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BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE

Title: Abundance: a novel of Marie Antoinette
Author: Sena Jeter Naslund

Summary: Readers of historical fiction will enjoy this novel which immerses us in the life of Marie Antoinette and the workings of the French Court. We’re invited to live her story as she experiences it. From the lush gardens of Versailles to the lights and gaiety of Paris, the verdant countryside of France, and finally the stark and terrifying isolation of a prison cell. The young queen's life is joyful, poignant, and harrowing by turns. As her world of unprecedented royal splendor crumbles, the charming Marie Antoinette matures into a heroine of inspiring stature, one whose nobility arises not from the circumstance of her birth but from her courageous spirit.

Questions:
1. In what ways does this rendering of late-eighteenth-century France inform, challenge, or even contradict your previous understandings of the causes of the French Reign of Terror? What did you learn about Marie Antoinette? The Reign of Terror? Were you surprised as you read?

2. Images of imprisonment haunt Abundance. From her arrival at Versailles as a girl, when she first perceives the vast chateau "hold[ing] out her arms" as if to embrace and/or seize her, Marie Antoinette exists in a perpetual state of enclosure. Is Marie Antoinette the bird in a gilded cage? Consider Louis XVI's observation that "the whole estate of Versailles is enclosed. The walls are just too far away for you to take much notice of.”

3. Is Marie Antoinette, in fact, a victim - a virtual prisoner from the moment she surrenders her clothing and jewels (not to mention her dog) in the middle of the Rhine in the first chapter?

4. Discuss female identity and performance in Abundance. What does it mean that Marie Antoinette feels most engaged and alive when she is playing a role on the stage--Rosine in The Barber of Seville? Also the idea that Marie Antoinette's entire life is tantamount to a single, elaborately sustained performance sparked by her mother's exhortation to play the role of " an angel," blessing the people of France with peace.

5. What kind of a man does Louis Auguste become? And what kind of king?

6. What was the nature of Marie Antoinette's relationship with her mother? To what degree is the dauphine a mere pawn to her mother's political machinations (by way of Count Mercy d’Argenteau)? At what point does Marie Antoinette begin to recognize her own agency and seize her own autonomy? The Empress of Austria has been called one of the shrewdest, most influential politicians in the history of Europe. How does this political acumen manifest itself in Abundance?

7. What does it mean to have power in the world of this novel? How is power seized, employed, abused, and /or deflected in Abundance – whether by Louis XV, his three sisters, Louis XVI, the Empress of Austria, the Third Estate, or Marie Antoinette herself? Who ultimately wields his or her power most successfully?

8. What is your interpretation of the love between Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen? “We are the perfect friends.” Marie Antoinette tells us. Why do you think the author doesn’t tell us exactly what is going on?

9. What role do pamphleteers play in the revolution from the notorious “sunrise orgy” to the legendary affair of the necklace? How has the press, or the Fourth Estate, as dubbed by Thomas Carlyle, evolved over the last two centuries, from anonymous pamphleteers to 24-hour news channels and tabloid journalism?

10. What is the significance of the title of this novel?

Related Information:

Interview with Sena Jeter Naslund

A Brief Timeline of Events: Marie Antoinette and the Age Of Revolution
1755 The youngest daughter of Empress Regeant Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I is born in Vienna on November 2. She is christened Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen.

1766 A French marriage alliance is proposed by Vienna to preserve the amity established by the Treaty of Aix-Ia-Chapelle (1748) and the Seven Years' War.

1769 Louis XV requests the hand of the Archduchess Maria Antonia for his grandson and heir, the Dauphin Louis-Auguste.

1770 Bridal journey commences from Vienna through southern Germany and Strasbourg and on to Versailles for the royal wedding of Louis-Auguste and Marie Antoinette on May 16 (see Abundance, Act One, Chapters 1-10). The marriage is not consummated for many years.

1774 Louis XV dies on the tenth of May; Louis XVI and nineteen-year-old Marie Antoinette ascend to the French throne (Act Two, "Catastrophe").

1778 Marie Antoinette gives birth to Marie Therese Charlotte on December 19 (Act Three, "The Generale Is Tardy!" and "Giving Birth").

1781 Louis Joseph is born October 22 (Act Four, "The Hope of France").

1785 The Affair of the Diamond Necklace does much to accelerate popular dislike of the queen and burnish her reputation as "Madame Deficite" (Act Four, "A Hoax in Diamonds" through "Portrait in Red"). The beloved Louis-Charles is born March 27.

1787 Marie's second daughter, Sophie Beatrix dies shortly before her first birthday (Act Four, "Sophie"). This loss is followed by the death of seven- year-old Louis Joseph in June of 1789 ("Grief').

1789 Mob destroys the Bastille Prison in Paris on July 14. Outbreak of the French Revolution. Royal court forcibly moved to Paris (Act Four, "The Revolution of 1789"; Act Five, "The Tuileries"). Market women of Paris march to Versailles and force the Royal Family to live under supervision in Paris.

1791 The Royal Family's flight from Paris is foiled near the French border ("Escape from Paris").

1792 Revolutionaries storm the Tuileries and imprison the family in the Temple Fortress. Louis XVI is tried for treason on December 11 and subsequently condemned to death ("The Tower, 1792," "Terror, Fury, and Horror Seize the Earthly Powers").

1793 January 20 - King Louis XVI is executed.
Marie Antoinette is separated from her children and incarcerated on the Ile de la Cite in the Seine River.

October 16th - Queen Marie Antoinette is publicly executed by guillotine.

Questions and related information provided by Ali MacDonald.

This discussion guide made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. Sponsored by the Mohawk Valley Library System and participating member libraries.

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