Let Us Eat Cake

To celebrate the 221st anniversary of the birth of the French republic, the Guardian has a quiz on the Bastille in literature. It cites the usual suspects: A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and our good friend Voltaire. But if you’re interested in going beyond the novel, journalist Peregrine Worsthorne has given Five Books some suggestions for French Revolutionary reading, along with appropriately toothy commentary:

If you read [De Tocqueville], it’s more about the French Revolution than the American Revolution. Well, it’s about democracy in general. But as Tocqueville perceives it the great problem… well, in a way, perhaps his book should be called the American Aristocracy rather than American Democracy, because it’s really all about the need in democratic politics to have a public-spirited aristocracy. Of course you didn’t use the word aristocracy then, because despite being the ideal, the word was out of fashion, and Tocqueville was writing about democracy. But he did worry that America didn’t have that aristocratic element and that a democracy without that aristocratic element would not work.

I would add to that list my ongoing bedside read, Simon Schama’s Citizens—a fine overview of the details and an engrossing tale besides.

Here’s hoping your day has at least a little liberté, égalité, and fraternité in it.

(Image is a print of the ninth Bastille Day anniversary celebration in the square of the Fields Elyseés, courtesy of the Library of Congress.)


5 Comments to Let Us Eat Cake

  1. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    July 15, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink


  2. July 15, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ve read most of Trollope–and American history, not French, is what I write about–but I can’t recall any mentions of B Day in a Trollope novel?

  3. July 16, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Forgive me, but the takeaway for me from this post is the name Peregrine Worsthorne. Wow. Fantastic. (And a fictional character is born…)

  4. nbm's Gravatar nbm
    July 20, 2010 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    Shelley, I never think of him as a historical novelist, but it appears that at least one early Trollope novel, LA VENDEE, has a French Revolution (or just post-) setting. I have read the Palliser and Barsetshire novels with great pleasure, but in my experience there is a good reason some of his books are famous and some, emphatically, not.

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