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Spring 2019

  • Ron Schechter, Professor of History
  • “The Secret Library of Marie Antoinette: Revealing the Inner Life of a Conflicted Queen" 
  • March 28, 2019

Watch the full lecture

Marie Antoinette has been characterized as stupid. Historians and biographers have called her “empty-headed,” “dizzy,” and a “feather brain,” among other epithets. They couldn’t have been more wrong.  Marie Antoinette was highly intelligent. She spoke three languages. She could sight-read music. Her tutor said she remembered everything he taught her. And she read … a lot.

Click to view larger versionMarie Antoinette's favorite books were tucked away in her most private space: the boudoir of her country house, La Petite Trianon. A handwritten catalog from the time shows that she had over 500 volumes in her boudoir. Nearly all of them were officially forbidden. They were books that attacked the Catholic Church – the only one allowed in France – made fun of the aristocracy and even suggested that the country would be better off without a king or queen.

The fact that she owned and cherished these books tells us that she must have been conflicted, that there was a gulf between her beliefs and her position. It tells us that she had a turbulent inner life.  Professor Ron Schechter took a dive into her secret library and more during his Tack Faculty Lecture on March 28, 2019.