Paris exhibition re-examines Marie-Antoinette

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France has a chance to re-assess the life of its most notorious queen with the opening today of a major exhibition dedicated to Marie-Antoinette.

Negatively portrayed by generations of republican historians, Marie-Antoinette has in the past received little sympathy from a nation that tended to see her either as a giddy symbol of ancien régime decadence or as a treacherous Austrian schemer.

But in recent years there has been a rehabilitation, encouraged by new biographies such as Antonia Fraser's which depict the queen as a scapegoat of her times if not a total innocent.

The 2006 film by Sofia Coppola took the process further, showing the doomed Marie-Antoinette as a free-spirit victimised by the forces around her and drawing a deliberate parallel with the fate of Princess Diana.

French royal historian Jean-Christian Petitfils said: "These days, people know about her frivolous side, but it's her role as victim that is becoming more important.

"The growing stock of sympathy which she enjoys comes from the fact that as a society we tend to be on the side of victims. This homage reflects the modern taste, which includes a certain Marie-Antoinettomania," he said.

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