Introduced to the French court at fourteen, Marie Antoinette, the bride of future King, Louis XVI, is caught up in the wonders of the her new life and her position as future queen, still in the blush of her youth and beauty. Lauded by the people, the Dauphine is happily feted, the crowds shouting their pleasure and earnest demands for an heir for the Dauphin.
Indeed, though she is delighted with her marriage, Marie Antoinette must wait seven years for its consummation, the entire court rife with gossip about the royal pair’s lack of intimacy and failure to produce a child. When the deed is finally done, Marie Antoinette is vastly relieved, gladly bearing her husband four children. In later years, her greatest sorrow will be the loss of two of her children; the Queen holds the remaining two close to her heart.
But in the early years, Marie Antoinette is easily seduced by her own image, betrayed by her youth and the lifelong indulgence of her position, incurious and unworldly in the ways of politics or the court. Surrounded by constant abundance, she never questions the rightfulness of her place in the glittering ambiance of the palace, accepting all as he royal due.
Until the Revolution reaches the castle walls, the Queen is oblivious to the concerns of the citizens, caught up in the pleasures of the court, the lavish entertainments a fatal diversion. As the years pass and the Revolution draws near, there is a growing edginess to the gathering crowds. By 1787, the country is on the verge of bankruptcy, in need of reform, circumstances leading to the Revolution of 1789, when “the Queen is quite universally detested” as a symbol of the excesses of the crown.
The people take over their government, the King and Queen shunted into the background, held captive by the unruly crowds, guarded against injury to their persons; but the die is cast. Consigned to virtual imprisonment, carried along by the tide of history, Louis opines that “Kings who become prisoners are not far from death,” a prescient remark, indeed. His shocked wife, Marie Antoinette, loses her head as well.
From Naslund’s perspective, the Queen is innocent of any wrongdoing, denouncing the lewd imaginings of the crowds, denying the moral corruption of the court. Criminal naiveté appears to be Marie Antoinette’s only flaw; but for all the effusive descriptions of the palace, the treasures, the marriage with Louis XVI and motherhood, the Queen is strangely passionless.
Buoyed by historical circumstances rather than a memorable personality, hardly more than a footnote to the Revolution, the gaiety behind the castle walls is in sharp contrast to the poverty and discontent in the streets, as the French resort to violence to end the repressive reign of out-of-touch monarchs.