French Revolutions for Beginners

Has another event in European history affected the age we live in as much as the French Revolution? Hasn’t every political debate, every crisis of our time been directly shaped by blood spilled and lines drawn in the sand throughout the events that unfolded in those first months, years and decades following 1789? Left and right, republicans and traditionalists, radicals and radicals and a thousand more shades of radicals, each more extreme than the other, killing ripping each other to bloody bits, some for political expediency; others out of loyalty to egalitarian beliefs; yet others, like the members of the lower aristocracy and the bourgeois with whom the tide began, wished for more incremental reform — say, a liberal democracy! Little did they know the beast they were unleashing.

The French Revolution is a snake that eats its own tail, and this excellent introductory novel shows just how events pushed Paris ever deeper under the mud and blood of revolution. There’s plenty to enthrall and horrify — the lithany of beheadings, the crushing debt and superinflation France goes under as result of its financing America’s war for independence, the startling turn in fortunes for some of France’s best and worst.

I must sound slightly insane, proclaiming such events ‘enthralling.’ Oh, well.

As you might’ve guessed by the title, this novel covers more than just the first revolution – fixating on Napoleon’s exploits for a sizable chunk, it eventually goes past the 1850s, in fact, covering even the Paris commune in 1871.

Excellent illustrations by Tom Motley, both poignant and funny. Motley’s pen captures many of the paradoxes of different revolutionary idealogues, pierces through the hypocrisies of the time and challenges the reader to reevaluate certain events through a different angle entirely.

This is a great starting point that leaves a lot unsaid — and it’s up to you to find out which events to dig deeper about. Me, I think I’ll get better acquainted with Georges Danton, a lawyer and revolutionary plagued by scandals about the misappropriation of revolutionary funds. The Napoleonic era is also one I’m itching to start with, and there’s plenty I want to learn about the inner workings of the Paris Commune, short as that lasted. Soon, very soon!

Oh, and help yourselves to my absolutely favourite passage:

Georges Danton must’ve been a lark to be around with.

Just in case you needed a…heh…taste.

4 thoughts on “French Revolutions for Beginners

  1. I can’t tell if this is meant to be a book for entertainment or putting a more novel like spin on factual events? I remember studying this for 6 months of my final year of high school and man it was interesting! Before learning about this revolution I had no interest in any history that wasn’t ancient. So I can understand how this topic draws you in.

    Liked by 1 person

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