14th of July: Revolution Day
Rather than eating “cake” * on Bastille day (as Marie-Antoinette would say), enjoy these saucy titles by some of our most gripping writers, who either made history or played with it.
Do not let the memory of bloodbath surrounding Bastille Day keep you away, grab your gowns and hit the chateau for this literary masquerade.
A People’s History of the French Revolution by Eric Hazan (Verso Books, Sept. 2014)
A bold new history of the French Revolution from the standpoint of the peasants, workers, women and sans culottes.
The Queen’s Necklace by Alexandre Dumas (Gallimard, 2002) (Wildside Press, 2007)
Marie Antoinette’s reputation was already tarnished by gossip and scandal, but her involvement in a crime concerning a stolen necklace became one of the major turning-points of public opinion against the monarchy, which eventually culminated into the French Revolution.
The Marriage of Figaro by Beaumarchais (Penguin Classics, 2005)
The Marriage of Figaro—condemned by Louis XVI for its daring satire of nobility and privilege—depicts the relationship between a master and servant set in opposition by their desire for the same woman.
La Chambre by Françoise Chandernagor (Folio, 2004)
A room with closed windows, barricaded doors; this is the dark place where “ the orphan of the Temple “, the son of Louis the 16th, spent more than three years. After his teachers left, this hostage of the nation ended up alone, abandoned by all, forgotten in a mucky room where lice and vermin were his only companions. The little Capet was dying without people noticing.
Farewell My Queen by Chantal Thomas (Touchstone, 2012)
Word of the fall of the Bastille has seeped into court. Madame Agathe-Sidonie Laborde, the devoted reader for Marie Antoinette, refuses to leave her queen’s side. From the tiniest garret to the Hall of Mirrors, Chantal Thomas creates an intimate portrait of the woman who, like “fire in motion”, was at the center of a world on the edge of oblivion.
L'Archange et le Procureur by Christophe Bigot (Gallimard 2008)
April 1794, Camille Desmoulins is guillotined for criticizing Robespierre’s reign of terror and, a few days later, so is his wife, Camille. Their son Horace asks his grandmother Anne Duplessis to write the real story of the couple, whose reputation has been sullied by rumors of their impurity and infidelity.
Olympe de Gouges by José-Louis Bocquet & Castel (Casterman, 2012)
After being widowed shortly after tying the knot and giving birth at the age of 18, Marie Gouzes decides to live freely. People will now call her Olympe de Gouges. Daughter of the Lumières, libertine and a staunch républicaine, she wrote “The Declaration of the Rights of Women and of Citizens” in 1791, demanding gender equality and universal suffrage, proposals which would remain revolutionary until the 20th century.
*In the interest of historical accuracy, we wish to remedy a commonly used mistranslation here. Marie-Antoinette supposedly said to the French, “s”ils n’ont pas de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche”. The use of the term “cake” is inaccurate, because a brioche is not a cake, but rather a sweet (delicious) buttery kind of bread. May we all now think of the queen as we eat our soft morning brioche with a copy of Farewell My Queen in hand.
Too hot, too cold, too angry, too quiet, too busy, too lonely? We have the solutions here! Fun, fear and passion await. Each week, we will post thematic lists of great titles so you can let your bookworming desires run wild. Follow us on Twitter @FrenchBooksUSA and Instagram