Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, Austria-France 1769

Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, Austria-France 1769

Kathryn Lasky
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Scholastic, 2000   ISBN: 978-0439076661

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna was her name. At least it was the name she grew up with until her mother, Maria Theresa, the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, decided that Antonia was going to marry the Dauphin of France. Then Antonia had to become Marie Antoinette. It wasn't just a matter of changing names either. It became a matter of considerable political importance for her mother and the empire. It had been the Empress's strategy for many years now to acquire alliances and peace though the marriages of her children

Thus it is that poor Antonia has to prepare for her new life in the French court. She has to learn better French, how to ride in the French style, how to eat in the French style, and sometimes it is almost as if she has to re-create herself to suit the French. There are so many rules of "etiquette" to learn as things are done very differently in the palace of Versailles. For example it would appear that Antoinette will need half a dozen ladies-in-waiting just to get her dressed and undressed every day.

The whole process is dreadful for Marie because she is a spirited girl, only fourteen years old, and far from ready to be thinking about marriage and memorizing pages and pages of boring and senseless rules of etiquette. And yet she understands that this is the role that she has to play and she does indeed do her best. There are times though when she wishes she could just have a quiet life in Austria like her sister Elizabeth, not having to worry about marriage or political alliances.

Still Marie prevails and in just a few months she is a poised, gracious, and regal young woman who will be a credit to her family and her country. Her hard work has paid off and she leaves the only home she has known to begin a new life in a place where she is surrounded by strangers. Many of the people she meets are unfriendly and a few are downright hostile. It is not an easy world to get adjusted to and what makes everything worse is that Marie?s husband, the Dauphine Louis Auguste, is a dull, unattractive young man who seems to have no interest in her whatsoever.

What is so endearing about this girl princess is that she plays the games that are required of her and yet she still stays true to herself. Marie makes friends, gets people to like her, and she even finds a way to reach her distant husband, forming a bond with him based on friendship and support. Her early successes make the sad story of her later life that much more distressing because we know that she has a kind heart, great spirit and courage, and much potential.

Unfortunately for Marie, luck is not on her side and her adult life is full of disappointment, grief, and loss. It is true that much of what she suffers is her own fault, and yet the author shows us that her weaknesses are due more to the inadequate training that she received, rather than to the flaws in her personality. How could Marie be a sensible and politically savvy queen if she was taught no statecraft at all and understands her people very little. Suffering and privation were alien to her after all. She was also a victim of her times, becoming queen at an extremely volatile point in French history.

Kathryn Lasky superbly gets into the mind and heart of Antonia, the girl who became the famous and infamous Marie Antoinette. She is a consummate storyteller and also a superb researcher.

Though this is a tragic story, it is also one which is uplifting. We see a girl grow into a woman, and we also see a girl grow into a role that she would prefer not to have. Surely Marie's courage must count for something.