An interesting fictional account centered around a diary left behind by Marie Antoinette before her death so that her thoughts, motivations, dreams and disappointments would not die with her. Carolly Erickson gives her reader a very human account of a very misunderstood woman. Who couldn’t sympathize with Marie Antoinette after her marriage to the Dauphin who is unable to consummate the union for seven long years? Especially since seemingly the entire world, including her own family, blamed on her shortcomings.
Marie arrived at Versailles at the tender age of fourteen. She found the court of France to be riddled with intrigue and infidelity in stark contrast to her upbringing at the austere and pious Austrian court of her mother, Marie-Therese. She is married to a childlike man and finds herself blamed, vilified, and is haunted by scandalous and very public gossip mongering about her reputation and virtue. She turns to fashion and who could blame her? Seemingly indulging herself was life’s only consolation and at least she found something that brought her happiness, if it was only fleeting.
Of course, as history tells us France was in enormous debt, which only increased with the support of the American colonists revolution against the English. France needed a scapegoat and Marie Antoinette, especially with her lavish expenditures on trifles considering the plight of the French public, was the ideal candidate. History has depicted Marie as a woman in full knowledge of the crisis of the common citizen and spending anyway, but it seems to this reader that she was completely unaware of the plight of the citizen’s and the dire situation in the governing of the country.
Erickson brings to Marie Antoinette the characteristics of the real mortal woman she was and in turn leaves her readers with a more complete understanding of one of history's most vilified women. Erickson reveals the woman beneath the ornate gowns, ever taller wigs and life of material luxury. The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette reveals a woman deserving of compassion, who lived a life rich with disappointments, but also of a woman who showed immense courage in the face of utter humiliation and impending death in a world she could not relate to or understand.
I highly recommend this novel for many reasons, but foremost among them is the humanity Erickson brings to Marie. She successfully adds dimension to the icon that Marie Antoinette has become and provides a dynamic expands on the maligned “Madame Deficit” and truly brings to Marie every quality of humanity which it seems that up until this point few would have given her credit for. The only disappointment: the diary is completely a work of fiction.