Who was the real Marie-Antoinette? She was mistrusted and reviled in her own time, and today she is portrayed as a lightweight incapable of understanding the events that engulfed her. In this new account, John Hardman redresses the balance and sheds fresh light on Marie-Antoinette’s story.
... splendid ... The first half of Mr. Hardman’s masterly biography offers an account of the court and pre-Revolution politics. It is lucid but involved, and some may find it hard going. It is with the forced move to Paris that the book takes off ... is not only a wonderfully gripping biography, it is also a history of the most dramatic stage of the French Revolution.
Hardman moves through the details of Marie Antoinette’s childhood more quickly than some of her other biographers. This is, after all, an academic look rather than a life and times ... There are a few flaws. For instance, England is used on dozens of occasions where Britain is meant, seven decades after the Act of Union. However, as a political biography of the last Bourbon queen of France it is hard to see how it could be bettered — failing a cache of previously undiscovered letters or memoirs turning up. Hardman utilises years of researching the fall of the French monarchy, weaving in accounts by those who knew, loved or loathed Marie Antoinette, to offer a broadly convincing portrait of a woman who 'inspired loyalty in strangers who were willing to risk their lives for her, even when the chances of success were slight'. It is a thought-provoking portrait of a brave, well-intentioned, if often misguided queen.
... dense ... Hardman’s willingness to accept the contemporary notion that Marie Antoinette’s 'frigidity' played a part in the royal couple’s early fertility problems somewhat undermines his revisionist arguments, as does his admission that the queen was 'largely unprepared' for the task of 'turn[ing] the tide of revolutionary fervour.' Academics well-versed in the French Revolution will appreciate Hardman’s diligent marshaling of the period’s many twists and turns, however.