Sunday, February 08, 2009

Unfair to Marie Antionette

According to the Mail on Sunday, the Tories were all set to use this poster until David Cameron decided it would be seen as "too personal" by the voters.

I don't know about that, but this is a good opportunity to point out that Marie Antionette never said "Let them eat cake".

As The Straight Dope ("Fighting ignorance since 1973 - It's taking longer than we thought") says:

The peasants-have-no-bread story was in common currency at least since the 1760s as an illustration of the decadence of the aristocracy. The political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau mentions it in his Confessions in connection with an incident that occurred in 1740. (He stole wine while working as a tutor in Lyons and then had problems trying to scrounge up something to eat along with it.) He concludes thusly: "Finally I remembered the way out suggested by a great princess when told that the peasants had no bread: 'Well, let them eat cake.'"

Now, J.-J. may have been embroidering this yarn with a line he had really heard many years later. But even so, at the time he was writing--early 1766--Marie Antoinette was only ten years old and still four years away from her marriage to the future Louis XVI. Writer Alphonse Karr in 1843 claimed that the line originated with a certain Duchess of Tuscany in 1760 or earlier, and that it was attributed to Marie Antoinette in 1789 by radical agitators who were trying to turn the populace against her.

That campaign went on to force her young son to testify that he had been sexually abused by her, which makes the cake story seem almost benign.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Since the average voter hasn't a clue who Marie Antionette was the poster would have been a flop.