The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson
Published: August 15/17, St. Martin’s
Reviewed by Kirsten Lowe
Author Meghan Masterson gives the whole story of the famous/fashionable Marie Antoinette and the revolutionary movement that would change the entire future of France. Usually readers are given an intimate point of view from the last queen of France herself, or one of her ladies in waiting – giving us only a one sided view of the predicament. In Masterson’s novel’s perspective is told by the main character, Giselle Aubry, an undertirewoman to the queen (she along with others attend to the dressing of the queen and the caring of the queen’s gowns). She dreams about designing beautiful dresses herself and becoming another ‘Rose Bertin,’ – the queen’s favored dress designer. Upon her arrival at the Palace of Versailles, she hears constant political discussions while observing rising threats of riots due to the cost of bread, shamefully low wages, and the extravagance of the royal family outside the palace. And now that she lives in the palace, her uncle has convinced her to report the queen’s movements to him so he can once again relive his days back in the secret spy ring ‘du roi’ – back to the time of King Louis XV.
From her position Giselle is able to witness both sides of the war: the revolutionaries who will one day overcome the royal family, and the royalists that support the king and queen. Her family is part of the Third Estate that revolts and while she sympathizes with those who have much less and ask for a decent living, she also sympathizes with the queen stating, “she’s a woman who does not deserve her fate, or all the blame heaped upon her personally, no matter what errors she’s made.” That’s the thing about Giselle – she was able to see beyond the royal titles and paint Marie Antoinette in a humanistic light, with her own weaknesses and charms. There is no definite black or white in The Wardrobe Mistress. It teaches from a neutral perspective that compared to what any text may state there are always several shades of gray in a story.
Giselle also meets and falls madly in love with Leon Gauvain, a watchmaker. But as things begin to intensify when the American Revolution begins to inspire the people of France to start their own. Conflict surrounds the couple and could possibly tear them apart due to the political situation swarming around them with its sheer brutality.
No doubt it was a time where the King and Queen were walking on eggshells. Marie Antoinette was singled out and was basically slandered in cartoons and pamphlets, while symbolizing excessive wealth. The King was indecisive. After a decision was made, he could easily be swayed by any one of his Ministers who, of course, were not thinking of the people’s best interests. Giselle saw this and knew that the wrong people were advising the King and Queen and nothing could be done to save them. It was a tragic end for this couple, and being able to read about it while not taking sides will open our eyes to how both sides had their potential and flaws.