Personal Reflections: My take on Marie Antoinette is that she was rather attractive and lively. Though naturally thoughtless, she was a kind-hearted woman and her intentions were good. Indeed, she detested the etiquette of the rigid court, but she was also perhaps too ostentatious in her taste for privacy which only alienated her from the courtiers of Versailles, allies dearly missed in troubling times
Fifteen years before the arrival of the new dauphine of France, on the 2nd of November 1770, the city of Lisbon woke to a devastating earthquake, in which some thirty thousand lives perished. On the very same day, All Souls’ Day, far from the terrible disaster, Marie Antoinette was born in the gay city of Vienna. The pretty, strawberry-blond daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa
MARIE ANTOINETTE’S DOG FROM THE TEMPLE TO THE CONCIERGERIE I’ve just found a document from the early 1800′s telling the story about the dog that went from the Temple to the Conciergerie Prison with Marie Antoinette. He was not allowed to enter the gate, so he remained by the guard’s station (only to be abused by the guards who hit him with their bayonets). The
WHY IN THE WORLD DID YOUR STORY MATTER TO YOU?
You spend two to three years researching, writing, editing, and rewriting your biography about an obscure hairdresser that lived in France over two hundred years ago. And then the big question pops in up your first interview: “Why did it matter to you?”
1. Does a Biography Matter?
A life must first be lived, and then it must be written, and then it must be read before any biography ever really matters. A biography, by definition, is the history of someone’s life, but it is also similar to the image of a landscape in an artist’s imagination, one that needs to unravel on his blank canvas.
A biography is indeed a history, but it is also a history of a life lived, requiring imagination and inspiration. To tell about an obscure hairdresser’s yard-high coiffures, the infamous poufs at the court of Versailles is one thing, but to have the hairdresser himself stand out and shine among the celebrated courtiers, including Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, is quite another.
2. Why Leonard?
There are indeed important men and women in history whose lives must be written for their impact on our own lives, but there are also lives that are valuable not for any contributions but rather for the manner in which they throw light upon a certain period in history. We can read about the tragic effects of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s extravagant reign leading to the Revolution, but do we truly understand the reign without a glimpse of the lives of the covetous court favorites, the faithful royal servants like Leonard, or the famished peasants crying out for bread (unfortunately while Leonard was thought to powder the Queen’s poufs with their dear flour)?
3. Why Me?
Simply answered, Leonard died in 1820 and cannot speak for himself. Granted I am not a distant relative, or even a hairdresser, but after coming across a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair in a Parisian museum, I remembered that she almost fainted at the sight of the red-hooded executioner in her prison cell one cold morning, and she recoiled with horror when he asked her to turn around so he could cut her hair, necessary to ensure that the guillotine’s blade would work properly. Her hair. It was the talk of all Europe when she held her elaborate court at Versailles. But it would be the last thing to go, and here was a lock of it. I was spellbound, and here was an artist’s image that had to be painted — or written on a blank page of paper.
5. Why You?
If you ever have the opportunity to read this biography, shouldn’t there really be three individuals joining in on the experience, — Leonard who experienced the glamour, the decadence and the danger of his times; the author who recreates his story; and you in your easy chair bringing his story to life?
When you see the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo, doesn’t the image become yours forever? Likewise, when you read a biography to the point where an obscure hairdresser can become a living, breathing and credible being, although you put the book back on the shelf, doesn’t he remain yours forever?
It is surely great to walk among the living, but it is also wonderful to know that there were others before us. Perhaps reading a biography matters because it gives us a background for our own lives, and we become, hopefully, part of what Shakespeare called the “great humanity.”
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MARIE ANTOINETTE’S DOG FROM THE TEMPLE TO THE CONCIERGERIE
I’ve just found a document from the early 1800′s telling the story about the dog that went from the Temple to the Conciergerie Prison with Marie Antoinette. He was not allowed to enter the gate, so he remained by the guard’s station (only to be abused by the guards who hit him with their bayonets). The dog only left his post when he wandered off for food at neighboring houses, always returning before sunset. Moreover, the dog remained long after the fallen queen’s execution, and the inhabitants of the area referred to him simply as the “Queen’s dog.”
There was also an account of a dog that followed his master (a butcher by profession) behind the execution cart from the Conciergerie to the guillotine. After the execution the dog could not find his master, so he returned to the prison following the fatal cart. Every morning for several months the dog followed the cart back and forth from the prison to the scaffold…still searching for his master. I know, very sad.
To address the question of Leonard’s possible “apocryphal” memoirs, I would like to provide the preceding notes to my book which explain the memoir’s importance, and its limitations, for “Marie Antoinette’s Head.”
A NOTE ON SOURCES
Exaggeration and hyperbole always pose problems when constructing a biography, especially one that relies on centuries-old memoirs, letters, and secondhand accounts of events. Even government documents can be misleading when they are written in the midst of the type of regime and social change that took place during and after the French Revolution.
The literature on the Revolution is vast, but that which focuses on Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser, Léonard Autié, is somewhat limited. The amazing hairstyles were a big story in their day, with extensive coverage in the press, but little was written about the man behind these creations. Fortunately, Baron Lamothe-Langon published Léonard’s memoirs, “Souvenirs de Léonard, coiffeur de la reine Marie Antoinette,” eighteen years after his death in 1838. The ghostwriter purported that he used Léonard’s journals and notes to achieve the two-volume work, but his critics claimed that it was apocryphal, embellishing the hairdresser’s role in history.
Nevertheless, I relied heavily on Souvenirs de Léonard, using its timeline and cast of characters. But, keeping its critics in mind, I also extensively consulted the court memoirs and letters of Léonard’s contemporaries to investigate any doubtful claims and resolve any conflicts. Any discrepancies are duly noted in this biography. Unless otherwise noted in the endnotes, the dialogue retrieved from the Souvenirs de Léonard is unverifiable because the work itself has been deemed unreliable in its original form. However, all dialogue has been transcribed verbatim from original sources, and dialogue from any French sources has been diligently translated into English. All references have been cited with endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography.
Since 1838, only Louis Péricaud and Gustave Bord have revisited Léonard’s story in any detail, focusing on his theater venture and his role in the royal family’s affairs, respectively in 1908 and 1909. Although this book addresses the famous hairdresser’s life and is not intended to be a reference in French history, it does shed light on the trials and tribulations of the last Queen of France from another angle—that of her confidant and coveted hairdresser.
Truly honored to be among the books reviewed by Library Journal.
When Leonard Autie arrived in Paris during the summer of 1769, he brought with him a bundle of self-confidence and his “magic comb.” Determined to make his fortune as a hairdresser, Autie quickly found patrons among Parisian actresses and in the court of Louis XV. It was Autie who created “le pouf,” those massive and frivolous concoctions that towered above the foreheads of the privileged elite and contained ribbons, feathers, flowers, jewels, and, ultimately, even a model ship sailing on a sea of hair. Eventually, he became the stylist and confidant of the young Austrian dauphine, Marie Antoinette. As an intimate of the Versailles court, Autie was a witness to, and possibly a participant in, the chaos leading up to the execution of his most famous client. Based primarily on a two-volume memoir published after the hairdresser’s death in 1820, this entertaining read by Bashor (global issues, Franklin Univ.) dramatizes (there’s invented dialog) a fascinating period of French history. Enhanced by numerous archival images and supplementary materials, the book captures details of an extraordinary time and place.
VERDICT An engaging, albeit embellished, narrative of a celebrity hairstylist, circa 1789. Biography buffs and lovers of historical fiction will enjoy this work, but it’s not for specialists.-Linda Frederiksen, -Washington State Univ. Lib., Vancouver Kopenawa, Davi & Bruce Albert.
The eighteenth-century French court’s rococo hairstyles—if such a word can even be applied to the elaborate confections—are the stuff of legend. Will Bashor’s Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution certainly gives you plenty of bang for your buck in that regard: thirty-pound wigs, mouse-infested coiffures, and the occasional miniature naval battle all make appearances. But it is also a scholarly history not merely of the vagaries and politics of Versailles court fashion, but the rise and fall of Léonard Autié, a man of modest background who rose to become hairdresser to the queen, and whose fortunes were inexplicably tied to that of the doomed monarchy. —S.O.S.
MARIE ANTOINETTE’S HEAD: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution
Killer reviews from Amazon and Amazon.uk from Top 10 and Top 500 Reviewers!
“This enjoyable and informative biography looks at the life of Leonard Autie, the celebrated and famous hairdresser, who personally cared for the locks of Queen Marie Antoinette. Just when you thought that you had read every possible volume about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, this entertaining book comes along – which focuses on a minor player in events, but nevertheless one who found himself in the very heart of the action…”