August 1, 2010

IconLesbian heroines from history #7: Marie Antoinette

This week’s heroine is: Marie Antoinette (1755 – 1793)

Also known as: Born as Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, later became the Dauphine and then the Queen of France. Played by Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 biopic Marie Antoinette.

Our heroine’s social scene: Late 1700s Paris and Versailles

Famous for: Guillotined by her own people during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. “Let them eat cake” is popularly accredited to her, even though she never said it. Originally an archduchess of Austria, she kept in close contact with royal and political leaders from there, even though Austria were an enemy of France. Accused of having Austrian sympathies and ultimately executed for treason, the French people revolted against her.

Infamous for: Often ignored by her husband, the Dauphin and then the King of France, Marie Antoinette was left to her own devices, retreating into her own world at Trianon in Versailles. She loved parties and gambling, and was a notorious big spender, blowing fortunes on clothes and jewellery. As her popularity with the people declined, anti-royalist pamphlets circulated with pornographic cartoons of her having sex with men, women and horses (sometimes all at once).

Reason she’s a heroine: Although not a lesbian herself, Marie Antoinette’s story has gone onto inspire many iconic queer artists. Her rumoured lesbian relationship with her best friend, the Princess de Laballe (a favourite of the anti-royalists) was referenced by Jean Genet in The Maids and by Radclyffe Hall in The Well of Loneliness.

Any famous friends or lovers: Rubbed shoulders with aristocracy, royalty and political bigshots at the palace, but was more at home at Trianon with a close circle of trusted friends.

If she were alive today she’d be: For her decadent parties, shopping addiction, close circle of confidantes and controversial behaviour often reviled by the public, she’d probably be a close approximation of Paris Hilton.

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Milly Shaw

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