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BOOK REVIEW - HILLAIRE BELLOC THE FRENCH REVOLUTION 1911 (revised in 1925) William And Norgate.

 

A short pocket book summary of the lives and major events of the French Revolution, by a Fabian Society associate of H. G. Wells. Belloc was a prolific author and a leading politician in Edwardian Britain. In this often-neglected study, (complete with maps) the author makes it clear that some pre-reading of the subject is essential. He attempts to provide insights into the motives and personalities of the main protagonists and crowd-driven events. As such, the book reads like a series of notes and fragments.

 

The conflict that would lead so many to the guillotine began when the Commons, though divided in itself and in political minority, declared itself to be the ruling national representatives, in effect, snatching power from the weak King, Louis Seventeenth and his wife, Marie Antoinette. The Commoners secured public support from the outset by abolishing many forms of taxation, erasing thousands of debts.

 

Louis was slow to respond or realize the enormity of the conflict. He made plans that were never put into action, and eventually made a doomed effort to escape that would lead to execution and republicanism.

 

Belloc looks at the military aspects of the Revolution, touching barely on the role of Napoleon, and at the impact the secular revolt had on the persecuted Catholic Church (Belloc himself being an ardent Catholic).

 

There is a rather apologetic stance taken on Robbespierre, the recognized arch-villain of the Reign Of Terror, arguing that he was a reluctant spokesman for the dreaded Committee Of Public Safety, rather than its outright controlling leader. Once it had turned on him and sent him to the guillotine, the Committee had lost its leader and collapsed for lack of anyone else able to take on the public role Robbespierre had held.

 

Arthur Chappell

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