PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund

Cheryl Truman
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Marie Antoinette started out as what we today would call dumb as a stump.


Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

Publisher: William Morrow
Length: 560
Formats: Hardcover
Price: $26.95
Author: Sena Jeter Naslund
US publication date: 2006-10
Amazon

Marie Antoinette started out as what we today would call dumb as a stump.

In Abundance (William Morrow, $26.95), Louisville, Ky., writer Sena Jeter Naslund's new historical novel about Marie Antoinette, she was an extra princess in an Austrian royal family where children were not so much treasured as whelped for political benefit. Marie Antoinette was never much of a reader, never caught on to the political desperation that .ignited the French Revolution and persisted in stunts such as .creating faux impoverished villages for her own playtime when France was stuffed with authentically .impoverished villages filled with the starving.

Abundance portrays Marie .Antoinette as intellectually .incurious, lacking in conscience and morally ambiguous. (On the plus side, she liked flowers, was a decent mother to her children and rarely overate.)

She liked to gamble and loved to flirt. Although she .professed love for Louis XVI, her great ape of a husband, her heart belonged to a Swedish nobleman with whom she shared numerous, largely chaste declarations of undying devotion. What the Swede sees in Marie Antoinette the reader of Abundance never knows.

Marie Antoinette was not the economical type, although she loved pretending she was. Living 200 years before Princess Diana convinced the world that pricey couture was cool if you also opposed land mines and hugged the terminally ill, Marie Antoinette sadly lacked the services of a canny publicist.

Still, even Marie Antoinette's mother, the Austrian empress Maria Theresa, thought her daughter was .clueless. Antoinette's brother, Joseph II, emperor of Austria, predicted that she and her king would end in a catastrophe of their own making. Which they did. After misreading the seeds of the French Revolution -- in one telling episode, the couple convince themselves that moldy bread is in fact painted for .dramatic effect -- Louis and Marie Antoinette attempt to go with the flow of the bloody new regime, then try to escape, and finally resign themselves to die with dignity.

This last part they manage pretty well.

Unfortunately, it's the way that people live that generally speaks for them, rather than the moments when they die. And in those moments when they're supposed to be living and leading, the king and queen fail repeatedly: They aren't politicians or even particularly adept at reading political currents across Europe -- even when the facts are laid out before them by savvy family members and adroit counselors. In an era when the successful monarch knew that the appointed-by-God line was hooey and that success went to the smart, Antoinette and Louis carried on like they ruled France from the pages of People magazine.

Marie Antoinette at least could claim that her main job was ornament, but even there she was something of a washout. The truly successful ornamental queen accessorized with a full womb and had a passing grasp of whether her subjects loved her or were merely being assembled for an impromptu round of monarch worship. Marie Antoinette alternately moralizes like a biddy, refusing to speak to her grandfather-in-law's influential mistress, Madame du Barry, and fritters away money because she sees herself as put-upon and in need of entertainment.

In one of Abundance's extended set-pieces, Antoinette spends an obscene amount of time and drama trying to convince her subjects that she didn't actually buy an expensive piece of jewelry; the point she misses is that she has bought an excessive amount of real estate, furnishings, paid flatterers, jewel-encrusted cups, paintings, landscaping and clothing. In the end, it's a distinction without a difference, and Marie Antoinette can grasp neither.

True, Antoinette might never have said "Let them eat cake" -- in Naslund's book, at least, Antoinette doesn't have the sarcastic oomph to pop out that nugget -- but the cliche about not seeing the forest for the trees? Now that could have been her invention.

Marie Antoinette's husband, alas, was a pork chop of a king who managed to get her pregnant only with the most extreme of effort and would rather spend his time hunting; one supposes that if he had a TV and remote control, the French monarchy might have ended right there. Louis rarely had an original thought, .misinterpreted the works of the era's philosophers and received bad advice, which he managed through sheer serendipity to make even worse.

But despite the pitiful tale of the end of the French monarchy, this is Marie Antoinette's season to shine in pop culture. Hollywood darling Kirsten Dunst stars in Sofia Coppola's glossy Marie Antoinette, which has received mixed reviews. A child's book in The Royal Diaries series, Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, wisely concentrates on the Austrian-stranger-in-France theme, ignoring that whole guillotine unpleasantness.

A few years ago, master British biographer Antonia Fraser kicked off Antoinette-mania with her 2001 book, Marie Antoinette: The Journey.

Naslund's book title, Abundance, is ironic. While Marie Antoinette had abundance, she was repellent; when she was finally reduced, by fear and loss, she became a character worth knowing more fully. Naslund's irony is a pretty thing.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.