The first English translation of letters from the Bastille archives reveals a compelling array of domestic difficulties in French families across the board.
Much is known about the conditions in which both bourgeois and working-class Parisians lived in the moments leading up to the revolution in 1789. We know about the state of politics, and we have some idea of how daily life ran its course. However, we know little about the intricacies of domestic life. This collection of 94 letters, first published in French in 1982, reveals many of those details. In her introduction to these letter troves, which helps provide context for this English version, Luxon (Political Science/Univ. of Minnesota; Crisis of Authority: Politics, Trust, and Truth-Telling in Freud and Foucault, 2013, etc.) explains that in discussing the book’s original iteration, Foucault considered the letters “a model of writing, or a game, created by the staging of a plea and then guttural cry—a game between the public audience and the eruption of a sort of spontaneity…‘flash existences’ or ‘poem-lives.’ ” In fact, what Foucault and Farge (Director of Research, Modern History/Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; The Allure of the Archives, 2015, etc.) have assembled is a kind of catalog of lives that explores the various facets of interpersonal relationships through short, haiku-esque linguistic glimpses. The letters as presented—and translated by Scott-Railton—explore the various points of view that make up family settings: spousal relations, parents and children, and royal submission. “The family secret became an object to appropriate; thus, spreading the secret…all the way to the king, was a manner of retrieving honor,” explains Foucault.
An enlightening compilation that will leave historically inclined readers wanting to dig a little further into the archives.