Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey


Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?
Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother’s political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.
Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.


In a nutshell:

I liked it:  x   Yes       No

For people who like: young archduchesses that need to be moulded into shape, royalty, 1st person’s POV

My thoughts: 

This is the first book in a trilogy and covers only a few years in Maria Antonia’s life. It is very detailed and talks about lots of little things in the everyday life of the family of Habsburg at the time. Since I am neither an expert on the Habsburger in general nor on Marie Antoinette specifically, I have no idea how accurate the story is, but it certainly is very entertaining.

It is told from Maria Antonia’s point of view and gives a lot of insight into what was going on in the girl’s head when she heard that she is to marry the dauphin of France, a boy she has never seen (and will not see until after their wedding has already taken place) and during the following years.

I was shocked to learn that the French would not allow her to bring even one trusted maid, they allowed almost no personal belongings and not even her pet into France. She was only 14 when she married Louis Auguste.  She was alone in a foreign country, all of a sudden the dauphine at a court of bootlickers and schemers, with nobody to talk to in her native German, nobody she knew, only speaking mediocre French! Wow!

The title of the book is more than fitting. Maria Antonia really had to *become” Marie Antoinette before she was considered suitable to marry her later husband. Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not educated enough, the teeth not straight enough….what else? She had to undergo considerable tutoring (mentally and physically) in order to please. And all according to the will of her mother Maria Theresia who, herself, refused to marry any other man than the one she loved! Double standards, anyone?

Throughout the story we read private letters between Maria Theresia and her ambassador in Versailles. This lets us peek into the mind of the woman behind the “marriage contract” and gives us an idea on how treacherous a path Marie Antoinette is walking. Not everything at the court of Versailles is what it seems to be – in fact, it is rather the opposite.

Now, for some necessary nitpicking (if you don’t speak German and have never heard of the Habsburger before you probably won’t care about those two little details):

  • Antonia’s family is the family of Habsburg. In the book they are referred to as the family of Hapsburg. I have never seen the name spelled like that before so I looked around and found an entry on wikipedia that the name sometimes is spelled that way. Don’t ask me why! “P” instead of “b” makes no difference in terms of ease of pronunciation. Then I  asked Birgit from The Book Garden, who is an Austrian, whether she has EVER seen the Habsburger as the Hapsburger. She hasn’t either. I wonder why Juliet Grey has chosen the uncommon version of the name. Seeing the name Hapsburg rubs every German speaking person the wrong way. If there are different versions of a name, shouldn’t one use the most common (and, in this case, original) one? Every time I saw the name Hapsburg in the story I flinched.
  • There are German words interspersed in conversations of people. That is ok, even though more often than not authors who are no native speakers sometimes make mistakes that spoil the reading fun.
    At one point Antonia is supposed to say “The butterfly is dead” in French. However, she is not very good at French, therefore mixes French and German up and ends up saying “Le papillon mort ist”. Sorry, but that makes no sense at all. In German, just as in French and English, the sentence structure would be subject – predicate – object, that means the correct (mixed up German-French) sentence would be “Le papillon ist mort”. No German speaker would ever put “ist” at the end of that specific sentence.
    I assume that somehow the generalisation that in German the verb always comes at the end has been taken too literally here.  There were a couple of more errors that just didn’t fit with the rest of the well researched story. I wish the author would have let a native speaker check the German because it was the only little flaw in the book. But little flaws like that annoy me. 

That being said, I loved the way the story flowed, there was not one moment of boredom or scenes I thought I could have done without. It was very enjoyable. The book ends at a point that makes perfect sense, still I was totally surprised that it came so quickly. I was reading and then all of a sudden I turned the page and – the end! For a moment I was shocked. Especially since a very important aspect in the private life of Marie Antoinette and her husband was still hanging in mid-air, and I was eager to find out how it would be resolved.

At the end of the book you will find an extensive list of books Juliet Grey used for her research, as well as some notes on writing “Becoming Marie Antoinette" and a glimpse into the beginning of the next book in the trilogy. “Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow” will be released in summer 2012. I can’t wait!

Product info and buy link :

Title Becoming Marie Antoinette
Author Juliet Grey
Publisher Ballantine Books
ISBN 978-0345523860
I got this book from Netgalley because I loved the cover and I know next to nothing about Marie Antoinette except for “Let them eat cake” and even that might not even have been her.
Buy link Buy Becoming Marie Antoinette
More info Interview with Juliet Grey about the book


Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Want to know what others thought of this book? Have a look at:

TLC Blog tour of “Becoming Marie Antoinette”

2 Comments Write a comment

  1. Hi, Rikki.
    I’ve laughed in your “that wasn’t German” parts because I remember many times that I said the same with the Spanish ones…
    Nowadays, it happens less times (Spanish is more popular or somebody corrects those parts) but now the problem is that, it is Spanish, but the character is from Spain and his speeches are like he came from Mexico, Argentina or another America country. It’s the same language, but we express ourselves sometimes with a lot of differences. :p
    Kasumi’s last post ..Por una blogosfera sin faltas ortográficas


    • Yes, that is also a problem with German spoken in Germany and Austria. We sometimes have different words for the same things etc. but at least those mistakes were not made here.


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