Thursday, January 28, 2010

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

by Sena Jeter Naslund

I picked this bookup from the bargain table at Barnes and Noble at least 2 years ago. As my AP European History class began studying the French Revolution, I picked it up, looking for some insight into the woman that some historians believe launched the French Revolution.

The book begins with Marie's birth as a Frenchwoman, where on an island in the Rhine River between France and Austria, she sheds everthing she owns that is Austrian, even her name, and becomes French. Marie embraces her new country and awaits with great anticipation her first meeting with King Louis XV and his grandson Louis Auguste, the man destined to become her husband.

Over and over again throughout her life, Marie is confronted by disappointments -- lack of a sexual relationship with her husband, inability to conceive an heir to the throne, coldness from the women at court, the deaths of two of her children, the criticism of her mother, the negative propaganda surrounding her court activities and finally the loss of the only life she understood. The novel goes far in explaining the woman behind the famous Queen. It takes fact and fiction and creates a Marie Antoinette that falls somewhere in between. The author is sympathetic to Marie, but offers no excuses for her behavior.

As poor harvests, harsh weather, huge debts and poverty oppress the French people, they turn on thier most favored Queen and blame Marie, the Austrian Whore, for their problems. While Marie did not create these problems, she did nothing to prevent or attempt to solve them. She didn't even acknowledge the suffering existed, and in reality an arguement can be made that Marie herself did not know of the troubles of the people until it was too late.

What we find in the novel is a very humanized Marie Antoinette. She struggles with her marriage, especially when Louis chooses his favorite hobby, hunting over her and an attempt to produce an heir. She faces the same struggles of all mothers when it comes to her children. She is heartbroken when she is not allowed to care for her first son, the Dauphin, herself and she is devastated by the deaths of Louis Phillipe and her daughter Sophie. She even feels inadequate under the criticism of her mother via long letters from Austria, fed by court spies. It is this very vulnerable portrayal of Marie in the novel that makes you almost feel sorry for her.....almost.

I did like Marie Antoinette more after reading this very well researched and well written novel. The history is impeccable and being told from Marie's point of view it has a very authentic tone, and their are no excuses for the behavior of either Marie or Louis -- just a matter of fact, this is how it is view of the most life of one ofthe most famous women in European History.

This book was part of the Historical Fiction Challenge.

Rating - A


  1. This was one of the first HF books I ever read and it got me hooked. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  2. This sounds excellent! I really enjoy character driven historical novels.

  3. Hi again. :-) Thanks for leaving a comment on my "Nine Parts of Desire" post. I responded to your comment and left a question for you, in case you get a chance to stop back by.

  4. I really enjoyed Abundance - I, too, thought it was a very realistic and fair portrayal of an oft-vilified queen. I loved reading about the relative levity of the Austrian court and the stiff formality of the French (recent stereotyping would have suggested the opposite). And, I'll be honest, I knew nothing of van Fersen before this novel!