Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Interview with Juliet Grey + Giveaway (US)

Please Welcome Juliet Grey!

I haven't talked much about Juliet Grey on Small Review (yet) but she is by far one of my favorite historical fiction authors EVER. I adore her books like crazy (they're chock full of super real people and a bizillion facts), so I'm super stoked to have gotten the opportunity to interview her. If you're at all a Marie Antoinette fan, I highly, highly, highly recommend Juliet Grey's fantastic series. (Just ask my library patrons. I've shoved these books in their hands often enough!)

I hope you all enjoy reading her responses as much as I did. I even made my husband read them (and he totally had context because I've been bothering him with a million "Did you know...?" babbles because I'm reading the third book in the series now).

Also, I *may* have cried a little when I read Juliet's reply to my last question.   

Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes, this post talks about the series as a whole, but there aren't any spoilers. So feel free to read it all even if you haven't read any of the books in the series yet.  

Q: What was your favorite scandal to write about? Can you tell us a little about it and its significance (without giving major spoilers, of course!)?

A: The major scandal that really cemented Marie Antoinette’s character as a villainess in the minds of the French was one that was none of her making and which she had nothing to do with. The various elements of this lengthy sting operation were so remarkable that they fall under the “truth is stranger than fiction” category. When the novelist depicts them based on the facts of the historical record, it’s hard to believe they’re really true!

Yet perhaps many of the events I illustrate in CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE might not have occurred, were it not for the notorious “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” that played out over the course of two years in 1784-1786. In the second novel in the trilogy, DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW, I depicted this juicy scandal where a con artist and her husband, passing themselves off as members of the nobility, convinced the queen’s distant cousin and arch-nemesis, the Cardinal de Rohan, that she secreted coveted an astronomically expensive diamond necklace and that she had asked him to buy it in her name so that she would not appear to be spending so much while her subjects suffered financial hardships. It was pure invention. Marie Antoinette had turned down an opportunity to purchase the necklace (which had been designed for the late Louis XV’s glamorous mistress Madame du Barry) because she knew that the king, Louis XVI, didn’t have the funds to buy it, and she already had diamonds aplenty. When the queen discovered that her name and reputation had been slandered in this arch-swindle, she insisted that the matter be taken to court and tried by the magistrates, rather than handled internally. It was with the best and most honorable of intentions, but instead of the con artists and the credulous Cardinal being taken to task for their misdeeds, it was Marie Antoinette, innocent of the entire transaction, whose character was publicly dragged through the mud. She was painted as caring only for glittering finery, insensitive to the needs of her people. And when the con artists were found guilty, the people were convinced that their punishments were unjust and it was Marie Antoinette who should have been clapped in irons instead. The Affair of the Diamond Necklace (which could have been a novel in itself—and I did have to cut some of my darlings or the novel would have been 1000 pages!) was a turning point in Marie Antoinette’s life. She could not stem the tide of the terrible press that followed and the savage attack on her character, 99% of which was false. Throughout CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, the queen endeavors to regain the love and trust of her subjects that was devastated by the diamond necklace affair.

Q: Marie Antoinette's clothes are a focus of much of the books, with her fashion choices being yet another factor used, unfairly, against her. What is your personal favorite fashion style that Marie Antoinette wears? Can you tell us a little about why you like it best and its significance in history?

A: Ohhh, there are so many! And you are right that each was used against her and each had its significance in history. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t, condemned both for dressing opulently, as befitting a queen of France, and for “dressing down,” affecting the minimalist white muslin gaulles  or chemises à la reine of the early and mid-1780s. The gaulles were of such a delicate fabric that the gowns did not last long and frequently needed to be replaced. Consequently, just as she was accused of bankrupting the nation because women had to spend so much to mimic her extravagant silhouettes, she suffered the same accusations with regard to the gaulles, because women had to purchase so many of them. She was derided for looking like a royal mistress during the glamorous 1770s with her outré skirts and three-foot-high “poufs” accessorized with all manner of props, and was equally admonished for looking distinctly unregal—like a dairymaid or as if she were dressed in her undergarments—when she favored the chemises à la reine. Marie Antoinette couldn’t catch a break because the French were predetermined to despise her.

My favorite style is a sort of wild card. Although the queen’s tastes famously changed throughout her reign, it’s the one silhouette she adored all her life and which was more her own taste and less influenced by the ideas of others, particularly her favorite modiste, Rose Bertin: I am partial to the riding habits that Marie Antoinette began wearing as a teen and favored all the way through the 1780s, until the French Revolution made military attire fashionable for the anti-royalist factions. Marie Antoinette’s mother, the hypercritical

Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, often said that the painting that most resembled her daughter and captured her spirit more than any other was one made in 1771 that depicted her in a riding habit, with its fashionable close fitting jacket, which the English call a redingote, and a full, sweeping skirt. Once she came to France, Marie Antoinette use to send to England to have her habits made for her. One thing I love about Marie Antoinette’s riding habits, apart from the fact that they flattered her figure no matter her age, was that they represent her independence. To her mother’s consternation, because she feared it would cause a miscarriage, if she became pregnant, Marie Antoinette insisted on riding on horseback when she was dauphine, in an effort to woo her diffident husband into consummating their marriage, events I depict in the first novel in my trilogy, BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE. No matter the decade, Marie Antoinette was fond of her riding habits. These streamlined silhouettes, free from the fripperies of the 1770s and the fragility of the gaulles of the early 1780s show a side of the dauphine and later queen, that few associate with her—not the ultra-feminine aspect of her character, but the indomitable side. The riding habits are the only fashion that Marie Antoinette favored throughout her life and they project the image of the resilient woman within, the woman we see throughout the final novel in the trilogy, CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE—the woman who has been there all along, but had to face unspeakable challenges before she was able to tap into her remarkable wellspring of strength.

Q: Your Marie Antoinette trilogy is heavily researched and crammed with facts, but being told from Marie Antoinette's point of view, I imagine there were some pieces of information you discovered that could not be naturally included within this POV. What is one fact you learned about Marie Antoinette or the surrounding history that you'd like readers to know, but weren't able to include in your books?

A:Toward the end of CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, the final novel in the trilogy, there was a major fact that I could not include because the parties did not know it at the time! This section of the novel is narrated from Marie Antoinette’s point of view and she knows the truth; but as the author I was prevented from elaborating, by what my some of characters knew and what others could reveal—information that would change everything. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, although when the parties have been dead for more than 200 years, there are few secrets. But I would like readers to enjoy the narrative as it unfolds. Suffice it to say that most of what Marie Antoinette was accused of in her trial in October 1793 was utter fabrication, intended to smear her character. Some of the lies that were told by the “witnesses” were so damaging and so preposterous that they actually garnered sympathy for the deposed queen. But there was one allegation that was in fact true—yet the Revolutionary Tribunal lacked the documentary proof
to substantiate it. The information reveals just how courageous Marie Antoinette was, how diligent and organized her campaign to free the royal family from the clutches of the Revolution when all other avenues had failed and their friends in France had given up hope or were powerless to aid them. Among the numerous allegations against her was the charge of corresponding with foreign powers—France’s enemies—soliciting their assistance to defend the royal family against the Revolutionaries, encouraging them to invade France. For years, ever since the royal family had been imprisoned in the Tuileries, Marie Antoinette had indeed corresponded with her family in Austria, desperately pleading for them to rescue the Bourbons and to quash the Revolution. Of course the verdict of Marie Antoinette’s trial was a foregone conclusion; however, she maintained her innocence of all charges, despite knowing that she was in fact guilty of the charge of treason. 

Q: Almost from page one, Marie Antoinette's story is a tragedy, filled with trials and tribulations, wrongs and slights against her, the void of childlessness, criticisms from every direction, vicious rumors, and unwarranted blame cast upon her. What do you personally view as the biggest tragedy surrounding Marie Antoinette's story? 

A: You’re right that there were so many tragedies, but Marie Antoinette’s own greatest wish had been to become a mother, and I think that if it had been fulfilled early on, perhaps history might have been altered in the sense that she would not have become such a focus for the hatred, first of the nobility she snubbed, and later of the bourgeoisie and the poorer classes, blamed as the architect of their ills. She would have occupied her time early on with her children, because she intended to follow the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and be a hands-on mother. Instead, she remained unfulfilled, channeling her energies into the pursuits that garnered the censure of her subjects: shopping, high-stakes gambling, and dancing into the wee hours of the morning. In CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, as so much is systematically stripped away from her, it’s clear how precious her family is and how important motherhood is to the queen.

Q: If you could write a letter to Marie Antoinette--without attempting to alter history, what would you say to her and at what point in her life would you like her to receive your letter?

                                                                                                                       May, 17, 1770
To Her Royal Highness, Dauphine of France:

Allow me to offer my felicitations on your nuptials to His Royal Highness Louis Auguste. At fourteen years old, you are so young to have so many expectations thrust upon you—the great hopes of the Hapsburg Empire as well as those of the Bourbons to whom your illustrious marriage unites you. If you will indulge a woman over thirty who has seen something of the world, allow me to offer some words of counsel and advice.

Everyone at court wears a public mask. So indeed must you. Although times may often be trying, retain the outward show of sweetness and affability to all, regardless of how they treat you. As the highest woman in the land you have nothing to prove to anyone. Therefore, take the high road when others speak or behave unkindly. Feign a strength you may not yet possess to overcome the stings of falsehoods, gossip, and harsh remarks. If you display nothing but kindness to everyone, you can never become an object of reproach without your critics appearing churlish and unreasonable. Resist all temptations to exact revenge, though they be within your power. You are made of better stuff.

Name everyone your friend and let them see nothing but your modesty, generosity, and courtesy. But do not be so quick to trust their professions of amity, for they may harbor ulterior motives and may in fact wish to discredit you with the king, the court, or with your husband, who, although you may fail to recognize it, is a lamb as lost in the wood as you may feel yourself to be. Those who make an outward show of being your dearest friends may in truth be vipers, waiting for you to embrace them to your breast.

Lastly, though you may not yet be in love with your husband, knowing him as little as you do, court his friendship, for he will be your greatest, and perhaps your only, ally in the years to come. Destiny has yoked the pair of you together, but the prodigious tasks required of you need not become a burden unless you allow the situation to overwhelm you. On the surface you may have little in common. But I urge you to look deeper. Search his heart and plumb the recesses of his soul, for there you will find a most amiable companion. Mock him not for his foibles of temperament and follies of character for there is not a man or woman alive who is perfect, and he will need the support and succor of his wife in trying times.
I pray you heed the words, highness, of one who, like you, was once young and high spirited.
                                Juliet Grey

About Confessions of Marie Antoinette:

Confessions of Marie Antoinette, the riveting and sweeping final novel in Juliet Grey’s trilogy on the life of the legendary French queen, blends rich historical detail with searing drama, bringing to life the early years of the French Revolution and the doomed royal family’s final days.

Versailles, 1789. As the burgeoning rebellion reaches the palace gates, Marie Antoinette finds her privileged and peaceful life swiftly upended by violence. Once her loyal subjects, the people of France now seek to overthrow the crown, placing the heirs of the Bourbon dynasty in mortal peril.

Displaced to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, the royal family is propelled into the heart of the Revolution. There, despite a few staunch allies, they are surrounded by cunning spies and vicious enemies. Yet despite the political and personal threats against her, Marie Antoinette remains above all a devoted wife and mother, standing steadfastly by her husband, Louis XVI, and protecting their young son and daughter. And though the queen and her family try to flee, and she secretly attempts to arrange their rescue from the clutches of the Revolution, they cannot outrun the dangers encircling them, or escape their shocking fate.

Author bio:

Juliet Grey has extensively researched European royal history and is a particular devotee of Marie Antoinette. She and her husband live in Washington DC.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Juliet!

Would you like to win a copy of 
Confessions of Marie Antoinette?

Click HERE to enter for a chance to win 1 of 5 copies!

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: Five winners will each receive a finished copy of Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US only
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winners through email and the winners will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on October 1st 2013 


  1. Lovely interview! I've been interested in Marie for years. Ever since I read a kid book about her life and realized she was much more layered than "let them eat cake."

    1. This series is perfect for Marie fans! I highly, highly recommend it to you.

  2. I was not familiar with this diamond necklace scandal at all-I did picture her as a slightly dimwitted naive spoiled rich girl when I thought of her at all. Thanks for shedding a different light on her.

    1. I didn't know anything about it before reading about it in Juliet's book! It's seriously incredible. She's so maligned by history it's downright tragic. SO different from the stereotype.

  3. I don't think I've ever heard of these books. I should see if my library has them!

  4. Wonderful interview! I just ordered Ms. Grey's latest book for my library. Now I want to go back and take a look at her older books.

    1. Since they're historical fiction and you obviously know the general idea of the story, I think you could probably get away with reading them out of order, worst case. I do recommend reading them in order though if you at all have the opportunity. The third book (which I'm reading now) is so much more harrowing and sad after having grown so close to Marie Antoinette through the previous two books. I also understand the full story of why things culminated in revolution the way they did so much more now.

  5. It sounds pretty amazing. I've always thought that Marie Antoinette was a historical character to whom history hadn't been totally fair, and reading more about it sounds very interesting.

    Loved the review. And I love that picture of her with the riding habit, it kind of makes you realize how young she was.

    1. It's absolutely heartbreaking to see the full extent of how unfair history has been to her. So many of the things she was blamed for she actually did the opposite! It's so frustrating, especially since the way Juliet Grey wrote her she's now elevated to sleepover party status for me.

  6. oh wow! i didn't realize the third book was out already! thanks!

  7. Fabulous review :) I love historical fic and Marie Antoinette is just such a fascinating character :) And I know you said I don't need to be a follower to enter your giveaway, but I love your blog too much not to become one (follower, not blog, of course :P). Thank you so much for such a great, informative post, it must have took you a while to put it together :)
    Evie @Bookish

    1. Thanks! I agree, she is a fascinating character, in large part I think because so much "common knowledge" about her is flat out wrong. Thank you for following and the compliment!


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