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Tribunes and Amazons: Men and Women of Revolutionary France, 1789-1871.

Tribunes and Amazons: Men and Women of Revolutionary France, 1789-1871. By R. B. Rose. Paddington NSW: Macleay Press, 1998. Pp. 383. $39.95.

Almost entirely reworked from articles that first appeared from the late 1950s onwards, the present volume is a monument to Professor Rose's wide-ranging historical interests. Throughout, the reader is struck by the extraordinary breadth of the erudition, and the work is invaluable for anyone interested in the historiography of the French Revolution and of those that followed it, in the move away from random mob violence to the development of self-conscious working-class political action. Professor Rose never seems entirely happy with the interpretations of events suggested by various schools of historians. Accepting much of what Marxist historians have said, he nevertheless rejects industrialization as the only motor for change, stressing the role of people with strong ideas, and reflecting the functionalist approach he feels that it is over-reductive to talk only of a class struggle. The social dynamic explanation of events leaves questions unanswered, and to it Rose prefers -- with his belief in the import ance of individual personalities -- the view of a struggle over political power. He is perhaps harshest in his judgement of the 'revisionists' whom he accuses of setting out 'to destroy the inspirational significance of the Revolution as a great movement of human liberation and progress'. While wary of Freudian explanations, he illustrates how ruthless activists seek to impose utopian views. We meet Babeuf several times, first setting out to prove that a village riot provoked by years of injustice was already a political action, understandable and limited in its violence, and then advising innkeepers on a petition on tax reform, in which he again sought political cogency by going beyond immediate grievances to discuss abstract general principles. He is seen to be almost alone in his belief in agrarian reform, and Rose shows that -- as in the case of several other personalities discussed here -- his posthumous reputation has changed, becoming viewed as a martyr for communism because of Buonarroti. Another radi cal outsider and prominent member of the Cordelier Club is Rousseau's rich and eccentric host at Ermenonville, the Marquis de Girardin, reflecting the fact that Rousseau's influence on the revolution is not just through the Social Contract. The development of socialism among the Parisian working class is seen as furthered by the enrages, and without wanting to go too far, Rose also reveals the often neglected role of Claude Fauchet as an inspirer of left-wing social Catholicism.

Generally, Rose shows us the political apprenticeship of the Parisian sansculottes, learning the meaning of democracy in the popular societies and the sections. The paranoia and contradictions of Robespierre's actions when in power are seen as a result of the dynamic of revolution. Rightly distinguishing between feminist history and the history of women, Rose places the question of revolutionary feminism in the context of the long-term development of feminism in France and maintains that the widely-held negative view of woman's lot in the French Revolution is not entirely justified. While examining how women break away in women's clubs from the auxiliary role of being merely wives, it is interesting to note that Rose gives far more space to Mary Wollstoncraft than to French feminist activists. Looking back on the Revolution, Michelet with his emotional involvement is seen to be more interested in moral than social questions. Louis Blanc, searching for consensus, is shown as coming before his time and certain ly a poor revolutionary. If all historical events evoke parallels, Rose insists that the Commune is the product of particular circumstances and not an example for later events, and similarly Blanqui is most important as an analyst of contemporary society. There are occasional signs of the hybrid origins of the book with a need for minor re-editing, as, for instance, when Claude Fauchet is presented as an 'influential public orator' (p. 172), as if this had not been discussed before, but generally the articles hang together and form a well-argued survey of the often tumultuous path to modem political debate.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Journal of European Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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