Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen and The Revolution" by Will Bashor

* * * * *
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; First edition (October 16, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762791538

I was browsing the "new non-fiction" stacks at the library when I discovered this book. I took it home not really expecting much since the time of French Revolution, as tumultuous as it was, is not really "my" taste in historical readings.

Imagine my surprise when I could not put this book down! It's a fascinating look at the French Revolution and the demise of the French Monarchy from the view of Marie Antoinette's hairdresser, Leonard Autie.

I have read my share of historical accounts of the last days of the Monarchy in France, and I have read even more about the life and death of Marie Antoinette, but this book managed to fill in some details that I had never known, and I learned a lot that I had not previously known. This book provides fascinating historical details that always manage to provide a broader picture of a particular time in history.

Leonard arrived in Paris in 1769 with nothing in hand except his "magical comb", a few francs and his ambition. He swiftly became the queen's hairdresser, hobnobbing with the powerful nobles of the land. In the years that followed his arrival as a penniless coiffeur, Leonard even had hopes of becoming ennobled himself.

 It was Leonard who developed those towering head dresses that always seem to be a part of my collective image of Marie Antoinette. As I looked through the plentiful illustrations of this book (something I truly appreciated) I noticed that these outrageous head dresses manage to balance the equally outrageous fashions of the era, something that I had never considered before. Leonard became fast friends with the Queen's milliner and dress maker, Rose Bertin. I wonder if they planned it all in advance? The "too-wide-to-go-through-a-door" hoops in the dress in sync with the "too-tall-to-go-through-a-door" hair styles!

I had not known that there were actually three royal hairdressers named Leonard (nor had I had ever known the name of the person who created these towering hair styles for that matter). Leonard had also employed his relatives and all three were known as 'Leonard'. I had not known that one of these Leonard's actually had a hand to play in the Royal family's disastrous attempt to flee Paris.  The book goes into some very interesting detail about the multiple calamities that doomed this chance at safety, there were so many things that went wrong with the planned escape. If even one of these things had gone right history might well have played out so much differently. The flight of the Royal family is one detail that I had, heretofore, not paid too much attention to, but  I found that these details were riveting as I read this book.

This book is filled to the brim with fascinating, little known, information that is, obviously, the product of many long hours of meticulous fact finding and precise historical documentation. 

I have often wondered what I would have done had been alive during either the American or the French revolutions.  In the past I  thought that I might have been more of a Monarchist, but after reading this book I think that I underestimated the reckless expenditures of the royals in France with the destitution of the multitudes. This was a French storm that had been brewing for a long time; similar, but also quite different, from the American Revolution. In hindsight it seems as if these tragedies were almost fated to happen. 

The Royals knew no other life but that of wealth and privilege. They thought of money as an endless stream that procured their pleasures and pomp, while the general citizens knew only lives of dire, desperate, poverty that left many dead of hunger. The time of the French Revolution was a flood that washed away the foundations of every belief that had once been known as the law. By the time the Royals knew the extent of the problem it was already too late I think.

This book really helped me to see the Revolution in a very different light than I had previously. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it written in a very 'readable' style. As I said, I could not put it down!


Kimberly Sue said...

I need to add this to my TBR list!!

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