Thursday, 16 October 2014

Off with her Head!

On the 16th of October 1793 Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine. As John Donne said, any man’s death diminishes me, but one rather feels that in this case the loss was small. In fact almost unnoticeable: notoriously, she was the original airhead; there was just nothing there.

What about her most famous remark, ‘Let them eat cake’? Doesn’t that suggest at least a wickedly witty cynicism? Well, it might in someone more knowledgeable. But, told that The People had no bread, she probably just remembered her own childhood: when the baker hadn’t called at the palace by breakfast time, the nursery servants brought in cake instead. Couldn’t the proles just ring the bell, and tell their servant girl to fetch some cake, as nanny did? Necessity is the mother of invention, also of imagination and even simple curiosity. If you have never suffered from want, you’re unlikely to know or care what goes on outside the palace walls.

By the way, it’s not true, as people like to imagine, that Monsieur Guillotin was later hoist with his own petard, so to speak: like almost everybody else, he did get into a bit of trouble during the Terror, but he didn’t lose his head.

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