Nobody’s Daughter

Testing out modes of writing in class we had a write an 'academic' piece of writing in 500 words. Here is mine:
Marie Antoinette and a Very Modern Myth.

“Let them eat cake” is a line that represents Marie Antoinette, although she never uttered it. This misquote has defined a woman for generations, and contributed to the idea that Antoinette’s lavish spending was a major factor in the decline of the French monarchy and consequent revolution of 1789. By considering the propaganda that tainted Antoinette’s reputation, I aim to analyse whether it is still pertinent in modern representations of the last Queen of France.

In the 1780’s the French people were experiencing widespread unrest. A bad harvest and rising food prices, due to France’s financial involvement in the American War of Independence, meant that many could not afford to eat. Legend has it that on hearing this news Antoinette responded with, “let them eat cake.” Although, the word she actually used was ‘brioche’ a rich bread typically sold. Antoinette could have intended that brioche was made the same price as bread, in order to increase the amount of food available to buy. A modern reflection by The Times newspaper called this, “the most famous libel in history,” highlighting the injustice of quoting someone out of context.

Although Antoinette reigned over two centuries ago, the phrase has become a fixture in popular culture. In 2007 Sofia Coppola wrote and directed a feature film called ‘Marie Antoinette’ which was dubbed a ‘fresh’ interpretation of the famous monarch. One clip shows the character Antoinette lounging in a bath saying, “let them eat cake”, her lips painted black suggesting a poisonous tongue. Immediately afterwards a clip shows Antoinette talking with friends saying, “I would never say that”. Perhaps this is what is meant by a ‘fresh’ interpretation of events, interweaving rumour with a supposed reaction from the victim.

However, the fact that Coppola chose to use the line in the film at all highlights the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction. Coppola referred to her film as “impressionistic” and “telling it from Antoinette’s point of view”. Although, scenes of the ‘character’ Marie Antoinette reclining on a chaise longue and dipping a finger in various elaborate cakes does nothing to dispel the idea that Antoinette was over-indulgent and disdainful of the countries financial problems.

Coppola is not the only person in recent years who has represented Antoinette using style over substance. Fashion designer Thakoon’s autumn winter 2011 collection cited Marie Antoinette as an influence, as did John Galliano’s spring summer 2010 collection. Typically her name is used in fashion as short hand for excess and over embellishment. In reality Antoinette had much simpler taste, preferring to spend time in simple corset-less dresses in a chateau called Petit Trianon on the grounds of Versailles, in which incidentally she arranged for a small farm to be created.

Revolutionaries put Marie Antoinette to the guillotine in 1793, although she wasn’t buried properly until 1815. In a sense Antoinette has never been put to rest. Although interesting from an aesthetic point of view, films like Sofia Coppola’s do Antoinette a disservice by presenting her in a superficial light. Antoinette was accused of being out of touch with the French people, which I could similarly accuse Coppola of, who’s film really only serves to perpetuate the Antoinette myth.

1 comment:

  1. It seems part of a larger problem with the French Revolution, however; the perpetuation of myths is the stated goal of the Republic's oft-satirized motto. The national story, I hesitate to say 'history', of the struggle against oppression is based on half-truths and empty victories put about by the upper middle classes who usurped an ineffective and effeminate aristocracy, hoping to create glory from anguish. Is it any surprise that modern portrayals accept, either tacitly or overtly, these now two hundred year old tokens of the more pervasive myth? And quite beside which, surely any modern commentator would be remiss /not/ to play, /especially/ in a superficial way, with these largely unchallenged received ideas, in the way that Coppola allegedly does?