Abundance, a Novel of Marie Antoinette (Paperback)
Harper Perennial, 9780060825409, 545pp.
Publication Date: May 22, 2007
Marie Antoinette was a child of fourteen when her mother, the Empress of Austria, arranged for her to leave her family and her country to become the wife of the fifteen-year-old Dauphin, the future King of France. Coming of age in the most public of arenas, she warmly embraces her adopted nation and its citizens. She shows her new husband nothing but love and encouragement, though he repeatedly fails to consummate their marriage and in so doing is unable to give her a child and an heir to the throne. Deeply disappointed and isolated in her own intimate circle, and apart from the social life of the court, she allows herself to remain ignorant of the country's growing economic and political crises, even as poor harvests, bitter winters, war debts, and poverty precipitate rebellion and revenge. The young queen, once beloved by the common folk, becomes a target of scorn, cruelty, and hatred as she, the court's nobles, and the rest of the royal family are caught up in the nightmarish violence of a murderous time called "the Terror."Sena Jeter Naslund offers a dramatic reimagining of this truly compelling woman that goes far beyond the popular myth.
Praise For Abundance, a Novel of Marie Antoinette…
“Sumptuous...gripping...beautifully poignant. If you read one book about Marie Antoinette, let it be Sena Jeter Naslund’s.”
“Enchanting...Opulent and fabulous, as encrusted with detail as one of Marie’s shimmering dresses...a complete page turner. Grade: A”
“Exceptional...A richly detailed portrait of an opulent, turbulent time. 4 stars.”
“Perceptive and literate.”
“Opulent. . . . Recreates the glories of Versailles and the political malice that wafts through its many doorways.”
“Naslund recreates Marie so sympathetically that we can’t help aching for the queen.”
“The novel is abundant, full of color and detail. . . . An engaging portrait of one of history’s bright-colored butterflies.”
“A wealth of period details...even the most cynical reader will wish for a last-minute pardon.”
-Christian Science Monitor
“Intensive historical inquiry enables Naslund to re-create Marie Antoinette’s life with empathy and irresistibly piquant detail.”
“Naslund mixes historical observation with delight and tension that makes it hard not to turn the page.”
-San Diego Union-Tribune
“Fascinating...A richly detailed look at the doomed queen.”
“With skillful dialogue Naslund re-creates a time and place fresh and fearsome.”
-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Both a realistic and romantic novel (with) immediately engaging characters...offers a rich, panoramic depiction of an age.”
-Raleigh News & Observer
“Hypnotically intimate…With vivid detail and exquisite narrative technique, Naslund exemplifies the best of historical fiction.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Naslund’s writing is rich with minute details that put the reader into the world of Versailles. A page-turner.”
“An enthralling work of fiction, one that captures the details of a family reign and a time period long gone.”
“The portrait that emerges is sympathetic but realistic...Absorbing.”
“ABUNDANCE is intelligent, beautifully written, and uncomfortably relevant, and Naslund makes her heroine convincing and even sympathetic.”
“Intimate experiences and thoughts run beautifully rampant through the pages...[a] smart delicious lesson in history.”
-Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Naslund uses her words as if they were a camera to record life in late 18th century France.”
-Sunday Denver Post
“Scrupulously researched and vividly presented . . . it’s an irresistible story and Naslund handles its big moments with impressive assurance.”
-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An absorbing, detailed read.”
“Readers of serious historical fiction will revel in it.”
-Booklist (starred review)
“Lush with description and deep with historical detail...Marvelous.”
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Sena Jeter Naslund has divided her novel into five "acts," like a Shakespearean play. Does Marie Antoinette achieve the stature of a tragic protagonist at the end of the novel?
- Recount the dramatic evolution of Marie Antoinette's character, from her arrival in France at the age of 14 to her death just shy of 38. What prompts Marie Antoinette's transformation from callow moralist and pliant dauphine in early chapters to empathetic mother and brave stoic in the novel's culmination at the Conciergerie?
- From her arrival at Versailles as a girl, Marie Antoinette exists in a perpetual state of enclosure. Discuss Naslund's extended treatment of this idea. Is Marie Antoinette's life in France tantamount to that of the proverbial bird in the gilded cage?
- Revisit the pivotal last chapter of "Act Four," which renders the eruption of revolution in stark counterpoint to the queen's blissful, penultimate encounter with Fersen. In particular, consider Marie Antoinette's poignant musings on the revolutionaries' freshly-coined slogan, "liberté, equalité, fraternité." What do these words mean to Marie Antoinette?
- Discuss the interconnectedness of female identity and performance in Abundance. What does it mean, for instance, that Marie Antoinette feels most engaged and alive when she is playing a role on the stage?
- How does the texture of this identity/performance theme shift once Marie Antoinette is faced with the prospect of fleeing? To flee, in Marie Antoinette's estimation, is to abandon her "role."
- In what specific ways has Naslund's rendering of late-18th-century France come to inform, challenge, or even contradict altogether your previous understandings of the particular cause of the French Reign of Terror?
- How do Naslund's references to and subtle demonstrations of prevailing philosophies of the day—including the outmoded optimism of Gottfried-Leibniz; the measured, conservative skepticism of David Hume; the proto-civil libertarianism of the secular Voltaire; and the revolutionary ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau—color and shape the novel's inexorable march toward the Reign of Terror?
- What kind of a man does Louis-Auguste become? And what kind of king?
- What is your interpretation of the precise nature of the love between Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen? "We are the perfect friends," Marie Antoinette tells us, though her description of Fersen as "the most handsome, the most kind and good and loving—ah, yes, above all, loving—man in the world."