I was very touched to read Elena Maria Vidal's novels, Trianon and Madame Royale. In these painstakingly researched, beautifully written and deeply felt works, she paints a compelling portrait of the tragedy of the French royal family in the wake of the Revolution. Drawing heavily on first-hand accounts of the period, told through vignettes and reminiscences, the story is incredibly (indeed, painfully) vivid. It is a tale of Christian fortitude amidst dynastic downfall and national apocalypse.
In Trianon, correcting many misconceptions (such as the King as feeble idiot and the Queen as decadent airhead), Vidal provides a moving and intimate portrayal of the tragic Louis XVI and the viciously maligned Marie-Antoinette. Their love for God, each other, their children and the people of France are all conveyed with poignant intensity. Ultimately, they are killed for the ideals they represent as Catholic monarchs, facing their doom with the charity and magnanimity of martyrs.
I have read several reviews claiming the books are too religious and/or over-idealize the protagonists. I only want to say that the devout faith of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and Madame Royale is well-documented, and it would not be realistic to ignore or downplay the role of Catholicism in their lives. Nor do I think the royal family are over-idealized. Their spiritual journeys are presented as hard and painful and they struggle with human failings along the way. Against his conscience, for instance, the King signs the Civil Constitution of the Clergy under duress, an action he later bitterly repents. Before maturing gracefully into a noble wife and mother, Marie-Antoinette is portrayed as a kind, charming, but imperfect young girl, apt to be headstrong and rash. Marie-Thérèse's rigidity and refusal to compromise the divine right of kings, coupled with her cold manner (although these are understandable results of her early traumas), contribute to alienating many from the cause of the Catholic monarchy. Nonetheless, the fact remains that she, like her parents, ultimately attains a high degree of spiritual heroism.