Fragonard - "Le Verrou"

This is one of the most fantastic paintings ever.

It's called "Le Verrou", which means, "The Lock". You can see the man locking the door... Oh dear. Wasn't that painter naughty, but still fabulous?


Let them eat cake!

"Let them eat cake"

That sentence is great to make someone look plain mean. Imagine if the people are dying with hunger and the evil queen says that. If we add a sadistic laugh in the end, it would be just perfect. Would it matter if it was true or not?

The story, if we want to make it short, is this. The people of Paris had no bread, no food, and were in complete misery, and was starting to rebel (and he had reasons, plenty of them). But, what is a revolution without violence? They needed to be motivated to go against the ennemy - and, in this case, Marie-Antoinette was the enemy: she was the evil Autrichienne, which means Austrian. The scandals the pamphlets, the slander and lies, they all started here. Half, or even more than half, of these things she is accused of, are lies infiltrated in History.

The odd thing in all of this is that those mean pamphlets didn't start in the people, but in the nobility. They were sick of something: the Queen was not paying the attention that was due to them. She spent her days at the Petit Trianon, an informal place calmer and relaxed than Versailles, that pleased her much more (well, informal, it depends of the point of view: no one, even the King, could enter it without the Queen's consent! Think of it like her sanctuary).

Well, the old nobility, the septagenary marquis and the old comtesse, they had all stayed in Versailles. The only thing present to talk to were the statues! Where was the Queen? In the Trianon, of course! They had to make their court! I'm sure it was no picnic for them (and, about picnics, if you're wandering where the King was, he spent his days hunting when he was not working or making locks). The plots against the Queen started in that climate. The nobility had wonderful palaces, where they retreated and printed those pamphlets, that later grew and grew and flew even in the halls of Versailles!

One of the most famous sentences was "Let Them eat cake". Supposedly, when the Queen was told that the people of Paris had no bread, she said that. Pretty mean humour, huh? And it's a sentence that caused a great hatred and agitation in everyone, go figure out why.

There are several theories about this saying:

Number 1: Marie-Antoinete said that and she was mean, mean, mean.

Number 2: Marie-Antoinette never said that, and it's just a lie like so many others.

Number 3: Marie-Antoinette said that but she meant it in a good way and not a bad way.

Number 4: Marie-Antoinette never said that, but another princess or queen of France did.

Which one to believe? Before you take any conclusions, let me tell you that I do not believe in the first one, and I'm definitely not the only one. There is absolutely no record of Marie-Antoinete saying such things, and it wouldn't be the first lie they make up about her. She was frivolous, yes, that was a truth universally acknowledgded, and so it was easy to make people of that time believe she had indeed said that. Still, it does not mean that we can not rethink those facts nowadays.

Besides, even though she was always light-hearted and never really cared about all the money she wasted, she wasn’t mean. She was absolutely not the sort of “Evil Queen” that would be cynical and ironic when faced with the conditions of the people. She basically was a person incapable of saying a sentence so brilliantly evil in such a situation. She was very concerned each time she saw poverty with her own eyes, did lots of charity works, she even took care of poor children and taught her own sons and daughters to help others. But, the truth is, she was never really aware of the real numbers: the number of money she spent, and the number of people that lived in misery.

I’m inclined to believe in the second and fourth theories. The third is… well, interesting, but I don’t think so. This is what the third theory is based on: a french law forced the bakers to sell Basic bread and more elaborated pastries at the same price, and this to avoid the likely situation of them selling only the most expensive products to have more income. Brioches is a kind of cake made of flour, butter and egs. Therefore, saying “let them eat cake” could be meant as a suggestion for a problem. Even though, I don’t think so. That is a much too elaborate interpretation, and don’t you think someone had to think a lot about that sentence to arrive to that conclusion?

As it is stated in The Phrase Finder:

“The original French is Qu'ils mangent de la brioche. It has been suggested that the speaker's intention wasn't as cynical as is generally supposed. French law required bakers to sell loaves at fixed prices and fancy loaves had to be sold at the same price as basic breads. This was aimed at preventing bakers from selling just the more profitable expensive products. The let them eat brioche (a form of cake made of flour, butter and eggs) would have been a sensible suggestion in the face of a flour shortage as it would have allowed the poor to eat what would otherwise have been unaffordable. It's rather a mouthful, so to speak, but if the phrase had been reported as 'let them buy cake at the same price as bread' we might now think better of the French nobility.”

As to the fourth theory… there are two written sources that could prove it. The first one comes from Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, Comte de Provence. In a memory he wrote in 1791, he wrote that the sentence “Que ne mangent-ils de la croûte de pâte?” (which basically means, “Why don’t they eat pastry?") was said by another Queen, Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish princess that married Louis XIV, when she was told that the people had no bread.

Rousseau also wrote once:

"Finally I recalled the worst-recourse of a great princess to whom one said that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: "Let them eat brioche..."

Same situation! However, we can not forget Rousseau was a philosopher and a fiction writer.

What could it be? Maybe some parisiens eager of stimulating the revolution had “recycled” that sentence so to make great publicity for Madame La Guillotine, but instead of puting Marie-Thérèse in the credits, they put Marie-Antoinette! Everything’s possible!
It’s still mysterious, even if not as much as before, but one thing is clear: the Queen of France who lost her head never said that!


Colours from the 18th century

In the 18th century, the masked balls were very fashionable – and we can’t forget that this century was also a masked century…
When we think of that era, there are several things that come to our mind. Fabulous and rich clothing and elaborate (and high!) hairstlyes too, noble persons having fun, the magnificent palaces like Versailles, the great luxury of the court, and also the informal little places like the Trianon.

We think about the divertissements of the court, the opera, the concerts, the balls and banquets, from the minuet to the walks in the garden.
But, when I think about that century, there is another word that comes to my mind: Revolution! And there’s the true content of the century.

The rest is a a mask, the face of good life, of the esprit bon vivant, and that was not the reality. Because, if the Revolution exploded with such violence, something not very nice was happening during the whole century… In fact, same as always for the poor: hunger, misery, extreme poverty, wars. That was the face behind the mask.

However, much more is to be said about this century. Facts to be explored and commented, truths to be put to question. The 18th century, and especially in France, was a mixture of crisis at court and in the middle of the people, of victories and miseries, so much so that sometimes I feel confused when I study about it.

For example, the court was part of a big community mask. People knew that this or that was happening, that Lord X did this and Lady Y did that, but did they admiti t? Oh no they didn’t. The favourite way of information were mean little papers that were distributed to whoever woud like to read them (I mean, everyone wanted to read them). Like mean cartoons with lots of lies saying ill of the Marquis or the Duke or the Queen.

The interesting thing is that even the “true face” hidden behind the mask, the Revolution and the misery that started it, is also a mask! What do you think of that? That’s because the Revolution was for them the same thing as freedom. Well, the years of the Terror are one of the times in France history that are more different of freedom… the guillotine would chop hundreds or even thousands of heads per week, and you could get your head chopped off that same way for anything, even for the tiniest insignificant misunderstanding! In the walls of Paris you could find messages that said things like: “Anyone clapping the Kind will be whipped; Anyone booing the King will be hanged”. Now that was a bit of a problem. Depending on the state of minds, no matter which side you were on, you would get to visit Madame Guillotine sooner or later if you were active even a little bit.

And after so many fights and bloodsheds to get rid of their monarchs, the people of Paris and of whole France ended up with… an Emperor! Big deal.

Of course the Revolution was indispensible, but it was not only a victory, and something that should be a time of freedom and happiness was during a looong time a reign of terror and misery – again.

Exploring a century beyond these masks can be a true challenge, but i tis also fascinating, and some dare to do it.


Prelude Or Overture

I've read somewhere that Roal Dahl said that if he could, he'd get rid of the History teacher and get a professor of Chocolate. That makes sense if you think of it, since he wrote Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and not Charlie And The History Factory. But anyway.

There are different ways to think of something, different points of view, as there are different people. There are people that find that History is peeking in other's life... (but, just for you to know, I hate the gossip magazines). There are people that are completely indifferent, and others abominate History completely because they must study hard and remember the date of a battle for Monday's test.

It's alright, I understand. I thought that too. But the opinion that the people have of the study of History, and its events, also have much to do with the way they discover it. It is obvious that if in the sixth year of school the only thing that students do is to study dates and to say that in the XIX century appeared the train and that this was very good for the development of the transports and communications, they won't feel excited. They only study for the sake of the next test or exam, and not for the sake of History. Clearly this does not have great interest; the worst of everything is that they don't understand why they should waste such precious time studying History!

It is very difficult to have teach History in an attractive way, that's true. But when we study something voluntarily and not because we just have to, things change completely. Deep inside, there's nothing to say. I like History just like others like soccer of video games, and that's it. It all started with a visit to Versailles, two or three years ago. We met a very comic and hiperactive guide, a guide very passionate for history. She wasn't definitively a guide who only made her work; she was a guide who followed her passion. We (I and my parents) and two more pairs of lucky tourists were invited by the guide to a small guided visit. We weren't counting with what came next.

She took us to places that, well, were not open to the public: apartments of the small Trianon that were closed for renovation, for example; or the opera of Marie Antoinette, close to the Trianon. We saw apartments that were not touched since the Revolution: with the paper ripped from the walls, the dusty ground and furniture, everything! It looked like Marie-Antoinette had left yesterday without packing. The guide spoke of everything with such passion that I was astonished. In the end, she advised me a book about Marie-Antoinette. The best was that she spoke with me as if I was an adult, and not a child (I was twelve, I think).

Anyway, that made one " clic" inside me, and I, who was not in the least bit interested in that, started to adore everything of it, to speak with people about History, to read, to research, to visit museums… I didn’t immediately read the book that the guide had advised, Marie-Antoinette, of Stefan Zweig, because well, that was not exactly easy literature to start. But now I’ve read it (and loved it, by the way).

One thing I’d love to do would be to go see that guide and tell her that her visit really changed something inside of me. That it worked. Because, deep inside, i tis always a kind of personal victory when we see that we managed to make someone interested in something.

And now, I have a bookcase full of historical books (fictional and non-fictional), of magazines from museums; I have a huge list of interesting historical blogs and sites; I spend whole afternoons researching on books and on the internet, comparing books, watching historical movies… When I go to museums, I can recognize the persons that are in the paintings, say which was the painting, what is the year of the painting (most of the time I can guess that because of the clothes the persons in the paintings are wearing). In museums, even if they’re biiig ones, if there are plenty of XVIII and XIX century paintings, I never get tired, even when everyone is already exhausted.

And I do feel very happy that way. It’s great to have an interest that makes us research and read and just be passionate about it.

I’ve only got a problem: no one I know has that interest (at least, not in the passionate way I do). Sometimes there are people that like it when I explain to them this and that, when I start to talk with in a very outraged way, because Marie-Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake”, and that is was a lie, etc. There are other people that like to jump in the museums hiding the labels of the paintings and tell me to guess the year of the painting.

Well, I like doing that to. But, in fact, I’d also like to have someone who would feel as fascinated as I do and that wouldn’t roll eyes and call me an addict if I’m reading an interesting book about, I don’t know, Marie-Thérèse, for example!

And I still haven’t found someone with that interest, but I’m not giving up! And that is why I’ve started this blog, to anyone that is interested in reading whatever historical things I post here (and whoever is ready to forgive me for any English spelling mistakes; I’m very sorry about that, but Portuguese is my native language, not english).
So stay alert, will’ya? Maybe something here will catch your eye. Remember, suggestions and comments are always most welcome!

And perhaps I’ll meet that guide from Versailles again, one of these days.

So, to conclude, here’s one painting from one of my favorite artist, Fragonard. Isn’t it beautiful?

P.S.: This post is called Prelude Or Overture because it’s a kind of introduction to the blog, and I’ve always thought that music and history went very well together… ; )