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
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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
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…”
Posted: 10/16/2013 2:19 pm
Marie Antoinette has remained atop the popular cultural landscape for centuries for the daring in style and fashion that she brought to 18th century France. For the better part of the queen’s reign, one man was entrusted with the sole responsibility of ensuring that her coiffure was at its most ostentatious best. Who was this minister of fashion who wielded such tremendous influence over the queen’s affairs?
“Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, and the Revolution” (Lyons Press) charts the rise of Leonard Autie from humble origins as a country barber in the south of France to the inventor of the pouf and premier hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette. By unearthing a variety of sources from the 18th and 19th centuries, including memoirs, court documents, and archived periodicals, author Will Bashor tells Leonard’s mostly unknown story, chronicling Leonard’s story, the role he played in the life of his most famous client, and the chaotic and history-making world in which he rose to prominence.
MYTH: Dauphine Marie Antoinette was stripped naked at the French border.
This old custom had long been abandoned! WB