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The French Revolution (Modern Library): 1 Paperback – 5 Jan 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library Inc; New edition edition (5 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375760229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375760228
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 314,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


" No novelist has made his creations live for us more thoroughly than Carlyle has made the men of the French Revolution." --George Eliot

About the Author

John D. Rosenberg is the William Peterfield Trent Professor of English at Columbia University, where he teaches Victorian literature and has chaired the undergraduate program in literature humanities. He is the author of The Darkening Glass: A Portrait of Ruskin s Genius; The Fall of Camelot: A Study of Tennyson s Idylls of the King ; and Carlyle and the Burden of History.

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First Sentence
Louis XV dies, at Versailles, May 10, 1774, of smallpox, after a short illness: Great-grandson of Louis XIV; age then 64; in the 59th year of his nominal reign.""" Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Cooper on 19 Oct 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
No-one has ever written history like this, before or since. Turn to any page and you will find that Carlyle writes history like a novelist. Indeed, considering that he wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century, before the medium was born, his history of the French Revolution reads like the script for a film. The text fizzes and bangs with remarkable phrases, but it also used the present tense to conjure up images. There is no point in reading Carlyle for an up to date view of the Revolution; but as entertainment, the book beats everything else.

Stephen Cooper
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By Luo Lang on 9 July 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very gooood Book!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 30 reviews
55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Carlyle's Poem to the Abyss 20 Nov 2002
By Charles Reilly - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Thomas Carlyle's unique poetic style of prose may be tough to take early on, but after a few pages, it does grow on you. It's all overly dramatic and sensational, but what subject could be more so than the French Revolution itself? Carlyle paints a grim description of the complete and utter chaos of the times, particulary the Great Terror of mid-1794. He does, however, remain somewhat non-judgemental regarding the Revolution's key figures, and lets the readers sort out for themselves who the real culprits are. He may over-simplify the obvious at certain junctures in the book, but his style is riveting and as this shocking and dismal tale of woe continues, the reader is further drawn into a daze and trance similar to the Terror's unfortunate victims.
Some have suggested that it's better to read a "normal" history of the French Revolution before one undertakes this famous volume. I disagree. This is as good a place to start as any concerning that most volatile of times. Simply put, Carlyle's "French Revolution" is both informative and exciting, and it has held up well since it was first published in 1837.
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Not as intimidating as the reviewers make out 10 July 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The authors of the previous review were too harsh on the text - it isn't a mere display of literary muscle turned lightly to the French Revolution, it's an interesting take on the subject from a penetrating mind.
The other reviews saying "Don't read this if you don't know everything about the revolution" seem a little bit silly to me having read it - if you know nothing about French history and the revolution, ok, you might have some difficulties. But if you have even a rough view of the revolution (from a textbook chapter, short article, almost anything) you won't be lost. Once or twice one might be forced to read back or do a tiny bit of side-reading to get a colourful 19th century reference, but it isn't nearly as oblique as the first reviewer made out.
The style is not difficult to read, considering the date, and the narration is often captivating or amusing. The individual, literary portraiture of historical figures is unique and valuable to me in building a kind of familiarity with events, however cautiously. And the claim that it isn't "historically" written by modern standards - perhaps the reviewer was too busy composing clever jabs to note the date of writing? If you want Francois Furet, read Francois Furet, but Thomas Carlyle unfortunately didn't have the benefit of 20th century developments in historical methods.
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
at least give it a go 1 Oct 2005
By Sans Away - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Definitely a classic. Don't be put off by the warnings other reviewers have about unfamiliar words and phrases: like any great writer, Carlyle does the work of presenting every event and person in a way to give us a feel for what was going on--at least in his vision of what happened between 1789-94 in France. The prose isn't straightforward, but you can get a summation of events straight from any encyclopedia or textbook: what Carlyle does is go much, much more in depth. Terms like 'Sansculottism' or 'sea-green Robespierre' bring very vivid impressions by the time you get near the end, and his insights into character and motive are amazingly vivid (no wonder George Eliot was impressed!)

This history does indeed read like a novel, and it really is quite good. Yes, there are unusual words and phrases (like Shakespeare, Carlyle coined and invented words, several now currently used in the language). That's all part of the fun though. The Modern Library edition has a good introduction, plus a timeline of events to orient you better while reading.

A very worthwhile and satisfactory book, current tastes not withstanding.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Odd for a History, but Valuable for its Oddity 2 Dec 2007
By Kevin M. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is indeed a very strange work of history; Carlyle narrates the events of the Revolution as those of a Victorian novel. It is difficult to convey a true sense of the hyper-dramatic prose that results, so it might be better to include some excerpts from the text:

The surrender of the Bastille:

"For four hours now has the World-Bedlam roared: call it the
World-Chimaera, blowing fire! The poor Invalides have sunk under their
battlements, or rise only with reversed muskets: they have made a white
flag of napkins; go beating the chamade, or seeming to beat, for one
can hear nothing. The very Swiss at the Portcullis look weary of firing;
disheartened in the fire-deluge: a porthole at the drawbridge is opened,
as by one that would speak. See Huissier Maillard, the shifty man! On
his plank, swinging over the abyss of that stone-Ditch; plank resting
on parapet, balanced by weight of Patriots,--he hovers perilous: such
a Dove towards such an Ark! Deftly, thou shifty Usher: one man already
fell; and lies smashed, far down there, against the masonry! Usher
Maillard falls not: deftly, unerring he walks, with outspread palm. The
Swiss holds a paper through his porthole; the shifty Usher snatches
it, and returns. Terms of surrender: Pardon, immunity to all! Are they
accepted?--"Foi d'officier, On the word of an officer," answers half-pay
Hulin,--or half-pay Elie, for men do not agree on it, "they are!" Sinks
the drawbridge,--Usher Maillard bolting it when down; rushes-in the
living deluge: the Bastille is fallen! Victoire! La Bastille est prise!"

The execution of Robespierre:

"At four in the afternoon, never before were the streets of Paris seen so
crowded. From the Palais de Justice to the Place de la Revolution, for
thither again go the Tumbrils this time, it is one dense stirring mass;
all windows crammed; the very roofs and ridge-tiles budding forth human
Curiosity, in strange gladness. The Death-tumbrils, with their motley
Batch of Outlaws, some Twenty-three or so, from Maximilien to
Mayor Fleuriot and Simon the Cordwainer, roll on. All eyes are on
Robespierre's Tumbril, where he, his jaw bound in dirty linen, with
his half-dead Brother, and half-dead Henriot, lie shattered; their
'seventeen hours' of agony about to end. The Gendarmes point their
swords at him, to shew the people which is he. A woman springs on
the Tumbril; clutching the side of it with one hand; waving the other
Sibyl-like; and exclaims: "The death of thee gladdens my very heart,
m'enivre de joie;" Robespierre opened his eyes; "Scelerat, go down to
Hell, with the curses of all wives and mothers!"--At the foot of the
scaffold, they stretched him on the ground till his turn came. Lifted
aloft, his eyes again opened; caught the bloody axe. Samson wrenched
the coat off him; wrenched the dirty linen from his jaw: the jaw fell
powerless, there burst from him a cry;--hideous to hear and see. Samson,
thou canst not be too quick!"

The book succeeds in portraying such of the more dramatic events of the Revolution with a striking immediacy that makes the book worthwhile. At other points, however, Carlyle frustrates by including lengthy passages of melodramatic commentary.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
The Best Book I Read in 2008 1 Jan 2009
By Laughter and Death - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am not sure why I picked up this book in the first place, but boy was it wonderful. Some history books are interesting, some dull, this one was beautiful. Every page gorgeous. Let me try to explain. I am not the smartest guy out there, and I know it, and some of you can tell by my writing style.

The book is a mixture of prose and poetry, action and wise musings. I have never seen history treated so poetically. In some scenes, I really felt that I was there witnessing the events as they occurred, such as when the living quarters of the royal family was besieged. It was almost as if he wrote the book having been there, certainly having read the newspapers day after day.

The book proceeds sometimes day by day, hour by hour...and the tension during the French Revolution was very intense at times.

I don't do this justice, but I will try...in the beginning Carlylse describes the funeral procession of the dead king (forgot his name), and he describes the next king and his wife Marie Antoinette, and he muses at one point how they haven't a clue how they are walking on gossamer above a precipice.

Here are the bad points: If you know nothing of the French Revolution, it may be tiresome as he alludes to events and names you may not know. If you have a hard time with hard reading, this is very hard reading, don't bother. I would suggest you read two books concurrently, a regular dull history book, then Carlisle, month by month.

I am ashamed to admit, I think I only fully grasped 1/3 of what I read. But wading through that which I did not understand was well worth the delight of finding gems that were intelligible to me.

Carlylse wrote with perspective, wisdom and poetry.

I read this book for 4 months. Really. I put this in the same class as Boethius's Consolations of Philosophy. Those who truly are literate may think him primitive and lowbrow, but Boethius was beautiful in dealing with fortune and fate.

If you are up for a challenge, and are patient and love beauty, then read it. If you just want a factual read, stay away.
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