This event, when some fishwives from Paris harassed the queen and criticized her lack of a child, is just one example of how pressure for an heir affected Marie Antoinette. The event has been used in modern interpretations of her life to create sympathy for her impossible position. In her novel, Abundance, from 2006, Sera Jeter Naslund imagines how the fishwives criticized the queen as she returned to her rooms from the child’s birth:
“They are angry that their Queen has not produced the heir. They speak roughly and loudly to me: “Where is your babe?” “Why have you not given us an heir?” “You spend your nights dancing.” “You have neglected your business as a wife.” “We are mothers! Why not you?” “Hurry, run to your husband.” “Do it tonight!” “Can’t you spread your legs?” they say” (Naslund 234).
The 2006 film titled Marie Antoinette also depicts this moment as having a great effect on the queen. In the film, after she walked through the halls after the child’s birth, the courtiers whispered and gossiped as she passed and the fishwives called out “give us an heir.” She keeps her composure until she reaches her rooms, where she breaks down and cries.
This scene in particular is meant to elicit sympathy for Marie Antoinette because in the previous scenes leading up to it, the film portrays the impossible situation she is in. It shows her constant attempts to gain affection from her husband and his consistent rejection of her advances. Also, after a scene showing Louis XVI once again remaining indifferent to her, the following scene shows Madame du Barry, Louis XV’s mistress who Marie Antoinette disliked, in bed with Louis XV, which contrasts Marie Antoinette’s failure to consummate her marriage with Madame du Barry’s success. In total, twenty-two scenes show people gossiping about or reprimanding the Queen and seven show her failed attempts to gain her husband’s attention in the marriage bed (Flores 611).
Also, the film shows how all the blame for their unconsummated marriage was put on Marie Antoinette. In another scene, she reads a letter from her mother that criticizes her for not “inspiring” her husband sexually and saying success in producing an heir “all depends on the wife” and if she is “wiling and sweet” during sexual encounters with her husband. Then later, another letter from her mother details the successful marriages of Marie Antoinette’s siblings, making her feel inferior. Finally, when the Comtesse d’Artois has a child before her and she is harassed for not having a child herself, the audience is compelled to feel sympathetic towards her situation because it is out of her control but she is still blamed for it. Considering these events, it is easier for the audience to understand and sympathize with how she dealt with these pressures through partying, gambling, and spending while considering the events that drove Marie Antoinette to feel like a failure as a queen and a wife.
The 1938 film, titled Marie Antoinette, also depicts how her husband’s indifference and the lack of an heir affected Marie Antoinette. The film opens with Marie Antoinette finding out she is going to be married, and her reaction is purely ecstatic. While in the 2006 film, there are bittersweet aspects to her leaving home and adapting to a new place, in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette is only thrilled to arrive in France and meet her new husband. She remains kind and understanding as Louis remains indifferent towards her, and is only upset because she says her mother would be “dreadfully cross” with her if she could not make her husband like her, which puts the blame on Marie Antoinette, not on her husband. Then, Madame du Barry, Louis VX’s mistress and one of the villains of the film, sends Marie Antoinette an empty cradle toy as an anniversary gift, hinting at her failure in producing an heir, which upsets the queen greatly. All of these examples, which show the queen trying to be a good wife and receiving only rejection and criticism for it, create sympathy for her position and explain her need for affection and desperation for a child.