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Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France (P.S.) Paperback – Bargain Price, May 27, 2008
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
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*Starred Review* "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" for the six women through whose public and private lives Moore presents a fresh history of the French Revolution. Salonnieres Germaine de Stael and Manon Roland were early enthusiasts but later paid a price (a very heavy price in the case of Roland, who was guillotined) for their moderate views. Theroigne de Mericourt and Pauline Leon sought more activist roles. One of glamorous beauty Theresia de Fontenay's romantic entanglements helped trigger Robespierre's fall, and Juliette Recamier, a schoolgirl when the Revolution began, became an icon of the next generation. Using the Revolution's progress as her framework, Moore (who also wrote Maharanis, 2004), interweaves the six women's stories to show how each helped steer or was steered by the course of events. For all their talk of equality, some of the Revolution's most fervent leaders were uninterested in, if not violently opposed to, women's rights, and Moore's subjects had to contend with this as well as with the general havoc of the time. Riveting and revelatory. REVWR
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“A lively new work by a talented young English historian.” (Washington Times )
“Marvelous.” (Judith Warner, New York Times Book Review )
“A fresh history . . . riveting and revelatory. (Booklist (starred review) )
“Fascinating… an absorbing portrait…She successfully contextualizes each of her subjects within a cultural framework-no small feat.” (Kirkus Reviews )
“Engrossing and highly readable . . . Moore makes this much more than a collective biography . . . fascinating.” (Library Journal )
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What could an unhappy ex-prostitute like Théroigne de Méricourt have in common with a prim bourgeoise like Manon Roland? Or the decadent, pleasure-loving Thérèse Tallien with the sharp and intellectual Germaine de Staël? Well, all these women lived in times of great upheaval and social change, and the French Revolution, from its optimistic beginnings to the savagery of the Terror, molded their psyches and shaped their fates.
Perhaps inevitably, some of the women are more vividly portrayed and get more attention than others. Manon Roland wrote her memoirs in prison, knowing she wouldn't survive the Jacobins' murderous frenzy, and with the aim of setting posterity right. Germaine de Staël, ferociously intelligent, was a novelist and prolific letter-writer. At the other end of the scope, the life of the vociferous sans-culotte girl Pauline Léon is much less documented, and consequently she didn't come alive for me the way the others did.
Perhaps the most tragic of the six women portrayed in the book is Théroigne, who always yearned for, but never found, true and nurturing love, was misunderstood by most of her contemporaries, and ended her days in a mental asylum, mumbling to herself about liberty and civil rights. And this is one of the main themes Lucy Moore illuminates in her book --- how the (mostly male) leaders of the French Revolution systematically and deliberately neglected the issue of women's rights, and how females, thousands of whom mounted the scaffold, were not, in spite of that, allowed to mount the rostrum.
All in all, an interesting and fast-paced book about six very different women, against the dramatic backdrop of the momentous times when everything changed forever. For those interested in the subject, I also recommend Marilyn Yalom's 'Blood Sisters', another fascinating study of women in the French Revolution.
“He who votes against the rights of another, whatever that person’s religion, colour or sex may be, has by the same token forsworn his own. Why should creatures subject to pregnancies and to passing indispositions not be able to exercise their rights.”
Now if everything would have been as was written in this quote surely we would have had a wonderful France in the 1790’s. But sadly, the French Revolution did not live up to these ideals.
Many women were able to speak out for their rights, as is well depicted by this book. They wanted the full rights of being a citizen – but citizen meant “citoyen”, not “citoyenne”. The French Revolution was in some part influenced by the ideals of Rousseau who was hardly for the emancipation of women. But many women read Rousseau and Voltaire, and came to differing conclusions. Rousseau wrote that “Men is born free, but is everywhere in chains.” In this case “men” was interpreted as encompassing both male and female. Voltaire was a skeptic and believed in the power of the intellect.
The author points out that many in the revolution wanted women to return to their traditional role as nurturers. Marie Antoinette was seen as decadent, depraved and unnatural – and a part of the aristocracy which had to be obliterated. Robespierre was an extreme misogynist and never married, nevertheless many women admired him. The Revolution self-destructed in its quest for purity – and the military, under Napoleon took control. Napoleon was another misogynist who had traditional views on women.
From a play, Delphine in 1802
“Women are the victims of all social institutions.’
Women were equally condemned for being over-sexed (Marie Antoinette) or under-sexed. There are many wonderful descriptions of several incidents during the revolution. One is of Charlotte Corday (under-sexed, apparently a virgin) who at the age of 25 murdered Marat, a fanatical writer for the “ideals” of the Revolution. Charlotte paid the ultimate price – she was guillotined. Theresa Cabarrus (over-sexed) was out-spoken, had many lovers and introduced new, and sometimes revealing, fashions.
This book needed to be streamlined. There are just too many characters introduced on every page. It made reading confusing. It’s interesting because, how could the French Revolution, with all its ideas, characters and colliding events not be engaging. Sometimes I felt unsure of what the author was trying to convey. I think it would have been better to focus on how the French Revolution changed the role of women in society. With the attention given to aristocratic/bourgeois women we get little feel of how the masses of poor, illiterate women were faring.