Each Sunday, Marie Antoinette takes time from her own personal afterlife to help Modern Maries like yourself navigate life’s social minefields. If you find yourself in need of advice from the former Queen of France, please email whatwouldmarieantoinettedo at gmail dot com.
Madame, my queen,
My neighbor is a dark-souled hateful person who only leaves her home to tell other people that their children are too loud, their lawns too unmanicured and that their dogs should be taken to the pound. We’re both on a neighborhood committee to plan an annual picnic, and I’d rather not go, now that I know she’s involved. If I must, I’d prefer to ignore her entirely, so maybe she’ll learn her behavior has consequences.
Darling, that’s simply no way to plan a party. It’s important to use charm liberally. Difficult people and those you distrust need it most (until there’s a reason to let someone know you find them difficult or unlikable.)
It’s a strategy I used on my very own mother. After his accession, Louis added a postscript to one of my letters home: “I am very glad to seize this occasion, my dear mama, to prove my love and attachment to you. I would much like to have your advice at this difficult time.” He continued: “I would be very glad to please you and thus show you my great attachment and my gratitude for your granting me your daughter with whom I couldn’t be more pleased.”
In fact, Louis hadn’t thought of writing anything. I dictated his entire postscript, sensing having the Austrian Empress on my husband’s side would be a good thing for me and him and France in general.
I even used it on the revolutionaries. After the King had been deposed after the failed flight to Varennes, I sought out the constitutionalist Barnave. I wrote my waiting woman to get in touch with him because I “was struck with his personality, which I recognized during the two days we spent together and that I should very much like to know from him what there is for us to do in our present position…having thought a great deal, since my return, about the strength, capacity and intelligence of the man I spoke to, I felt that it could not but be advantageous to begin a kind of correspondence with him, always on condition, however, that I should frankly let him know what was in my mind.”
I didn’t think anything of the kind and was attempting to play a double game with a man I felt was aligned with my enemies. I’m not proud of the ruse (really, I realize Barnave might have been our last hope, but I didn’t know that all at the time). All Barnave knew was that he was so special, the Queen sought his counsel and that he had the chance to 1. save her live, and 2. strike a compromise with the Jacobins that would shape France forever. This dupe would not have worked had Barnave not been so flattered he could not see straight.
At the neighborhood meetings, don’t freeze your neighbor out. Solicit her opinion. Support her views when warranted. Ignore her rudeness and imagine that she, like me with Barnave, distrusts a solution simply because she believes herself to be absolutely right. Find a way to be respectful and allow your neighbor to feel she has an ally in a room where likely she has few. You’ll find the picnic planning goes easier and she might look at you more favorably as well.
What do you think? Did the queen get it right? What would you do?