WORDS OF FIRE. DEEDS OF BLOOD: The Mob, the Monarc by Olivier Bernier


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Yet another 200th-anniversary-year work on the French Revolution--but not one that stands out. Bernier (Secrets of Marie Antoinette; Louis XIV; Lafayette) has tended to be gushing and insubstantial in the past, and his current offering is no vast improvement. Bernier covers the years between Bastille Day and the Terror, concentrating on the clashing roles of the mob on the one hand and Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, on the other. In a work in which many of the main conclusions ("By 1794 nothing remained of the ancien rÇgime: its constitutional structure, its laws, its class system, its judiciary, its tax system, its religious policies, its distribution of land tenure were all gone. . .") have been effectively smashed by such recent scholarship as Simon Schama's Citizens (p. 195), all that is left is to enjoy some of the author's more telling characterizations. For example, there are Jacques Necker, "out of his depth; a gifted bookkeeper . . .unable to develop a policy of rapid but limited reform"; Lafayette stepping into the breach to protect the royal family from the "first confrontation between the mob and the bourgeoisie" on October 5, 1789; the king, by October 6 "a hostage, prisoner in an easily attacked palace, unable to do anything except consent endlessly to whatever might be forced on him"; Madame de Stael--"in her presence, everyone seemed to shine." Around all of these, Bernier weaves the picture of the mob, ever-tightening its noose around the Tuileries, where resided the king and queen. Unfortunately, Bernier gives no hint of the tragedy of Louis XVI, whom other writers (e.g., J.F. Bosher, The French Revolution, 1988) have portrayed as an active reformer who was, nevertheless, a scapegoat. In all, then, a less-than-satisfying account intellectually, while earning marks for drama in the popular mode.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1989
ISBN: 316-09206-1
Publisher: Little, Brown
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