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…
Nicholas and Alexandra
As I mentioned a while ago, we put on a showing on this film at school for the kids doing Revolutions (we’re doing Russia, of course, and eventually China, which is a bit scary for me…). Very few turned up, which was a bit disappointing, but since I hadn’t seen it it was at least a good chance for me to watch it.
It was made in 1982, and it moves very slowly. Very slowly. If it wasn’t for the historical aspect, I would go so far as to say that it was very boring. Except for the point at which I realised that Ra-Ra-Rasputin was played by Tom Baker; that was a very funny moment, almost brain-messingly so.
The most interesting part was how the relationship between Nicky and ‘Sunny’ (I think that was her nickname) was shown… which makes sense, given the title. Most of the time, she is shown as completely domineering, which I think does indeed have some historical evidence to back it up. There are a few occasions where Nicky stands up to her, but very few. And Nicky’s reaction when he has to admit his abdication to Alexandra – it was amazing, and heartbreaking, and horrifying as well – that he broke down, and seemed almost to have a nervous breakdown, I think from the sheer shame of the event. I wonder how much evidence there is to support that idea.
We didn’t get to the end – it was hometime right when Lenin started doing his April Theses thing. Related to this is one of my biggest beefs with the film: I don’t think Trotsky had anything to do with Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1905 – in fact, not even by 1917, really – and yet in the film they are shown together right back as far as Bloody Sunday, almost. Pft.
Kerensky was probably my favourite bit-part. Possibly because I think he is in ‘real life’, too.
This article on Marie Antoinette is fascinating. I know only so much as I learnt in Year 12 history a decade ago (eek!) about Marie, and that certainly didn’t include much about her using fashion as a deliberate strategy in positioning herself in the royal court. I am rather tempted to find the book mentioned, and I’m not sure whether I will bother to see Coppola’s movie or not….