Hilary Mantel

Unsolved Mystery of the Dauphin’s Private Parts

Marie Antionette

By Joan Haslip

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 292pp £14.95 order from our bookshop

In the autumn of the year that the French Revolution broke out, Benjamin Franklin wrote that ‘nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’ With forethought, he might have added ‘and books about Marie Antoinette’. The French queen’s place in history was already assured. ‘Voila Ia victime’, as Mirabeau said.

In her acknowledgements, Joan Haslip states that she hesitated when her publishers asked her to add another volume to the list. But biographers arc seldom bashful for long, and she was soon persuaded that ‘in every generation there are certain characters which require a reassessment’. It is an extraordinary idea, that a new book is needed at set intervals, even in the absence of fresh evidence or an original viewpoint; as if the dead were to be exhumed and hauled before a parole board.

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