royalty makes towards the disagreeable mass is comparable to a step onto the scaffold. Radicalism and evil are used synonymously, as are royalist and saintly.

It has been said by someone before me that this bias is due to how the Revolution is told from Madame Royale's point of view. I argue that point of view is for novels. Certainly, Madame Royale had an understandably negative opinion and this should have been analyzed in a biography, but the biographer herself has a duty to at least play at objectivity.

Ideological quibbles aside, its factual inaccuracies and leaps in speculation were particularly jarring. I should be among the last people to quarrel with an assault on Louis XVI’s reputation, but for heaven’s sake did the book seriously argue that the last king of the ancien regime had taken on a mistress and sired a bastard? I can’t help but think if it was tossed in for sensationalism rather than for historical credibility.

And perhaps I am getting my facts confused, but did not historian Alfred Cobban demolish Madame Campan’s memoirs as a historical source? And there must be dozens of pages almost lifted verbatim from Campan’s work! Now, I could be wrong; I’ve never read much of Cobban and my assertion that he dismissed them comes from a conversation I had with someone who had. So I’m repeating like, third-hand information on this point so I’m not a paragon of confidence. But even if I’m wrong and Madame Campan’s credibility is without blemish this would just mean that Nagel had at least one credible source of information. As it was, she made numerous assertions with either tainted sources or absolutely without sources!

One of them was one that I see in many royalist-lauding works and it is just as unsourced as always. That dastardly scoundrel Robespierre had hidden Marie Antoinette’s personal effects under his mattress. No source is cited, and I must say, as someone who devotes to Robespierre an ill-proportional amount of study beside figures of comparable importance, I’m rather puzzled to have never found any assertion of this sort in a book about Robespierre, no matter how hostile the biographer is. Nor have I seen it recorded in Courtois’ index of Robespierre’s papers and effects. Or mentioned in any Thermidorian pamphlet. I can’t help but think that since even Robespierre’s unfortunate employment of a bag bearing royalist insignia to wipe his injury clean was used as evidence of his illustrious royalism Courtois would have definitely reported how his fallen foe had been squirreling away Marie Antoinette’s effects for his own personal use.

He didn’t. Unless Nagel has access to anti-Robespierre documents that absolutely none of his biographers nor any other historian has access to, she is either inventing this story for sensationalism’s sake or is just unquestionably repeating what she read in other works on the royal family, where they also neglect to cite their source. I could give us an encyclopedia here. Castelot, Zweig, Seward, Komroff, etc. Of these, Zweig is the only one (I believe) who tries to explain the absence of primary sources on the matter, but even his explanation falls flat. Nagel is not the only guilty one, of course, but that does not change the fact that she is guilty.

I confess that I find slander to be an inappropriate way to honor the royal family.
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