Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reputations - Marie Antoinette

This week in the Reputations series of lectures by the Trinity History Department was about Marie Antoinette by Dr Linda Kiernan - this was a really good lecture! Very informative, and full of interesting insights into what people (particularly the French of the late 1700s) thought of her. She was a much maligned woman, and was seriously the victim of a vicious campaign against her by the revolutionaries that ultimately succeeded in getting her to the guillotine. A sympathetic view, but not the complete view as presented by Dr Kiernan.

Image link to Wikipedia.
I particularly enjoyed Dr Kiernan's analysis of the image of Marie Antoinette. Her presentation and illustration of the many pamphlets that were distributed about Marie Antoinette were both entertaining and informative. Also - with 52 slides for her lecture, Dr Kiernan also went to come effort to provide us with as much material as possible. The analysis was deep and thoughtful - her role as a Hapsburg and as a French Queen was critically analysed. This left us in no doubt that Marie Antoinette was both a simple (devoted to family) and a complex character (trying, but failing to be a Hapsburg at a French court).

I have always felt some sympathy for her - for example, she never said "Let them eat cake". She was also portrayed as as a foreigner, lesbian, abuser of her son, frivolous, having undue influence on the King, a whore, among many other things - many untrue. Her trial was a joke, but her execution inevitable. 

Much of Marie Antoinette's problems were due to her being a woman in a man's world. Traditionally, the King's mistresses were singled out as the cause of problems at court, but as Louis XVI had no mistresses -  Marie Antoinette was singled out to blame. She stood no chance.

However, Marie Antoinette and the King were hopeless and useless - they did nothing to revert the tide of public opinion against them. They were extravagant, without any real sense of the misery their subjects lived in. They were true cuckoos in cloud-cuckooland. "Spin" had not yet been invented - they certainly could have done with a PJ Mara or Alastair Campbell at court!

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