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Questions for discussion about Becoming Marie Antoinette
1. Why does the author choose to open the story with the dead butterfly? What does it come to represent, and at what other moments throughout the novel does the butterfly become significant? Discuss its significance.
2. “Hadn’t Maman taught us that there was no such thing as ghosts or goblins or demons? There was no room for superstitious silliness among the Hapsburgs; we were not dwellers in the Dark Ages, but children of the eighteenth century— the Age of Reason.” Given Antonia’s observation, what explanation would you give for Josepha’s strong premonition that she is going to die? In what ways does this early event shape Antonia’s character?
3. Monsieur Ducreux says that he never paints empty dresses, and Antonia mocks him by declaring that she is an empty dress. How much truth is there in that joke? Give specific examples from the rest of the story in which Antonia either fits or flouts your definition of an “empty dress.” Do you place more value on academic skills or on other talents?
4. Discuss the appeal of fashion in the novel. What is suggested by the fact that many of the styles that are de rigueur at Versailles are considered outmoded by the Austrian court? Would you enjoy dressing every day in those enormous gowns and huge hairstyles?
5. What, to you, was the most surprising detail of Antonia’s makeover? Do you think her transformation was ultimately beneficial? In what ways do you imagine Antonia would have been a different dauphine if she hadn’t had those experiences?
6. Juliet Grey makes the court etiquette described in the novel lively and colorful, although Antonia finds it burdensome and tedious. If you were being groomed to become the dauphine of France, would you handily sail through the hours of lessons and preparations that it took to memorize all the rules, and perhaps even enjoy abiding by them?
7. Before Antonia departs for Versailles, she spends a week with her mother at the convent at Marizell. Why is Maria Theresa so insistent on this trip? Discuss the role of religion in both the Austrian and the French courts. In what ways does Antonia embrace or ignore her Catholic upbringing, particularly as it relates to the controversy over Madame du Barry?
8. Consider the Hapsburg family motto that serves as the epigraph to the novel: “Others wage wars; you, happy Austria, marry.” At what other moments in the story is the motto recalled by one of the characters? Why is this significant? What do you think the French see as the primary benefit of the alliance? How effective is Antonia at handling the tremendous political pressures of her role, and what, if anything, would you have done differently? Can you think of a modern equivalent to this sort of political marriage?
9. Why does Marie Antoinette envy Madame du Barry at first—before she realizes who (and what) she is? Which woman do you admire more?
10. In Maria Theresa’s first letter to Antonia, she writes, “Avoid consorting with those who are underlings, for their trust may be both fleeting and fickle; and grant no requests unless the abbé, Comte de Mercy, the duc de Choiseul, or the king himself has sanctioned your ability to hear them.” How does this advice become particularly important? In what ways does it become a hindrance? Discuss, too, the repercussions of the correspondence between Maria Theresa and the abbé Vermond, comte de Mercy, and the king that takes place without Antonia’s knowledge.
11. Louis Auguste and Antonia first bond over the terrible fate of the citizens who were killed in the trenches outside the Palais Royal. What does this say about their characters? Given what you know about history, does this incident surprise you? What prevents them from building on this initial bond until much later?
12. Antonia’s shining moment as dauphine is arguably her presentation at the Tuileries, described vividly in a letter to her mother. Why is she so well received by the people of Paris, despite their feelings about the king? Contrast Antonia’s stumbles throughout the novel with her successes: What are the common denominators that determine whether or not she will triumph?
13. All of Europe seems to be speculating on Antonia’s marriage, but nothing can make Louis Auguste consummate the relationship. Read the author’s essay in the reader’s guide on writing Becoming Marie Antoinette. Do you find Juliet Grey’s portrayal of Louis Auguste to be sympathetic? While you were reading the novel, what did you speculate was Louis’s problem? How do you think he really felt about his wife?
14. Do you think Antonia truly comes to love Louis, despite her reservations? How, if at all, would their relationship have been different if they had chosen each other?
15. When Papa Roi dies, Louis Auguste tells his wife, “I am the most unhappy man in the world.” What does he mean by that? Compare Louis Auguste’s relationship with his grandfather to Antonia’s relationship with her mother. In what ways have these relationships defined the dauphin and dauphine? Is there a decisive moment in the story in which each steps out from the shadow of his/her elder? If not, do you think there will come a time when it’s possible for them to do so?
16. In the final lines of the book, Antonia observes, “All France is at our feet today. And just imagine what we shall make of it!” Why does the author choose to end the book with this line? Given what you know of subsequent events, in what ways is this comment prophetic?
17. If you could spend an afternoon in the company of one of the characters from Becoming Marie Antoinette, who would it be? What’s the first question you would ask him or her? Which of the locales in the novel would you most want to visit?
Read an excerpt on Scribd.com
Becoming Marie Antoinette: A Novel by Juliet Grey (excerpt)
Discussion Questions For Days Of Splendor, Days Of Sorrow
1. France and Austria had been at odds for more than 950 years by the time Marie Antoinette married Louis. This was a huge weight to bear at the age of fourteen. In what other ways was her marriage to Louis troubled before she even moved to France?
2. “I am terrified of being bored” and “I felt so useless.” These statements seem to be at the root of Marie Antoinette’s struggles. Do you think that if she’d been able to have children earlier in her marriage this general sense of ennui would have been as prevalent? In what ways do you imagine things in the royal world would have been different if she had been able sooner to fulfill her dream of becoming a mother?
3. Marie Antoinette comments that she felt pressure to keep up with the fashion and luxury of Paris. Do you think that she ever felt truly guilty about her overspending and debt-accruing ways? Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? What parallels do you see between the financial troubles in France and those of the United States and other countries today? What about the political climate?
4. Do you think that Marie Antoinette’s interest in getting involved in the politics of the monarchy was a direct result of the problems that she and Louis had in their marriage? Was Marie Antoinette too strong-willed for Louis? Was Louis threatened by her? How did you interpret the dynamics of their relationship?
5. In what ways was le Petit Trianon a symbol of who Marie Antoinette was? If she had been more open to interacting with the public, do you think she would she have ended up so alienated from her people?
6. Were you cheering for Marie Antoinette’s kiss with Count Axel von Fersen or did you feel that she should have been loyal to her husband regardless of their problems? Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow takes a controversial approach in positing, based on circumstance and some of Axel’s letters to his sister, that Marie Antoinette and Axel consummated their affaire de coeur. What do you think really happened?
7. At the zoo, Marie Antoinette says that the tiger is her favorite animal there because it reminded her of her mother. If her mother is a tiger, what kind of animal would Marie Antoinette be? What kind of animal do you think that she herself would identify with?
8. In what ways were Marie Antoinette and Louis alike? In what ways were they different?
9. Do you think the punishments meted out to Jeanne de Lamotte-Valois, her husband, and Cardinal de Rohan following the Affair of the Diamond Necklace were just? Were you surprised by how easy it was for Marie Antoinette’s detractors to convince the public that she was at fault?
10. “I will not believe that Frenchmen would rebel against the Crown,” Louis says. How do you think he was able to remain so naïve about what would happen to France?
11. Do you think the French Revolution was inevitable? If there was any one moment at which Louis and his advisors could have turned the tide of public opinion, what was it? After reading Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, how much responsibility for the revolution do you attribute to Marie Antoinette’s actions?
12. What scene in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow surprised you most? Do you feel more sympathetic toward Marie Antoinette than you did before reading this novel? Why or why not?
Read an excerpt on Scribd.com
Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow: A Novel by Juliet Grey (excerpt)