An engrossing account of Paris under Napoleon III, from the palaces and opera houses to the barricades and caf‚s...


PARIS BABYLON: The Story of the Paris Commune

An engrossing account of Paris under Napoleon III, from the palaces and opera houses to the barricades and caf‚s Christiansen (Romantic Affinities, 1988) has crafted a sensitive portrait of Paris, seen by many as a modern Babylon of sex and sin, and by others as a contemporary Jerusalem alive with a spirit of innovation. The subtitle is misleading, for the author doesn't arrive at the Commune until 300 pages into the work. Yet the book's strong point is its structure: It begins with an introductory tourist guide to Paris, culled from contemporary sources, from which we learn that ""one French appetite is sufficient for two Anglo-Saxon appetites"" and that ""Paris, the City of Light is a veritable charivari of pleasure after nightfall."" Seven chapters examine the social, political, and cultural life of Paris under the reign of Napoleon III. From the micro to the macro, from the public to the personal, Christiansen lays bare the virtues and vices of the first modern city. During war with Prussia (1870--71), Paris was besieged for five months and suffered the indignity of having Prussian troops march through the heart of the city. Here Christiansen switches to a day-by-day description of the siege, the civil war, and the birth of the Commune in March, a popularly elected left-wing (though not Marxist) municipal government. The city was immediately besieged again, this time by the Versailles army determined to exterminate the virus of communism. The Commune descended into a paroxysm of fire, violence, and barbarity. The army of Versailles suffered 877 casualties while slaughtering tens of thousands of communards. Christiansen concludes that the cause of such barbarism is never far from the surface of civilization and that our contemporary society bears a frightening resemblance to Parisian society before the Commune. An entertaining, disturbing excursion through the City of Light at a defining moment in French history, led by a capable guide.

Pub Date: March 1, 1995

ISBN: 0140129804

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995