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Marie Antoinette’s Head:
The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen,
And The Revolution
In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
|Marie Antoinette’s Head
By Will Bashor
Publisher: Lyons Press
Pub. Date: October 16, 2013
(anniversary of Marie Antoinette’s execution)
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
A blogger I contacted for France Book Tours to offer her to review this book declined, because she had had previous unhappy experiences with small presses. Seeing this book had received an award, and seeing the topic and all the research the author had apparently put into it, I gladly made the plunge.
I started oohing and ah-hing when the book came in the mail. As one reader of this blog already commented, first of all the cover is gorgeous. Yes, it does count to have nice cover art, accompanied here with a smart title as well!
Then when I perused this hardcover copy, I noticed a family tree, a map of the Paris of the time, a chronology, a list of historical characters and dates, with a brief description of their role, some notes on the sources and titles of nobility, plus 16 fabulous color prints. All positive signs for a me of a serious scholarly work. I was sold. I started reading Marie Antoinette’s Head right away.
Many people I know are familiar with Marie Antoinette’s crazy hairdos. But for the life of me, I never ever had thought of wondering whose creation it was. I am sure glad Will Bashor had the idea one day of asking himself this question –see further his fascinating answer about this in the interview. So this book is about Marie Antoinette’s super talented hairdresser, Léonard Autié.
Though he started rather low in life, he had an enlarged ego, and managed to do really well for himself, thanks to his talents, but also it seems for being almost always at the right place at the right time. I was struck by this when he arrived from Bordeaux to work in Paris, how he met so quickly very instrumental events and people for his success; and how he met again some of these same people later in life, in different contexts and even countries!
This young man must come to see me at Versailles,, and I shall take care of his future.”
p.24, said by madame du Barry to Madame de Langeac
Will Bashor used Léonard’s own diary and other documents of the time to retrace his evolution in life, and how he came to be Marie Anoitnette’s personal hairdresser for many years, even before she became queen.
Full of imagination, he comes up with the idea to make her a foot high hairpiece one day when she plans to go to the opera. Of course everyone notices, who could not!, asks who did it, and every lady around wants the same. He repeated his feat many times, introducing all kinds of variations, some related to historical events (the French have won a naval victory? let’s put then a boat on top of that hair!).
Léonard was not the type of feeling stuck. After Marie Antoinette gave birth to her second child, she started losing some of her hair. Not too good for a hairdresser of his style. And so he decided to change the fashion overnight by introducing now short hairdos!
But there is more to this book than just hair, as the hairdresser was “a man of intimacy”. Not a noble himself, and without any real political agenda, Léonard was a man the queen could trust and speak to confidently. As such, he is a great witness of key periods of French history.
Daily at court, he was in the know of what was going on and upcoming, and was smart enough to prepare for possible dangers.
We also see a man torn between his republican ideas of equality for the poor and his loyalty to his masters who had treated him so well, and on whom he was dependent for his livelihood.
So when Marie Antoinette asks him to do some spying on the side, he agrees, also when he is sent as secret messenger to try to prepare their escape from Versailles…
The events during and after the French Revolution will eventually send him to other European countries, and finally to Russia where he will spend 16 years of life at the service of noble Russian ladies’ hair, before coming back to France for a final very unusual job!
Reading Marie Antoinette’s Head is a fascinating way of reliving these major pages of European history.
Will Bashor also debunks the legend that Léonard was killed at the French Revolution and somehow managed to reappear somewhere else. I will let you read the explanation.
I learned many more fascinating things in this book (for instance another connection between Marie Antoinette, hair and flour!), and took many notes, but there’s no room here for them all.
To sum up, this is a very serious scholarly work that has the advantage of reading like a historical novel. I know some of you feel like they should read more nonfiction, but you feel intimidated. This book would be perfect for you, if you like historical matters. The style is very lively, entertaining sometimes, and all based on serious study. It was really a pleasure following the opportunist and talented Léonard, as he maneuvers his way in and out of the important historical panorama of the French Revolution and its subsequent years.
And if need be, this is the perfect proof that great books can indeed come out of small presses. The editing was perfect, no typo that I noticed, and I’m picky with those.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Marie Antoinette has remained atop the popular cultural landscape for centuries for the daring in style and fashion that she brought to 18th century France. For the better part of the queen’s reign, one man was entrusted with the sole responsibility of ensuring that her coiffure was at its most ostentatious best. Who was this minister of fashion who wielded such tremendous influence over the queen’s affairs? Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, and the Revolution charts the rise of Leonard Autié from humble origins as a country barber in the south of France to the inventor of the Pouf and premier hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette.
By unearthing a variety of sources from the 18th and 19th centuries, including memoirs (including Léonard’s own), court documents, and archived periodicals the author, Professor Will Bashor, tells Autié’s mostly unknown story. He chronicles Leonard’s story, the role he played in the life of his most famous client, and the chaotic and history-making world in which he rose to prominence. Besides his proximity to the queen, Leonard also had a most fascinating life filled with sex (he was the only man in a female dominated court), seduction, intrigue, espionage, theft, exile, treason, and possibly, execution. The French press reported that Léonard was convicted of treason and executed in Paris in 1793. However, it was also recorded that Léonard, after receiving a pension from the new King Louis XVIII, died in Paris in March 1820. Granted, Leonard was known as the magician of Marie-Antoinette’s court, but how was it possible that he managed to die twice? [provided by the author]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Will Bashor has a doctorate in International Relations from the American Graduate School in Paris,
and he teaches at Franklin University, Columbus, Ohio.
His interests have ranged over many fields,
among them the study of international law and business, linguistics,
cultural anthropology, and European history.
As a member of the Society for French Historical Studies,
he attended its annual meeting sponsored by Harvard University in Cambridge in 2013.
Visit his website, and connect with him:
INTERVIEW WITH WILL BASHOR
1. Will, I am delighted to have the opportunity to interview you.
Everyone, well almost everyone I know,
has heard about Marie-Antoinette’s extravagant hairdos.
But we usually don’t think about who her hairdresser was.
How did you come up with the idea to research on him?
I was spending an afternoon at the Carnavalet Museum, a collection strong on the history of Paris and the French Revolution and housed in a Renaissance-era mansion, when I came across a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair. I remembered that she almost fainted at the sight of the red-hooded executioner in her prison cell that cold morning, and she recoiled with horror when he asked her to turn around so he could cut her hair, necessary to ensure that the guillotine’s blade would work properly. Her hair. It was the talk of all Europe when she held her elaborate court at Versailles. But it would be the last thing to go, and here was a lock of it. I was spellbound.
2. As you researched for your book, did you meet some interesting living Marie-Antoinette’s aficionado?
That’s a great question because I have thousands of new friends on Facebook and Goodreads, and many of them have complete libraries with works on the queen. Much of the flattering information in my book about Marie Antoinette is based on the memoirs of her courtiers and servants and, subsequently, I’ve also received some negative comments because there are those who detest the woman. Although my sympathies do not lie with the royalists, I do feel, as many other aficionados, that the imprisonment and punishment of the queen would certainly be considered cruel and unusual today.
3. As you somehow relived the events of the French Revolution in Léonard’s company, did you learn anything new you didn’t know before on this key period of the French history?
I was surprised how many of Marie Antoinette’s servants were totally faithful to her during and after the revolution. Many of these loyal subjects risked the guillotine for continuing to serve her in some capacity or other.
4. Did Léonard help you know Marie-Antoinette better? If so, how?
In a round about way, he did. A “true” account of Léonard’s role in French history had to be pieced together by unearthing a variety of sources from the 18th and 19th centuries including memoirs, court documents and archived periodicals, because his own memoirs were often prone to exaggeration and thought to be apocryphal. Although he has been mentioned in many biographies of the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette’s Head is the first attempt to bring his story to light by complementing and collaborating his story with more reliable ones. In doing so, I had a better idea of how others viewed the queen.
5. If you had to sum up Léonard’s personality in 3 adjectives, what would they be?
Ambitious, brave and charismatic.
6. And now, may we know what project you are currently working on? Still related to France?
Yes, of course. I’m really quite busy: A Hollywood producer has asked me to adapt a screenplay to Marie Antoinette’s Head , and I’m also finishing up a work focusing only on Marie Antoinette’s darkest days–quite a change from documenting Leonard’s crazy antics and yard-high poufs.
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