My first novel, The Secret Diary of a Princess: A Novel of Marie Antoinette is a fictionalised account of the early years of Marie Antoinette’s life when she was the youngest and least important of the daughters of the all powerful Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. The book follows her privileged childhood and adolescence in the beautiful palaces of Vienna and the long journey that brought her to Versailles and her marriage to the Dauphin Louis of France.
‘As soon as the introductions were over, the King took my hand and led me to the Dauphin, who I had barely noticed since entering the room. He seemed to be trying his best to hide from view and looked uncomfortable and ill at ease in his suit of white satin, sewn all over with diamonds and gold embroidery and I noticed with irritation that he was scratching at his neck underneath the fine white linen of his shirt collar, leaving red scratch marks beneath his powdered wig.
‘Are you ready?’ the King asked as he gave my hand to the Dauphin. ‘All of Versailles awaits you.’
I nodded, feeling the Dauphin’s hand grow hot and clammy against my own. ‘I am ready.’
The King nodded to the waiting footmen and they instantly flung open the huge doors that led to the Hall of Mirrors. The Dauphin led me out and the King, royal family and our attendants arranged themselves behind us so that we formed a long, glittering procession.
I paused for a second in the doorway, my courage failing me as I looked at the rows upon rows upon rows of splendidly dressed courtiers who all stared at me as they jostled each other rudely for space. I wanted to be able to remember this scene, my first proper glimpse of Versailles for the rest of my life. There was light and crystal and marble and splendour wherever I looked and I knew that the Abbé had not lied when he told me that the Hall of Mirrors was the most beautiful room in all of the world.
‘Madame,’ the Dauphin murmured, gently reminding me that there was no time to stand and stare.
I gathered up all of my bravado and lifted my head high before allowing him to lead me slowly down the gallery and then through a series of equally opulent and gorgeously appointed rooms, all of which were crammed with beautiful furniture, portraits, statues and wonderful ceiling paintings depicting Roman deities. Each room was filled with people, who fell silent and curtsied with insolent stares as I went past. The women openly looked me up and down then whispered to each other behind their painted fans while the men’s gazes were much more appraising and lingered on my bosom then my ankles, which were just visible beneath the heavy silver skirts.
‘This is the way to the chapel,’ the Dauphin whispered as we went down some stairs, leaving the King who would be watching from his balcony upstairs. Oh marvellous, he likes to lecture me as well. What fun. ‘We go this way to Mass every morning.’
‘In front of all those people?’ I whispered back, aghast.
He looked at me then and I believe that I saw the faintest glimmer of a smile. ‘Naturally.’
It did not take us long to reach the royal chapel and there was a small pause in the vestibule as my ladies came forward and tweaked my skirts and tried their best to hide the wide expanse of lacing at my back which betrayed the fact that my dress was much too small for me. ‘Good luck,’ Madame de Mailly whispered as they melted back again, their silk skirts rustling against the marble floor. ‘You look beautiful. Look straight ahead at the altar and ignore all the stares.’
I smiled and squeezed the Dauphin’s hand reassuringly, wishing, now that I had overcome my own fears that there was some way that I could bring the colour back to his cheeks and stop him trembling. ‘It will be over soon,’ was the best that I could manage as we stepped forward into the luminous white and gold light of the chapel.‘
‘A refreshing new look at the life of a woman who is arguably one of France’s most famous historical figures, told from the point of view of Marie Antoinette herself. Starting from her childhood days as Maria Antonia, an Austrian princess, we follow her thoughts and feelings as she grows into a lively young woman adjusting to the politics and intrigue of the French court in the 18th century. Melanie Clegg writes with a refreshing, unpretentious style and an eye to detail that shows her familiarity and expertise with the subject material and giving us a glimpse into the world of a much-misunderstood woman.‘
‘A wonderful first offering. Unputdownable – the passion of the author for her subject material is compelling and touching, and makes for an emotional read. It completely drew me in and I read it in one sitting.’
‘The author Melanie Clegg has a fresh and engaging writing style that draws even a novice to Marie Antoinette in. Her blend of fact and fiction is flawless and definitely deserves a wider audience. I’m very much looking forward to Melanie writing a sequel to Marie’s life so I don’t have to rely on the dry and dusty wiki entry to learn about the rest of her life.’
‘I love books in diary format, and I really loved this one. I had trouble at first believing that the girl who was so badly educated that her governess wrote her lessons for her would really keep a diary, but the story drew me in from the start, with the atmosphere of the Imperial court at Schonbrunn drawn so vividly that I could smell the hot chocolate and violet perfume.
Maria Antonia grows up on the page, from the child putting mice in her governess’s shoes to the young woman trying to comfort her awkward husband as they enter the chapel at Versailles, and the rest of the Imperial court are drawn very vividly, from Maria Theresa herself to the young adventurer Karl von Zweibrucken. The Secret Diary Of A Princess wears its research lightly, but it’s obvious that the research is there. I’d definitely recommend this novel to anyone interested in Marie Antoinette, or anyone who wants more than a ‘wallpaper historical’.