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Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France (2007)

por Lucy Moore

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Moore recreates the lives of six remarkable women who, in a time of violent revolution, leapt at the chance to exercise their considerable charm, intelligence and acumen to make their mark on history. Through their lives, loves and failures, the wider history of the Revolution also receives a retelling.… (mais)
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Women's roles in revolution has interested me ever since I studied Modern European history at uni so I was very excited when I found this book. I was even more excited when I discovered it covered some territory I wasn't all that familiar with.

This accessible bio covers the lives of six women (from all classes) who lived and were politically active (or as active as women were allowed to be) during the French Revolution and Napoleonic era. It refreshingly tells the 'other' side of the story, essentially how the various political ideologies and stages of this tumultuous time in France changed women's influence and positions in society. And while that may sound somewhat dry it wasn't at all. I found it very readable and at times almost gossipy (my favourite type of bio) although that's not to say it wasn't well researched with lots of notes, references, glossaries and gorgeous colour plates. Be warned though, it probably pays to know your French Rev. basics before reading as what the men did is mainly covered in reference to the women.

Most enjoyable, as was reading it with my good friend Kim :-). ( )
  jemidar | Jun 13, 2013 |
It may have taken until the late 1960s for the expression ‘the personal is political’ to condense an important truth, but — as Lucy Moore’s fascinating new book shows — that truth is not a new one. Liberty tells the story of the French Revolution through the lives of the great salonnière Germaine de Staël, the passionate middle-class ideologue Manon Roland, the kind-hearted flibbertigibbet Thérésia de Fontenay, the feisty former courtesan Théroigne de Méricourt and the much younger Juliette Récamier — whose beauty and chasity (a very rare thing, to judge by this book) caused her to become an icon of the Republic, not to mention the intimate life of Josephine Bonaparte. This book takes them, jointly and severally, through exile, intrigue, imprisonment in rat-infested jails, multiple lovers, bloodbaths and reversals, not to mention some fabulous parties. ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
The six women of the title are Germaine de Staël, Théroigne de Méricourt, Manon Roland, Pauline Léon, Juliette Récamier and Thérésia de Fontenay. Moore introduces these women as representative of different elements of revolutionary French society, as her chapter titles (Clubiste, Mondaine, Fille Sans-Culotte..) suggest. The narrative proceeds chronologically from May 1789 to Germaine de Staël’s death in July 1817, with roughly alternating chapters focusing on the women, between one and four each. Given the complex topic and structure, Moore is extraordinarily successful in, not only keeping her characters separate and clear, but maintaining a fresh and compelling narrative of the issues of the Revolution. The ghostly presence behind the women is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose privileging of the mother-child relationship made woman a potent symbol, but critically undermined any potential for gender equality within the political sphere. Before I read this book, I did not have very high expectations of it: a group biography centred on the French Revolution sounded suspiciously like a cynical attempt to add to an already saturated pool of handsomely illustrated popular histories. But Moore, who read history at Edinburgh, manages to make this book work equally well on three levels: as a serious analysis of the role of women before, during and after the revolution; as a narrative of the events which is clear and accessible to the non-historian; and as an elegantly and daringly woven account of six individual lives.
1 vote arielgm | Mar 14, 2008 |
I read this close after Marge Piercy's fictional account of women during the French Revolution, 'City of Darkness', and I now have a new-found appreciation of Piercy's ability to portray women such as Pauline Leon and Clare Lacombe in a sympathetic light!

Leon, Lacombe and Theroigne de Mericourt were three working-class women who enthusiastically suported the Revolution in a bid to escape the poverty and confines of their lives; in contrast, Germaine de Stael, Theresia Cabarrus (later Tallien) and Juliette Recamier were beautiful and clever mascots of the new republican era, leading society and fashion from their salons and through their lovers.

What I found most interesting is that, even in the midst of chaos, women were still kept firmly 'in their place' - the home; intelligent women could have their say, and even exert a degree of influence, but only as represented by a husband or impressionable lover. Germaine de Stael, though maintaining in her journal that she did not interfere with her husband's business, was the brains of the marriage; and Theresia Tallien persuaded her lover to aid in the escape of many of her royalist friends, despite the fact that when she met him, he had been sent to Bordeaux from Paris to 'purge' the area of counter-revolutionaries! The revolutionary zeal of powerless women like Pauline and Theroigne was tolerated until their behaviour became a threat to the men in power, and then their fellow citizens turned against them. 'Fraternity' was to be taken literally during the French Revolution, and women instructed to support the Republic by caring for their families, not by toting pistols and speaking out in public!

I warmed to the eloquence and perseverance of Germaine, the noble spirit and wiles of Theresia, and the youth and beauty of Juliette (really more a celebrity of the Directory than the Revolution), but I will admit that Pauline and the other more outspoken women did come across as rather overbearing - though it is hard to comprehend their situations from a modern perspective.

Detailed, engaging and generous biographies from Moore - recommended. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Jan 9, 2008 |
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Moore recreates the lives of six remarkable women who, in a time of violent revolution, leapt at the chance to exercise their considerable charm, intelligence and acumen to make their mark on history. Through their lives, loves and failures, the wider history of the Revolution also receives a retelling.

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