Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, And The Revolution
By: Will Bashor
Format/Source: Hardback courtesy of the author
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?
Be sure to stick around as at the end of the post, I am also hosting a book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of this book! (open to US/Canada only; sorry international readers!) Also, be sure to drop by tomorrow, 7 February, as the author will be featured in a guest post related to the topic of his book. See you then!
Marie Antoinette’s Head was a fascinating read, providing a unique and fascinating look into Marie Antoinette’s life and the French court before, during and briefly after the French Revolution through the rise and fall of her hairdresser, Leonard Autie. The court of King Louis XV, and subsequently Louis XVI, was a very complex one, complete with very particular trappings of tradition and ceremony. French society was just as complex with the various stations and the expectations that go along each of these social classes. It feels so cloistered and the paegentry involved so elaborate, the details featured in this novel really brings it to life, which also helps the reader understand a lot of the issues that sprung forth come the Revolution. I really enjoyed reading about Marie Antoinette’s court and the sort of personality she was when it came to the trappings of monarchy and tradition; I haven’t read anything specific about her life beyond what I learned in undergrad so it was very interesting.
Following Leonard’s rise in the French court was just as fascinating. Luck was really on his side, the way he was able to meet all of these key figures that secured his rise in court. But there’s also his talent; he was in the right time period to showcase some wonderful, crazy hairstyles that were in keeping with the fashion of the times. The details about the hairstyles were especially interesting to read; I never quite understood the craze of having the large hairstyles and the wigs and all so it was really informative to learn about them and its cultural place in France at the time. Leonard himself has led quite an eventful life, playing a number of different roles in service to Marie Antoinette over the course of his time in her service.
Overall, Marie Antoinette’s Head is a fascinating read about the famous monarch and the man behind her extravagant hair-dos. The book itself reads like a novel at times and the information presented never feels like an overload. I learned a lot about French culture and the socio-political situation at the time as well as the fascinating figure of Leonard Autie himself. Readers of French history, cultural history and those just curious about the French court and the time of Marie Antoinette in the twilight of the French monarchy will want to check this book out.
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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.
Now that you’ve read my review of the novel, here’s the giveaway for a chance to win a hardback copy of the book! This contest is open to US/Canada residents only. Please fill out the following Rafflecopter below to enter. Contest closes on Thursday, February 13th at 11:59 PM EST. One (1) winner will be drawn and contacted the following day; you will have 24 hours to claim your prize so please use a valid email address. If you have any questions or if there’s an issue with the Rafflecopter, feel free to comment below or email me.
Many thanks again to France Book Tours for hosting this book and for letting me read this book as part of the tour.