DANTON by Robert Christophe


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Danton was a middle-class opportunist, a demagogue with little real concern for the people. So says Christophe, but his interesting thesis suffers from his simpleminded view of history, as exhibited in the constant references to Providence, and a heavy scattering of chestnuts about the crowd's susceptibility to manipulation. Instead of analysis, we get split-level description: the details of Danton's career, and a series of namecallings like ""choleric carnivore,"" ""fiery yet moderate,"" ""loud-mouthed Machiavelli."" A great deal of space is devoted to Danton's married life, the topography of Paris in the late eighteenth century, and the likelihood that Danton bought victory at Valmy with the crown jewels. Danton's views on suffrage get only trifling mention; Robespierre's asceticism is contrasted with the self-indulgence of Danton, but their political differences are never clarified; the Jacobin club debates are colorfully drawn while the goals and failures of the Gironde get bypassed or muddled. Christophe's evident sympathy for LaFayette, Bailly and more conservative monarchists helps explain why he get the Prix Gobert from the French Academy for this book; and it achieves some good tight narrative, especially as Danton declines and falls. But students will deplore the platitudes about the fate of revolutionaries, and those in search of keyhole biography will have to wade through a lot of them to get to the unquestionably valuable material on Danton's financial dealings and spectacular intrigues. A less pretentious study would have received fewer cavils.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1967
Publisher: Doubleday