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Nobody expects the French Revolution

Yesterday I watched the very long movie 'The French Revolution' it had Jane Seymour and Sam Neil,

I still don't understand the historical event very well. More books will required. Today I am reading a biography of Robespierre. Only one chapter in and I am already impressed by the careful tiny details that the movie used, like his love of oranges, and his having a sky blue coat.

So many people who lived through that time were compulsive writers. We have their letters, their journals their documents. We are lucky to have all that.

The book says that opinions of him are sharply divided. Many people loved him. What he felt for others is unclear. He was only 36 when he died.

Oh, but the past is slippery. My incomplete understanding of those people and their time is so colored by my knowing what followed. Revolutions don't come cheaply, and they don't come kind. People turn on themselves, and anyone near, like frantic dogs biting in hysterical pain.

They were the first modern Revolutionaries. They and the others at the end of their century were inventing it all.

When I think of the two blood soaked centuries we have had since, and the voices of those we followed, the hair on my neck stands up.

Kind of grim tonight guys-- history feels. And, too, I can hear a cool little voice saying 'chopping the heads off the nobility won't fill their bellies--'



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 30th, 2014 06:25 am (UTC)
Robespierre was a fascinating character.

I wrote an exam paper (40 years ago!) arguing that in the revolutions change very little because the revolving means going round in circles as opposed to evolving. The French Revolution is a good example. Popular thinking is that it overthrow a bad dictator-like King for the good government by the people...but it didn't. The mob took over and massacred left right and centre (in all senses of the expression). Robespierre would have become a dictator (he executed his ex-allies when they disagreed). In the end the Revolution brought a young Corsican General to the fore..;Buonaparte, who finally crowned himself Emperor. As the expression oes 'plus ça change'....nothing really changes
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:11 am (UTC)
That is more or less what I was thinking.
Jul. 30th, 2014 02:34 pm (UTC)
I'd really like to read a good bio of Robespierre, what's the one you're reading called?
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:11 am (UTC)
It is called 'Fatal Purity' by Ruth Scurr. It is very good.
Jul. 31st, 2014 07:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks, it's now on my amazon wish list!
Jul. 30th, 2014 09:46 pm (UTC)
Being the French-Rev geek that I am, if you want more books on the subject, I recommend "Marie Antoinette; The Journey" by Antonia Fraser (Which softens the Queen's reputation a little and gives you a sense of the background for the revolution) and "Liberty; the Life and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France" by Lucy Moore (which shows the impact of the revolution on multiple areas of life, from the nobles to the peasants to the emigres).

I just am fond of that whole period, ok?
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:12 am (UTC)
Oh, i will check those out. Thanks. I think anything that has a broader coverage will be good for me. I am of course fond of that time too-- you know why!
Jul. 30th, 2014 10:20 pm (UTC)
Despite my love of France, I'm not overly informed about the specifics of the Revolution. It is odd to think about being 40 and older than all these crazy people were, and how violent and desperate their lives must have been, for the Revolution to have made any kind of sense at all. I can't imagine being pushed far enough that armed revolution would seem an answer, but I don't feel qualified to judge the past.

On a very trivial note, the actor who plays Robespierre in the Scarlet Pimpernel series (the one with Jamie Bamber in it) has indelibly shaped my idea of the man. Finicky, feminine, and frightening.

Jul. 31st, 2014 12:17 am (UTC)
I am just at the begining of the book. We just had the tennis court oath. And strangely, what they remind me of is hippies. They were so full of ideals, they wanted to make the world a more fair place. And Robespierre and the others in his little group were so young. The sort of young that stays up all night talking, and all the next day writing, and still has energy enough to meet for dinner the second night.

They seem so sure that they are on the edge of something beautiful. It hurts to know the way the story ends.
Jul. 30th, 2014 10:31 pm (UTC)
"You've heard the latest rumours, of course? That Louis was captured just before Christmas. What do you think they'll do with him? You can't kill a king."
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:22 am (UTC)
I think I had that scene in mind when I wrote Archie's captivity. He was just the sort of guy they wanted especially to punish.

And of course, you can kill a king, as everyone found out. The movie presented the king as sympathetic-- honestly puzzled at how the world was changing, and nothing was going right anymore. Suddenly everyone was mad at him.

There was a terrible scene in the prison where they told him he could not see his kids any more. They just did that to be mean.
Aug. 2nd, 2014 09:24 am (UTC)
Always curious about Archie's statement there for we had already successfully killed a king here of course
there is a pub here in Maidenhead where Charles 1 saw his children for the last time and it has a sign to that effect outside - at least it is a bank now bt it was a coaching inn then. I see the sign when buying fruit because the street market is in that road.
Little hidden signs of history and human folly and grief

re books Hilary Mantel - a Place of greater SAFety ?
Jul. 31st, 2014 06:41 am (UTC)
Gentle Giant of Terror by David Lawday is getting good reviews (see one here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n15/hilary-mantel/he-roared)
Aug. 2nd, 2014 09:44 am (UTC)
One of the most interesting eras I think... and it is very important I think to learn history (there is currently in Finland an idea thrown to education that history should be dropped from high school studies! Which is really terrifying, they've already reduced art and p.e!) as if we don't learn from it, we'll just repeat it... especially now that the world seems to be falling back into class society where rich are getting richer and middle class falling into poverty.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )