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the Complete Review
the complete review - history

     

The Wicked Queen

by
Chantal Thomas


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Wicked Queen



Title: The Wicked Queen
Author: Chantal Thomas
Genre: History
Written: 1989 (Eng.:1999)
Length: 255 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Wicked Queen - US
The Wicked Queen - UK
The Wicked Queen - Canada
La reine scélérate - Canada
The Wicked Queen - India
La reine scélérate - France
La Reina desalmada - España
  • The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette
  • Translated by Julie Rose
  • French title: La reine scélérate
  • Includes A Select Chronology of Marie-Antoinette's Life, a section with short descriptions of the main figures of the time, and seven pamphlets from that period.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a remarkable bit of history, well-presented

See our review for fuller assessment.





Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 7/8/1999 Steven Poole
Journal of Women's History . Spring/2000 J. T. Kuznicki
London Rev. of Books . 30/9/1999 Hilary Mantel
The NY Rev. of Books B 8/2/2001 P.N.Furbank
TLS . 4/2/2000 Angelica Goodden

  From the Reviews:
  • "(Thomas) performs some intriguingly acrobatic and suavely French feats of mythographic analysis upon `this wild and lewd fresco'." - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "The work includes detailed, yet often psychologically speculative, analysis of how the pornographers were forced to cast their target in ever more unfavorable ways to increase their sales and perpetuate the culture of shock that they had created." - Jason T. Kuznicki, Journal of Women's History

  • "It makes the excellent point that no attempt should be made, as was sometimes done in the past, to link these writings with their real-life subject (.....) Thomas's is an important subject, then; but unfortunately her opening statement of principle goes rather awry." - P.N. Furbank, The New York Review of Books

  • "(P)oorly translated into English (.....) What is different about this exposé is its Barthesian foundation and the whiff of intellectual pretentiousness that accompanies it. The half-argument that the victimized queen symbolized the "marginalization and negation" of women in ancien regime France needs tighter presentation than it receives here to carry conviction." - Angelica Goodden, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The wicked queen of the title (La reine scélérate in the original) is Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI and victim of the French Revolution. Chantal Thomas' book provides some fascinating background as to how Marie-Antoinette was perceived in the France of that day. Basing her study on the representation of Marie-Antoinette in the pamphlets of the time Thomas shows how the low estimation of the foreigner was formed and reinforced, and how Marie-Antoinette failed to respond in any meaningful way on the attacks against her, assuring her fall.
       Scurrilous rags of great popularity and influence these pamphlets, the tabloids of the 18th century, are astonishingly crude and rude works. Marie-Antoinette, an obvious target and subject for them (for reasons Thomas clearly explains), is depicted as a base, ruthless, shameless, sexually omnivorous hussy -- and a danger to France. Thomas cites and quotes from a large number of these pamphlets, and usefully presents seven of them in their entirety. With titles such as The Royal Dildo or The Austrian Woman on the RAMPAGE, or the Royal Orgy there is little subtlety to most of these works. Some try to be a bit more clever in their attacks on the royal household -- as in the Description of the Royal Menagerie of Living Animals -- but the allegations and claims put forth are all outrageous, obscene, and direct. The writings of de Sade, who began his less than illustrious career in these same times, is, in part, an extension of these writings, ultimately taking them to their extremes. Thomas' book surprisingly also serves as a useful introduction to the works of the Divine Marquis. (Or perhaps not so surprisingly: this book was planned as the "third and final part in a history of eighteenth-century libertinage," the first two parts (regrettably not yet translated into English) being devoted to de Sade and Casanova respectively.)
       Thomas' introduction to the book threatens with its critical, Barthes-influenced tone and ambition, trying perhaps a bit too hard to follow in Barthes' theoretical-mythological footsteps. Still, the basic thesis is sound, and as she relates Marie-Antoinette's history and how it was reflected in the pamphlets of the day, her interpretation seems well-founded.
       Thomas strikingly describes how the foreigner Marie-Antoinette, daughter of the despised fecund Austrian Empress, Maria Theresia, was offered up to the Louis XVI, shorn of every vestige of Austria as she crossed the border to France. It was not enough for the French, critical of the ill-starred political union from the first. Louis' sexual difficulties made it impossible to consummate the marriage for seven long years (royal troubles that were widely known and for which there was little sympathy). The weak king was maligned, but it was Marie-Antoinette that drew the spiteful criticism and attacks. She was accused of adultery, lesbianism, and worse, and though she bore a son (and heir) the rumours did not stop. A weak royal house was vulnerable to being undermined, and Marie-Antoinette's character, her court demeanor, and her indifference to these aspects of public opinion made possible the continued attacks, increasing in their brazenness and venom.
       Thomas' book is both a biography of Marie-Antoinette and analysis of how she was seen in the France of her day. It is a very vivid picture Thomas paints, with well-chosen (and often shocking) examples. A fascinating study, Thomas presents it very well, making for an entertaining and thoughtful read. Certainly, the pamphlets offer an unusual means of examining Marie-Antoinette's life; what was stated in them was almost all false, but the reasons for these specific accusations being levelled against her are convincingly explained by Thomas.
       The pamphlets included in the book are not half bad either -- clever, witty and definitely obscene. Modern politics seems tame against most of what is written here.
       This book is not for the kids, but it is definitely useful reading for anyone interested in the French Revolution and the fall of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. A useful perspective to which modern readers are not often exposed, this is a valuable and entertaining account of some very troubled times. Recommended.

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Links:

The Wicked Queen: Reviews: Marie-Antoinette: Other books by Chantal Thomas under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chantal Thomas is the Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherches Scientifique. She has written numerous books.

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© 1999-2012 the complete review

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