Monday, November 18, 2013

Revolution Books

I had read Juliet Grey's first novel about Marie Antoinette, somehow missed the second, and picked up this 3rd novel.  It was an engrossing and memorable read, following the royal family during the Revolution and Terror in France.  This last book of Juliet Grey's watched the change of France and the fall of the King and Queen.  I thought it was a compassionate viewpoint of Marie Antoinette and her family.  Many in France hated them, especially Antoinette, blaming her for their problems and famine.  She was somehow famously quoted for saying "let them eat cake."  The aristocracy was blamed for their decadence, and many pamphlets circulated that Marie Antoinette had many lovers, including her close female friends.  Her apparent haughtiness also did not make her a favorite of the people.  She came from Austria at a young age to marry Louis, and his ineptitude and her flagrant spending just inflamed the hungry people.  They needed someone to blame and fix their problems.

The Estates-General was formed, which comprised of Three Estates.  The First Estate was the clergy, who were tax exempt.  The Second Estate was the nobility- about 400,000.  The Third Estate was peasants and anyone else, numbering about 25 million.  This meant the burden of France's government fell upon the poor people.  Eventually because of disagreements, the Third Estate formed their own group called The National Assembly.  Things changed rapidly and were hard to follow from there.  The Bastille, the infamous prison, was stormed and the prisoners let go.  This marked a momentous day for The National Assembly.  An angry mob stormed the royal family, almost killing them, and forced them from Versailles to Paris.  Over the next few years, the King's power would slowly be taken from him while the royal family was kept under close watch.  After a sad failed attempt to escape, the royal family was watched even more closely.  The book detailed everything thoroughly and well, as the royal family was moved again and their attendants taken from them.  The Queen lost many of her ladies and soon the King was taken from his family.  A republic had been formed, and the King was executed not long after.

The guillotine was the mode of execution then, deemed swift and clean to kill many people in a day.  People like Maximilien Robespierre, the Jacobins and Girondins rose up, eventually causing what they called The Terror.  Around 40,000 people in France were killed during this time, including many peasants, aristocrats, and eventually the Queen as well.  The bloody rule of the Jacobins ended in 1795.  The book was entertaining and emotional to read, because you felt you were right there with Marie Antoinette through all they went through.  She lost her mother and brother, who could possibly have helped them.  There were several attempts to escape but none worked.  After the Queen was killed, her son had been taken to prison where he died at the age of 10.  He was not treated well and lived in filthy conditions.  She had lost a son and daughter before the Revolution, but her other remaining child, a daughter Marie Therese, was the only one to survive.

Mistress of the Revolution was a different viewpoint to read about the changes in France.  It follows Gabrielle de Montserrat, a noblewoman raised in the country and in a convent that is married off at the age of 15 to a distant cousin.  He is abusive and cruel, and she has a daughter with him named Aimee, and loses a son during pregnancy.  Upon his death she is left barely enough to live by on, and travels to Paris to live with a distant relation.  She becomes embroiled in the changes of King Louis XV and the royal family.  She becomes a mistress to make ends meet, and also serves at one point as lady in waiting to the King's sister in law.  Her sympathies do not lie with the Queen because she believes as many do, that the Queen spends all the money and leaves none for the poor.  She is caught up in everything that goes on, even coming before the Revolutionary Tribunal.  She is imprisoned but is fortunate enough to escape.  To survive this Revolution when many around her are dying and being arrested, she seeks the help of a former friend who is now a prominent judge.  She is present at many important events, and it was interesting to read the perspective of someone not of the noble family.  She survived and eventually left France with her daughter.  This book is a memoir written by the character looking back on that time.  I enjoyed both books and learned more about France during the Revolution.  Madame Tussuad is another great book that I've reviewed on another post, if you would like another perspective.

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