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 Marie Antoinette: Coupable par association

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Date d'inscription : 23/05/2007

MessageSujet: Marie Antoinette: Coupable par association   Jeu 15 Mai - 9:47

Marie Antoinette: Coupable par association.

Un bijou d'analyse, une perle littéraire que l'article que je vais vous poster maintenant. L'auteur, Sarah Marshall, démonte les mécanismes qui ont construit notre vision actuelle de Marie Antoinette. La tradition a développé en effet autour de son personnage une kyrielle de clichés (poufs, brioche, gros mari, collier hors de prix, fringant comte suédois, ferme miniature, factures de couturières...) auxquels notre reine se réduit désormais. Et par rapport auxquels elle est devenue coupable par association, en dépit des multiples preuves historiques de son bon sens et de sa bonté.

L'auteur s'appuie sur les travaux d'Antonia Fraser, qui a le mieux mis en évidence le gap entre la Marie Antoinette forgée par la tradition et la femme réelle, celle qui écrivait à sa mère qu'elle oeuvrait au bonheur du peuple, qui faisait la charité, a adopté des enfants et continué à veiller sur eux même en prison.

Sarah Marshall se réfère également aux recherches de Caroline Weber qui a montré avec pertinence l'importance du costume dans le rôle et la psychologie de Marie Antoinette. Ecartelée entre la pression maternelle et l'impuissance du couple à produire un héritier, longtemps demi-dauphine à cause de son mariage non consommé, enfermée dans la fonction traditionnelle de reine de France invisible, Marie Antoinette ne s'est pas contentée de plaire par son charme. Elle a laissé parler en elle le sang de Louis XIV et voulu assumer un pouvoir solaire, entier, masculin.

Non coupable, la reine est surtout victime du fait que le cliché de la femme passive était trop petit pour elle. Et elle l'est encore, lorsque nous la réduisons à une image si conventionnelle de frivole, dépensière, écervelée... pour laquelle, plutôt que de nous demander si elle a jamais prononcé, avec un tel à-propos légendaire, "pardon, Monsieur, je ne l'ai pas fait exprès", nous lui devrions au contraire un humble "pardon, Madame, nous ne l'avons pas fait exprès".

... Mais assez de paraphrases, je passe enfin à l'article de Sarah Marshall, un des meilleurs textes, et je pèse mes mots, sur Marie Antoinette que j'aie lus dans ma vie.

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MessageSujet: Re: Marie Antoinette: Coupable par association   Jeu 15 Mai - 10:17

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall lives in Portland, Oregon, and is currently at work on a book about women and the true crime genre. Her essays have most recently appeared in The New Republic and The Believer.

Gilt by Association



Marie Antoinette Being Taken to her Execution, 1794, by William Hamilton


The Marie Antoinette cliché, of course, is easy not just to summon, but to accessorize: there is the pouf, the diamond necklace, the dressmaker’s bills, and the toy farm. There is the fat husband, the overbearing mother, and the dashing Swedish count. And then there are the turns of phrase both too flippant and too penitent to really be believed: “let them eat cake,” as she presumably nibbled her own, and “forgive me, sir, I did not mean to do it,” as she stepped on her executioner’s foot. The former is almost certainly apocryphal, the latter is harder to confirm or disprove. The words are vague enough to imagine Marie Antoinette accepting her guilt, no matter the accusation.

Will Marie Antoinette, the subject of so much revolutionary vitriol in her own time, ever enjoy a revolution of her own sordid legacy? Historians familiar with the cliché have finally begun to accept “let them eat cake” as pure invention. “That lethal phrase,” Antonia Fraser writes in her biography of the queen,



  • "had been known for at least a century previously, when it was ascribed to the Spanish princess Marie Thèrése, bride of Louis XIV, in a slightly different form: if there was no bread, let the people eat the crust (croûte) of the pâté. It was known to Rousseau in 1737. It was credited to one of the royal aunts, Madame Sophie, in 1751, when reacting to the news that her brother the Dauphin Louis Ferdinand had been pestered with cries of “Bread, bread” on a visit to Paris. The Comtesse de Boigne, who as a child played at the Versailles of Marie Antoinette, attributed the saying to another aunt, Madame Victoire. …It was, in short, a royal chestnut."



Claiming that Marie Antoinette would have been most likely to utter the phrase in the spring of 1775 during the Flour War, a series of riots triggered by the rising price of grain, Fraser instead marshals Marie Antoinette’s own words in a letter to her mother: “It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness.” The contrast—between the apocryphal utterance and the recorded reflection—is striking. The Marie Antoinette we find in recorded history emerges as kind, caring, well-spoken, and impetuously altruistic. She refused to allow the royal procession to roll over the fields of peasants, and she gave to charity the gifts that poured in for her children. During her childless years, she attempted to adopt into the royal household a little peasant boy who once fell in her carriage’s path and captured her affections after he emerged unharmed. The boy’s grandmother and widowed father were in favor of the arrangement; the boy was not. Even after he departed Versailles, however, the queen continued to care for his family’s needs in one of the many acts of charity that, while incapable of having any real impact on the financial quagmire that was France, at least allowed Marie Antoinette to use what agency she did have to make some impact on the well-being of her people.

Why do we have such trouble recalling this Marie Antoinette? For one thing, Marie’s resolution to “work hard for [the people’s] happiness” was far easier said than done. At Versailles it was the accepted custom for the royal mistress to hold sway over the king—Madame du Pompadour under Louis XV, and within Marie Antoinette’s own time, his extravagant lover Madame du Barry. The queen herself, tradition held, should lead a quiet, retiring life of praying, perhaps embroidering a few altar cloths, and, most importantly, producing heirs. Entering the court of Versailles as a foreigner at age fourteen, Marie Antoinette foresaw her role as essential but tangential—any attempt to influence the king’s political decisions, let alone to utilize one’s own royal power in matters of state, would at best be met with laughter and at worst whispers of treason. Without the opportunity to do much of anything, she could only become the most of everything: the most beautiful, the most regal, the most worthy of love. In remembering how utterly this tactic failed during the final years of Marie Antoinette’s life, we forget how spectacularly it served her for much of her reign.




Marie Antoinette, 1775, by Jean-Baptiste André Gautier d'Agoty


At the coronation of Louis XVI, which took place at the end of the Flour War of 1775, the new King ascended the throne wearing a ruby, emerald, sapphire-, and diamond-encrusted crown at a time when his country suffered under a deficit of twenty-two million livres. The crown itself had cost six thousand livres; at the time, the average annual income for a noble family was thirty thousand livres. A single livre was worth twenty sous, and a laborer could expect to make between thirty and fifty sous a day. At the time of the riot that incited the Flour War, the price of a loaf of bread was sixteen sous—in other words, half a day of taxing labor, or, to perhaps put it in even better perspective, 0.00013 percent of the cost of the king’s coronation crown. Yet for all this the young king was met with adoration, not least of all because of the public’s well-established love for his beautiful young queen.

Upon Marie Antoinette’s arrival from her native Austria five years before, the citizens of France had also rioted, this time not because of starvation, but because of their desperation to glimpse their young dauphine. The resulting crush of bodies had led to a staggering 130 casualties. Following her husband’s coronation, those who posed a threat to Marie Antoinette could be certain of meeting with the citizenry’s hatred. As Caroline Weber notes in her 2006 biography, “crowds rejoicing at the change of régime burned [Madame du Barry supporter] Auiguillon’s despicable colleague Maupeou in effigy, in part because they suspected him of having spread vicious rumors against their lovely new queen.”




Marie Antoinette at Age Seven, 1762, by Martin van der Meytens


Caroline Weber’s book, Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, takes an approach as sympathetic as Antonia Fraser’s, but dwells less on the queen’s woeful lack of agency than on the realm in which she truly reigned: clothes. In this regard, Weber has ample material to work with. It hardly stretches the imagination to suggest that a young woman whose passage from one country to another was symbolized by a change of clothes—she was stripped of her 400,000-livre Austrian trousseau at the border and outfitted with a French one—might come to believe in the transformative power of fashion.

Weber employs what may be her most radical argument in a section devoted to the early years of Marie Antoinette’s life at Versailles, during which time she found herself unable to consummate her marriage, let alone to conceive an heir. The problem laid not with Marie Antoinette, but with her shy and maladroit young husband, who for years was either unable or unwilling to fulfill his marital duty.

As far as royal marriages go, a union with a painfully self-conscious virgin must have seemed an enviable prospect to many of the young queens forced to contend with syphilis, illegitimate heirs, and marital rape, but for Marie Antoinette this era of forced celibacy seemed to have amounted to a kind of psychological torture. She had been brought to France to fulfill one purpose, and through not fault of her own was unable to do so.




Louis XVI in Coronation Robes, 1771, by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis


It was only after three years of marriage, in the summer of 1773, that Louis XVI was able to consummate the royal marriage—or at least to believe he had. (Marie Antoinette shared in his perceived triumph, gleefully writing of her long-awaited success in a letter to her mother, Empress Maria Theresa.) However, the couple’s relief was short-lived, as gossip of his affliction soon came to focus on Marie Antoinette’s baffling inability to conceive.

One can only imagine how difficult these years might have been for the anxious young queen. For the three years that she remained only “half a dauphine,” a sizable faction of courtiers remained intent on removing her from Versailles. Even after the alleged consummation, her failure to produce an heir allowed her detractors to deny her even the traces of power and credibility her title allowed. Without true friends or even allies at court, Marie Antoinette also would have learned very quickly that there was little use in turning to her mother for comfort: she would only receive more harshly-worded missives enjoining her to fulfill the only duty she had ever been groomed for.

What could make Marie Antoinette a valuable member of the royal family? Her mother seemed to think she knew. “It’s not your beauty, which frankly is not very great,” Maria Theresa wrote to her fifteen-year-old daughter, then a newlywed, “nor your talents nor your brilliance (you know perfectly well you have neither).” It was, Maria Theresa said, her manners, her sweetness, and her charm that would save her. If she could not be a real dauphine she could inspire those around her to love her as much as if she were one. But as Caroline Weber argues, the half-dauphine had other ideas. Finding a way to enchant a hostile and gossip-obsessed court with sheer goodness and charm must have seemed to Marie Antoinette—who was often naive but never stupid—as impossible as any task assigned to a beleaguered young heroine in a fairy tale. Instead, she set about commanding awe and respect through clothes. Like her timid husband, Marie Antoinette was descended from Louis XIV; unlike her timid husband, Marie Antoinette had the Sun King’s ability to use her wardrobe and charisma to project an air of compelling regality. She also, Weber suggests, may have gestured toward the kind of masculinity she could not dare approach in her actual conduct, through “phallic” wigs and scandalously androgynous riding garb. If she could not be a real dauphine, she could at least dress with kingly regalness.




Marie Antoinette in Hunting Attire, 1771, by Joseph Krantzinger


Whether or not one agrees with Weber’s argument, it’s hard not to sympathize with the lonely, vulnerable, and all-too-human figure at its center. Marie Antoinette had lived in the crucible of public scrutiny that was Versailles for eight years—the entirety of her adult life—before she managed to deliver her first child; it would be three more years before she provided France with a male heir. By then she certainly had plenty of time to accept that she could only feel safe or appreciated by inspiring public awe, and could far more easily rely on regal bearing and sartorial splendor than on her intelligence, personality, or kindness.

Perhaps the most persistent question regarding Marie Antoinette’s life is the one that haunted her downfall: was her spending really enough to bankrupt a country? As with Louis XVI’s failure in the bedchamber, the impression of mystery has grown greatly over the years, but the answer is simply no. Marie Antoinette's spending, though significant, was hardly exemplary by the standards of Versailles. Though this spending memorably ended with her reign, it had gone on for decades before her arrival. During the years Marie Antoinette spent within its eleven hundred rooms, Versailles was home to between two and four thousand citizens, each one requiring gifts, appointments, and various indulgences. During her tenure as Louis XV’s mistress—a salaried position paying 150,000 livres a year, not counting gifts from the king himself—Madame du Barry frosted not just herself but her animals with millions of livres worth of jewels, gifting, for example, a diamond- and ruby-encrusted leash and collar to her pet spaniel, Dorine.

Even within her immediate family, Marie Antoinette had ample competition. In 1777 alone, her brothers-in-law the Comte de Provence and the Comte d’Artois accrued a combined gambling debt of thirty-one million livres, while the Comte d’Artois rounded out his expenditures with an order for 365 pairs of shoes, a fresh one for each day. Meanwhile, Louis XVI’s maiden aunts, each of whom withdrew a million livres in annual salary, once spent three million livres on a six-week trip to Vichy. Though Marie Antoinette’s spending may seem monstrous—in 1776, for example, she spent 100,000 livres on accessories—it pales in comparison to the orgy of spending continuously taking place all around her. She also had little alternative. During a period when her Rousseau-influenced taste for “simple” pleasures extended to her wardrobe, sparking a national fad for simple muslin gowns known as galles, her detractors pilloried her for depriving the French silk industry of its lifeblood. If Marie Antoinette regarded her spending as a political statement, it might have been far more astute of her not to cut her spending back, but to consider where she might spend money in order to best satisfy her people.




Marie Antoinette en Gaulle, 1783 by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun


As the French Revolution progressed, it remained difficult for many French citizens and thinkers to loathe Louis XVI with the vitriol their philosophy seemed to require. Marie Antoinette, decadent, foreign, and venial, could much more easily be pressed into service as a symbol of all that was wrong with the Ancien Régime. Groomed for a passive role, her life, as it descended into nightmare, reached an odd kind of zenith: never had she performed such rich symbolic labor, or done so with such little effort. If we look at her as a silly woman whose spending helped inspire a revolution she herself could not understand, her death seems unjust but not particularly tragic. But though her public image helped bolster leaders of a bloody revolution, her legacy may still inspire change. If we are willing to reexamine our public hunger for women as passive figures—and for all the symbolic freight we feel compelled to lash onto them—we may come to regard Marie Antoinette not as a musty cliche, but as one of the most thought-provoking examples of the damage this hunger can do. "Forgive us, madame: we did not mean to do it".
http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/roundtable/gilt-by-association.php?utm_content=buffere2e4b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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MessageSujet: Re: Marie Antoinette: Coupable par association   Jeu 15 Mai - 10:22

Ce magistral essai est aussi cité dans cet article-ci:
http://thehairpin.com/2014/05/the-miseducation-of-marie-antoinette

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