Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette

The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson

Imagine that, on the night before she is to die under the blade of the guillotine, Marie Antoinette leaves behind in her prison cell a diary telling the story of her life: from her privileged childhood as Austrian Archduchess to her years as glamorous mistress of Versailles to the heartbreak of imprisonment and humiliation during the French Revolution.

I don't have particularly strong feelings about this book. I like the idea of Marie Antoinette leaving behind a secret diary and I think that Erickson was able to give her protagonist a strong voice (even if the diary format was a bit contrived at times, most notably at the very end). While Erickson does not shy away from obvious character flaws, her emphasis is on Marie Antoinette's better qualities. This seems to be both as a result of the author trying to flesh out her character beyond the usual let-them-eat-cake caricature and the natural tendency in us all to think better of ourselves, to shift focus onto our heroic rather than cowardly actions when speaking or writing about ourselves.

I have to admit, though, that even with this first-person retelling of her story, I still can't see Marie Antoinette as a terribly sympathetic character. A similar book, which I think was much more successful, is The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland. It tells the tale of Napoleon Bonaparte's first wife and maybe because we know so little about Josephine (whose given name was Marie Jos├Ęphe) her story is much more compelling.


  1. Thanks for reviewing this. I haven't read the book, but I'm interested. Your comparison to the Josephine B. book is interesting. I really enjoyed those books. Was it you that sent the first one to me via the Ravelry RAK? I loved it and ended up reading the whole serious and passing it along to my sister and several friends.

  2. hmmmm... it could have been me (I like sending books to people who have books on their RAK wishlists), though I do have a sneaking suspicion that my copy is still kicking around the apartment.