Title: Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days
Author: Will Bashor
Publisher: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Genre: Nonfiction, history, French history
Setting: Paris, France
Source: Net Galley
Publication Date: December 1, 2016
This compelling book begins on the 2nd of August 1793, the day Marie Antoinette was torn from her family’s arms and escorted from the Temple to the Conciergerie, a thick-walled fortress turned prison. It was also known as the “waiting room for the guillotine” because prisoners only spent a day or two here before their conviction and subsequent execution. The ex-queen surely knew her days were numbered, but she could never have known that two and a half months would pass before she would finally stand trial and be convicted of the most ungodly charges.
Will Bashor traces the final days of the prisoner registered only as Widow Capet, No. 280, a time that was a cruel mixture of grandeur, humiliation, and terror. Marie Antoinette’s reign amidst the splendors of the court of Versailles is a familiar story, but her final imprisonment in a fetid, dank dungeon is a little-known coda to a once-charmed life. Her seventy-six days in this terrifying prison can only be described as the darkest and most horrific of the fallen queen’s life, vividly recaptured in this richly researched history.
I’ve read a few novels over the years about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, both fiction and nonfiction. I find this period of history fascinating. The story of the end of the French monarchy and the Reign of Terror is both interesting, compelling, and to me, unfinished. People have their opinions of what led up to the Revolution, who was to blame, how it could’ve been avoided, who was right, who was wrong, but as with most major historical events, there is no end all, be all definitive answer to any of this. That might be what keeps my interest and why I continue to seek out books about this time in France’s history.
Will Bashor takes a unique look at Marie Antoinette’s life. In all the books I’ve read thus far, and I’m by no means saying I’ve read a significant amount, they’ve always started in her childhood and what led her to becoming France’s final queen. Bashor takes his readers directly to Marie’s imprisonment, the final days of her life.
One might wonder how interesting a book could be when the entire thing takes place in prison, but a lot occurred during those days of confinement. There was the famous Carnation Plot and the heart-wrenching separation of Marie Antoinette from her children and her sister-in-law just to touch on a couple highlights. Bashor relates, in detail, what Marie’s daily life was like in prison and how it evolved during her somewhat elongated stay in the infamous waiting room of the guillotine, to the end and her trial and execution.
While this book is a work of nonfiction, Bashor writes like a novelist and the book reads as such. It’s moving, frightening, and edge-of-your seat writing, despite knowing Marie’s fate.
Every time I read a book about Marie Antoinette, I always hope that something will happen to change her fate, lol. Maybe one of the numerous plots to rescue her will finally succeed!! Maybe her milksop of a husband will finally grow a backbone and they will all escape their fate. I’m always sad when the book ends with the guillotine’s blade and Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days was no exception.