Desperation for an Heir
Though perhaps exaggerated in the interest of mending her public image, the depictions of Marie Antoinette as devoted mother were not completely overstated. Marie Antoinette did greatly desire a child, nearly to the point of desperation, both to ease the pressures of producing an heir and to have a companion and a purpose within the Court of Versailles. Madame Campan recounts in her memoirs that while Marie Antoinette was deprived of children of her own, she “endeavored to interest herself in the children of the people of her household” (Campan).
Madame Campan even includes in her memoirs an account of the time Marie Antoinette brought a young boy from the village into her care. While the Queen was riding through a small hamlet, her horses ran into a young boy of about five years old. He was rescued without injury and Marie Antoinette declared that “the child was hers, and that destiny had given it to her, to console her, no doubt, until she should have the happiness of having one herself” (Campan). His grandmother consented to let the Queen take him and Marie Antoinette brought him back to Versailles, dining with him every day and calling him her child (Campan).
The novel Abundance (2006) by Sera Jeter Naslund also describes this event. In the novel, when the carriage stopped, Marie Antoinette ran out and declared “He is mine! I will have him!” thinking to herself “I know that he has run into the road because he has heard my heart calling for him (Naslund 242). The boy’s grandmother allows the Queen to take the boy, Jacques, and she takes him back to Versailles, thinking “my need for him is desperate. I have no child of my own. Why else was he sent under the hooves and wheels and then sheltered by the invisible hand of God?” (Naslund 243). For a time, Jacques spent all his meals with the queen and she believed him to be the solution to all her problems, but it did not last: “Jacques will always be a part of our household. I will always speak to him with kindness. But Jacques has not redeemed my life. Jacques is not really mine” (Naslund 243).
While Madame Campan portrays this incident as an example of Marie Antoinette’s goodness and inherent maternal instinct, Naslund portrays it as an act of a desperate woman. The character of Marie Antoinette in this novel is under immense pressure to have a child, and when one stumbled in front of her, she seized the opportunity to claim him as her own. Even though for a time she saw him as the solution to her problems, she came to realize that he would not ease the pressure on her because he was not her child, and he was not the heir she was expected to produce. Naslund does not use this event as a way of exemplifying the queen’s morality and charitable nature, but instead to show the result of her long unfulfilled desire for a child.