Thursday, October 16, 2008

Monody to the Memory of Marie Antoinette

Today marks 215 years since Marie Antoinette was executed, on October 16, 1793.

I've always felt great sympathy for Marie Antoinette. While I am on the opposite side of politics (I would totally have been a Revolutionary), I always feel like what she had to go through was both unjustified and beyond the limits of human endurance. Maybe it's because I have an irrational terror of beheading. Mostly it's because I feel great sympathy for female scapegoats.

I'm not unique in my "I should hate her but I love her" sympathies. Mary Robinson was an ardent supporter of the Revolution, yet she met and admired Marie, and produced a pamphlet pleading for her release, and two poems (one set shortly before her execution, and one shortly afterwards). Ann Yearsley, Olympe de Gouges and Charlotte Smith were all sympathetic to Marie. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, another 18th-century female liberal, was a friend of Marie Antoinette. A lot of women on both sides of politics were shocked and dismayed by the execution of the Queen. Books written in England from late 1793-1796 are full of accounts of people being shocked by Marie Antoinette's death. I would argue that it was the defining moment of the French Revolution - more so than the execution of Louis XVI.

I find Marie Antoinette to be completely fascinating, both as a person and as a study of a public woman in the late 18th century: a woman who was both the embodiment of ancien regime excess, and its ultimate victim.

Also, her dresses were fabulous.


BuffaloStance said...

Ah, only you, my love, could have forced me to look up what "monody" meant on such a hungover Saturday morning.

I mean, to be fair, it involved tying one word into the search bar along the top of firefox, but, still...

Scarlettfish said...

I won't mention that I didn't know what it meant either (until I discovered a poem by Mary Robinson of the title I stole for this post) ;)