Saturday, September 09, 2006

Slicing the cake with a guillotine

Whenever I think of Marie Antoinette, I remember the infamous line attributed to her -- "Let them eat cake!"

I grew up believing that frivolous Marie, wife of Louis XVI and queen of France uttered this callous remark upon hearing the peasants complaining that there wasn't enough bread. This was said to have outraged the hungry masses and sparked the onset of the French Revolution.

Well guess what! Apparently, she never said "Let them eat cake." Historians believed that this was a hatchet job (actually more of a guillotine job) of propagandists out to topple the monarchy. has that on the authority of biographer Lady Antonia Fraser, who cleared Marie Antoinette of any wrongdoing at the 2002 Edinburgh Book Fair. "It was said 100 years before her by Marie-Therese, the wife of Louis XIV," Fraser explains. "It was a callous and ignorant statement and she [Antoinette] was neither." has a different take on the matter, blaming not Marie-Therese but Jean Jacques Rousseau!

To quote verbatim:

In 1766 Marie Antoinette was but a child of 11 in the court of Maria Theresa of Austria; her future husband, Louis XVI of France, was likewise a child, and his father, Louis XV, was king. The Revolution was still two decades off. That year, Jean Jacques Rousseau was writing his Confessions and in them recounted an incident that may have transpired in Grenoble 25 years before. "At length," wrote Rousseau, "I remembered the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, 'Then let them eat cake.'" (MFO: The anti-monarchy subversives picked up on this story and the rest as they say, is history.)

If Rousseau's "great princess" did not actually speak those words, they can, perhaps, be attributed instead to an unnamed duchess of Tuscany, who spoke them in the 1750s, according to the 19th-century writer Alphonse Karr. Whoever spoke them, it obviously wasn't Marie Antoinette.

Let's see director/actress/Marc Jacobs' muse/style star Sofia Coppola's take on this urban legend! If not for history's sake, see how this movie will spark a Fashion Revolution and ignite a renewed interest in all things French! Oooh la la! Movie premieres on the 20th of October!

(photos courtesy of (in order of sequence),,

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