“Let Them Eat Cake”

Sarah Brock


If only it was as simple as going to a new country and working your way up, like the “American Dream”. Too bad the “American Dream” is more of a sham than psychic hotlines. I think this to myself as I sit waiting for my train in the Gare Saint Lazare. I have only just arrived in France and can already feel the eyes of the Parisian citizens as I sit quietly on my bench. I am an outsider to them; I do not look like them. I would sit and wonder what they were thinking about me, but I do not have the time. My train pulls into the station and I board.

 

***

 

Marie Antoinette born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna was an Archduchess of Austria and later the Queen of France and of Navarre. Twelve-year-old Madame Antoine was married to her second cousin once removed the fourteen-year-old Louis-Auguste, by proxy in April of 1770. Initially charmed by her personality and beauty, the French people generally came to dislike her, accusing "the Austrian" of being profligate and promiscuous, and of harboring sympathies for France's enemies, particularly Austria.

 

***

 

The journey is long, and I do not have much patience. I am anxious and nervous to meet my new family. I will be with them for a considerable amount of time and I do not want to upset them in any way. I have only spoken with them briefly and they seem nice enough. Thinking about meeting them, though, makes me think of the family I have left behind. I already miss them.

 

***

 

The French lamented the crookedness of her teeth. Straightaway, a French doctor was called to perform some painful oral surgeries. Performed without anesthesia and requiring three long months, at last Marie Antoinette's smile, "very beautiful and straight", satisfied France.

 

***

 

I did not see any drivers with signs, or groups of people waiting for me at the train station, so I found the address in my planner and left the train station in a taxi headed out to the house. I arrive at the house in Angers. It is small and quiet: I look around, and the neighborhood resembles my hometown. The lights are all out in the house, and there are neither cars nor bikes in the driveway- I stare at the doorway waiting for something to happen. Five minutes pass, nothing has changed I take a deep breath, find all the courage I can muster and knock on the front door; there is no answer, maybe this is the wrong house, I think to myself. I look down at my planner; no this is the address the exchange bureau gave me, Merde. I sit on the front stoop of the house as a car pulls into the drive, it is awkward I think I am supposed to be here but I do not know if the family is aware of it. I can tell this is going to be the beginning of a great trip.

 

***

 

The ceremonial wedding of the Dauphin and Dauphine took place on 16 May 1770, in the Palace of Versailles, after-which was the ritual bedding. It was assumed by custom that consummation of the marriage would take place on the wedding night. However, this did not occur, and the lack of consummation plagued the reputation of both Louis-Auguste and Marie Antoinette for seven years.

 

***

 

A small dark featured woman steps out to the passenger side of the car; she is surprised and obviously confused. She pokes her head back into the car and I can hear her say something to the others in the vehicle, I am not sure what though. She returns her attention to me, standing awkwardly on their front stoop with enough luggage to hold three months worth of essentials in a country whose weather patterns I am unfamiliar. Qui vous êtes? She asks me, still shielding herself with the car. Je m’appelle Sarah, l'étudiant en échange des États-Unis. Nous avons parlé au téléphone la semaine dernière. Je suis censé rester ici pendant que je suis inscrit à l'université. Je suis à la mauvaise maison? I respond nervously, she does not seem to understand what I am saying. I must be at the wrong house; I turn to collect my things, cursing myself for not writing down the correct address. She again says something to the other members of the family, and they join her on the outside of the car. The youngest of the children comes up to me and grabs my smallest bag, Je m’appelle Sophie, Maman m'a dit de vous montrer votre chambre. She runs into the house and shouts back, Êtes-vous venir? I walk into the house, confused.

 

***

 

The initial reaction to the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste was decidedly mixed. On the one hand, the Dauphine herself was popular among the people. Her first official appearance in Paris on 8 June 1773 at the Tuileries was considered by many royal watchers a resounding success, with a reported 50,000 people crying out to see her. People were easily charmed by her personality and beauty. She had fair skin, straw-blond hair, and deep blue eyes At Court, however, the match was not so popular among the elder members of court due to the long-standing tensions between Austria and France, which had only recently been mollified. Behind her back, Mesdames called Marie Antoinette "l'Autrichienne", the "Austrian woman." As Marie Antoinette's unpopularity grew, l'Autrichienne was easily transformed into l'Autruchienne, a pun making use of the words autruche and chienne.

 

***

 

They treated me differently those first few days, not only as an outsider but also as something less than human. I am amazed I was called to meals, granted the only reason I was is that little Sophie felt pity toward me. She would come bounding up the stairs as the family headed toward the dining room and call my name quietly. Sarah, le diner est prêt. And, after I was sure she had taken her place at the table I would walk down to the dining room and seat myself in the only empty chair. The lady of the house wouldn’t even look at me, I could feel her disappointment, I ate my meals quickly and returned to the room they were allowing me to inhabit. I hated every minute I spent in their house, like a prisoner I yearned for any place but where I was.

 

***

 

The creation of the constitutional monarchy (which relinquished all power of Louis XVI) and the increased influence of the Jacobin party led to the downfall of the French monarchy. The vulnerability of the king was exposed on when an armed mob, on the verge of forcing its way into the Tuileries Palace, forced the king and the royal family to seek refuge at the Legislative Assembly. An hour and a half later, the palace was invaded by the mob who massacred the Swiss Guards. Later, royal family was imprisoned in the tower of the Temple in the Marais under conditions considerably harsher than their previous confinement in the Tuileries.

 

***

 

I sat in that bedroom for three months, the only freedom I was allotted was the five hours of class time, which I had to attend. I was to leave every morning and drop Sophie at school then go to my classes be back to pick Sophie up from school and return to the house. I made no friends while in France. The most fantastic thing I saw was a classroom within the walls of a chateau. I wish I could go back and do it again but I fear she’ll find me and look past me with her glare of utter detest.

 

***

 

However, in reality the outcome of the trial had already been decided by the Committee of Public Safety, and she was declared guilty of treason, after two days of proceedings. On the same day, her hair was cut off and she was driven through Paris in an open cart, wearing a simple white dress. At 12:15 pm, two and a half weeks before her thirty-eighth birthday, she was executed at the Place de la Révolution. Her last words were "Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it", to Henri Sanson the executioner, whose foot she had accidentally stepped on after climbing the scaffold. Her body was thrown into an unmarked grave in the Madeleine cemetery.

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