ABUNDANCE

A Novel of Marie Antoinette

Sena Jeter Naslund

 Far from her family, her country, and her home and thrust into the role of woman, wife, and queen at the age of 14, Marie Antoinette lived a brief but astonishing existence. With searing insight and wondrous narrative skill, Sena Jeter Naslund offers a fresh, vivid picture of this compelling woman that goes beyond popular myth. Based on impeccable historical research, Abundance reveals a young woman very different from the one who supposedly said of the starving French peasants, “Let them eat cake.”

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 Far from her family, her country, and her home and thrust into the role of woman, wife, and queen at the age of 14, Marie Antoinette lived a brief but astonishing existence. With searing insight and wondrous narrative skill, Sena Jeter Naslund offers a fresh, vivid picture of this compelling woman that goes beyond popular myth. Based on impeccable historical research, Abundance reveals a young woman very different from the one who supposedly said of the starving French peasants, “Let them eat cake.”

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  • Harper Perennial
  • Paperback
  • June 2007
  • 592 Pages
  • 9780060825409

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$15.95

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About Sena Jeter Naslund

Sena Jeter Naslund is writer in residence at the University of Louisville, program director of the Spalding University brief-residency MFA in Writing, and current Kentucky Poet Laureate. Recipient of the Harper Lee Award and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction Award, she is cofounder of The Louisville Review and the Fleur-de-Lis Press. She lives in Louisville, KY.

Praise

“Enchanting….Opulent and fabulous, as encrusted with detail as one of Marie’s shimmering dresses…a complete page turner. Grade: A.” —Entertainment Weekly

“If you read one book about Marie Antoinette, let it be Sena Jeter Naslund’s gripping, gabby, and beautifully poignant novel. Naslund’s writing is sumptuous and personal, and she manages to make that most of remote subjects ¯ an eighteenth-century queen ¯ relevant to modern times. You know how her story ends. But the journey is so abundant with joy, grief, and all those ordinary events that make up our lives, you’ll lose your head reading about it.” — USA Today

Discussion Questions

Sena Jeter Naslund has divided her novel into five “acts,” like a Shakespearean play. Does Marie Antoinette achieve the stature of a tragic protagonist at the end of the novel?

Recount the dramatic evolution of Marie Antoinette’s character, from her arrival in France at the age of 14 to her death just shy of 38. What prompts Marie Antoinette’s transformation from callow moralist and pliant dauphine in early chapters to empathetic mother and brave stoic in the novel’s culmination at the Conciergerie?

From her arrival at Versailles as a girl, Marie Antoinette exists in a perpetual state of enclosure. Discuss Naslund’s extended treatment of this idea. Is Marie Antoinette’s life in France tantamount to that of the proverbial bird in the gilded cage?

Revisit the pivotal last chapter of “Act Four,” which renders the eruption of revolution in stark counterpoint to the queen’s blissful, penultimate encounter with Fersen. In particular, consider Marie Antoinette’s poignant musings on the revolutionaries’ freshly-coined slogan, “liberté, equalité, fraternité.” What do these words mean to Marie Antoinette?

Discuss the interconnectedness of female identity and performance in Abundance. What does it mean, for instance, that Marie Antoinette feels most engaged and alive when she is playing a role on the stage?

How does the texture of this identity/performance theme shift once Marie Antoinette is faced with the prospect of fleeing? To flee, in Marie Antoinette’s estimation, is to abandon her “role.”

In what specific ways has Naslund’s rendering of late-18th-century France come to inform, challenge, or even contradict altogether your previous understandings of the particular cause of the French Reign of Terror?

How do Naslund’s references to and subtle demonstrations of prevailing philosophies of the day—including the outmoded optimism of Gottfried-Leibniz; the measured, conservative skepticism of David Hume; the proto-civil libertarianism of the secular Voltaire; and the revolutionary ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau—color and shape the novel’s inexorable march toward the Reign of Terror?

What kind of a man does Louis-Auguste become? And what kind of king?

What is your interpretation of the precise nature of the love between Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen? “We are the perfect friends,” Marie Antoinette tells us, though her description of Fersen as “the most handsome, the most kind and good and loving—ah, yes, above all, loving—man in the world.”