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Let Them Eat Cake – The Myth

March 29, 2009

“Let them eat cake”

This infamous quote, as attributed to Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI, was claimed to have been uttered during one of the famines that occurred in France during the reign of her and her husband. Upon being alerted that her people were suffering due to widespread bread shortages, she is said to have replied, “Then let them eat cake.”  This type of callousness on the part of the monarchy is often referred to when studying the possible factors that may have led to the French Revolution.

From the beginning of his reign, Louis XVI was seen as ineffective, uninformed and naive, while Marie Antoinette’s frivolity and extravagance were seen as factors that only worsened France’s impending economic recession. The public was convinced that it was Antoinette who had single-handedly ruined France’s finances.

However, it turns out that the said quote was never uttered by the Queen! It is a myth!

The phrase is first found in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, of 1770, when Marie Antoinette was fourteen (prior to marriage or revolution). Countess Madame de Boigne recalls in her memoirs that Madame Victoire was a woman of “very little wit and extreme kindness. It was she who said, her eyes full of tears, in a time of famine when one spoke of the suffering of the unfortunates who lacked bread: But, my God, if they would only resign themselves to eating paté crust!”

Pamphlets were often printed criticizing the misrule. They often included exaggerations, fictitious events and complete lies. Therefore, with such strong sentiments of dissatisfaction and anger towards the king and queen, it is quite possible that a discontented individual fabricated the scenario in which Marie Antoinette used the now infamous phrase, which later found itself repeated in several books, some fact, other fiction.

This popular translation of the French phrase might also imply more offense than was intended.In 18th century France, the price of bread was fixed by the government. Brioche was one of the types of cakes that had its price pegged to basic bread to prevent bakers from reaping exploitative profits if they refused to sell the otherwise less profitable bread. A contextual transformation of this phrase might be “let them eat (or buy) cake at the same price as bread.” In this sense, the phrase “…let them eat cake” (or rather, brioche, a form of cake made of flour, butter and eggs) would have been a sensible suggestion during a flour shortage. It would have allowed the poor to enjoy what would otherwise have been unaffordable.

This is yet another example on why it’s important to get to the root of an issue before venting out unfair criticism (not that I’m supporting the monarchy).

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Sources: This and this.

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Also Read: How prayer works.

Religion was progressive.

Will Capitalism End?

Wonder why people see ghosts?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2009 11:35 am

    This is just like Feminists burning bras. Say something so often it is being quoted and and nobody cares how (un)true it is!
    Read on Indyeah’s blog that you also are not able to comment on my blog… I hope this sorts out soon… I look forward to reading your comments :)

    • March 30, 2009 12:35 pm

      Yes! A lot of other things too come to mind.

      Also, I am able to comment on your blog! I have been commenting…and even commented just yesterday (under the name “bigotblog”, not Siddharth)! I don’t quite remember not being able to comment on your blog! :P Are you sure it was me? Maybe my memory fails me, as it so often does. Anyways, love reading your blog, and will keep doing so.

      Thanks for dropping by! :)

  2. Chirag Chamoli permalink
    March 31, 2009 6:41 am

    “Let them eat cake” – Shows a sad face or happy side together. Something like the Indian Urban Crowd and Rural Crowed, where we assume that India is progressing equally across :)

    • March 31, 2009 6:39 pm

      Yes, dear Chirag.

      I even wrote a post about the dual nature of India’s economy. It is here at http://bigotblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/billionaire-slumdog-the-dual-economy-of-india/

      :)

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