Each and every time there is a beautiful woman close to influence (a Sarah Palin, a Carla Bruni, a Michelle Obama) I wait with heart-stopping trepidation. It is only a matter of time until she appears to spend too much, to do something outside some unwritten norm, and she is called a Modern Day Marie Antoinette.
You can’t imagine how tiresome this is to me. I’ve been dead for more than 200 years but I still have feelings. As you can imagine, the association is never positive. The lady is usually stylish and attractive, thankfully, but all the other connections are odious. And frankly, a little uninformed. I admit I spent my share. I admit I wasn’t perfect, but I find it a lark to be accused of overspending by an era that loves luxury as much as I did, or by America, a country whose independence is indebted to my husband’s overspending and likely wouldn’t exist today without it. (Do you want to eat Wheatabix, dear hearts? Do you?)
It’s hardly fair to blame just me. Expensive traditions predated me. My ladies helped themselves to my gloves and shoes until I needed to order 18 new pairs of perfumed gloves each week. And what of the Right to the Candles, where candles that had been lit could not be used again (and were sold at a profit by each of my ladies.) The Right to the Candles alone brought in 50,000 livres to each of my waiting women (who demanded reimbursement if we attempted to cut back). For all this, my spending was a fraction of court spending and court spending was still only ever third to war and debt service. (For a more full account see this classic Tea at Trianon post).
I didn’t have any idea of the scope of the budget, surely, and I could have done more. I get it. But France’s coffers were in a sorry state before I arrived, dearies, and had been for some time. But I wasn’t in control of the budget: the king and his ministers were (who again, bankrupted France to finance your beloved revolution). Even when I tried to cut back, I was attacked. When I switched to a modest muslin gaulle instead of my silken finery I was attacked for destroying the French silk industry.
What I’m getting at, ladies and gents who are so quick to disparage me, is that don’t mind the criticisms, I just that I prefer you do it greater detail. After so many centuries, is it enough to call me out on the things I actually did? Is the state of social science education so poor in modern countries that this is too much to ask?
I bristle at the fact that I’m somehow an inspiration for all bad behavior. No one says, “Oh, she pulled a Comtesse de Grammont” when someone is shrill and shady. Young people don’t say they’re completely “Georgiana’d” when they’ve had too much to drink. Was your John Edwards named a Modern Comte d’Artois for his $400 haircuts? Even the former senator was called a Modern Day Marie. Why should I be punished, these years later, for my devastating charisma? Conjuring my stately image is really something of a cliche. It would be more apt to use me as the strawman for lies and rumors, given that my most attributed quote, “Let them eat cake” I didn’t even say. I’d have to think that fancy professional writers (and want-to-be politicos) would be astute enough to realize that.
All I ask is that you try. I’ve been insulted for years. I’ve heard it all, but you could at least try to surprise me. You could also dig a little deeper when lambasting me or those so-called modern day Maries as well. The angry shrill opinions on your American First lady’s trip to Spain (here, here and here) show little verification to make that anger worthwhile (with such easily found proof she and her court of paid their own expenses here and that she traveled with a group of 3, not 40 to help one who’s grieving). Other erroneous writings are no better than the pamphlets that turned on me — and later the revolutionaries themselves. (They even say Mme Obama is haughty and elitist — the very terms I’ve lived with all these years. Hmpf.)
If you ever think one person can be the face of all your envies and frustrations, think again. Please verify your accusations or find yourself as ill-prepared to deal with the real problems you face, as the one-minded pamphleteers who chose to attack me. Just leave me out of it. (It’d be nice to have the attention off me for a change.)