A spirited, though awkwardly translated, reappraisal of a vital figure of the American and French Revolutions.
French historian and biographer Saint Bris attempts to correct the prevailing criticism of the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834) as naïve, in terms of his dealings with the republicans during the French Revolution and allowing himself to be manipulated by King Louis XVI. Instead, the author portrays Lafayette as an honorable man, despite his class entitlement, whose deeply committed sense of egalitarianism was even “more determined and fervent on the eve of his death than at the age of twenty.” In mostly palatable prose, Saint Bris traces the remarkable career of this “child of nature,” born in the crumbling chateau of Chavaniac in the Auvergne mountains, fatherless and raised mostly by his enlightened but impoverished grandmother and tutor. His mother and grandfather brought him to school in Paris, and upon their deaths he became a rich orphan at age 13. However, his training as a soldier molded him, and he leapt at the chance to become a hero by volunteering to help the American cause. Armed with a letter of recommendation by Benjamin Franklin, Lafayette ingratiated himself with George Washington. In France, however, it was a different story. Charged with the ideals of American democracy, Lafayette championed the rights of man while also helping the royal family to safety. He was duped by both sides, imprisoned and eventually released only with the help of the grateful Americans who adored him. The author valiantly pursues Lafayette’s later career securing Napoleon’s abdication and as an elected representative during the Restorations and July Revolution of 1830.
Despite uneven prose and an erratic structure, Saint Bris provides an enthusiastic portrayal of this “Hero of Two Worlds.”