City of Darkness, City of Light

Because I am teaching the French Rev this year, it was recommended that I read City of Darkness, City of Light by Marge Pearcy (I think). It takes six real figures of the rev and gives their perspectives on the events from mid 1780s until late 1790s. It’s a novel, though, so there is a bit of license with regard to motives etc, and dialogue of course – it reminded me of McCollough’s Rome series for that reason.

Anyway: it was good. I enjoyed it. It gives you a good sense of what France was like as a country at the time, as well as of some of the personalities (exaggerated as they may be). It was exciting to see the events unfold from different perspectives, and the characters are well-chosen for that: Pauline is a worker in Paris; Claire is an actress from the country who comes to Paris; Manon is rich and moves between the country and Paris (so it was great to have three women’s perspectives); Georges is an ambitious lawyer; Max is also a lawyer, idealistic and from the country but moves to Paris; and Nicholas is a noble, something of a philosopher and about my favourite character.

For anyone familiar with the revolution, you might spot the one thing that was distressing about this book: the men are Danton, Robespierre, and Condorcet – who, of course, all get killed by their beloved Revolution, as does Manon – surname Roland, responsible for a very influential salon. So four out of six, dead. And knowing that this is going to happen really didn’t help! It was like re-watching a Grand Prix (very loud in the background, here), and knowing that there’s a huge smash coming up just around that bend…

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