I’ve mentioned before that I like reading historical fiction. Of this genre, my favorite is fiction based on real historical icons. Therefore, when I saw Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund I snatched it up.
I’ve been a fan of Marie Antoinette ever since high school French class when Mrs. Berard spent a week lecturing us on the French Revolution in French. Because I was a horrible student I had to spend extra time with Mrs. Berard after class so she could explain everything to me again in English which had me entranced. Prior to the help in English, the only thing I remembered was that the infamous quote “Let them eat cake” was actually “Qu’ills mangent de la brioche.” Brioche is not really cake, but actually a fancy sweet bread made with lots of eggs. According to Mrs. Berard, Marie Antoinette said this during the Paris bread riots.
Most modern day historians now agree that Marie Antoinette did not in fact insensitively suggest that the hungry peasants of Paris should eat brioche if they were out of bread. This includes Sena Jeter Naslund. In fact, the quote is not even addressed in the book. A tiny part of me wishes that it was. Otherwise, I loved the book.
In Abundance, we get an intimate and picturesque look at the life of Marie Antoinette that does seem very believable. One of Naslund’s sources was letters exchanged between Marie Antoinette and her mother. Many letters appear in the book and while I do not know if they are the actual depictions, I’d like to believe that the tone was at least duplicated. Even as the character develops, which Naslund does very well, she maintains her sense of youthful sweetness and naiveté.
In addition to Marie Anotinette, the reader also gets a good picture of the other people in her life, including her husband, Louis XVI. When we first meet him he is portrayed as dull and awkward but grows into a thoughtful and sensitive man as the marriage progresses. According to Naslund and several other historians, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s marriage was not consummated for several years. (Note: Mrs. Berard left this part out entirely.) Marie Antoinette’s frustration, as portrayed in this book, became my own and I am now interested in reading biographies of Louis XVI. I have yet to find anything that speculates that he was gay so I’m dying to know: what the hell was his problem?
If you paid attention in history class (or like me, you had to get your French teacher help translate your notes) you know Marie Antoinette’s fate. Maybe because of the spoiler, the end chapters about the last year of her life were my favorite.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a deep intimate portrait of one of my favorite historical figures with plenty of new details I will pick up in subsequent readings. I give this one a shrimp coma Mrs. B.