Marie Antoinette has been one of the stars of history since her famous death at the guillotine. But why, and how, has she remained so famous for so long? Her life was nothing like those of most famous historical kings and queens, who are generally remembered for some great or terrible deed. Marie Antoinette did not do anything during her time as queen that significantly affected national or global affairs in any way. In fact, she did not hold much power at all. She is remembered more for the events that happened around her and the things done to her, like the outbreak of the French Revolution during her reign and her execution at the guillotine. These events could be enough to have her name remembered, but not to the extent that she is infused into our popular culture today as widely recognizable reference, even to children.
The hype that formed around Marie Antoinette started during her lifetime. The French hatred of her seemed to know no bounds, and any gossip or scandal surrounding her was distorted and insanely exaggerated until the image of her that emerged was one that lasted through time. The image that existed in popular imagery during her life, though, was nothing close to the truth. And since it is that image of her that has lasted into our time period today, our perception of her is usually just as exaggerated.
It is not Marie Antoinette’s biography that has become so ingrained in popular culture today but the image of her and particularly the themes and concepts she has been associated with. What stand out in particular are the four themes I have discussed in this thesis. It is in regards to these themes that we have chosen to remember her. When looking at popular representations of Marie Antoinette today, it becomes clear: not one of them, film, novel, or reference, refrains from associating her with one or more of these themes and exaggerating some quality of hers in one way or another. When we think about her in relation to luxury and fashion, we think of Sofia Coppola’s over-the-top depiction of her life as one never-ending party with no expense spared. Her natural love for her children becomes exalted as the only defense for her otherwise immoral life. Her sexuality becomes either a symbol for her alleged corruption or makes her an icon for lesbianism and female sexual empowerment. Even her death has turned her into either a defeated villain or tragic hero. No popular representation today seems able to ignore these exaggerations. Her image has become inseparable from infamous French queen who uncaringly commented “let them eat cake” while the starving populace demanded bread. Though that image of her is false one, she is linked to it, as well as to the broader themes attached to her name, and this is why Marie Antoinette remains an historical celebrity and retains so much recognition in popular imagery that has not died down in the centuries since her death.