TOWARD THE BRINK by Claude Manceron


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The fourth volume of Manceron's kaleidoscopic saga of the French Revolution begins in March 1785--still four years short of the assembling of the Estates-General and the overthrow of Louis XVI. But at its close, in February 1787, the fiscal crisis has forced Louis to convene the Notables--144 ""haphazard crabs culled from the top of a creel,"" in Manceron's picturesque phrasing. ""Money there must be, and there's an end to it,"" writes Ruault the bookseller. ""A little patience and we may see some pretty goings on. . . ."" Manceron's progress is slow, but his step is animated. A recurrent motif is the Mariage de Figaro: Beaumarchais is briefly jailed for his impertinence; ""the spirit of the times, volleying between the offspring of Paris and the scion of Salzburg,"" produces Le Nozze di Figaro; and a scene that might have come from Figaro (""who knows, maybe that's where Jeanne got the idea?"") is played out in the central drama of the period, the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. (To Manceron, the hapless Cardinal de Rohan was convinced by his mistress Jeanne de La Motte that Marie Antoinette was in love with him--and wanted him to purchase Mme. Du Barry's necklace for her--because he believed that Jeanne and Marie had been lovers!) Also, along with the doings of Talley-rand, Mirabeau, Saint-Just: ""Germaine Necker becomes Madame de Stael""; ""Jeanne-Marie Roland nÉe Philipon is now settled in the Beaujolais country near Lyons."" We will of course read the journals of both. And when strikes and demonstrations erupt at Lyons, ""the teenaged Lieutenant Bonaparte"" will see ""his first active duty."" The proven mix of gossip and detail, closet-drama and conspiratorial asides, trivia and mother-wit.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1983
Publisher: Knopf