Amelia Elkins Elkins by AM Blair: Did I Treat Louis XVI Unfairly?

Louis and Me

It’s impossible to slander—or, in this case, libel—the dead, but that doesn’t mean I want to perpetuate myths about a long deceased person.

Louis XVI of France has been dead for 222 years, the victim of the “hot blade,” released by revolutionaries looking to change the social, economic, and political order of their country.

I mention the unfortunate French monarch in Amelia Elkins Elkins, my newly released retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, at the end of Chapter 3, when Amelia (a modern Anne Elliot) contemplates a lawsuit on behalf of her mother’s estate:

Amelia Elkins Elkins_A Retelling of Persuasion_Passage

Louis XVI has often been portrayed as weak, stupid, and lazy, stereotypes I vaguely remember learning as facts in my European History class in high school. About a decade before that class, Newsweek referred to the French king as the “stout and stupid Louis XVI.”*

Suspecting that Louis XVI is a more complicated historical figure than is often portrayed, I had originally written the sentence in Amelia Elkins Elkins slightly differently (see below). However, I revised it on the advice of an astute reader who said, “I think it’s okay to risk treating Louis XVI unfairly for the sake of comedic timing.”

Original versus Revised from Amelia Elkins Elkins

I agree that the revision is better. It’s a simpler sentence now, even if — potentially — somewhat unfair to Louis XVI.

Ever since accepting that revision, I’ve wondered how unfair I’ve been to the unfortunate ruler. To shed light on this question, I read Alison Johnson’s biography of the king, Louis XVI and the French Revolution (2013), an attempt to refute common perceptions of Louis XVI’s drive and intellect.

It’s an interesting and accessible read, one that references sources we’re unlikely to see in many history books, like the Mayo Clinic’s website. Johnson’s Louis XVI is a highly-educated, family-oriented man who loathed bloodshed and privately suffered from phimosis, an often painful condition in which the foreskin cannot fully retract.

Poor guy, for so many reasons.

So, like England’s Richard III, whom I’ve discussed several times on this blog, Louis XVI has his supporters. Like most modern-day historians attempting to rehabilitate the image of a long-dead person, Johnson has embarked on a challenging task. The paucity of unbiased contemporaneous accounts of Louis XVI and the few writings left behind by the man himself are major limitations.

As Johnson explains:

Excerpts from Johnsons Book

I left Johnson’s book feeling more sympathetic toward Louis XVI, but still unsure of what to believe about him. What I do know, though, is that the original version of my sentence in Amelia Elkins Elkins, which doesn’t take a position on Louis XVI’s drive and intellect, is more accurate than the final one, which does.

I hope that no one offended on behalf of Louis XVI will take it out on my book. 😉

___________________________________________________________

*This example is in Johnson’s book.

**Image: A portion of the cover from Louis XVI and the French Revolution (by Alison Johnson) coupled with a portion of the cover from Amelia Elkins Elkins (by moi).

***If you’re interested in Amelia Elkins Elkins, see here. Thanks!

8 thoughts on “Amelia Elkins Elkins by AM Blair: Did I Treat Louis XVI Unfairly?

    1. Hi Donna! Yes, it’s so hard to know which contemporary characterizations to trust. Johnson is well aware of this problem and does her best to address it.

  1. The problem with education is that we learn about historical people in sound bites created by the winners. Louis XVI is like Richard III in that the received wisdom is almost totally wrong. If we took the time to look up all this stuff, we’d spend our lives looking up rather than reading or writing. I write fantasy, so that I don’t run into these problems, although a group of gypsies enter the most recent tale, and I’ve done as much research on them as I intend to.

    1. Yes, history is written by the victors. I got a much better sense about Louis XVI from Johnson’s book, but it was still hard to assess his character.

      Your most recent story sounds interesting!

  2. SF

    Either way, stupid or not, Louis XVI shouldn’t have lost his head! Change shouldn’t require blood. It’s interesting to see a little of what went into this book… sort of the “making of Amelia EE.”

    1. “It’s interesting to see a little of what went into this book… sort of the ‘making of Amelia EE.'” Thanks! I guess it is a “behind the scenes” look at the novel. If you decide to give it a chance, I hope you enjoy it!

  3. I’ve had this book for a couple weeks and still haven’t gotten to it, but it’s high on my TBR list. 🙂

    Isn’t it interesting the research one does when writing a novel? That may be my favorite part because I find out so much about things that wouldn’t normally cross my path. And you took it a step further by doing follow-up reading. Heh. I’m impressed.

    1. Thanks for your support, Theo! I feel bad about making it free after some people paid for it. Sorry! As for research, that’s the best part of writing for me. With AEE, the research included looking at the blueprints of the house Woodlynne is based on. I learned so much.

I appreciate your comments (respectful dissent is welcome)!

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