Cover image for The wicked queen : the origins of the myth of Marie-Antoinette
The wicked queen : the origins of the myth of Marie-Antoinette
Thomas, Chantal.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Reine scélérate. English
Publication Information:
New York : Zone Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
255 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DC137.1 .T5613 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
DC137.1 .T5613 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Chantal Thomas presents the history of the mythification of one of the most infamous queens in all history, whose execution still fascinates us today.

In The Wicked Queen , Chantal Thomas presents the history of the mythification of one of the most infamous queens in all history, whose execution still fascinates us today. Almost as soon as Marie-Antoinette, archduchess of Austria, was brought to France as the bride of Louis XVI in 1771, she was smothered in images. In a monarchy increasingly under assault, the charm and horror of her feminine body and her political power as a foreign intruder turned Marie-Antoinette into an alien other. Marie-Antoinette's mythification, argues Thomas, must be interpreted as the misogynist demonization of women's power and authority in revolutionary France.In a series of pamphlets written from the 1770s until her death in 1793, Marie-Antoinette is portrayed as a spendthrift, a libertine, an orgiastic lesbian, and a poisoner and infant murderess. In her analyses of these pamphlets, seven of which appear here in translation for the first time, Thomas reconstructs how the mounting hallucinatory and libelous discourse culminated in the inevitable destruction of what had become the counterrevolutionary symbol par excellence. The Wicked Queen exposes the elaborate process by which the myth of Marie-Antoinette emerged as a crucial element in the successful staging of the French Revolution.

Author Notes

Chantal Thomas is a researcher at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. She is the author of Marquis de Sade: L'Oeil de la lettre (1978) and Casanova: Un Voyage libertin (1985).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Revolutionary agitation is always most effective when outrage can be concentrated on an individual or one class of people. Our Declaration of Independence demonized George III, though the colonists' real dispute was with a faction of Parliament. As a foreigner with a knack for putting her foot in her mouth, French queen Marie-Antoinette was an inviting target for agitators. Thomas, who has specialized in examining the mass culture of eighteenth-century France, does not attempt to find the "real" Marie-Antoinette. Rather, her target is the queen's detractors, who carried on a campaign of vilification and distortion, primarily via pamphlets, which contributed substantially to the undermining of the monarchy. The campaign began soon after Marie-Antoinette's arrival in France and continued with increasing intensity until her execution. She was variously accused of nymphomania, lesbianism, incest, and insensitive frivolity. This is an unusual and interesting examination of a primitive but quite effective effort at mass political indoctrination. --Jay Freeman

Library Journal Review

Ignore the subtitle at your peril! This is strictly a study of the portrayal of Marie-Antoinette in contemporary propaganda pamphlets, particularly those emphasizing her supposed sexual proclivities. This unique approach produces some thought-provoking points. Whether the subject warrants a book-length study is, however, questionable. Thomas, the author of two studies of libertinage published in France, argues that these pamphlets do not reflect the reality of the queen's conduct. This is self-evident in our sophisticated age and was probably fairly apparent even in the 18th century. The book is filled out with digressions, a useful chronology of Marie-Antoinette's life, an annotated cast of characters, and reprints of seven of the pamphlets. The tone is uneven, mixing obscure sociological jargon with the crudest street language. Recommended only for the largest academic or research libraries collecting in French history or propaganda.ÄJean E.S. Storrs, Enoch Pratt Free Lib., Baltimore (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Although deeply flawed, Thomas's book nonetheless provides much of value to scholars of the French revolutionary era. The flaws consist of many needless digressions, repetitions, and careless errors. For example, Thomas reports that French foreign minister Vergennes was head of the "council of finance" as well as the "board of finance," and notes in various places that the royal family's flight to Varennes took place in either 1791 or 1792 (it was 1791). Compounding these and other original mistakes, the translator adds others, among them, Louis XVI's ascent to the "thrown" of France. Despite such irritations, the book succeeds in demonstrating that the gutter press of the Old Regime and Revolution was as sensational and libelous as any of today's tabloids. No human being could have had the energy to commit all the crimes and perverted acts attributed to the queen. These included incest, child murder, fornication with hundreds of men (including the king's brothers and Lafayette), lesbian relations with dozens of women at court, and a sickening list of other atrocities. The book's final section presents the full texts of seven of the most scurrilous pamphlets, including one entitled "The Royal Dildo." General readers; upper-division undergraduates and above. T. J. Schaeper; St. Bonaventure University