Marie Antoinette: Childhood

Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna was born in Vienna on 2 November 1755. She was the 15th child of Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria and her husband Emperor Francis Stephen. Soon after the birth, the baby was put into the care of a wet-nurse named Constance Weber, the wife of a magistrate. As she grew, she would still keep in touch with the Weber family. During her childhood, her mother Maria-Theresa would bring her to visit them and bring them gifts. She was also encouraged, as were all her siblings, to play with “common” children.

The relationship with her mother was one of “awe-inspired fear” mixed with love. Years later she commented: “I love the Empress but I’m frightened of her, even at a distance; when I’m writing to her, I never feel completely at ease”. Antonia, as she was called by her family, was closer to her father, who was cheerful, indulgent and good-natured. He transmitted to his daughter his passions for plants, flowers and gardens. Sadly, he died of a stroke when Antonia was only nine years old.

The family was close-knit, but with so many siblings there were bound to be some jealouses and rivalries. She and her siblings were particularly jealous of Marie Christine, who was their mother favourite and the only daughter allowed to marry for love. Instead, Antonia was very close to Maria Carolina, the sister closer to her age, being only three years her senior. The two lively and mischevious little girls grew up together almost like twins.

The atmosphere at the Autrian court was very informal and etiquette was lax. Antonia and her younger siblings would often perform, singing and dancing for the court, and in the long Austrian winters would go sledging. But the young archduchess had to study too. Her education was centered on the need to perform gracefully at court events. But because Antonia was only the youngest daughter in a big family and her parents so busy, her education was neglected and her governess spoiled her, helping her a bit too much in her studies.

While Antonia excelled at dancing, loved embroidery and learned to play the harp well, at 13 she couldn’t read nor write well yet and didn’t know much history either. Her French wasn’t fluent and was full of German constructions and phrases. This became a huge problem when after her sister Marie Josephine died of smallpox and her sister Marie Elizabeth was left scarred by the disease, she became the only available candidate to marry the heir to the throne of France. To improve her education, in 1768, the Abbé Vermond arrived to the Austrian court and became her tutor. A year later she could speak French fluently.

Her education wasn’t the only thing that needed to be improved to become, one day, Queen of France. Antonia was a pretty, lively and graceful girl with a beautiful pink white complexion but her teeth were far from perfect. She had to wear a pelican, a form of braces created by the dentist Pierre Fauchard, for three months to fix them. Next was her uneven hairline. Parisian hairdresser Larsenneur was called to Austria to turn her unruly hair into a stylish, powdered do that disguised her high forehead. Antonia’s transformation was now complete and she was ready to marry the Dauphin.

The wedding by proxy was celebrated on 19th April 1770 and two days later, on the 21st, she said goodbye to her family, friends and the people of Austria, got into the carriage that would bring her to France and left her native country, never to return.

Further reading:
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
Marieantoinettequeenoffrance.org

Edith Wharton

Edith Newbold Jones, the daughter of George Frederic Jones and Lucretia Rhinelander, was born on 24th January 1862. She had two brothers, Frederic and Henry Edward. The family was rich and when Edith was 4, travelled around Europe, visiting Italy, France, Spain and Germany. They returned to America six years later where the family spent the winters in New York and the summers in Newport, Rhode Island. Edith was educated by a governess. She learned history, science, art, philosophy, French and German. She always loved reading and writing. She wrote short stories and poetry from a young age and her first novel, Fast And Loose, when she was only 14.

Edith debuted in New York society in 1879. At 23, she married Bostonian banker Edward Robbie Wharton. Edward came from a similar social background, was attractive, kind and shared with Edith the passion for travelling and country life. However, he didn’t share the same artistic and intellectual interests as his wife and the marriage wasn’t successful. They both took lovers (Edith had an affair with journalist Morton Fullerton while in Paris) and the couple divorced in 1913. After the divorce, Edith settled permanently in Paris, returning to America only occasionally.

In the meantime, she started publishing her works. The Decoration of Houses (1897), cowritten with architect Ogden Codman was her first published work. During the years she wrote poems, short stories, writing on travelling, design and gardens, and several novels including The House Of Mirth (1905) and The Age Of Innocence (1920). Her works were heavily influenced by social and natural scientists like Darwin, Lock, Tyndall and Huxley. This influence is obvious in the use of language and themes she chose to write about. In her novels, Wharton portrayed the mores, values, social ambitions and changes, the conventionality and hypocrisy of New York society during the Gilded Age, using a style that was at times satiric and ironic.

Edith Wharton was in North Africa when World War I began. She was dedicated to the Allied cause and led a commitee that founded hospitals and schools for refugees and orphans in France and Belgium. She also helped women with no means of support to get jobs and raised funds for both these projects. Moreover, she travelled to the front lines to observe the fighting and tend to the sick, writing about this experience in a few essays. Because of this, in 1916 she was awarded the title of Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour.

In 1921 Edith travelled to America to receive the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, published the year before. She went to America one last time in 1923 when she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Yale University. In 1930, she entered the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Edith Wharton died of a stroke on 11th August 1937 and was buried in the Cimetiére des Gonards in Versailles.

Further reading:
Edith Wharton’s World
The House Of Mirth
The Age Of Innocence

Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (who would one day be known as Mark Twain), the sixth child of John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton was born in Florida, Missouri, on 30 November 1835. In 1839, the family moved to their Hill Street Home (it is now a Mark Twain museum), in Hannibal, situated on the bank of the Mississippi river and a frequent stop for steam boats.

Due to poor health, Samuel spent most of his childhood inside the house. When he was 9, his health improved and he was allowed to play outside with other children. He also attended a private school in Hannibal. He had to leave in 1847 to get a job because the death of his father left the family in a precarious financial situation. He started working for several newspapers and magazines in New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis. He enjoyed writing and also started writing stories and novels.

In St.Louis he became a river’s pilot apprentice, getting his license in 1858. Part of his job was to sound the depths of the water to know when they were safe for passage. This action is called “mark twain”, which means safe to navigate. The term was chosen by Samuel Clemens as his pen name in 1863. Life on the boat and river also provided lots of inspiration and material for his future work.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, access to the Mississippi was limited, which brought river trade to a halt. So Samuel started to work for several newspapers across America. He travelled the country and went abroad to Europe, visiting Italy, France, Greece, and the Holy Land. He narrates his experience in the Innocents Abroad (1869). In 1870 Mark Twain married Olivia Langdom and the couple had 4 children. Sadly, only three survived infancy and two died in their twenties. Their only surviving child was a daughter called Clara. Although the family travelled often, their home was in Hartford, in Connectict.

Mark Twain wrote numerous stories, novels and essays and started to gain fame as a writer. Among his most famous works are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Although they are sometimes still labeled as racist, Mark Twain was against slavery and any form of injustice. He simply described life as it was at the time and highlighted the irrationality of human beings and how absurd some social and political norms are.

Although Mark Twain made a lot of money through his writing, he also lost of a lot due to a series of bad financial investments. To solve his financial problems and pay off his debts, he embarked on a lecture tour around the world. Mark Twain died on 21 April 1910 in Reading, Connectict. He is buried beside his wife and children in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York State.

Further reading:
http://www.cmgww.com/historic/twain/about/bio.htm
The Innocents Abroad
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Adventures of Hackleberry Finn

Marie Antoinette: Dauphine

It took several weeks to reach France, but on 7th May 1770, Marie Antoinette finally entered her new country. There was a ceremony to mark the occasion and afterwards, she met her French attendants. Marie Antoinette was now officially French. Seven days later she met the King Louis XV, who was charmed by this young girl, her future husband, Louis, Dauphin of France and the rest of the royal family.

On 16 May 1770, the wedding of Louis and Marie Antoinette took place at the Palace of Versailles. The ceremony was followed by lavish celebrations, including a firework display that ended in tragedy with people getting trampled over and killed. After the festivities, the ritual of the bedding took place. The young couple was put to bed and everyone expected they would consummate the marriage straight away. However, 8 years would pass before that would finally happen.

The French people seemed to really love Marie Antoinette at first, but not everyone at court approved of the marriage and the alliance with Austria.Louis XV’s daughters, who had a great influence on the young Dauphin Louis, made fun of Marie Antoinette and Adelaide, the oldest, labelled her L’Autrichienne. Madame Du Barry also complained that the Dauphine wouldn’t speak to her. Du Barry, having a lower rank, couldn’t be the first to speak and Marie Antoinette didn’t want to have anything to do with the king’s mistress, finding her position at court appalling. But snubbing the king’s mistress was snubbing the king and criticising his behaviour so Marie Antoinette had to give in in the end.

Having grown up at the informal Austrian court, Marie Antoinette also found it difficult to get used to the strictly regulated life at Versailles. In the morning, there was the ritual of the lever (morning dressing) where the toilette was performed with the assistance of several people, and at night, there was the ritual of the coucher (evening undressing). The royals also had to dine in public. Everyone who was decently dressed could go to Versailles and look at the royal family eating. Marie Antoinette hated these rituals but had no choice but go through with them.

In a letter written to her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, in 1770, Marie Antoinette described her daily routine: she woke up between nine and ten, dressed informally, said her morning prayers, ate breakfast and visited the royal aunts; at 11 o’clock she had her hair done and at noon, she applied her rouge and got dressed in front of a lot of people; then she attended Mass and dined with her husband in front of the whole world. And every month, she had to write to her mother.

Marie Antoinette went hunting with her husband (although she herself didn’t hunt) to try and get closer to him by sharing his favourite pastime. She also gave little dances in her apartments. In the meantime, she made a couple of lifelong friends: Marie Louise de Savoy, the Princess de Lamballe, and Yolande, Duchess de Polignac. The Princess de Lamballe was more intellectual and cultured, while the Duchess de Polignac more frivolous, but also a devoted mother and friend. 

To alleviate her homesickness, her marital problems and sadness, Marie Antoinette adopted a lifestyle full of enjoyable distractions: she began gambling, spending lots of money on clothes and visiting the theatre and the opera more often. Although all this would change when Marie Antoinette became a mother, the bad reputation gained in the first years of her marriage would never go away. But at the moment, the lively Dauphin is leading a pleasant, if not happy, life at Versailles. A life that ended on 10 May 1774 with the death of Louis XV.

Louis and Marie Antoinette were now King and Queen of France..

Further reading:
Louis XVI And Marie Antoinette Before The Revolution by Nesta Webster
Marieantoinettequeenoffrance.org
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

Samuel Pepys on Midsummer Night's Dream

I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare and have just finished reading for the second time A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although not my favourite play of his, I still find it a very pleasant and enjoyable read and would love one day to have the chance to see it performed in a theatre. Someone who had that opportunity was the seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys, but he didn’t seem to enjoy it much. In his diary, he briefly shares his disappointment thus:

Monday, 29th September 1662

Michaelmas Day. And then to the King’s Theatre, where we saw “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,”which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy play written by William Shakespeare probably between 1590 and 1596. It is a bit complicated as we have several points intertwined throughout it: the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and Ippolita, Queen of the Amazons; the adventures of four young Athenian lovers; a group of amateur actors preparing to perform at the wedding; Oberon, the king of the fairies, fighting with his queen Tatiana over a changeling and interfering in the lives of the other characters.

Now widely performed around the world, the play didn’t seem to enjoy much success during the Restoration. During this period, plays were evaluated based on the classical standards set by Aristotele (a series of events centered around one character). A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with all his interlocked plots, was likely considered too messy and thus, adaptations of it were performed, seldom, in theatres. It was probably one of these very adapted versions that Pepys saw and disliked.

Further reading:
http://www.pepysdiary.com/

Picture above:
The Reconciliation of Tatiana an Oberon by Joseph Noel Paton, 1847, National Gallery Of Scotland, Edinburgh

Mark Twain visits Versailles

I have only recently finished reading The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. The book chronicles the journey the American writer undertook from the USA to Europe, the Middle East, the Holy Land and Egypt. This travel book is certainly different from the rest because Twain describes the places he sees in a witty and ironical, satirical and sometimes cynical style, focusing on the negative parts of the journey instead than simply mentioning the beauty of the places he visits. It seems like nothing ever pleases, satisfies or awes him. Nothing except Versailles. Here’s what he has to say about it:

VERSAILLES! It is wonderfully beautiful! You gaze and stare and try to understand that it is real, that it is on the earth, that it is not the Garden of Eden—but your brain grows giddy, stupefied by the world of beauty around you, and you half believe you are the dupe of an exquisite dream. The scene thrills one like military music! A noble palace, stretching its ornamented front, block upon block away, till it seemed that it would never end; a grand promenade before it, whereon the armies of an empire might parade; all about it rainbows of flowers, and colossal statues that were almost numberless and yet seemed only scattered over the ample space; broad flights of stone steps leading down from the promenade to lower grounds of the park—stairways that whole regiments might stand to arms upon and have room to spare; vast fountains whose great bronze effigies discharged rivers of sparkling water into the air and mingled a hundred curving jets together in forms of matchless beauty; wide grass-carpeted avenues that branched hither and thither in every direction and wandered to seemingly interminable distances, walled all the way on either side with compact ranks of leafy trees whose branches met above and formed arches as faultless and as symmetrical as ever were carved in stone; and here and there were glimpses of sylvan lakes with miniature ships glassed in their surfaces. And every where—on the palace steps, and the great promenade, around the fountains, among the trees, and far under the arches of the endless avenues—hundreds and hundreds of people in gay costumes walked or ran or danced, and gave to the fairy picture the life and animation which was all of perfection it could have lacked.

It was worth a pilgrimage to see. Everything is on so gigantic a scale. Nothing is small—nothing is cheap. The statues are all large; the palace is grand; the park covers a fair-sized county; the avenues are interminable. All the distances and all the dimensions about Versailles are vast. I used to think the pictures exaggerated these distances and these dimensions beyond all reason, and that they made Versailles more beautiful than it was possible for any place in the world to be. I know now that the pictures never came up to the subject in any respect, and that no painter could represent Versailles on canvas as beautiful as it is in reality. I used to abuse Louis XIV for spending two hundred millions of dollars in creating this marvelous park, when bread was so scarce with some of his subjects; but I have forgiven him now. He took a tract of land sixty miles in circumference and set to work to make this park and build this palace and a road to it from Paris. He kept 36,000 men employed daily on it, and the labor was so unhealthy that they used to die and be hauled off by cartloads every night. The wife of a nobleman of the time speaks of this as an “inconvenience,” but naively remarks that “it does not seem worthy of attention in the happy state of tranquillity we now enjoy.”

I always thought ill of people at home who trimmed their shrubbery into pyramids and squares and spires and all manner of unnatural shapes, and when I saw the same thing being practiced in this great park I began to feel dissatisfied. But I soon saw the idea of the thing and the wisdom of it. They seek the general effect. We distort a dozen sickly trees into unaccustomed shapes in a little yard no bigger than a dining room, and then surely they look absurd enough. But here they take two hundred thousand tall forest trees and set them in a double row; allow no sign of leaf or branch to grow on the trunk lower down than six feet above the ground; from that point the boughs begin to project, and very gradually they extend outward further and further till they meet overhead, and a faultless tunnel of foliage is formed. The arch is mathematically precise. The effect is then very fine. They make trees take fifty different shapes, and so these quaint effects are infinitely varied and picturesque. The trees in no two avenues are shaped alike, and consequently the eye is not fatigued with anything in the nature of monotonous uniformity. I will drop this subject now, leaving it to others to determine how these people manage to make endless ranks of lofty forest trees grow to just a certain thickness of trunk (say a foot and two-thirds); how they make them spring to precisely the same height for miles; how they make them grow so close together; how they compel one huge limb to spring from the same identical spot on each tree and form the main sweep of the arch; and how all these things are kept exactly in the same condition and in the same exquisite shapeliness and symmetry month after month and year after year—for I have tried to reason out the problem and have failed.

We walked through the great hall of sculpture and the one hundred and fifty galleries of paintings in the palace of Versailles, and felt that to be in such a place was useless unless one had a whole year at his disposal. These pictures are all battle scenes, and only one solitary little canvas among them all treats of anything but great French victories. We wandered, also, through the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, those monuments of royal prodigality, and with histories so mournful—filled, as it is, with souvenirs of Napoleon the First, and three dead kings and as many queens. In one sumptuous bed they had all slept in succession, but no one occupies it now. In a large dining room stood the table at which Louis XIV and his mistress Madame Maintenon, and after them Louis XV, and Pompadour, had sat at their meals naked and unattended—for the table stood upon a trapdoor, which descended with it to regions below when it was necessary to replenish its dishes. In a room of the Petit Trianon stood the furniture, just as poor Marie Antoinette left it when the mob came and dragged her and the King to Paris, never to return. Near at hand, in the stables, were prodigious carriages that showed no color but gold—carriages used by former kings of France on state occasions, and never used now save when a kingly head is to be crowned or an imperial infant christened. And with them were some curious sleighs, whose bodies were shaped like lions, swans, tigers, etc.—vehicles that had once been handsome with pictured designs and fine workmanship, but were dusty and decaying now. They had their history. When Louis XIV had finished the Grand Trianon, he told Maintenon he had created a Paradise for her, and asked if she could think of anything now to wish for. He said he wished the Trianon to be perfection—nothing less. She said she could think of but one thing—it was summer, and it was balmy France—yet she would like well to sleigh ride in the leafy avenues of Versailles! The next morning found miles and miles of grassy avenues spread thick with snowy salt and sugar, and a procession of those quaint sleighs waiting to receive the chief concubine of the gaiest and most unprincipled court that France has ever seen!

Oh, I would really love to go to Versailles one day! What about you? Have you ever been there? What did you think of it? Were you blown away too?

Further reading:
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Photos:
Versailles Palace by VinayakH
L’orangerie et la Pièce d’Eau des Suisses by Gilles Messian

Marie Antoinette: Queen

Louis XVI was crowned king on July 11, 1775 at Notre Dame de Reims. His wife, Marie Antoinette, was present but she wasn’t crowned with him because a double ceremony would have been too expensive considering the bad financial situation the country was in. The new king and queen were very popular at the beginning of their reign. The French people had high hopes that their young virtuous prince and his glamorous wife would bring about a moral regeneration and improve the economy. Marie Antoinette though, didn’t have any political power. Her husband and most people in his government distrusted the Austrians and the queen didn’t have any interest in politics and court intrigues.

Childless and with no political power, the queen spent her time partying, gambling and spending lots of money on clothes and renovations on the Petit Trianon, donated to her by her husband in 1775. The Queen was very criticised for it and pretty soon seditious libels started circulating about her promiscuity, affairs and frivolous spending, despite the fact that she was actually very chaste and that the disastrous economic situation of the country was to blame on wars expenses. And Louis XVI’s decision to aide the American Revolution against Britain made things worse.

Marie Antoinette still hadn’t fulfilled what everyone considered to be her main purpose: giving France an heir. In 1777 her brother Emperor Joseph visited Versailles to sort things out. His advice led to the royal couple finally consummating their marriage and on 19 December 1778 the Queen, in a room full of courtiers, gave birth to her first child. It wasn’t the long-awaited heir, but a baby girl called Marie-Therese, who was nonetheless very loved by her parents. The baby was also proof of the fecundity of the royal couple and about three years later, in 1781, Louis Joseph, the heir to the throne of France, was born. The whole country rejoiced.

Motherhood changed the queen’s lifestyle. Marie Antoinette gave up partying and settled down. She also dressed more simply, preferring to wear white muslin dresses, and spent more and more time at the Petite Trianon, where no one could go without an invitation. There, she enjoyed private theatre performances (the Queen herself would sometimes act too) and spending time in the gardens. Jealous courtiers who weren’t invited harshly criticized her for it and implied that something lewd and dodgy was going on at the Petite Trianon. Her friendship with Yolande De Polignac also attracted criticism, because of the gifts and fortune the De Polignac family acquired thanks to it.

But Marie Antoinette was just a woman who loved a simpler style of life and lived for her children. Her letters are full of news and anedoctes of her children, she personally saw to their education (the Duchess De Polignac was appointed Governess to the Royal children) and she was very concerned about their health, especially with that of the Dauphin. The poor child struggled all his life with ill health. In 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to another boy called Louis Charles. That same year, the Affair of The Diamond Necklace broke out, which, despite the fact the Queen was an innocent victim in the scam, completely destroyed her reputation.

In 1786, the Queen gave birth to another daughter, Sophie but she died the following year. In 1789, the king and queen lost another child: the Dauphin Louis Joseph died too. But the distraught parents weren’t given much time to mourn their loss. The country was on the verge of bankruptcy and the people were starving…

Further reading:
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
http://marieantoinettequeenoffrance.org/

Book Review: The Hidden Diary Of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson

Synopsis:
Imagine that, on the night before she is to die under the blade of the guillotine, Marie Antoinette leaves behind in her prison cell a diary telling the story of her life—from her privileged childhood as Austrian Archduchess to her years as glamorous mistress of Versailles to the heartbreak of imprisonment and humiliation during the French Revolution.
Carolly Erickson takes the reader deep into the psyche of France’s doomed queen: her love affair with handsome Swedish diplomat Count Axel Fersen, who risked his life to save her; her fears on the terrifying night the Parisian mob broke into her palace bedroom intent on murdering her and her family; her harrowing attempted flight from France in disguise; her recapture and the grim months of harsh captivity; her agony when her beloved husband was guillotined and her young son was torn from her arms, never to be seen again.
Erickson brilliantly captures the queen’s voice, her hopes, her dreads, and her suffering. We follow, mesmerized, as she reveals every detail of her remarkable, eventful life—from her teenage years when she began keeping a diary to her final days when she awaited her own bloody appointment with the guillotine.

The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette is Carolly Erickson’s first effort at a historical novel and a very poor one at that. While the book is a light read and quite enjoyable for those who don’t know much about Marie Antoinette, those who are familiar with her story will be very disappointed at how historically inaccurate this book is.

As the name states, this book is written in a diary form. In this diary, Marie Antoinette tells the story of her life, from her idyllic childhood in Austria, to her arrival in France full of hopes for the future, to the difficult years of her marriage and life as Queen, the joys and sorrows of motherhood, the outbreak of the French Revolution and to her imprisonment. Some of the entries are long, others short, but most are frivolous and superficial. Only when she becomes a mother, and later when the Revolution starts, the entries start getting a bit more serious but overall, the Queen comes across as self-absorbent, vain and immature. Her kindness and good heart are sometimes mentioned too, but overall, I found it hard to feel sorry for the woman portrayed in this book.

The other characters are pretty bland too. Louis XVI is portrayed as a complete idiot, the Duchess Of Polignac, who was one of Marie Antoniette’s best friends, barely makes an appearance, while the Princess de Lamballe is always referred to as Lou Lou, so if you don’t know that that was her nickname, you’ll have to wait till the end of the book to find out who this character is. Instead than focusing on the real characters at the court of Louis XVI, Carolly Erickson felt the need to invent new ones: Eric, a servant the young Marie Antoinette has a crush on  and his twisted and jealous wife Amelie who is the villain of the story. Both are just boring, far-fetched and don’t enhance the story in any way.

On the contrary, to focus on them (and on the affair with Count Fersen which very likely never happened and he certainly never took the Queen to Sweden), we miss important events in Marie Antoinette’s life. The Affair of the Necklace isn’t talked about at all, which was a huge disappointment, nor there is any mention on how the queen felt about the lewd rumours and pamphlets circulating about her. Details of her friends, her habits and the world she lived in are also lacking. I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if it had focused more on what really happened instead than making nonsense up to spice things up. I find Marie Antoinette’s life interesting enough without having to invent anything.

Summary:
The hidden diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson is a mediocre novel. The book is not very historically accurate, important events like the Affair of the Necklace are missing to make room for fictitous ones that just aren’t credible at all. There is a severe lack of information about life at the French court and its protagonists. Instead, new characters are made up, although they don’t add anything to the story. They actually cheapen it. Those who don’t know anything about Marie Antoinette may enjoy this book, but if you are like me and like historical novels to be accurate and the fictitious parts to be at least plausible, then you should skip this as it’ll only disappoint you.

Available at: Amazon.com

Rating: 1/5

A Medieval Love Story: Abelard and Heloise

The love story of Abelard and Heloise is one of the most famous, romantic and tragic of all time and one that still moves us today. Abelard was a French philosopher and considered one of the greatest thinkers of his time. But because his teachings were controversial, he was accused of heresy. Heloise was the nice of a cleric named Canon Fulbert, and a well-educated young woman.

Despite both of them being occupied with their studies (and Heloise being under the protection of her uncle), Abelard managed to catch sight of her and decided he wanted to meet her. He told Fulbert that the upkeep of his own house was a hindrance to his studies and convinced the cleric to allow him to live in his house. In exchange, he would teach Heloise, who was twenty years his junior.

Soon, Abelard and Heloise became lovers. Her uncle was furious when he found out what was going on under his roof and separated the couple. But Heloise was pregnant by this time and when Fulbert was away from home, the couple fled to Abelard’s sister where she remained until she gave birth to their child, Astrolabe. At this point, marriage seemed the simplest solution and Abelard proposed it, but Heloise refused.

The marriage would, in fact, impede Abelard’s career and bring disgrace upon him. Still, love prevailed and after leaving Astrolabe with Abelard’s sister, the couple secretly married in Paris. Soon afterwards they parted and saw each other only occasionally but Fulbert wasn’t happy with this. He wanted their marriage to be public and known to repair the damage done to her niece’s reputation but Heloise refused to confirm the marriage ever took place.

To protect Heloise from her uncle’s wrath, Abelard sent her to a convent in Argenteuil but this made things worse. Fulbert sent some men to break into Abelard’s lodgings and castrate him. Once recovered, Abelard entered the convent of St. Denis, while Heloise took the veil, rose in rank and became prioress but the couple kept in touch. When they died, their bodies were buried together in a single tomb.

Further reading:
Historia Calamitatum by Peter Abelard
The Letters of Abelard and Heloise by Peter Abelard, Betty Radice

Images:
Abaelard und Seinen Schulerin Heloise by Edmund Blair Leighton (1882)
Abelard and Heloisa surprised by Master Fulbert by Jean Vignaud (1819)