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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2017-10-10 10:46 pm

Newbery Honor: A Daughter of the Seine: The Life of Madame Roland (Jeanette Eaton), Part 2

Okay, let us continue through this unholy mess of a book. Perhaps I will get really overwhelmed and stop; perhaps I won't.

When last we left our heroine, she had married the middle-aged and sickly Monsieur Roland and they had a daughter, Eudora. Their circle of friends was ramping up to become, presumably, the Girondin faction of the French Revolution -- not that I know any of the names that are being introduced. It is 1784.

* The royal court's expense list has been published openly; "horrified protest followed". One of the proto-Girondins praises, of course, the American principle of "No taxation without representation". As far as I can figure out, the Estates-General were technically a representative body but had no actual power over taxation, unlike the British Parliament. This is not made clear in the text, where the Estates-General are not even mentioned.

(My spotty grasp of political science is leaving me a bit confused about the connection between the royal budget and the taxation-without-representation deal. Is it simply presumed that the Proper sort and amount of representation would include the ability to restrict royal spending and/or establish a government budget? Do I need to understand things about Alexander Hamilton and the National Bank? Remember, I grew up with people who worshipped Reaganomics; my high school econ textbook literally said "Communism is a capitalist system"; I am so utterly unqualified to deal with any of this. :S)

* Back to the actual book. Manon makes a trip to Paris to try and get the de la Platière family a "Seigneurie", a title of minor noble status apparently? Because social reasons. I'm really not clear on whether the Rolands are low-end nobles, or high-end bourgeois, or whether the distinction is as clear-cut as I'm being told it is. She fails, with more essays about How Things Are Going interspersed.

* It seems I am meant to recognize the name of Louis Bosc d'Antic, so I googled him. His Wiki article is mostly about his botanical and entomological achievements, but apparently he's also going to end up as young Eudora's tutor, which makes this passage from the book incredibly creepy: "[Louis] and Marie initiated a little joke about Eudora which lasted many years and at last turned bitter. This was that Bosc should marry her when she grew up. 'Since you cannot make love to the mother, you must wait for the daughter,' said Marie with gay teasing." Anybody else getting Twilight flashbacks? O_O

* The Rolands also make a visit to England in 1784. Manon of course perceives English culture as "truly civilized society" and is "thrilled by the self-respecting freedom of English institutions". Gotta get that good old superiority complex pumping. ;S

* The Rolands move to Villefranche-sur-Saône, but Manon's delicate sensibilities are once again offended by the social atmosphere of the place. Manon complains that "the smallest bourgeois household gives more sumptuous repasts than the richest households of Amiens". Ms Eaton expounds, "Indeed, life at Villefranche indicates that the curse of "Main street" [sic] is potent in any country and at any era. The gossip, the snobbery, the petty cliques, the narrowness of people who read only libertine novels and never traveled -- all this repelled the Rolands profoundly."

I'm sorry, I just... THE CURSE OF MAIN STREET. What a sweeping indictment of the bourgeois, than whom of course Manon et alia are far more perfect. The snobbery, she says! Without a hint of sarcasm! I'm... I'm just sitting here blinking while my brain-gears make screechy noises.

* Some years pass. Manon has apparently been mostly enjoying her life, "giving advice and aid to the country people", and Monsieur Roland also got a position in Lyons where they could go to parties with other intelligentsia. In 1787, after "an era of mad spending" on the part of the royals, comes "a general crash", and Louis XVI summons "the Notables", a body whose members are all appointed by the King "from the nobles and exalted clergy". What follows here is me and Wiki, not the book: it seems the efforts of the finance ministers to introduce tax reform have been rejected by the parlements or appellate courts, which had a limited veto power. Louis hopes the Notables can pressure the parlements to act. /history

Ms Eaton takes the traditional view that the Notables selfishly reject tax reforms. Wiki offers an alternate interpretation that the Notables actually wanted far more aggressive tax reform than finance minister Calonne proposed. Either way, the Notables suggest the King summon the Estates-General.

* We're hearing about a fellow named Brissot, a leading Girondin to be. Wiki describes him as warmongering for propaganda purposes during the period he he leads the government; I assume we won't hear about that facet of the man, or it will be cast in a positive light.

* Calonne is fired. The new minister "was supporting Louis in a death struggle with the Parliament of Paris. The people cheered every effort to oppose royal coercion." Wiki claims that the parlements, including that of Paris, were the chief obstacles to reform in these years, so I don't know what the shit I'm supposed to be supporting here; are we putting all the blame squarely on the royals, with none on the parlements, or what?

* Yeah, apparently. The Parlement of Paris, though "banished" (?), refuses to grant the King more money and demands he call the Estates-General to confirm any new taxes. "But, instead, the monarch tried to bully the country." I guess if your name is parliament you can do no wrong, for fear of upsetting our strange young audience's faith in electoral forms of government, even though the parlement judges were hereditary or had bought their offices, not elected (a fact which our book has totally failed to mention).

* More about the Estates-General and how excited everyone is, for or against them. Ms Eaton claims new and more liberal voting procedures, about whose accuracy I have no information.

* A newspaper is founded by our proto-Girondin squad. "To spread ideas on free government was far more important, in Marie's opinion, than the sudden effort stimulated by the Duc d'Orleans to organize philanthropic societies." Of course it is. Why bother feeding the body when you can feed the mind? Anyone really worthwhile would far rather starve with their head full of words than feed their family. :P Sorry, I have strong feelings against anybody who doesn't want the poor to get fed.

(Unusually, we get an alternate perspective -- the Duc has opened up his own palace to the public and made it a rendezvous for Parisian radicals, and has been shunned by the King as a result. But Manon distrusts all aristocrats, and one presumes we are meant to do so as well. *stifled muttering about "aristos" and Mme la Guillotine*)

* Yeah, yeah, "cheers upon cheers for the Third Estate", whatever. Pages upon pages glorifying the bourgeois as the true representatives of The People, since the peasantry "felt too timid and ignorant to vote". We are told that the Third Estate were snubbed by the King and were not assigned seats in the Assembly Hall (Salle des États), a claim for which I can find no other evidence.

* The Third Estate declare themselves the "National Assembly"; members of the First and Second Estates join them. They take the Tennis Court Oath, to stay in session until they have established a constitution for France.

* What the shit. I was following a Wiki trail about Director-General Necker, who published the royal budget referred to earlier... only, the best I can figure out, what he published was the Compte rendu au roi, a falsified report purporting to show that France was in good financial shape! Which apparently then hampered the cause of tax reform! I'm so confused.

* Necker was, however, apparently considered a hero of the people, and his dismissal in July 1789 led to the storming of the Bastille, the official start of the French Revolution. I don't know. Politics is complicated.

* Anyway, Ms Eaton plays the matter very straight -- lets us assume the royal budget was accurate, treats Necker as a hero. "The king has betrayed us! Necker is dismissed!" The Bastille is stormed, the peasants rise up. "To pacify the mob the king allowed the ruffians with their flower-trimmed pikes to escort him into Paris." ...uh, flowers? I always heard they put heads on pikes. There was quite an evocative picture in Sara Crewe. Does anybody know anything about flower-decked French mobs? O_O

* Feudalism is abolished and the "Declaration of the Rights of Man", quote marks original, is published. There is some more bleating about the social situation of the Rolands.

* Now we are introduced to three groups: the relatively moderate Jacobin Club, the extremist Cordeliers "controlled by the most violent demagogues", and the conservative Feuillants including Lafayette. *reads up* In actual history, the Feuillants started in 1791 as an offshoot of the Jacobins. The Cordeliers, which included working-class men as well as bourgeois, were the ones with the motto "Liberté, egalité, fraternité". And though Danton and Marat were Cordeliers, Robespierre was a Jacobin. *headdesk* I don't know. I might be done with this book.

* The Rolands move back to Paris, eventually. Manon visits the National Assembly and sees Robespierre for the first time. Ms Eaton gives us a conversation with a friend in which Manon defends mob violence. I think this is supposed to be Irony, since she will be guillotined during the Terror. We are informed she "was determined to see nothing but good in every revolutionary group", which may possibly be her Tragic Flaw? (Don't trust revolutionaries, kids. They'll chop your head off.)

* Ms Eaton portrays Robespierre as meeting with the proto-Girondins at the Rolands' house before meetings of the Jacobin Club. Again, I don't even know where the fuck to start looking for evidence on that. She also makes sure to describe him as "a commonplace speaker", which... what. What.

* I'm done. I'm just done. When the imprisoned king has fled Paris, Ms Eaton gives us a scene in which Robespierre nervously chews his nails, fearing for his life, and derides the idea of a republic while Manon gives an idealistic speech about dying for liberty. What the fuck, lady. I don't know a lot about Robespierre, but to the best of my knowledge, the man is kind of the Platonic form of a fanatical idealist. Maybe I'm wrong (tell me if I'm wrong), but I am done trying to untangle this mess.

*flops* I didn't think maligning goddamn Robespierre was gonna be what did me in, but holy Hannah, people. The constant twisting of history to support her own sympathies was just so blatant. You can't tell me fucking Robespierre was a bad speaker and anti-republican, not without some damn solid evidence, and keep me reading. WHAT THE SHIT JUST HAPPENED.