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
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
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It was incredible that Charles-Henri Sanson was asked to assist with the demonstration of the new invention, the guillotine, for Louis XVI.
The next time that Sanson had an audience with the king was on the scaffold, when Louis was the national razor’s victim.
With the published memoirs of Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser, Léonard Autié, as his starting point, historian Will Bashor takes readers inside the court of Louis XVI and the aristocracy of 18th century France. The story-like accounts of daily life, behind-the-scenes finagling and ill-advised decisions gains credibility and value from Bashor’s meticulous documentation and cross checking of historical accounts of this period. Also helpful are frank disclosures of memoir accounts that could not be verified but that are plausible elements in the story.
An accomplished social climber, Léonard as protagonist offers insights into the character of life in the broader social milieu as well as within the court‘s inner rooms. His affectionate loyalty to Marie Antoinette and attention to her emotional state as well as to her elaborate hairstyles are balanced throughout the book by his awareness of the world as it changed around her. The seeds of revolution are woven expertly throughout the work, even as the reader develops sympathy for the young and often unaware Marie Antoinette. Overall, this nonfiction book is an engaging account of a pivotal moment in French history told from a fresh and revealing perspective.
The Executioner of Louis XVI—Mr. Sanson, the public executioner, who died lately, was remarkable for the horrible task he had to perform in 1793; when, by virtue of his office, he had to bind the hands of Louis XVI, and afterwards, place the monarch’s head under the guillotine. He was the third of his name who had filled the same functions, and ho has left a son and grandson. He had acquired some property, and become an elector, was a well-informed man, was fond of the arts, and passed most of his evenings in playing on the piano.
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.