This 1912 novel ranks among Anatole France's last important works. It is a sweeping, historical novel that takes place in the final stages of the French Revolution, and poignantly illustrates the dangers of fanaticism. Written with France's characteristic insight and style, this is a thoughtful and provoking novel.
The Book Report: The journey through the Terror of the French Revolution made by artist Évariste Gamelin, aspiring bourgeois to Jacobin true believer to his inevitable fall after the Coup de Thermidor. One man's life journey explores the entire *amazing* and enthralling course of the defining break between the Old World Order and the New.
My Review: This book was a Book Circle read. Frederick Davies translated this work very ably, in that the prose is supple and muscular. The book is inexorably gripping...to start is to need to finish...and the historical developments, so well-known to M. France, are explored fully without being windy and drawn out.
I love the French Revolution as a fictional backdrop. How can you heighten suspense more than set a book against the backdrop of a murderous rampage that changed the world? Can't say that for most massacres. The history of the French Revolution is equally enthralling to me. I read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica article on it, fascinated and riveted, while I was recovering from mumps one spring in the 1960s. Been hooked ever since.
I detested Évariste Gamelin. Start to finish, he ticked me off, made me ill, caused my blood pressure to spike to unsafe levels, and my shouting at the book (ineffective, sad to say) drove the dog to sleep on Puppy-mommy's bed. Getting that engaged with a book is a Good Thing. It means I've invested my feelings in the experience. This book is 100 years old this year. The events chronicled took place 220 years ago. It's as vibrant and exciting today as ever.
Recommended for all lovers of history. Read it, and weep.
Many scholars have written of the similarities between the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. But none have done it as pointedly as Anatole France. The Gods Will Have Blood was published in 1912, predating the Russian Revolution by 5 years, yet the parallel is so apparent, that you can’t help but make the connection at almost every turn. This book could have been written by John Reed in 1917. France also shows how a society can allow something like the Terror to happen. One can easily see a connection to Nazi Germany in how a society can overlook at best, and at worst fully participate in abject horrors.
Classic literature can often seem dated, but this could have been written yesterday. France’s prose is immediate and universal, he amuses us and at the same time makes us think very pointedly about society and our role in it.
The best parts of the book are not the ones concerning this incorruptible, but about two of his victims, Brotteaux, an atheist ci-devant now plying a trade in puppets, and Pere Longuemar, a priest who is effectively on the run. They have lively conversations outdoing each other in human kindness and droll thoughts on life, death and the Terror.
The account of the Terror is pretty nasty: the systematic attack, not just on real enemies but on the innocent, presages the larger scale nightmares of more recent times. But it might be better to read in a non-fiction account. Here one does not know what is "true" and what is novelistic effect. The teenage tart, with a heart, for example, is warmly described, but a rather cliché trope. And would she really shout "Vive le Roi!", and would she really be guillotined for her scarcely understood utterance? Gamelin's appointment to the tribunal is also a touch odd: he's recommended by an acquaintance with strings to pull, so it seems almost a chance event, rather than the result of his ambition or striving, which would be more life-like. Perhaps this is also a literary device, to illustrate the transformation of theory/ideology into lethal practice
The book has been on my wish list since I was at school. Glad I've now caught up with it, if slightly disappointed.
While I would recommend France's take on the Revolution over Dicken's, or Hilary Mantel (fewer words, for one), I'm still a lifelong fan of Baroness Orczy for smuggling historical fact into entertaining fiction (and yes, she also did her research, she was just a bit more creative with her application of the truth!)
I took issue with this particular translation which was likely done in the 1940s. Even then some of the word choices were archaic and stilted. When's the last time you saw a military force debouching on to the street, citoyen? Maybe the translator thought he couldn't find suitable words in English, but there were many French phrases of a complexity that would cause difficulty for someone who wasn't fluent. Look for a more modern translation.
It tells the story of an idealist painter who becomes the appointed jury member of a section revolutionary tribunal. It is a book about his transformation in this time of change that was Paris in 1793 when pressured by outside armies and inside ennemies, the Royalists of Vendee and the pro-British Toulon inhabitants, radical measures were taken to save the threatened "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" created in 1789 with the toppling of the king and two of its three orders or strata pre-revolutionary society: the nobility and the clergy.
It is a book over how the past is viewed with scorn by the tenants of the new aesthetic who recommend giving to the fire the chinese inspired commodes of their salons to replace them with David inspired furniture of purest Roman or antiquity inspired lines- a bit the same as with any change throughout the times from floral art nouveau to Art deco or from Art deco to purest neo industrial lines. Anatole France's language in the book follows this change and becomes less archaic at the end of the book than at its beginning when it adopts the philosophical dialogue shape of a Diderot or when describing an outing in the country side reminiscent of Watteau by Parisians who want to remember earlier more innocent pleasures of the old order. Even the love scenes between the painter and the heroin have visual qualities and are on purpose reminiscent of Fragonard's paintings now objects of derision.
It is also a book about justice and how it is administered. But Anatole France's vision is so much more subtile than the countless books who describe the French revolution of 1789 with blood dripping in the streets.
The fear of the razor of the guillotine is palpable but never gory. It also shows the eternal theme of how ideals of Equality upon which revolutionary justice is created can be perverted when it starts with a concern for individual rights as reflected in the confusing trial of a defeated General and when under the pressures created by the deteriorating situation at the border and the invasion of the armies of Austria and Prussia who want to restore the monarchy, a mass justice of exception groups cases of 50 counter-revolutionaries in one expedited procedure.
This book clearly transcends its time and places and the period it describes becomes universal.