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The book that established Thomas Carlyle’s reputation when first published in 1837, this spectacular historical masterpiece has since been accepted as the standard work on the subject. It combines a shrewd insight into character, a vivid realization of the picturesque, and a singular ability to bring the past to blazing life, making it a reading experience as thrilling as The book that established Thomas Carlyle’s reputation when first published in 1837, this spectacular historical masterpiece has since been accepted as the standard work on the subject. It combines a shrewd insight into character, a vivid realization of the picturesque, and a singular ability to bring the past to blazing life, making it a reading experience as thrilling as any novel. As John D. Rosenberg observes in his Introduction, The French Revolution is “one of the grand poems of [Carlyle’s] century, yet its poetry consists in being everywhere scrupulously rooted in historical fact.” This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition, complete and unabridged, is unavailable anywhere else.


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The book that established Thomas Carlyle’s reputation when first published in 1837, this spectacular historical masterpiece has since been accepted as the standard work on the subject. It combines a shrewd insight into character, a vivid realization of the picturesque, and a singular ability to bring the past to blazing life, making it a reading experience as thrilling as The book that established Thomas Carlyle’s reputation when first published in 1837, this spectacular historical masterpiece has since been accepted as the standard work on the subject. It combines a shrewd insight into character, a vivid realization of the picturesque, and a singular ability to bring the past to blazing life, making it a reading experience as thrilling as any novel. As John D. Rosenberg observes in his Introduction, The French Revolution is “one of the grand poems of [Carlyle’s] century, yet its poetry consists in being everywhere scrupulously rooted in historical fact.” This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition, complete and unabridged, is unavailable anywhere else.

30 review for The French Revolution: A History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    This the most unusual history you are ever likely to read, dear Reader. Not, it must be emphasized, historical "fiction". One may perhaps best call it historical/philosophical Drama. The work not unbiased recitation of fact; rather, a poetic play, the author shifting perspective and tense, at times most blatantly writing in the first person - plural/present - observing the events of which he writes as they happen. (He, Thomas Carlisle - Scottish philosopher, historian, satirist, essayist, mat This the most unusual history you are ever likely to read, dear Reader. Not, it must be emphasized, historical "fiction". One may perhaps best call it historical/philosophical Drama. The work not unbiased recitation of fact; rather, a poetic play, the author shifting perspective and tense, at times most blatantly writing in the first person - plural/present - observing the events of which he writes as they happen. (He, Thomas Carlisle - Scottish philosopher, historian, satirist, essayist, mathematician - born December 1795 – this respected History, still in print, beginning with the death of Louis XV in 1774, ending within that micro-epoch in which the author himself began his path through life and the world.) Yes, historical Drama – and thus shall I rephrase the Contents as if written for a play, a play in which notable men and women of France act out their part in the history of their Nation. Thus – Act I. The Bastille. I.i. Death of Louis XV I.ii. The Paper Age I.iii. The Parlement of Paris I.iv. States-General I.v. The Third Estate I.vi. Consolidation I. vii. The Insurrection of Women Act II. The Constitution II.i. The Feast of Pikes II.ii. Nanci II.iii. The Tuleries II.iv. Varennes II.v. Parliament First II.vi. The Marseillese Act III. The Guilotine III.i. September III.ii. Regicide III.iii. The Girondins III.iv. Terror III.v. Terror the Order of the Day III.vi. Thermidor III.vii. Vendemiaire We read, with quickening pulse, drawn into the author's fantastic/extravagant/lavish description/remembrance/imagining/testimony/adumbration of the Procession of the 4th of May 1789 – the Procession to the Church of St. Louis, those pages, early in this drama, say Act I Scene IV, which, for unknown reasons, unknown synapses of the memory organ, live most vividly for the reviewer. But now finally the Sun, on Monday the 4th of May, has risen; - unconcerned, as if it were no special day. And yet, as his first rays could strike music from the Memnon's Statue on the Nile, what tones were these, so thrilling, of preparation and foreboding, which he awoke in every bosom at Versailles … o o o Rejoice nevertheless, ye Versailles multitudes; to you, from whom all this is hid, the glorious end of it is visible. This day, sentence of death is pronounced on Shams; judgment of resuscitation, were it but afar off, is pronounced on Realities. This day, it is declared aloud, as with a Doom-trumpet, that a Lie is unbelievable. … Behold, however! The doors of St. Louis Church flung wide; and the Procession of Processions advancing towards Notre-Dame! Shouts rend the air … The Elected of France, and then the Court of France, they are marshalled and march here … Some Fourteen Hundred Men blown together from all winds, on the deepest errand. Yes, in that silent marching mass … is a Covenant; they too preside at a new Era in the History of Man. The whole Future is there, and Destiny -ill-brooding over it … Meanwhile, suppose we too, good Reader, should, as now without miracle Muse Clio enables us - take our station … to glance momentarily over this Procession ... … As we gaze fixedly, do not nameless Figures not a few, which shall not always be nameless, disclose themselves… Young Baroness de Stael – she evidently looks from a window ... But where is the brown-locked, light-behaved, fire-hearted Demoiselle Theroigne? … who, with thy winged words and glances, shall thrill rough bosoms, whole steel battalions, and persuade an Austrian Kaiser … Of the rougher sex how … enumerate the notabilities! Has not Marquis Valadi hastily quitted his Quaker broadbrim .. De Morande from his Courrier de l'Europe; Linguet from his Annales, they looked eager through the London fog, and became ex-Editors - that they might feed the guillotine… o o o Surely also, in some place not of honour, stands or sprawls up querulous, that he too, though short, may see - one squalidest bleared mortal, redolent of soot and horse-drugs: Jean Paul Marat of Neuchatel! O Marat, Renovator of Human Science, lecturer on Optics; O thou remarkablest Horseleech, once in D'Artois' Stables – as thy bleared soul looks forth, through thy bleared, dull-acrid, woe-stricken face, what sees it in all this? Any faintest light of hope, like dayspring after Nova-Zembla night? Or is it but blue sulphur-light, and specters; woe, suspicion, revenge without end? … Two other Figures, and only two, we signalize there. The huge, brawny Figure; through whose black brows, and rude flattened face (figure ecrasee), there looks a waste energy as of Hercules not yet furibund – he is an esurient, unprovided Advocate; Danton by name him mark. Then that other, his slight-built comrade, and craft-brother; he with the long curling locks; with the face of dingy blackguardism, wondrously irradiated with genius, as if a naphtha-lamp burnt within it: that Figure is Camille Desmoulins … Thou poor Camille, say of thee what they may, it were but falsehood to pretend one did not almost love thee, thou headlong lightly sparkling man! But the brawny, not yet furibund Figure, we say, is Jacques Danton; a name that shall be "tolerably known in the Revolution." He is President of the electoral Cordeliers District at Paris, or about to be it; and shall open his lungs of brass. We dwell no more on the mixed shouting Multitude: for now, behold, the Common Deputies are at hand! Carlyle's farewell to his reader – as could be, eerily, my own:And so here, Reader, has the time come for us two to part. Toilsome was our journeying together, not without offence; but it is done. To me thou wert as a beloved shade, the disembodied or not yet embodied spirit of a Brother [or Sister]. To thee I was but as a Voice. Yet was our relation a kind of scared [sic - ?] one; doubt not that! For whatsoever once sacred things become hollow jargons, yet while the Voice of Man speaks with Man, hast thou not there the living fountain out of which all sacredness sprang, and will yet spring? Man, by the nature of him, is definable as "an incarnated Word". Ill stands it with me if I have spoken falsely; thine also it was to hear truly. Farewell. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Previous review: Robert Frost – Critical Essays Random review: Cloud Atlas Next review: Basil Street Blues Previous library review: The French Revolution VSI Next library review: Paris to the Moon

  2. 5 out of 5

    William West

    There's so much to hate about this “classic” that I almost feel a little queasy saying that, at the end of the day, I do think its a great work... of a sort. Carlyle was a nineteenth century “liberal,” which then as now means basically a conservative. He was thus horrified by the French Revolution's “excesses”- both the, I would say, excess of random carnage it eventually gave way to, and its attempts at legitimately egalitarian reform. To his credit, Carlyle makes absolutely no attempt at objec There's so much to hate about this “classic” that I almost feel a little queasy saying that, at the end of the day, I do think its a great work... of a sort. Carlyle was a nineteenth century “liberal,” which then as now means basically a conservative. He was thus horrified by the French Revolution's “excesses”- both the, I would say, excess of random carnage it eventually gave way to, and its attempts at legitimately egalitarian reform. To his credit, Carlyle makes absolutely no attempt at objectivity. Indeed, this is that rare work of “history” that seems to proclaim objectivity a farce. In that sense,the book, published in the mid-nineteenth century, was quite ahead of its time. The writer presents himself as a man out of time, positioned on the streets of Paris as they were before he was born. A lone man trying his best to understand momentous events as they happen, and taking time out to sermonize about them. His language is that of a person on the street, employing slang, epithets, low humor, and yet it is prose of the highest caliber. I've heard Carlyle's style described as “proto-Joycean”, and at the very least this is a for-runner of stream-of-consciousness writing. Indeed, few books I've ever read struck me as such a personal encounter with their author. That being said, the author is a brilliant boar. His sympathies lie only with royalty, even though he acknowledges that the monarchy had failed and the time of absolutist feudalism had come to an end. He never acknowledges the atrocities committed by the reactionaries, as if the mass murders committed by the revolutionary government happened in a void. (There were horrific excesses committed by the Jacobins, but they were only fighting fire with fire.) And he's blatantly racist- his half page devoted to the Haitian uprisings is so offensive its comical. So, beyond its literary value, is there any reason to read this tome? I think so. It became, despite its eccentricity, the “official” history of the Revolution in the United States and western Europe. More than that, I think it the proto-type of all depictions of attempts at egalitarian social reorganizations since the French Revolution meant to assert the hegemony of the reaction. “Psychologize the sovereign!” “Atomize the oppressed!” “Pick an individual bad guy (in this case Robespierre) to root against!” But I have to say again, Carlye was a talented asshole. His, utterly manipulative, depictions of the royal family's last moments are devastating to read in exactly the ways he wants them to be. And his description of the execution of Robespierre shocked me. After simplistically vilifying the Sea-Green for hundreds of pages he acknowledges, after his agonizing death, that Robespierre was merely an overly-determined man in the wrong place at the wrong time- which is to say, a place and time of momentous change. Carlye was truly a conservative with a tragic sense of life- hateful of change, but also acknowledging its inevitability. I thought the last paragraph an astonishing little meditation on the relationship between writer and reader. I wish to respond to it personally. Yes, Carlyle, it has been a long, not entirely pleasant journey we have taken together. I tried to listen to what you had to say, but I disagreed with most of it. I can't honestly say I like you, then again I may never forget you. Farewell.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sud666

    I was looking for a good book on the French Revolution to fill in some holes in my knowledge. What I received was a slightly tortuous journey into a hybrid of Shakespeare and Boetius. Is this a classic work of prose? Absolutely. Does it deserve to be listed with great historical works a la Gibbon or Plutarch? Sure. Is it a good book to pick up and read to learn about the French revolution? Absolutely NOT. The prose is painful without any of the graceful utterances of Shakespeare. I read the fir I was looking for a good book on the French Revolution to fill in some holes in my knowledge. What I received was a slightly tortuous journey into a hybrid of Shakespeare and Boetius. Is this a classic work of prose? Absolutely. Does it deserve to be listed with great historical works a la Gibbon or Plutarch? Sure. Is it a good book to pick up and read to learn about the French revolution? Absolutely NOT. The prose is painful without any of the graceful utterances of Shakespeare. I read the first several chapters and had only a vague understanding (from the book-not my previous knowledge) of what was going on in terms of historical fact. So much time is spent deciphering his painful prose that any knowledge of the actual events of the Revolution falls by the wayside. Important historical characters are introduced and events mentioned without any explanation of WHO they are and WHAT happened, as if context has no meaning to this man. As a work of English literature it deserves a high standing (4 stars), as a historical document of the late 1700's showing a British perspective of the Revolution (4 stars) but as a well written engaging history of this epochal historical event it is awful(2 stars). I was not going to even write a review since I never finished the book (something I rarely, rarely do). I will go look for a better written history of the revolution. For "purists" who think this is a great historical book- may I suggest they read Tuchman's Guns of August? That is wonderful prose, engaging story, written as a "novel" while providing stunning accuracy, superb historical research and is easily readable whether one is learning about the subject or just wishes to read a good book. Carlyle's magnum opus should be relegated to the shelves of late 1700's English books versus being looked at as the seminal historical work. This work has far more appeal to an english major than a history major. I may revisit this book at a later time to be read as classic literature but as I was looking for a good book on the French Revolution I will return to the library and find something else to read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alice Poon

    At last I've come to the end of this lengthy book! I won't deny that there were times when I wanted to abandon it, because the style of writing is quirky and polemic and the tone unabashedly self-righteous. I just wish there were other more readable historical works out there about this cataclysmic phase of French history. Having said that, I'm glad that I persevered to the end. With all its shortcomings, it is still a marvelously researched, all-round account of historical events and characters, At last I've come to the end of this lengthy book! I won't deny that there were times when I wanted to abandon it, because the style of writing is quirky and polemic and the tone unabashedly self-righteous. I just wish there were other more readable historical works out there about this cataclysmic phase of French history. Having said that, I'm glad that I persevered to the end. With all its shortcomings, it is still a marvelously researched, all-round account of historical events and characters, beginning with the last days of Louis XV's reign and ending with the emergence of young Napoleon Bonaparte as a shrewd artillery officer. As much as the book offers copious factual details, off-putting was the author's obvious bias towards monarchy and his almost belligerent prejudice against "the seagreen" reformer, Maximilien Robespierre, and his Republican principles, which were based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Social Contract. The French commoners didn't get murderously incensed with the monarchy, the nobility and the clergy for no reason. Social grievances had been allowed to fester for far too long and the privileged class had been too callous towards the oppressed. All that was needed was a spark to set off the conflagration. It would seem to me that in the latter stage Robespierre and his Jacobins were literally backed into a corner, pressured both on the inside (with an empty state coffer and a hungry populace hankering for bread) and the outside (with France being attacked on all sides by its predatory neighbors). Sadly the extremely complex and dire political circumstances drove him to paranoia and jittery suspicion which made him succumb to his allies' ill advice of resorting to the guillotine to eliminate opponents. His vanity and hubris probably played a part in blinding him too. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the French Revolution, though dearly paid for with 4,000 civilian lives, did have a crucial part in blazing a trail in the quest for more accountable and fairer governance in the following decades, leading ultimately to a democratic Third Republic in 1870.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    Get this. From the Intro :: "Yet today, Carlyle is rarely read by nonspecialists and only occasionally appears on reading lists within the academy. The causes are many, not least of which is that Carlyle is one of the most allusive and innovative of English prose writers, a kind of proto-Joyce in his incessant verbal coinages, conflation of ancient myth and modern actuality, his labyrinthine narrative strategies and gift for impersonation. It is impossible to 'speed-read' Carlyle, any more than M Get this. From the Intro :: "Yet today, Carlyle is rarely read by nonspecialists and only occasionally appears on reading lists within the academy. The causes are many, not least of which is that Carlyle is one of the most allusive and innovative of English prose writers, a kind of proto-Joyce in his incessant verbal coinages, conflation of ancient myth and modern actuality, his labyrinthine narrative strategies and gift for impersonation. It is impossible to 'speed-read' Carlyle, any more than Milton, whose Paradise Lost figures on virtually every pages of The French Revolution, as do Homer and the Bible. If he is now half-forgotten, his is not the case of a once-inflated popular reputation expiring into decent oblivion, but of meteoric genius now in partial eclipse." I think I'll want a nicely annotated edition. Thanks to Friend Nathan of the rec!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Carlyle is a verbal riot, an elegant, organized, vivid compound sentence of a riot swarming over the personalities and events of the Revolution. According to Carlyle, Voltaire once demanded of his countrymen, “What have you invented?” Carlyle replies for them, “The Art of Insurrection. It was an art needed in these last singular times: an art, for which the French nature, so full of vehemence, so free from depth, was perhaps of all others the fittest.” Carlyle says little directly but few things Carlyle is a verbal riot, an elegant, organized, vivid compound sentence of a riot swarming over the personalities and events of the Revolution. According to Carlyle, Voltaire once demanded of his countrymen, “What have you invented?” Carlyle replies for them, “The Art of Insurrection. It was an art needed in these last singular times: an art, for which the French nature, so full of vehemence, so free from depth, was perhaps of all others the fittest.” Carlyle says little directly but few things without a sting. “Men beat, the wrong way, their ploughshares into swords.” He adorns observation with wit and a pungently skeptical voice that, despite its skepticism, can find a seed in the ash. “For if there be Faith, from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live forever. The very Truth has to change its vesture, from time to time; and be born again. But all Lies have sentence of death written down against them, and Heaven’s Chancery itself; and, slowly or fast, advance incessantly towards their hour.” Even short sentences ring like aphorisms. “Through all time, if we read aright, sin was, is, will be, the parent of misery.” And: “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. And yet, as we said, Hope is but deferred; not abolished, not abolishable.” The French Revolution is a large book and don’t undertake it unless you remember far more about the French Revolution from high school and college history courses than I did. I had to stop forty or so pages in to read Simon Schama’s Citizens because Carlyle assumes you know something. But once that deficiency was taken care of, it was all reward. About a quarter of the way in Carlyle defines the Revolution as “the open violent Rebellion, and Victory, of disimprisoned Anarchy against corrupt worn-out Authority: how Anarchy breaks prison; bursts up from the infinite Deep, and rages uncontrollable, immeasurable, enveloping a world; in phasis after phasis of fever-frenzy” until the frenzy burns itself out. The lessons for a modern reader are many. There is this: “Alas, my Friends, credulous incredulity is a strange matter. But when a whole Nation is smitten with Suspicion…. Such Nation is already a hypochondriac bundle of diseases; as good as change into glass; atrabiliar, decadent; and will suffer crises. Is not Suspicion itself the one thing to be suspected, as Montaigne feared only fear?” In this sentence he captures the personality of the fundamentalist, secular or godly, “Of incorruptible Robespierre it was long ago predicted that he might go far, mean meager mortal though he was; for Doubt dwelt not in him.” Doubt is a check on excessive zeal. Remove the doubt and history shows that there is not much that cannot be justified in the name of Truth by those who lack Doubt (but have a fragile faith). Not that too much doubt is a good thing. The hapless French king is overwhelmed by the crisis and seems incapable of any action, including flight. “Honour what virtue is in a man. Louis does not want courage; he has even the higher kind called moral-courage, though only the passive half of that.” After Louis, the French government continues on its course of leveraging a nationalism that seeks its enemies at home and abroad and Carlyle observes, “All dogs have their day; even rabid dogs.” The revolution has become a rabid dog. “Two great movements…agitate this distracted National mind: a rushing against domestic Traitors, a rushing against foreign Despots. Mad movements both, restrainable by no known rule; strongest passions of the human nature driving them on: love, hatred; vengeful sorrow, braggart Nationality also vengeful,--and pale Panic over all.” It’s a blood ailment without a cure, only an end. Before Orwell, he notices the role of euphemism. He describes an act of well-praised mob violence, concluding: “This is the September Massacre, otherwise called ‘Severe Justice of the People.’” The Severe Justice moves from enemies of the State to friends of the Monarchy to aristocrats to property owners to moderate revolutionists to anyone suspected of any reluctance to stand with the most radical of the revolutionists. Death sentences are passed on those “Suspect of being Suspect.” One enemy of the Republic taunts his executioners, “I die on the day when the People have lost their reason; ye will die when they recover it.” Carlyle is brilliant and rewarding and timeless. There are two notes of optimism at the book’s end. One speaks to evil and one to love. First evil—“all Evil, Injustice, is, by nature of it, dragon’s teeth; suicidal, and cannot endure.” But what hell, as Carlyle documents, it is while it does last. But, “the beginning of all Thought, worth the name, is Love; and the wise head never yet was, without first the generous heart”.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Melodee

    This book is not what I expected. I was truly interested in finding out about the French Revolution. Instead of presenting facts, the author chose to use very flowery, Romantic language to describe everything. People were referred to by nicknames, so half of the time, I didn't know who he was referring to. There were so many metaphors and French words that my Kindle couldn't translate. I'm not sure why I read the whole book. It seemed to take me forever. I will probably have to read another book This book is not what I expected. I was truly interested in finding out about the French Revolution. Instead of presenting facts, the author chose to use very flowery, Romantic language to describe everything. People were referred to by nicknames, so half of the time, I didn't know who he was referring to. There were so many metaphors and French words that my Kindle couldn't translate. I'm not sure why I read the whole book. It seemed to take me forever. I will probably have to read another book about the Revolution to really find out what actually happened.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    This book is so full of detail and depth that it feels so real. Dickens based his novel A Tale of Two Cities on this book which he called 'wonderful' in his introduction. If you read it, you'll be inspired too! This book is so full of detail and depth that it feels so real. Dickens based his novel A Tale of Two Cities on this book which he called 'wonderful' in his introduction. If you read it, you'll be inspired too!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rozzer

    Regardless of a society's state of literary development there are always, I'd assume, new and different ways of addressing its literary possibilities, some fruitful and some dead ends. People experiment and some succeed. The attempts of others fall by the wayside for whatever reason. And so we come to Thomas Carlyle, offspring of a Scots peasant family who wound up exploding his way through British literary life in the second quarter of the 19th Century. It wouldn't be easy to identify Carlyle's Regardless of a society's state of literary development there are always, I'd assume, new and different ways of addressing its literary possibilities, some fruitful and some dead ends. People experiment and some succeed. The attempts of others fall by the wayside for whatever reason. And so we come to Thomas Carlyle, offspring of a Scots peasant family who wound up exploding his way through British literary life in the second quarter of the 19th Century. It wouldn't be easy to identify Carlyle's literary ancestors, at least for me. He came to the cultural fore at a time when his adopted country's literary language had become terribly convoluted and precious, relying for effect on verbal complications that would send many future readers into states of somnolence indistinguishable from sleep. Carlyle's choice was rather plain. Either begin to simplify, whether obviously or in a restrained manner, or go them all one better. And Carlyle chose the latter, launching out into an individual prose style even more dense and impenetrable to modern readers than Shakespeare. To read and enjoy Carlyle when he was publishing was in a manner to demonstrate one's cultural superiority in a way similar to but more complicated than being able to understand Greek and Latin tags. At the time, this proved not only literary competence on the part of the reader but a degree of moral superiority identified with such ability. Carlyle's works met with great success in his day. Others at the time were happy to buy what he was selling. But no one, then or later, was willing to imitate him (with minor exceptions such as Doughty). The main streams of British prose ultimately became much simpler. And so we get to Carlyle's French Revolution. There are, of course, an almost infinite supply of books about the French Revolution. It turns out to have been, in a sense, a universal event both appealing and interesting to huge numbers of people throughout the world in all succeeding times. Which is why I tried to make it perhaps the sixth or seventh or eighth French revolutionary history I've read. And failed. Carlyle's language, for me and only perhaps for you, is so dense and difficult, so impregnated with entirely foreign manners of speech and writing (such as the historical present tense from French), so deep-dyed in impenetrably obscure references, as to be completely resistant to a satisfactory and acceptable reading rhythm. And this from a person, myself, entirely happy reading Sir Thomas Browne, Robert Burton and Doughty. For all I know Carlyle's scholarship is perfect. He may well have had and displayed in this work an exact knowledge of all facts and personalities in play in 1789 and both before and after. If he didn't give me consistently severe headaches, I'd have seen him through. As it is, I have to believe that all those who speak in his favor are either out of their minds or still shooting for the aforesaid cultural superiorities so attractive to readers in Carlyle's own day.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    An astonishing piece of work especially when you consider the circumstances of its writing. Apparently Dickens kept it by his side when writing TO2C...I can believe it. Not a book I would consult for dry facts, but unbeatable for sense of rising terror and loss of control. All you people with this on your to-read list - do it now.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Charles Gonzalez

    I gave it 5 because it was one of the most original books I have read; that is was written over 100 years ago makes its adventurous and passionate approach to the subject even more amazing. As other reviewers have stated, this is not the book for a blow by blow history of the French Revolution....don't think Carlyle intended it to be; then he was writing about the the biggest political revolution of his time, less than 30 years in the past, as recent as if a writer today was to write about the R I gave it 5 because it was one of the most original books I have read; that is was written over 100 years ago makes its adventurous and passionate approach to the subject even more amazing. As other reviewers have stated, this is not the book for a blow by blow history of the French Revolution....don't think Carlyle intended it to be; then he was writing about the the biggest political revolution of his time, less than 30 years in the past, as recent as if a writer today was to write about the Russian/Afghan war of the 80s. It seems immediate, opinionated, passionate almost breathless in presentation. I almost felt part of the story, or at least a bystander to the drama unfolding to a country that had seemed asleep at the wheel for decades. Having read on the French Revolution before, the names and events were not foreign, though for someone who has not had any reading on the subject before it will probably be overwhelming and confusing. But the characters that I knew from traditional linear told histories of that time came alive in Carlyle's hands, the illustrations in my late 19c edition, most of a surreally painful and frightening mien bringing his words greater intensity and meaningfulness. I am glad I finally challenged myself to read it, though it took me longer than I expected because of concurrent readings and because the writing, while so expressive, is almost too much at one sitting. That is to be expected in a 19c. expose of the French Revolution, but does not take away from my feeling that this work is the masterpiece that history and reputation has given it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    James

    If you're looking for a humdrum, typical history book, what Carlyle would refer to as a "Dryasdust" (dry-as-dust) History, this is certainly not for you. It contains probably the most poetic prose ever written and is infused with so much of Carlyle's emotion and philosophy. On just about every page you'll find overt or vague references that require a deep knowledge of Roman, Greek and European history and literature to properly appreciate what is being said. A very good understanding of the Fren If you're looking for a humdrum, typical history book, what Carlyle would refer to as a "Dryasdust" (dry-as-dust) History, this is certainly not for you. It contains probably the most poetic prose ever written and is infused with so much of Carlyle's emotion and philosophy. On just about every page you'll find overt or vague references that require a deep knowledge of Roman, Greek and European history and literature to properly appreciate what is being said. A very good understanding of the French Revolution is necessary too. It seems a lot of the reviewers are criticizing Carlyle for the amount of prerequisite knowledge needed to read this book, but this was something his audience at the time would have had. It will certainly make it difficult for many people today to read, but I don't think it's fair to criticize Carlyle for this. What Carlyle was writing was a sort-of modern Iliad, and in my opinion he succeeded. Partly because of my love of history and classical literature, this book was easy to read and is my absolute favorite. I think it's the pinnacle of literature. But I love all of Carlyle's works and would never give a bad opinion of him so take this for what it's worth. So if you're looking for something profuse, emotional, dramatic and poetic, this if what you're after. If you want to know the precise date-by-date facts explicitly describing the social and economic monotony that drove and evolved the French Revolution, look elsewhere.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

    Holy mammoth of a book! I have mixed feelings about this one... I stuck with it for two months and I don't hate it. But I didn't love it either. I really liked it once I finished it, though. The thing about these types of books is that, once every 10 pages or so, along comes a sentence that dazzles you with its brilliance. And that sort of thing keeps me hooked. Carlyle is not objective at all and more than a bit ironic. His hatred for Marat is unsurpassed and I couldn't quite figure out if he was Holy mammoth of a book! I have mixed feelings about this one... I stuck with it for two months and I don't hate it. But I didn't love it either. I really liked it once I finished it, though. The thing about these types of books is that, once every 10 pages or so, along comes a sentence that dazzles you with its brilliance. And that sort of thing keeps me hooked. Carlyle is not objective at all and more than a bit ironic. His hatred for Marat is unsurpassed and I couldn't quite figure out if he was with or against Robespierre until the end. You need to know quite a bit about the French Revolution, though, to understand it. I understood about half of it, but I enjoyed the ride, nonetheless. Lots of people paraded through these pages whom Carlyle mentioned by their nicknames (most of them made up by Carlyle, I think), so it's hard to keep them all straight. This is how I can sum up this book: it reads like a passionate, eloquent, long-winded 19th century-style monologue. Somebody should do a summary and put this baby on the stage.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sean Chick

    They don't write them like this anymore and that is a shame. They don't write them like this anymore and that is a shame.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    I don't think this should have been the first book I read on the subject. I don't think this should have been the first book I read on the subject.

  16. 5 out of 5

    James Whyle

    The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle This line alone offers enough reason to read the book: “Men beat, the wrong way, their ploughshares into swords.” But here are a few more quotations, not entirely irrelevant to contemporary south Africa: Hope ushers in a Revolution, as earthquakes are preceded by bright weather. … and always, from the beginning, there was some Millennium prophesied. Lies, and the burden of evil they bring, are passed on; shifted from back to back; and from rank to ra The French Revolution: A History by Thomas Carlyle This line alone offers enough reason to read the book: “Men beat, the wrong way, their ploughshares into swords.” But here are a few more quotations, not entirely irrelevant to contemporary south Africa: Hope ushers in a Revolution, as earthquakes are preceded by bright weather. … and always, from the beginning, there was some Millennium prophesied. Lies, and the burden of evil they bring, are passed on; shifted from back to back; and from rank to rank; and so land ultimately on the dumb lowest rank, who with spade and mattock, with sore heart and empty wallet, daily come into contact with reality, and can pass the cheat no further. [There is] no Falsehood, did it rise heaven-high and cover the world, but Bankruptcy, one day, will sweep it down, and make us free of it. Max [Robespierre] … departed home to Arras; and even had a law case there and pleaded, not unsuccessfully in favour of the [Benjamin] Franklin's thunder-rod. "But," said poor Louis, "that is a revolt." "Sire," answered Liancourt, "it is not a revolt, it is a revolution." [The] French Revolution means here the open violent rebellion, and victory, of disimprisoned anarchy against corrupt worn-out authority. Singular, what Gospels men will believe; even Gospels according to Jean Jacques! [Rousseau] Marat, the People's Friend … croaks harsh thunder … of indignation, suspicion, incurable sorrow. The soul of Marat is sick with the sight: but what remedy? To erect eight hundred gibbets and proceed to hoisting. Such is the brief recipe of Marat, the Friend of the People. Add ever, like a constant growling accompaniment of bass discord: scarcity of work, scarcity of food. There is but one way of dealing with it, and that is to fall, sword in hand, on those gentry there. "Is it fated that I, with the blood I come of, with the sentiments I have, must live and die with such mortals?" Marie Antoinette in a letter to her brother. Such a terror, the eye witnesses say, never fell on a nation: nor shall again fall. They sit … in the Committee of Watchfulness, which will become the Committee of Public Salvation For Kings and beggars, for the justly doomed and the unjustly, it is hard thing to die. Pity them all. It is even as Danton said: "The kings threaten us. We hurl at their feet, as a gage of battle, the head of a king. Hunger and nakedness … was the prime mover in the French Revolution, as it will be in all revolutions, in all countries.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities" lured me towards Thomas Carlyle's three volume text on the revolution and I'm glad to have finally read it. Carlyle's early history of the French Revolution is told in an unexpected mixture of narrative styles that provide a range of insights, from the lofty heights of retrospective analysis to the visceral first-person accounts of various proponents of the event. The writing style, though frequently archaic, is often poetic and beautiful, and environs the chronolog Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities" lured me towards Thomas Carlyle's three volume text on the revolution and I'm glad to have finally read it. Carlyle's early history of the French Revolution is told in an unexpected mixture of narrative styles that provide a range of insights, from the lofty heights of retrospective analysis to the visceral first-person accounts of various proponents of the event. The writing style, though frequently archaic, is often poetic and beautiful, and environs the chronology with warranted atmosphere and emotion. It takes a while to get used to the jarring shifts of tense and narrative perspectives, not to mention his meanderings into mythological references and retrospective expostulations, but it's definitely worth the challenge. A very rewarding read and a singular insight into an era that should never be forgotten.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chris Purser

    Very interesting history of the revolution.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Em Nordling

    just to be clear, i LOVED hating this book. also i never actually QUITE finished it but, oh, thomas, i will be back.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    I wasn't sure it would ever happen, but I finished Carlyle's French Revolution. It’s tough going! Carlyle’s style is poetic, a little bit archaic, and very much idiosyncratic. The author introduces important historical figures without pausing to explain who these characters are, where they are from, or what their significance to events will be. Often people and places will be referred to interchangeably by several different names. The cadance of the text is often more akin to speech than clear-h I wasn't sure it would ever happen, but I finished Carlyle's French Revolution. It’s tough going! Carlyle’s style is poetic, a little bit archaic, and very much idiosyncratic. The author introduces important historical figures without pausing to explain who these characters are, where they are from, or what their significance to events will be. Often people and places will be referred to interchangeably by several different names. The cadance of the text is often more akin to speech than clear-headed literature. Throw in a bunch of (sometimes untranslated) French, Latin, and Greek expressions and the result can only be confusion and bewilderment. Prudent readers will go into this book having already acquired at least some knowledge of the events it describes, else risk being irrecoverably lost. Those looking for an informative and authoritative account of the Revolution might be better served by a modern work such as Schama’s Citizens. All that said, Carlyle’s epic of history does have its merits. Firstly, there’s something captivating in its prose, which has the quality of epic poetry mixed with thumping energy. Secondly, Carlyle has an uncanny knack for making the reader feel like they are a face peering out of the crowed watching events unfold, rather than the more sterile role of omnipotent observer in which more modern and academic histories tend to cast their reader. In the climatic chapters that detail key world-changing events (the execution of Louis XVI or Marie Antoinette, Corday’s killing of Marat, the flight to Varennes) the book is positively thrilling. Overall, then, this is an interesting book, but one to read more as a piece of literature than as an accessible historical reference. In light of this, I’d urge potential readers to peruse at least a couple of chapters (they’re short) of the eBook at Project Gutenberg to figure out if this is likely to be a work they will enjoy before taking the plunge on an expensive fine press copy. I wrote a bit more about this book and the specific LEC edition that I read on my book blog https://ubiquitousbooks.wordpress.com...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    The French Revolution is not so much a "history" - in the shared sense that many among us will assume - as much as it is an epic vision quest (or, as Carlyle says, a "flame-picture"). That the work challenges and bewilders many readers - that it doesn't always offer a comprehensive, clearly delineated and digestible sequence of events; that it is radically neo-archaic in style, obscure in allusion and reference, that it digresses, ruminates, speculates and wonders aloud before the reader - is du The French Revolution is not so much a "history" - in the shared sense that many among us will assume - as much as it is an epic vision quest (or, as Carlyle says, a "flame-picture"). That the work challenges and bewilders many readers - that it doesn't always offer a comprehensive, clearly delineated and digestible sequence of events; that it is radically neo-archaic in style, obscure in allusion and reference, that it digresses, ruminates, speculates and wonders aloud before the reader - is due to this core fact. Carlyle obviously knows the macro and micro-scale details of the period through and through, yet his project aims for something beyond the utilitarian purpose of a simple ordering of information. He is after something much larger than the source material. This is a work that strives on all levels for literary, dramatic and aesthetic effect, offering - as critics have noted - many concessions to modern historiography along the way. Some significant events receive only cursory illustration, for instance. And yet for anyone who takes the time - and puts in the effort; I assure you effort is required! - to sink into this work, it is never less than obvious that Carlyle is wielding these effects to raise deep philosophical questions about human nature and the limits of enlightenment. Like a good deist, Carlyle sees Nature and existence as God's only true revealed testament, and surveys this period of anarchy and madness in that light. To this end, the poetic and transcendent aspects of his writing never fail to place these characters and events in relation not only to the larger social dynamics shaping the period, but to the cosmos itself, with all of its inextinguishable and unutterable mystery - of which mankind is himself one. Yet despite the acrid, satirical flavor of his prose, Carlyle seeks understanding, not condemnation. We hover with him over France, situated with the people of that time, coming to see how this cast of "25 millions" saw and felt the French Revolution as they LIVED it - coming to understand (sadly) even their descent into butchery and atrocity. All the while Carlyle's Janus-faced narrator uses flashback and foreshadowing techniques to heighten our sense of irony and tragedy and fate. It is an impressive, mind-expanding accomplishment. And one that is frequently - against all odds - an absolute page-turner! It is one of the strangest cautionary tales I have ever read - a blood-spangled plea for empathy towards our fellow human beings -and I could not give it a higher recommendation. One for the ages.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    History as Epic (capital ‘E’) This is likely the most challenging book I have ever read. Carlyle doesn’t make much effort to explain who people are or refresh your memory when you haven’t seen a character for 250 pages. At times his prose is dense to the point of absurdity. My kindle tells me I have looked up 700+ words in this book, or roughly a word a page. At many times this book is exhausting. Yet I have never read anything that captures the chaos and delirium of real world events like Carlyle History as Epic (capital ‘E’) This is likely the most challenging book I have ever read. Carlyle doesn’t make much effort to explain who people are or refresh your memory when you haven’t seen a character for 250 pages. At times his prose is dense to the point of absurdity. My kindle tells me I have looked up 700+ words in this book, or roughly a word a page. At many times this book is exhausting. Yet I have never read anything that captures the chaos and delirium of real world events like Carlyle’s FR does. There is manic genius at work here. His political analysis and sense of the dramatic do justice to the Epic scale of his subject matter. A taste: “For a man, once committed headlong to republican or any other Transcendentalism, and fighting and fanaticising amid a Nation of his like, becomes as it were enveloped in an ambient atmosphere of Transcendentalism and Delirium: his individual self is lost in something that is not himself, but foreign though inseparable from him. Strange to think of, the man’s cloak still seems to hold the same man: and yet the man is not there, his volition is not there; nor the source of what he will do and devise; instead of the man and his volition there is a piece of Fanaticism and Fatalism incarnated in the shape of him. He, the hapless incarnated Fanaticism, goes his road; no man can help him, he himself least of all. It is a wonderful tragical predicament;—such as human language, unused to deal with these things, being contrived for the uses of common life, struggles to shadow out in figures. The ambient element of material fire is not wilder than this of Fanaticism; nor, though visible to the eye, is it more real. Volition bursts forth involuntary-voluntary; rapt along; the movement of free human minds becomes a raging tornado of fatalism, blind as the winds; when they recover themselves, are alike astounded to see where it has flung and dropt them. To such height of miracle can men work on men; the Conscious and the Unconscious blended inscrutably in this our inscrutable Life; endless Necessity environing Freewill!” If I didn’t know any better I’d think he was describing 1945 Germany, a century early. Oxford World’s Classics edition has a great annotated index. I found this invaluable.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dayla

    Mutiny in Nancy: Lafayette sends Bouille and 4,500 troops to the city of Nancy to quell the mutiny. The two French regiments submitted and left the city, but Châteauvieux (the Swiss Guards) refused to surrender. Reinforced by a section of the National Guard and the people of Nancy, it occupied the Stainville gate, the only one that was fortified. Bouillé’s soldiers attacked, took the gate and occupied the town under heavy fire from the windows. By evening, however, order was restored and hundre Mutiny in Nancy: Lafayette sends Bouille and 4,500 troops to the city of Nancy to quell the mutiny. The two French regiments submitted and left the city, but Châteauvieux (the Swiss Guards) refused to surrender. Reinforced by a section of the National Guard and the people of Nancy, it occupied the Stainville gate, the only one that was fortified. Bouillé’s soldiers attacked, took the gate and occupied the town under heavy fire from the windows. By evening, however, order was restored and hundreds of corpses lay in the streets (approx. 500 dead). This was followed by the ‘legal’ repression: twenty-one Swiss soldiers were hanged, and one broken on the wheel. Fifty prisoners from Châteauvieux’s regiment were sent to Brest and on to the galleys. The political clubs in Nancy were closed, and Bouillé imposed martial law throughout the region.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Darran Mclaughlin

    I was so sure I was going to like Carlyle that I'm still slightly shocked by how much I didn't. A Scottish, Victorian intellectual with a fascination with German culture and celebrity fans like Mill, Dickens, Emerson, Whitman and George Elliot? Sounds fantastic. Unfortunately I absolutely hated his writing style. It was so archaic, knotty and deliberately difficult that it was a bore and a chore to read. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy complex, unusual and difficult writing styles, such as Robert Bu I was so sure I was going to like Carlyle that I'm still slightly shocked by how much I didn't. A Scottish, Victorian intellectual with a fascination with German culture and celebrity fans like Mill, Dickens, Emerson, Whitman and George Elliot? Sounds fantastic. Unfortunately I absolutely hated his writing style. It was so archaic, knotty and deliberately difficult that it was a bore and a chore to read. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy complex, unusual and difficult writing styles, such as Robert Burton, Ivy Compton Burnett, Thomas De Quincy or James Joyce. I guess the writing in this book just isn't my style. I managed 200 pages of a thousand before deciding that life was too short to force myself to read this.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Richard Epstein

    It is said that there is valuable stuff concealed in here, but no one bloviates like Carlyle. I believe there are people who have read this book straight through, cover to cover, beginning to end, but I doubt I've ever met one. Such a reader would require infinite patience and infinite time and nothing else to do -- no carpets to vacuum, no dogs to walk, no sestinas to write, then discard, because trying to write a sestina is a fool's errand. In short, only a god could do it, but a god wouldn't It is said that there is valuable stuff concealed in here, but no one bloviates like Carlyle. I believe there are people who have read this book straight through, cover to cover, beginning to end, but I doubt I've ever met one. Such a reader would require infinite patience and infinite time and nothing else to do -- no carpets to vacuum, no dogs to walk, no sestinas to write, then discard, because trying to write a sestina is a fool's errand. In short, only a god could do it, but a god wouldn't want to.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Miles Winston

    I truly enjoyed this, particularly the last few chapters. It is more than a mere "history" and it is more than a mere "epic" to me. For the history is so eloquently arranged, so vividly cast. And the poetry is not of "formula" but of "reality," which to me makes the most beautiful poetry of all. As Carlyle is quoted in John Rosenberg's introduction, in a line which says it best: "It is part of my creed that the only Poetry is History, could we tell it right." I truly enjoyed this, particularly the last few chapters. It is more than a mere "history" and it is more than a mere "epic" to me. For the history is so eloquently arranged, so vividly cast. And the poetry is not of "formula" but of "reality," which to me makes the most beautiful poetry of all. As Carlyle is quoted in John Rosenberg's introduction, in a line which says it best: "It is part of my creed that the only Poetry is History, could we tell it right."

  27. 4 out of 5

    James Spencer

    A fascinating, wonderful way to tell history. There is nothing I know of that is like it. It can be confusing if you are not already familiar with the basic outline of the French Revolution but if you are, this is telling of the tale in the most literate and thinking terms.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Craig Bryson

    Epic, poetic and some times unreadable, this book should be attempted by any serious reader at least once. I went away with more questions than answers, but that's okay- I know where to keep looking for more information..Carlyle gives us lots of clues. Epic, poetic and some times unreadable, this book should be attempted by any serious reader at least once. I went away with more questions than answers, but that's okay- I know where to keep looking for more information..Carlyle gives us lots of clues.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mick Maye

    Beautifully written story of the French revolution that covers the years from the Bastille to the Vendemiaire. A must read, very long but the pages just flow by.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    it took some perseverance but I made it and it was more than worthwhile

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