Stephanie: Juliet Grey is the author of Becoming Marie Antoinette and Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow. She has extensively researched European royalty and is a particular devotee of Marie Antoinette, as well as a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit. She and her husband divide their time between New York City and southern Vermont.
Juliet, thank you for chatting with me today about your book. Your trilogy has been a wonderful discovery of Marie Antoinette. Although, many know the story of her and what happened. You give us a clearer and in-depth look at her life and the life of her family. Please tell your audience about Confessions.
Juliet: Thank you so much for hosting me today, Stephanie! It’s always a pleasure. Confessions of Marie Antoinette is the third novel in my historical fiction trilogy, spanning the time period from October 5, 1789 when the fishwives and tradeswomen of Paris (along with some infiltrators) march to Versailles demanding bread to the execution of Marie Antoinette on October 16, 1793, just days before her 38th birthday. This book details the last few years of her life, those of increasing deprivation, but they are the years when Marie Antoinette really comes into her own as a woman, wife, and mother. Circumstances compel her to mature. As the youngest daughter of the formidable Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, these reservoirs of courage may have been in her all along, but were dormant for decades. The occasions had never before arisen where she needed to discover how strong and resilient and brave she really was. The action of Confessions. follows that of the middle novel in the trilogy, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, which depicts Marie Antoinette’s golden years as queen of France from 1774-1789, and the first book, Becoming Marie Antoinette, which profiles her childhood as an Austrian archduchess and the astounding physical makeover she had to undergo before she was judged fit to become dauphine of France, to her wedding to the grandson of Louis XV (the future Louis XVI), as well as her years as dauphine at Versailles until the death of Louis XV on May 10, 1774.
Confessions of Marie Antoinette, like the other two novels, stands alone, but right at the top of the novel I throw readers right into the midst of the march on Versailles. Those who are well versed in the era will already be familiar with the world of the narrative. However, in order to gain a full understanding of how things came to be so dire, and how Marie Antoinette came to be so detested, it is helpful to read the first two novels in the trilogy, not only for the character development over the 3-book narrative, but for historical perspective. All three novels were heavily researched and I relied on the historical record rather than playing fast and loose with the facts. Author’s notes at the back of every novel (there is also a bibliography at the back of each book) explain any deviations I made from the historical record and why I did so. Marie Antoinette has had enough lies told about her over the past 250 years. I wanted to finally tell the real story.
Stephanie: When reading Confessions I found myself emotional over the decisions King Louis made and did not make regarding the protection of his family. He seemed like a lost child and was not able to protect his family because of his will not to put his subjects in harm’s way. Do you approve of how he handled their situation and if he had acted differently could there have been another out come to their plight?
Juliet: Louis’s vacillation was maddening. And it drove his wife crazy. But it was imperative to her to keep the family together as a unit; she refused to flee with their children and leave him alone to the mercy of the mob. They were in it together as a family. That’s what noble people do. But Louis was also too naïve. He just refused to conceive that his own “good people” as he always called them, would revolt against the crown. He knew they were rumblings of discontent. There is proof that the monarchs did not in fact have their heads in the sand about this and about the possibility of revolt, and I include these scenes where they would chronologically appear, toward the end of the second novel in the trilogy, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, when the Three Estates are meeting in the town of Versailles in June 1789 to demand governmental reforms. It was important to me to show that the monarchs were aware to a certain degree of what was going on beyond their walls—but that Louis was both credulous and stubborn. He felt the Estates had no right to try to railroad their king. And he genuinely had the welfare of his people at heart. In fact he had a love-hate relationship with his progressive Finance Minister Jacques Necker (father of the famous Germaine de Staël) over the minister’s forward-thinking policies. Necker started out as a Swiss banker and he believed in taxing the wealthiest segments of French society in order to alleviate the poorer segments from their crushing tax burdens. Louis XVI was compelled to agree that the rich should pay some taxes (they paid none), although he knew the first two Estates, the clergy and nobility (see question 7) wouldn’t be happy about it. But he needn’t have worried. The Parlements refused to ratify his edict. So the rich were never taxed after all. Still, he never believed that those who had had enough taxation and starvation would foment a full-scale revolution. He wasn’t ready for it, militarily or emotionally. And in any case, he never believed that the military should fire on his own subjects. Louis took the high road in refusing to sanction the use of force against them. In a way, one has to admire that. The Revolutionaries were so violent and bloodthirsty and so adamant in their agenda to topple the monarchy that I don’t know if it would have made things better if Louis had authorized the use of force against them. It might have resulted in a complete civil war in France. What did happen during the Revolution is that for the most part one side (the Revolutionaries) killed the other (the Royalists).
Stephanie: Marie seemed somewhat delusional at times –if you will- and in the beginning of their capture often times I don’t think she quite grasped the seriousness of their situation. Or was this a way for her to shield her children? Do you think she did all she could in the situation they were in?
Juliet: Marie Antoinette was raised royal. It begins that simply. She always had servants, always had an entourage, always had things done for her. In fact, at the French court, she was not allowed to do things for herself, which at the beginning of her existence there drove her nuts. French queens didn’t handle their own things! It was considered beneath their station. Certainly, when she is helping to plan their escape to Montmedy and overpacks, she is thinking like a queen and not like a fugitive. I would not call her delusional and I think she certainly recognized how desperate their situation was, more so than Louis did because she didn’t trust their subjects as far as she could spit. But the trappings of royalty were ingrained within her and she felt it necessary to appear regal at all times. I think readers need to step outside their 21st c. heads and remember who Marie Antoinette was and think about the world she was born into and what was expected of her from the cradle. Queens dressed and comported themselves a certain way. They didn’t show up at the border looking like refugees. This is undoubtedly what was in her head as she packed for Montmedy, ordering all those clothes, and Axel von Fersen isn’t thinking life and death stakes, but thinking “royalty has to travel in style even when they are fleeing to safety” when he commissions the largest, heaviest, slowest coach in manufacture. I tried my best to stay inside the characters’ heads when I was writing the novel, rather than comment, as the author, from the outside looking in at them. Otherwise, yes, I would have screamed “What are you thinking?!” more than once.
Stephanie: What are your opinions of the National Assembly and how they handle things? Do you agree with the laws that they were setting in place for the French people?
Juliet: The National Assembly (which was actually one of a number of legislative bodies at the time because the legislature was re-named every time a new revolutionary faction gained power) passed a lot of nutty laws, like creating a new calendar that no one could understand, with absurd names for months and seasons and festivals, in their zeal to purge religion and God from society. They didn’t fix the problem of raising money, because they made the existing money of no value, replaced with assignats that ended up being worth less than the paper they were printed on. The poor remained just as poor and just as hungry, and the National Assembly had no new ideas and no system in place to ameliorate their problems. It was far worse than centuries of monarchy with government ministers placed in charge of various departments.
Robespierre was an arch-hypocrite, dressing and behaving like the very aristocrats he despised. The trials in Confessions of Marie Antoinette, which are drawn from the historical record, show what a sham the new Republican government (France was declared a Republic after the National Assembly abolished the monarchy in 1792) was. There was no justice for the royal family. The Revolutionaries had an agenda and nothing short of abolishing the monarchy would do. The National Assembly allowed a certain amount of anarchy and lawlessness to destroy France far more than the monarchy had ever done, yet looked the other way when the streets ran with blood. And when things were just as bad for the lower classes, the Assembly did nothing, but blame the monarchs, whom they had already stripped of their power!
Stephanie: There were people who were against the royal family that had close contact with them and later changed their mind how they felt about them. They realized what a devoted mother Marie was and a loving wife. Could those people have stopped what happen to them or were they very few to make that kind-of impact?
Juliet: If only! Once the Revolution got underway, it became so bloodthirsty that good people were afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals. In fact, in Confessions of Marie Antoinette, there are characters who come to know her personally and realize that she is hardly the caricature she had been demonized as for so many years. Those with no power could not possibly have been able to say anything. Even within the prisons there were reprisals. And even when she makes alliances with those in power, and at least one in the novel, does risk his reputation and credit with the Revolutionaries to stick up for her—things do not end well for him. Reason and Revolution did not go hand in hand after the fall of the Bastille in July, 1789. All of the principles of Enlightenment that were discussed prior to that, in the sophisticated salons and coffee houses of Paris, and the ideas of Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité, went out the window once the more—and then the most—radical, violent, fringe elements of the Revolutionaries took over, displacing those who had wanted to foment a revolution for more high-minded reasons and ideals.
Juliet: What motivated you to write about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution? What did you hope to discover in doing so?
Juliet: I first fell in love with Marie Antoinette (and Louis) when I was profiling their marriage in my nonfiction book (as Leslie Carroll) Notorious Royal Marriages (NAL, 1/10). As I researched their lives, I discovered so much that has been disseminated about them for centuries is propaganda, written by the winners of the French Revolution and handed down through the years as fact. I felt that she had been so maligned that I had to tell her true story. So the discovery actually came first.
Confessions of Marie Antoinette is the last novel in a trilogy, so I was bound to write about the French Revolution in the third book, as the action begins three months after the storming of the Bastille—which happens at the end of the second novel, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow. The events of Confessions of Marie Antoinette begin with the famous Women’s March on Versailles of October 5, 1789 and end with Marie Antoinette’s execution on October 16, 1793. It wasn’t so much that I hoped to “discover” anything by writing about the Revolution, but I hoped to set the political record straight for readers. For more than two centuries the monarchs were blamed for the events of the Revolution; but by and large, they were scapegoats. Their own subjects had no idea how their own government worked. The king was an autocrat but all of his edicts had to be ratified by the 12 judicial bodies spread across France, known as the Parlements. The members of the 12 parlements came from the first two Estates (the clergy and the nobility) that historically had never paid taxes. Only the middle class (the bourgeoisie) and the poor paid taxes. And whenever a king (this happened during the reigns of both Louis XV and Louis XVI) had a progressive and far-seeing minister who realized that France would be utterly bankrupted with no hope of getting out of the hole unless the first two Estates were not taxed, and the king then issued an edict regarding some sort of levy on the nobility and the clergy (who were the only 2 social classes who had any real wealth), the parlements consistently shot the edict down and refused to ratify it. So the rich stayed richer and the bourgeoisie and the poor got poorer thanks to increased taxation to cover increased government expenditures, as well as bad harvests. Wars had gone unpaid for, from the Seven Years’ War during the reign of Louis XV to the military aid sent to the American colonies during our own Revolution. But the demagogues who sought the ouster of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette for their own reasons (for example, the deep pocketed duc d’Orléans wanted to be declared the constitutional monarch) were intent on destroying the sovereigns and the monarchy, and informing a people who were ignorant of the way their government really worked, that their sovereigns were to blame. In fact, the demagogues and the obstructionist parlements who repeatedly socked the lower classes with heavy tax burdens were the ones who deserved the blame. Marie Antoinette herself had no personal political clout. She was a queen-consort. A queen of France did not govern. But she received the lion’s share of the blame for all of France’s ills.
Stephanie: What ever became of Marie and Louis’s children and is their bloodline still remaining today through the children?
Juliet: Madame Royale, Marie Thérèse, the sole surviving daughter of Louis and Marie Antoinette, remained incarcerated for another three years, after which she was released in exchange for imprisoned commissaries of the Revolution. She eventually married her first cousin the duc d’Angoulême, the eldest son of Louis’s youngest brother, the comte d’Artois. After their marriage in 1799, the couple, who would always remain childless, moved to Buckinghamshire, England, returning to France only after the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814, following the enforced abdication of Napoleon. Upon the death in 1824 of her uncle Louis XVIII (the former comte de Provence), her father-in-law Artois became King Charles X of France, which meant that Marie Thérèse was the dauphine. In 1830, during yet another revolution, Charles X abdicated in favor of his eldest son. But Marie Antoinette’s daughter was Queen of France for less than an hour, because her husband was urged to immediately abdicate in favor of his nephew, the duc de Bordeaux. Marie Thérèse spent the remainder of her life in exile, first in Edinburgh, then in Prague, and finally on the outskirts of Vienna. She died of pneumonia in 1851.
Louis Charles, Marie Antoinette’s only surviving son, who technically became Louis XVII upon the death of his father, died in the Temple prison on or about June 8, 1795, at the age of ten. He had become fat from a poor diet, yet had not grown much taller. His jailers left him to stew in his own filth for weeks on end. His sister described how his bed had remained unmade for six months, chamber pots went unemptied; and her brother, as well as the room’s meager furnishings, were covered with fleas and other bugs. Because the windows were never permitted to be opened, the stench in the room was unbearable. For many years after Louis Charles’s death, it was suggested that he had been replaced with a hapless changeling and smuggled out of the Temple. Several young men came forth during the beginning of the nineteenth century to claim that they were the dauphin of France. Marie Thérèse refused to meet any of them. However, the boy’s heart was taken away by the doctor who performed the autopsy on his body, and it finally came to reside in a crystal urn in the Cathedral Saint-Denis in Paris. According to the duc d’Anjou, a representative of the Spanish Bourbon royal line, mitochondrial DNA testing on the organ in 2000 proved conclusively that the DNA sequences were “identical with those of Marie Antoinette, two of her sisters, and two living relatives on the maternal side.”
Stephanie: Were there any creative challenges you faced while writing Confessions?
Juliet: The greatest challenge was maintaining the tension and suspense when 99.9% of readers know the end. But of course the characters don’t know the end of their story. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI are trying to survive and remain in power and keep their children safe. Since I was writing most of the novel from the queen’s perspective, I saw her world through her eyes and it was her thoughts and emotions I felt as I wrote the story. So even though the author and the readers know the outcome of all of their trials and tribulations, for all of the characters, the events were happening in real time, for the first time. And so I strove to give the narrative that immediacy that they would have felt under the circumstances.
Stephanie: Well, you certainly did a great job at maintain the tension and suspense! So much so in fact I had to put the book down for a minute to collect myself! What is up next for you?
Juliet: My next nonfiction title, Inglorious Royal Marriages: A Demimillennium of Unholy Mismatrimony, (NAL 11/14) is in the revision stages. After I complete the revisions for that book, I’m working on a few other projects.
Stephanie: Oooo…sounds exciting and intriguing. Where can readers buy your book?
Juliet: Wherever books are sold—in major bookstore chains as well as independent bookstores, and online retailers as well). All three titles in the trilogy are available for Kindle and Nook.
For more information please visit www.becomingmarie.com. You can also find Juliet Grey on Facebook.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/confessionsofmarieantoinettevirtualtour
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