Marie Antoinette has always been a compelling historical figure, but this second novel in Grey’s trilogy about the French queen explores the woman as much as it explores the myth. After a tantalizing prologue that hints at a scandal later on in the novel, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow picks up in 1774, just before Louis XV dies and Toinette (as she is called by her intimates in the novel) and Louis (XVI) ascend the throne.
Toinette is more than four years into an unconsummated marriage when she becomes queen. Her passionless marriage and fear about producing an heir, as Grey explores in the novel, is the root cause of her wild excess that makes her so unpopular with the French. She masks her emotional pain by losing a lot of money at card games, spending lavishly on dresses and hairstyles, and being overly generous to her friends.
When Louis gives Toinette her own private palace, Le Petite Trianon, on the grounds of Versailles, the public is outraged that they are denied access to her sanctuary. Versailles is open to the public, and the Queen’s demand for privacy at Trianon further fans the flames of hatred from the French. This gives rise to many scurrilous pamphlets that suggest the Queen has scores of lovers both male and female.
The image of the scandal-causing, spendthrift queen is one that most people are familiar with. But Grey also portrays Marie Antoinette as a doting mother (after she and Louis finally consummate their marriage), a supportive wife, a passionate lover, and a loyal friend. Most of the novel is written from Toinette’s perspective, so the reader sees the human who exists behind all the artifice.
While it is easy to understand how the seeds were planted for revolution in France, it is also easy to sympathize with Marie Antoinette, who desperately wanted to be loved by her subjects. She lost two of her beloved children, including the dauphin. And while she and Louis loved each other, they were not soulmates. She found that kind of love with Axel von Fersen.
Despite seeming to have it all, she was a woman who endured a lot of anger and sadness. Grey convincingly portrays Toinette’s emotions as she faces her tragedies and her triumphs.
The novel ends shortly after the storming of the Bastille, with Toinette hopeful that Louis can make the people love the monarchy again. History, of course, tells a different story. I really enjoyed the way Marie Antoinette was brought to life in this novel, and I’m looking forward to reading the final installment in the trilogy.