For those who lived in the wake of the French Revolution, from the storming of the Bastille to Napoleon’s final defeat, its aftermath left a profound wound that no subsequent king, emperor, or president could heal. Children of the Revolution follows the ensuing generations who repeatedly tried and failed to come up with a stable regime after the trauma of 1789. The process encouraged fresh and often murderous oppositions between those who were for, and those who were against, the Revolution’s values. Bearing the scars of their country’s bloody struggle, and its legacy of deeply divided loyalties, the French lived the long nineteenth century in the shadow of the revolutionary age.
Despite the ghosts raised in this epic tale, Robert Gildea has written a richly engaging and provocative book. His is a strikingly unfamiliar France, a country with an often overwhelming gap between Paris and the provinces, a country torn apart by fratricidal hatreds and a tortured history of feminism, the site of political catastrophes and artistic triumphs, and a country that managed—despite a pervasive awareness of its own fall from grace—to fix itself squarely at the heart of modernity. Indeed, Gildea reveals how the collective recognition of the great costs of the Revolution galvanized the French to achieve consensus in a new republic and to integrate the tumultuous past into their sense of national identity. It was in this spirit that France’s young men went to the front in World War I with a powerful sense of national confidence and purpose.
The French Revolution's cries of "liberty, fraternity, and equality" reverberated throughout Europe and America. Yet in France, as Oxford historian Gildea demonstrates in this elegant political and cultural history, the consequences of the revolution were far more ambiguous: its mixed legacy included "hope for a new day" as well as "anarchy, bloodletting and despotism."... Invoking writers and thinkers from Musset to Flaubert to Péguy, Gildea's spellbinding book offers a challenging new portrait of the long-term impact of the French Revolution.
[A] thoroughly researched work of scholarship.
At the heart of Robert Gildea's Children of the Revolution: The French, 1799–1914 is a vast project: not just a history of France during those astonishing years--from Napoleon to the killing fields of Verdun--but a history of the French themselves. Stimulating and highly readable...Robert Gildea has drawn very effectively on recent research in the areas he chooses to explore, and he presents his material in admirably lucid and entertaining prose. And, above all, he succeeds in one central task: showing just how surprisingly livable and creative France was during this golden century-long interval between two moments of horror. No wonder that so many remain nostalgic for it, and not just within the country's borders.
[An] erudite account of France's long nineteenth century...It is impossible to interpret the slaughter of a million and a half people as a triumph in any setting, but Gildea shows unforgettably a national identity winning out against all odds. It's a lengthy, complex saga, but he manages to sustain enough buoyancy in his prose to allow it to be read from beginning to end with interest and pleasure...One of the considerable strengths of Children of the Revolution is Gildea's eye for an individual example, anecdote or aphorism, combined with his comprehensive knowledge of the literature of nineteenth-century France...Gildea's book is a substantial contribution to understanding the individual nation that is France.
Stimulating and highly readable...Robert Gildea has drawn very effectively on recent research in the areas he chooses to explore, and he presents his material in admirably lucid and entertaining prose. And, above all, he succeeds in one central task: showing just how surprisingly livable and creative France was during this golden century-long interval between two moments of horror. No wonder that so many remain nostalgic for it, and not just within the country's borders.
With penetration and style, [Gildea] paints a complex portrait of a society geographically and temperamentally divided, constantly at war with itself, yet managing to forge a cohesive national identity at home and abroad.
- 576 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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