Numerous reputable biographies and histories — including by Hilaire Belloc (1909), André Castelot (1957), Stanley Loomis (1972), Claude Manceron (1974), Desmond Seward (1981), Simon Schama (1989), Evelyne Lever (2000), Antonia Fraser (2001), Munro Price (2014) and John Hardman (2019) — have examined the evidence for an affair and, while entertaining different theories about the extent and nature of the pair’s relationship, all concede that the historical record permits no definitive conclusion. Contrary to what Goldstone alleges, the recent decryption by a team of French researchers of eight pieces of correspondence between Marie Antoinette and Fersen does not alter this fact. As Le Monde reported in June 2020, these letters “confirm the thesis, so long invoked, of an emotional relationship [relation sentimentale], without, however, making any earth-shattering revelation [révélation fracassante] on the subject.” The paper went on to quote a curator at France’s National Archives, who said, “These new documents do not constitute an erotic correspondence, nor even, properly speaking, an amorous one.”
There is one piece of new research that bears directly on Goldstone’s claim about the paternity of the dauphin but which I learned of only after writing my review. This is a study published in 2019 in the International Journal of Sciences by French scientists who compared the DNA on a lock of hair belonging to Louis-Charles to DNA belonging to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. In conclusion, the researchers write: “Numerous rumors, since the beginning, doubted about Louis XVI’s paternity of his children. We demonstrate here that Louis-Charles (Louis XVII) is truly Louis XVI’s son.”
As to the charge that I aimed to “demean” Dr. Linda Gray, the Connecticut pediatrician whose answers to Goldstone’s questions about Louis XVI’s behavioral eccentricities became, in Goldstone’s analysis, proof that the king was autistic, I would merely reiterate the point I made in my review, which is that Gray’s responses cannot be taken as a proper professional diagnosis since Louis XVI died almost 230 years ago and was never personally examined by Gray.
The Human Comedy
To the Editor:
Oh my! Why didn’t Dana Spiotta mention “The Decameron” in her laudatory review of Gary Shteyngart’s new book, “Our Country Friends” (Nov. 14)? It would seem an obvious reference for a book concerning a group of young people decamping to the country during a plague. Shteyngart must be familiar with it.
A review on Dec. 5 about Alex Danchev and Sarah Whitfield’s “Magritte: A Life,” using information from the book, misstated René Magritte’s age at the time of his death. He was 68, not 69.
The Editors’ Choice column last Sunday misstated Greta Garbo’s age when she arrived in Hollywood. She was 19, not 22.