Marie-Antoinette by Ian Dunlop - review by Julian Fellowes

Julian Fellowes

Things Got a Little Out of Hand



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On 16 October 1993 it will be two hundred years since the execution of the Queen of France and to mark this anniversary Sinclair-Stevenson have decided to publish yet another biography of her. Familiar as I am with the accounts of her life by Belloc and Zweig, to say nothing of Hearsey, Seward, Haslip et al, I must confess that I approached the book with the leaden query of what on earth anyone could find new to say about this most unhappy of sovereigns.

Amazingly, Ian Dunlop has contrived to give the familiar, if terrible, story a freshness in the telling. He has done this largely by relying almost entirely on the words of Marie-Antoinette's contemporaries. If there is gush, it is authentic gush from eyewitnesses and not the revisionist sentimentality of the historical novelist. 'I have never seen one so brilliant, and brilliant is the word, for her skin was so transparent that there was no shadow upon it,' writes the painter Elizabeth Vigée Lebrun, while the Baronne d'Oberkirch waxes lyrical after watching Marie-Antoinette at a court ball: 'The Queen, as beautiful as the day, enlivened everything with her glory.'

Quite as interesting to us must be the contemporary criticism of

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