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5 novels about the French Revolution

5 novels about the French Revolution

May 8, 2024 by Mylene in Discover

The French Revolution, which unfolded from 1789 to 1799, was a pivotal moment in modern history that continues to captivate scholars and the general public alike. At its core, the Revolution was a struggle for individual rights and freedoms, as ordinary people sought to overthrow the existing social order and create a more just and equal society. The ideological currents of the Enlightenment, particularly in France, emphasized the importance of individual rights and the need to challenge the authority of monarchies and aristocracies. These ideas helped fuel a sense of urgency and momentum among the French people, leading them to demand change and ultimately bring about the fall of the monarchy and the establishment of the French First Republic.

The French Revolution is also associated with civil war and wars of conquest. More than 2,500 people were guillotined during the revolution. Prison yards become ordinary places of execution. The Revolution puts an end to the absolute monarchy in France and establishes the first Republic. It began on May 5, 1789 with the States General and ended on November 9, 1799 with Napoleon’s coup d’état.

You can better understand the causes of the Revolution: the economic, social and political crisis as well as the events of the end of the 18th century by reading novels that deal with this period. In what follows, I invite you to discover 5 books where History takes place during this period.

Quatrevingt-treize by Victor Hugo (1874)

Translated as Ninety-Three.

Despite his personal convictions, Hugo goes beyond his perspective as a citizen to expose in a fair and generous manner the defects and qualities of each party. In this novel, we find 3 men thirsty for ideals and power: Robespierre, Danton and Marat. The action takes place around 1793. Everyone has a different vision of the path to follow during the Revolution. Quatreving-treize is an opportunity for Hugo to expose the fruits of his long reflection on the French Revolution. Victor Hugo was able to grasp all the ambiguity of this period, which was bathed in blood: how can we explain that after this collective momentum comes fear and blood? How can we convince ourselves that civilization can one day be built on this chaos of barbarism?

Despite being overshadowed by Hugo’s more famous work, Les Misérables, Ninety-Three remains an important part of his literary legacy. Its exploration of social hierarchy, duty, and humane values continues to resonate with readers today. The novel has been praised by notable figures such as Joseph Stalin, Herbert Butterfield, and Ayn Rand, who have recognized its epic portrayal of national freedom and the sincerity of convictions on both sides of the conflict.

Le chevalier de maison rouge by Alexandre Dumas (1846)

Translated as The Knight of Maison-Rouge: A Novel of Marie Antoinette.

Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge, a novel by Alexandre Dumas, has been a beloved classic since its publication in 1846. The story begins in March 1793, Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21 of the same year. This novel is inspired by the life of Alexandre Gonsse de Rougeville and his involvement in the carnation plot aimed at escaping Marie-Antoinette from the Conciergerie, where she was incarcerated. A certain knight of Maison-Rouge stirs up the revolutionaries because he is not only madly in love with the deposed queen, and now a widow, but he has decided to make her escape. Marie-Antoinette, for her part, bears her destiny with dignity, which will end on October 16, 1793 on the scaffold. From Dumas’s pen we find a sumptuous mixture of misunderstandings, plots and twists and turns, leading to the inevitably tragic outcome, as if nothing were to survive. Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge remains a timeless tale that continues to inspire artists and audiences alike.

Femme réveille-toi by Olympe de Gouges (1791)

Olympe de Gouges, a pioneering French writer and feminist, left an indelible mark on the Enlightenment era with her groundbreaking works in the late 18th century. Her writings, which tackled issues of gender, race, class, and politics, were met with both acclaim and criticism during her lifetime. Before 1789 she already expressed the wish that women participate in public life. She thinks that we should build houses to take in the needy, the weakest, the old, people who don’t have a job, she gives them the name “houses of the heart”! The work, Femmes réveille-toi, is divided into three parts: In favor of women, a piece against slavery and In hatred of the Jacobins, in defense of the Fatherland. A reading that takes us back to the time of the Revolution between dreams of freedom and gratuitous violence.

La lanterne des morts by Frédéric H. Fajardie (2005)

A story of love, loyalty, revenge: everything to build an exciting story. Joachim Valencey of Adana, hero of the American war banished by Louis XVI, and his friends are recalled from their exile by the revolutionary government. He accepts this secret mission because he is a Republican and he hopes to find the one he loves, Victoire. His enemy Blacfort, a cruel royalist general, will cross his path: childhood friends, he seeks him for revenge. A beautiful historical epic in Vendée during a period of revolution!

Les dieux ont soif by Anatole France (1912)

Translated as The Gods Are Thirsty .

The Gods Are Athirst, written by Anatole France in 1912, is a novel that delves into the complexities of human nature during times of great upheaval. Set against the backdrop of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, the story follows Évariste Gamelin, a young Parisian painter, engaged in the section of his Pont-Neuf distric. As Gamelin navigates the brutal realities of revolution, he confronts his own ideals of justice and morality. Jacobin, idealist, he was appointed juror to the revolutionary tribunal. The long and relentless succession of increasingly hasty daily trials leads him into a madness that will cut him off from his loved ones.

This novel makes us think about the price that ideologies, civil or religious, impose on those who fight them. The novel also explores themes of love, desire, and human relationships that add depth to its portrayal of the Revolution.

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The French Revolution remains as fascinating as ever. Its legacy can be seen in the modern world, where democratic ideals and human rights continue to shape global politics and society. The Revolution’s impact on literature, art, and culture is also evident, with many works continuing to explore its themes and complexities. How can we explain that after a collective uprising of the people, this wind of freedom gave way to barbarism and bloodshed? Discussing in a group allows you to discover other points of view and deepen your thoughts. To find out more, join our Book Club.

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