Smart is Sexy Sunday's: Marie-Thérèse Child of Terror

Marie-Thérèse, Child of Terror by Susan Nagel (biography review)

It was the summer of 2006 that I took my first trip to Versailles. The gilded rooms and endless hallways, abundance of gold, paintings, fountains, furniture, flourishing gardens - it was incredible. And that was just the first hour. After that, I was overwhelmed. Wandering its extensive grounds peaked my curiosity. I wanted to learn about Versailles and the life that had once existed here; especially it's last queen, and her equally ill-fated husband. The rest so to speak, was history.
Three Marie Antoinette biographies ( along with one on Louis XVI, and a return to Versailles) later, my interest has blossomed into a near obsession. I have bloodlines memorized, favorite historians, and I now get giddy when I watch PBS documentaries: "Hey, I read her book!".




By the end of the Reign of Terror, Marie-Thérèse was the only surviving child (?) of Marie Antoinette and Louis Capet.  Marie-Thérèse who was the eldest, was born into the wealthiest and most refined court of Europe. Tsar's and African kings traversed across the globe to experience the famed splendor and exaggerated opulence that was Versailles. On the day of her birth, church bells across the country tolled for days, and all orphaned children received a banquet in her honor, along with a 21 gun salute (had she been a boy, it would have been a 101 gun salute).
 While the court of the palace may have expected Marie Antoinette to give birth to a little dauphin, it was King Louis who had expected a little girl. She was his pride and joy, and every inch a daddy's girl. Upon her birth, Antoinette whispered "A son would have been the property of the State. You shall be mine." Marie A. had waited over seven years for a child, and she welcomed this little girl with all her heart. Both parents did.


 Marie Antoinette's name has over-shadowed that of her daughter, and history has proved them both to be wildly misunderstood. While Marie-Thérèse was often accused to be a proud and haughty character, however Nagel dispels the rumors with with intimate accounts from those closest to her. Marie proves like all human beings, to be a complex character: some proclaimed her "angelic", and in the same breath call her headstrong and willful. Above all things, and all historians agree, is that Marie-Thérèse had the gift of forgiveness. In his last letter to Marie, before leaving to the scaffold, her father asked her to "remember her people, love them and to forgive them". She never forgot her father's wishes.


Throughout my reading, I found myself asking "Is it better to loose one's life, and have the faint hope of your children surviving, or to have all you have ever known - including family - torn away from you, and survive to carry on your family's memory?" Even after my completion of this biography, I have no answer. I am left instead with questions. (To be perfectly truthful, I am not even sure if the Marie-Thérèse I read about was the actual daughter of Marie Antoinette. Did you know that there was another little girl in the Versailles Palace who was often referred to as Marie's twin? No? Well, she is not often mentioned...And she also disappears after the family's move from the palace.)


Marie-Thérèse was 11 years old when she and her family were taken from Versailles, and she was 14 when both her parents were beheaded. Barely two years later, she would lose her younger brother Louis Charles - her only surviving sibling - as well. What makes these circumstances even more heartbreaking, is that Marie never knew of her mother, aunt, or brother's death; she was finally told by hired "company" during her last year of imprisonment. Up until that point, she had hoped believed her family members to be alive.


While Nagel takes great effort to give a truthful account of Marie-Thérèse, it is certainly not an easy story to tell. Shortly after her quiet release from prison, wild stories about her deceased brother began to circulate. Stories such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, which claimed to have smuggled the Tower prisoner out of the country and into England. For Marie-Thérèse, rumors of swap while on her way to Austria also began to circulate. Were they true? Nagel does her best to separate fact from fiction... but still the decision is left to the reader.
On the back cover in review of the book, a person is quoted saying "Above all, Marie-Thérèse's story is one of triumph." However after reading this book, the intro, and the afterward, I am not so sure. I am left with a mixture of both sadness, and awe. This woman was indeed human: she made her mistakes, she had her doubts...But never have I read of a woman who had such strength and courage. Except of when I read about her mother. 
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3 comments

Chic 'n Cheap Living said...

What a grand and tragic life (and confusing as well if it ended up being traded with the other girl in the palace!)

xoxo,
Chic 'n Cheap Living

Jennifer Fabulous said...

I was entirely captivated by this post, Amber. When I saw on Goodreads that you had read this book, I wanted to read it, only because you're fabulous and have such good taste.

But now, after reading this in-depth review, I simply NEED to read this book! It sounds incredible.

Marie-Therese's life sounds unbelievable. I can't believe I never knew that much about her before. (I think you're right, her mom definitely overshadowed her). Her life would make an awesome movie or documentary...

Bonnie said...

Smart girls are hot.
This is why I majored in English during my undergrad.
... And took a year of grad school in the English department.
But have since changed.
So ...
The end.

http://www.glamkittenslitterbox.com/
Twitter: @GlamKitten88

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