[Review] Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Headresser, The Queen, and The Revolution by Will Bashor

Title: Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, And The Revolution
Author: Will Bashor
Publisher: October 16, 2013 (anniversary of Marie Antoinette’s execution) at Lyons Press
ISBN-13: 978-0762791538
ISBN-10: 0762791535
Genre: Non-fiction
Format: e-book, Kindle
Pages: 320 pages
Rating: 5 Stars for excellent
Source: Free Kindle copy from Will Bashor and France Book Tours in exchange for a review.

2013 Adele Mellen Prize for Distinguished Scholarship

Tour link: Marie Antoinette's Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, And The Revolution

Will Bashor
Will Bashor has a doctorate in International Relations from the American Graduate School in Paris,
and he teaches at Franklin University, Columbus, Ohio.
His interests have ranged over many fields,
among them the study of international law and business, linguistics,
cultural anthropology, and European history.
As a member of the Society for French Historical Studies,
he attended its annual meeting sponsored by Harvard University in Cambridge in 2013.
[Provided by the author.]
Visit his website, and connect with him.

Marie Antoinette has remained atop the popular cultural landscape for centuries for the daring in style and fashion that she brought to 18th century France. For the better part of the queen’s reign, one man was entrusted with the sole responsibility of ensuring that her coiffure was at its most ostentatious best. Who was this minister of fashion who wielded such tremendous influence over the queen’s affairs? Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, and the Revolution charts the rise of Leonard Autié from humble origins as a country barber in the south of France to the inventor of the Pouf and premier hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette.
By unearthing a variety of sources from the 18th and 19th centuries, including memoirs (including Léonard’s own), court documents, and archived periodicals the author, Professor Will Bashor, tells Autié’s mostly unknown story. He chronicles Leonard’s story, the role he played in the life of his most famous client, and the chaotic and history-making world in which he rose to prominence. Besides his proximity to the queen, Leonard also had a most fascinating life filled with sex (he was the only man in a female dominated court), seduction, intrigue, espionage, theft, exile, treason, and possibly, execution. The French press reported that Léonard was convicted of treason and executed in Paris in 1793. However, it was also recorded that Léonard, after receiving a pension from the new King Louis XVIII, died in Paris in March 1820. Granted, Leonard was known as the magician of Marie-Antoinette’s court, but how was it possible that he managed to die twice? [provided by the author]

In 2012 I read Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution and Les Miserables. Both of these books established in me a love for French history. Neither gave a complete historic view of the French Revolution, but they were a beginning point. Will Bashor explains in his introduction:
Marie Antoinette's Head is not meant to be a study of the French Revolution; instead, it is to be a reflection on the hairdresser of Marie Antoinette and his impressions of her.
In 1769 Leonard Alexis Autie arrived in Paris with a shell comb and a few coins. He was a young man in his 20s, full of confidence and bravado, a bit smug, charming and flirtatious. He met the right people, who introduced him to women in the royal court. His reputation in creatively dressing the hair of women spread and eventually Marie Antoinette became his main occupation. He was more than just her hairdresser, he was her friend and confidant. Marie and Leonard had a lengthy friendship. This is my first reason in loving this book. I felt the author did a splendid job of bringing to life: Leonard Autie, Marie Antoinette, other members of court, and the unraveling historic events surrounding the French Revolution. A secondary reason is Leonard was not a person of nobility; however, he intimately knew royalty. He listened to their conversations, he witnessed their outlandish ways of spending money, he watched their disregard for an angry nation. He had an understanding of how the revolutionaries felt; however, he was loyal to the family. I feel this reason gave him (as fair as can be) the ability to survey the family as a whole. Thirdly, the author does not paint Leonard in a pristine light. Leonard is described dimensionally. He is shown as both ambitious and also loyal. A final reason is Marie Antoinette's Head gave me a strong understanding of the bitter cynicism of the poor against the royal family. The French people were past the point of just anger, their will was set on a change in government and a change from living in desperation. I had empathy for both the royal family and I had empathy for the revolutionaries. This is not the norm for me, usually a side is picked easily for me; but in Marie Antoinette's Head I felt the author gave a balanced approach for both sides. Will Bashor's aim is not a historic piece; but I learned much from Leonard's perspective on the royal family and on the French Revolution.