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Marie Antoinette was a French queen, and her public execution marked the end of monarchy in France. She is remembered for being beheaded after the French revolution; however, her last days on earth were a mystery until 2016. That year, Will Bashor published his book, Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days, which became a well-thought and impartial account of the queen’s last days spent in the Conciergerie. It is a well-written scholarly work that unintentionally evokes sympathy for Marie Antoinette by means of personal details and a narrative form of storytelling.
Will Bashor is a professor at Franklin University who obtained a doctor’s degree in International Studies. As he says in the author’s note of his book, his purpose was to provide evidence about the last days of Marie Antoinette’s imprisonment (Bashor xi). He did not aim at advocating or acquitting the queen’s actions; therefore, he managed to make his narrative unbiased and provided readers with the possibility to form their own judgments.
In the book, the author describes the seventy-six days of Marie Antoinette’s incarceration. The conditions in which she had been placed were terrible: she lived in a “noisy, moldy dungeon that reeked of rat urine, pipe smoke, and poor sanitation” (Bashor xi). The author recounts that some wardens were compassionate toward the queen. Some of them even agreed to help her flee from prison but quit their intentions at the last minute. Wardens’ sympathy contrasted with the cruelty of revolutionaries who were responsible for the queen’s incarceration. The author describes all these events in much detail, supplementing his narration with dialogues so that readers vividly imagine what happens in the book.
Bashor paid particular attention to the sources used in this work. He used both primary sources, including archive documents, and secondary sources, most of which were written in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The author states that some sources were contradictory, which is why he decided to note the discrepancies in the course of narration (Bashor xi). As for the dialogues used in the book, the author included their original texts at the end of the work, thus giving the reader the possibility to check the accuracy of the author’s translation.
The author managed to make the style of his narration impartial and objective. At the same time, the book is easy to read since it looks more like a novel rather than a mere recitation of relevant facts. The text is sometimes supplemented with footnotes that help to clarify the events happening in the book and provide readers with details that enhance understanding of the historical context.
To sum up, Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days is a valuable contribution to the literature on the history of France. The unbiased narration provides readers with sufficient details of the queen’s incarceration and helps them to gain a deeper insight into the history of the French revolution. The book can be recommended to both professional historians and those interested in history because it contains valuable details written in an accessible language.
Bashor, Will. Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days: Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.