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Marie Antoinette's head : the royal hairdresser, the queen, and the revolution

by Will Bashor

  Book : Biography

5 of 5 people found this review helpful.
Wonderful read!   (2013-11-09)

Excellent

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by AmazonReviewer

This enjoyable and informative biography looks at the life of Leonard Autie, the celebrated and famous hairdresser, who personally cared for the locks of Queen Marie Antoinette. Just when you thought that you had read every possible volume about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, this entertaining book comes along - which focuses on a minor player in events, but nevertheless one who found himself in the very heart of the action.

Leonard Autie arrived in Paris in 1769, as a young man in his mid twenties, armed only with his luggage and a "big bundle of vanity." Talented as a hairdresser, he felt he had artistic genius - he certainly had charisma - and he was "greedy for gold and fame." His parents were domestic servants in a small town, and Leonard's arrogance masked the fact that he was all too aware of his provincial status. Still, through a friend, Fremont, he was introduced to a young actress at the Nicolets Theatre. She was a minor and less than successful member of the company, but once Leonard had dressed her hair, she found herself a sudden sensation. The onset of sudden applause gave both her and Leonard newfound fame. It wasn't long before Leonard was introduced to the Court, where he became a favourite of Madame du Barry. Later, he witnessed the arrival of the young dauphine, Marie Antoinette, and eventually became her personal hairdresser.

This book has all the intrigue of Versailles, along with the Court's many excesses. Leonard's hairstyles were so elaborate that women risked their hair catching fire, or had to lean their heads out of the carriages on the way to attend the theatre or masked balls, in order to have their hair styled in one of his amazing creations. Eventually, limits were put on the size of a ladies hair if they were to attend the theatre, as the audience's view was obscured by his clients hairstyles. Working for Marie Antoinette gave Leonard success, but limited his work outside of the Court. Fearful of losing other custom through needing to be constantly available to Marie Antoinette, Leonard used his friend, Fremont, and his brothers, to make sure they could dress the hair of every noble lady who requested his services. Soon he was rich beyong his wildest dreams; he even merited a small apartment at Versailles. Yet, all was not as wonderful as it seemed. The Queen was seen as frivolous and sacrificed popularity for seclusion and lack of etiquette. Discontent was in the air and Marie Antoinette was targeted by those looking for change. Leonard was her almost constant companion during her years as monarch and one of her most trusted advisors. He was there during "the Affair of the Necklace" and he witnessed the revolution.

Although Leonard had a better understanding than most of the people's grievances, his heart "still broke for the royal family." During the years of trials and executions, Leonard remained loyal to Marie Antoinette. He undertook dangerous missions for the royal family and even acted as a spy. This book also follows his travels after the revolution, when exile from France led him to take his talents to many other countries, including the Court in Russia. As well as being a fascinating glimpse into the life of someone so associated with the French Court, this is also the story of Marie Antoinette, of the revolution and the aftermath, as witnessed by someone who was there. For anyone with any interest in that era, this is a wonderful read. The author really brings the period and the characters to life and it is also packed full of great illustrations, including some of the most bizarre and elaborate hairstyles you could ever imagine.




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