THEIR GRACIOUS PLEASURE: Last Days of the Aristocracy, 1782-1785 by Claude Manceron

THEIR GRACIOUS PLEASURE: Last Days of the Aristocracy, 1782-1785

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Manceron begins the third volume of his cheeky panoramic history of the French Revolution by setting the scene (one is not obliged, that is, to read the books in sequence), then plunges into the action--conveyed, as before, by brief, chronological, cross-cut vignettes. In toto: ""the nobility and senior ecclesiastics all over Europe are increasing their hold over an ever more active bourgeoisie and still largely somnolent populace."" Surgeon-playwright Schiller, gagged since the recent performance of The Robbers, makes his escape from his regiment. Mâitre Robespierre successfully defends the right of a townsman, in provincial Saint-Omer, to erect a lightning rod. Tout-Paris gathers to watch the ascension of the Montgolfier brothers' balloon. Napoleon pops in and out, as do Beaumarchais, Condorcet, Lafayette, Marat. The Treaty of Paris is signed--""everyone. . . cheating everyone and trying to get off as cheaply as possible."" The giants are dying; the young are ""buried alive."" And, as the curtain drops, ""Bohmer and Bassenge, the top Paris jewelers, hand the most expensive necklace in the world to Cardinal Louis de Rohan"". . . which he is purchasing, ostensibly, on behalf of Marie Antoinette. (For the repercussions of that affair, see volume four.) More glints of light, still, than steady illumination--but somewhat less hectic and flashy than at the start of the series.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1981
Publisher: Knopf