Podcast Review: Marie Antoinette and Laura Ingalls Wilder #HistoryChicksBinge

I’ve kicked off my planned podcast binge for 2020 by listening to the first two episodes from The History Chicks, a podcast launched in 2011.

Episode One: Marie Antoinette

Podcast date: January 30, 2011
Time period of subject’s life: 2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793
Length of podcast: 66 minutes

The first episode sets the bar high for intriguing women of history, the ill-fated Queen of France, born the Archduchess Maria Antoine Josepha Joanna in Austria.

Being the very first episode, the sound quality on this episode is well, terrible. But having listened to several 2019 podcasts, I can assure you that things get much better on that front. It is not so terrible that you cannot follow the themes, simply jarring compared to where Beckett and Susan are now as podcasters. It is worth noting that in 2015, they posted a two-part ‘update’ on Marie Antoinette. I opted not to skip ahead, but continue in the order the podcasts were created.

What I learned:

Primarily, I had very little information on Marie Antoinette and I’m unsure why. I had recently caught The Revolutionists on stage in Pittsburgh, a play reimagining Marie Antoinette and other women around this period of time. So most of her life was new to me – her background, her lack of preparation for her role, and the multiple tragedies she experienced, notably the guillotine. It was a little surprising how much of a culture clash existed between the Holy Roman Empire in Austria and France in terms of everything from education to etiquette.

  • Marie was not incredibly well-educated or worldly until her path to the French throne became clear. It seems she also lacked tutelage in royal life, intrigue, politics, and other life skills necessary to flourish in a realm where not speaking to the King’s mistress could derail your life. Her capacity to learn on her feet was impressive.
  • She never said “let them eat cake” – this did not actually shock me as it seems clearly taken out of context.
  • The intensity of her role as a political pawn from birth until her execution – she was groomed, blamed, lambasted, lampooned, derided, ignored, scrutinized and more every single moment.
  • There are no direct descendants of Marie Antoinette. All of her children died without children of their own.

Now that being said, I’m still not moved to start reading up on her life. Instead, I view her as a springboard or gateway from ‘famously misunderstood historical women” to other women in history. I’ve never watched the Sofia Coppola movie. I tried, but I guess I’m just not curious enough? I feel empathy for Marie Antoinette as a sister human being who suffered greatly through no fault of her own, but I tend to shy away from fetishizing any historical figure.

Shownote Standout:

This linked blog is amazing – Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century

Episode Two: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Date Podcast Aired: February 8, 2011
Time period: February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957
Length: 66 minutes

I was very pleased that this episode focused on the creation of the books and the mother/daughter relationship of Laura and Rose Wilder.

I read the books, watched the television show, read the supplemental books,etc. I’ve referenced Laura in a few blog posts. I’ve also learned that mentioning her or her books or Rose’s ties to Ayn Rand on Facebook is a sure way to be flamed by so many people. People are really invested in her being that character, something I find sad because her actual life is quite interesting and robust and – real.

What I learned:

  • The nuances of the mother/daughter relationship was much more tense and fraught than Laura’s relationship with her own mother, especially during the publishing and editing process.
  • They also did a nice job framing Laura’s real life against the narrative in the books. They record a mini-cast timeline of the book events that was pleasant and useful to hear after the main show.
  • Learning more practical details about Laura’s elder years was excellent. It humanized her in a new way.
  • Finally, there are a lot of Little House museums. Ma’s shepardess figurine that was part of so many books ended up with Laura’s sister Carrie and is now in a Keystone, South Dakota museum near her final home.

I wish Beckett and Susan used a more critical lens to discuss the racism and Manifest Destiny motivations of the entire Ingalls family. They didn’t exactly gloss it over, but their obvious unease with this analysis is problematic. I’m jumping ahead, but I find their insistence on being G-rated a little cloying. Describing male genitalia as ‘equipment’ is not only irritating, but it reinforces squeamish approaches to women’s health that has literally killed us..

Earlier in 2019, I began reading Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser, a book that does frame their story in the historical context. I didn’t finish the book, but I think I will return to it now. I also haven’t yet read Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. I will always be grateful for what these books brought to my childhood, but I appreciate the opportunity to put them into context of the real world instead of simply burying my head in the sand about their flaws. 

To be honest, I’m more interested now in the life of her daughter Rose.

Shownote Standout:

This 2009 piece from The New Yorker titled The Wilder Women is excellent.



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