"Let them eat cake." These words, famously misattributed to Marie Antoinette, have given us the impression of her as a selfish, self-absorbed wastrel, but was the infamous French queen a scapegoat for a nation on the verge of bankruptcy and rebellion?

At 14, she was married to 16-year-old Louis XVI to cement a political relationship between Austria and France. While she and Louis attempted to build a marriage and have a family, the country was already in ferment.

Marie was thought of as the outsider—"That Austrian Woman" or extravagant "Madame Deficit"—but as biographer Antonia Fraser reveals, she was a pawn of politicians pushed to excess and kept in the fairy-tale world of Versailles until it was too late.

Fraser paints a more sympathetic portrait than some and more even-handed than others. She manages to balance Marie's life and the times to this reader's delight. Well-written and scrupulously researched. (Nov. '02, 500 pp., $16.95)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin