How Do You Solve a Problem like Marie Antoinette?
I think there was a time when every person in the world knew who Marie Antoinette was. The ill-fated queen, who was so savagely dispatched via guillotine, had a hold on students of history, moviegoers, fashion designers, and the public at large. Two centuries after her execution, she was still a household name and her death was known by ghoulish girls and boys alike. (Think about The Addams Family TV show and its running visual gag of Wednesday Addams and her decaptitated baby doll, known as Marie Antoinette.) Now, with world history less in vogue--and history in general often replaced by current events--Marie Antoinette is more and more of a character who once held court in the long-ago past.
Because of her regal lifestyle, opulent costuming, and penchant for posing for portraits--I think she'd be a huge fan of selfies if digital cameras had been around in those days--we have a lot of physical evidence about what she looked like, what she wore, how she conducted herself, and what she wanted the public to think about her. For many years, the queen had managed to be popular--she had a good PR person at Versailles. She was presented as a caring, concerned mother and a kind shepherdess to her people. However, as financial woes began to trouble the kingdom, someone had to be the scapegoat. What better sacrificial lamb than the queen--whom everyone gleefully pointed out wasn't really French--and her seemingly doltish, simple-minded husband, Louis? It didn't matter that the whole court and all its attendants were plundering and looting the coffers, the buck stopped at the feet of the monarchs. What do they say? A fish stinks from the head down! Perfect when it comes to how the French mob bid farewell to their royal problems: they cut off their heads.
It's strange because we think of the fictional Queen of Hearts shouting, "Cut off their heads," but in reality, it was the French populace, overstimulated and overprovoked, who did the bellowing and butchering. The Reign of Terror was real, and it was anger directed at France's onetime very fortunate 1%.
So, how do you handle a problem like Marie Antoinette? Was she an evil, rich, hedonistic, spiteful layabout? Or, was she a concerned, caring, maternal, faithful queen who was fated to be despised and destroyed by her subjects? Marie has been written about, researched, portrayed, and examined. How she is presented often says more about the life and times of her authors than it does about her!
In Love, Death & So On, she is definitely played for laughs. She is alternately silly and sensible, kooky and controlling. She walks a fine tightrope between comedy and tragedy, since we all know what is waiting around the Versailles corner for her. The Marie Antoinette in this book is funny and frustrating, and I hope she is someone you enjoyed (or will enjoy) spending time with. The best part about bringing Marie Antoinette to life is that she was so complicated and complex that her true persona is still not solidly known. She is an enigma, a puzzle, and a figure that allows a writer to lavish his or her own imagination upon. If she hadn't really existed, someone would have had to make her up!