Marie Antoinette’s Head by Will Bashor with Excerpt and Giveaway

Today I have a unique treat: an historical scholarly work that reads and feels more fiction, while not skipping a beat on the information presented or provided.  Please be sure to check the other stops on this tour, and be sure that you read the excerpt and then enter to win one hardcover copy of the title.  Open to US/Canada entrants only, contest ends at 23.59 EST on 9 February, 2014.

Book Review:

There is something so intriguing and familiar about your trusted hairdresser, and believe it or not, Marie Antoinette had the same relationship with the flamboyant and talented Leonard Autié.  This book is steeped in historical fact, it should read like a biography with footnotes, but it is so cleverly phrased and written that it reads much like an historical fiction.

Autié is outré and talented, a provincial background with parents who served as servants to the minor gentry in his hometown.  Brazen and arrogant, the demeanor would have not worked had he not been so talented and determined to dress the finest heads in the land, he would have remained an obscure footnote in history.  Yet his talent and connections brought him to the theatre to dress a lesser-known and lesser-talented actress, the change he wrought brought her instant attention, and raised his status.

Any lesser ego would have been daunted on introduction to Marie Antoinette: instead he crafted hairstyles so elaborate they demanded attention, and the wearer was instantly the talk of the town.

From dressing the ladies of the court, to styling the queen, Autié managed to be in the center of the gossip throughout the court: a self-preservation instinct honed to a fine point, he manages to avoid the appearance of ‘spreading’ rumor while gathering and sharing the information drops from the lips of those in his chair.  There is a curious selective eyesight of the privileged of the day; whether it comes from the familiarity with being served, or seeing those who are catering to your every whim as invisible and less than worthy of regard: servants are invisible: see everything, hear everything and barely given a second thought.

While Autié could have been left unnoticed in the volumes of information he provides an engaging and captivating player in the events: from his close relationship as friend and advisor to the often petulant and difficult Marie, to his willingness to spy and gather information for the royal family before their demise, to his own great risk.  Will Bashor took, what could have been a fairly dry, scholarly account of the events, and managed to bring a lightness and sense of Autié’s voice and demeanor to the story, making this history read a great entrée into the genre.  Thoroughly researched and including illustrations of the hairstyles; some decorated with candles, jewels and birds. While my neck ached looking at the elaborate coiffures, the illustrations also reminded me of the over-decorated, gilt-laden furnishings that were created in the same era.

Marie Antoinette’s Head by Will Bashor with Excerpt and Giveaway

Title: Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution
Author: Will Bashor
Genre: Biography / Memoir, Historical Non-Fiction, Non Fiction
Published by: Lyon's Press
Format:Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320
Rated: five-stars
Get Your Copy: Amazon iTunes Kobo AudibleDirect from Publisher
See this Title on Goodreads

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?

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

Excerpt

Her hair. It would be the last thing to go. Marie Antoinette’s hair, the talk of all Europe when she held her elaborate court at Versailles, had almost always been the sole responsibility of the eccentric Léonard Autié, the hairdresser with the “magical comb.” Léonard, often taken for nobility, would enter the queen’s private salon soon after her entourage of ladies-in-waiting dressed her. It was he who fashioned the ever-fantastic edifices of hair, sometimes adding feathers and accessories to create elegant hairstyles up to four feet high. But it could also be said that Léonard was indirectly responsible for the very first attacks upon the queen, found in inflammatory pamphlets circulating as early as 1775. The attacks were prompted by Léonard’s incredibly fanatical hairstyles, concoctions that reached such a height that it was necessary for ladies to kneel on the carriage floor—or hold the towering hairpieces outside the coach windows en route to balls and the opera.
Noble ladies of the court of Versailles felt obliged to imitate the queen’s new and daring hairstyles, despite the danger of becoming burning infernos when they brushed against the candles of the palace chandeliers. The young ladies of Paris were also enthralled with the newfangled trends, drastically increasing their coiffure expenses and incurring large debts. Mothers and husbands grumbled, family fights ensued, and many relationships were irreparably damaged. In all, the general consensus of the French people was well publicized—the queen was bankrupting all the women of France, financially and morally.
The queens of France were always of foreign birth for political reasons, but Marie Antoinette was a princess from Austria, France’s longtime enemy. Although it was vital for her to appear as French as possible, her fashions and hairstyles increasingly alienated her subjects. Attacks on the queen’s hair were soon followed by damaging accusations ranging from sexual promiscuity to high treason. When incest was added to the list, the revolutionary court was able to finally make its case to condemn the queen to death.
Léonard Autié, her celebrated and loyal hairdresser, was in exile in Germany when the executioner arrived at Marie Antoinette’s prison cell, scissors in hand, on that chilly October morning in 1793. He tied her hands behind her back and, roughly grasping her hair, cut off the iconic locks that Léonard had made so legendary.
At eleven o’clock Marie Antoinette left the Conciergerie—where she had been confined for more than two months—and mounted the cart which was to carry her to the guillotine, passing along the streets of Paris and amidst lines of soldiers. According to witnesses, her face was pale and her eyes were bloodshot. She was nearly unrecognizable. Her once beautiful and envied coif, whitened by fear and grief, had been cut short around her cap.
Minutes later, the executioner would exhibit the severed queen’s head to the crazed crowds at the foot of the scaffold. Nothing but the continuous roar of “Vive la nation!” could be heard as he held it up, victoriously, by her hair.

Giveaway

About Will Bashor

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.