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Registered: ‎08-01-2007
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How I Came to Write This Book

When I was on book tour with Ahab’s Wife, I stayed in a wonderfully quaint bed and breakfast in Darian, Georgia, in the Women’s Room, with a shelf of books about famous women. While I had had an interest in Marie Antoinette since I was a child, reading a rather outdated biography by Stefan Zweig was what triggered the idea of my writing a novel about her. The Zweig biography suggested that Maria Antoinette led a compelling and exciting life, but I felt he treated her in an unfair and condescending manner. The subtitle of his biography was The Portrait of an Average Woman, and it was clear that Zweig considered the average woman to be none too bright, selfish and egotistical, materialistic and extravagant.

The French revolution stimulated my imagination like the stuff of nightmares: people were executed by that terrifying new machine the guillotine simply for who they were, not for crimes they had committed. I began to remember Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, which I had read as a young person, and how powerfully he evoked the relentless vengeance of the revolutionary poor after years of oppression and injustice on the rich. In my home town of Birmingham, I had looked at how centuries of oppression and injustice had been met by nonviolent action in the civil rights movement; it interested me to consider, by contrast, the methods and results of violent reaction to oppression and injustice in eighteenth-century France.
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