Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tea at Trianon: The Fersen Myth in Literature

Elena Maria Vidal dissects the Axel Fersen affair in literature at Tea at Trianon:

Surfing the internet anyone can see that the Fersen myth is deeply entrenched in the public mind. This is due to major publishers yearly churning out sensational biographies and novels, which focus on the legend rather than on the facts, scouring letters and diaries for the slightest indication that Marie-Antoinette and Count Fersen may have slept together. At best, such books harbor the notion of a great and spiritual love between the Queen and the count, such as in Sena Jeter Naslund's Abundance. At worst, they are romance novels like Carolly Erickson's The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, which has the Queen going on a journey to Sweden with Axel von Fersen. It is a fabrication which should qualify that particular novel as fantasy rather than as historical fiction.

Excellent books by serious French historians, which attempt to look at the cold unromantic facts of the matter, such as Marie-Antoinette l'insoumise by Simone Bertière and Marie-Antoinette: Epouse de Louis XVI, mere de Louis XVII by Philippe Delorme, are not translated into English. Instead biographies such as Evelyn Lever's Marie-Antoinette, which focus on the possibility of a romance with Fersen, are the ones which find their way into American book stores. Older books like those by Hilaire Belloc, Desmond Seward, and Nesta Webster, all of which present clear evidence that there was little possibility of an affair, are not reprinted. However, Stefan Zweig's Freudian analysis is continually on the bookshelves. There is no great conspiracy here. Publishers know that stories of adulterous love affairs sell more books than do stories of chaste and faithful marriages. And so they give the public what they think they want.

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