The Queen’s Lover
Count Axel von Fersen is nineteen when he meets an effervescent girl his own age at the Paris Opera in 1774. She is masked, so Fersen does not know the identity of the charming blonde until she is leaving. She lifts her mask for a heartbeat, and he recognizes Marie Antoinette, the future Queen of France. Thus begins The Queen’s Lover, by Francine du Plessix Gray.
Gray’s book is a magnificent tale of silk-clad French courtiers, bloody-handed executioners, and the gay, doomed Marie Antoinette. We see the queen through the tender eyes of her lover, Fersen, and witness his anguish as the French Revolution rages toward its inexorable climax.
The Queen’s Lover is based on Fersen’s archives, especially his correspondence with Marie Antoinette. The letters were printed nearly 100 years after Fersen’s death though – sadly for historians – intimate sections were redacted by the puritanical publisher. Many other paragraphs are still unread because their invisible ink cannot be developed.
I wish that we had seen more of Fersen’s three years with French army in the American Revolution, but The Queen’s Lover is Marie Antoinette’s story, and not intended as a complete telling of Fersen’s life. It is, however, a thoroughly entertaining account of a courtier’s life in France and Sweden, and of the many tragedies which accompanied the French Revolution. It is also an eyewitness account of Marie Antoinette and the French royal family by a man who knew them well. I heartily recommend The Queen’s Lover, both for its historic value and as a fresh depiction of the famed Queen of France by the man who loved her.