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1 Burnside France- 18th Century and Revolutionary

The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, a Life


The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, a Life Cover

ISBN13: 9780802119339
ISBN10: 0802119336
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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One of the Western worldand#8217;s most epic uprisings, the French Revolution ended a monarchy that had ruled for almost a thousand years. George-Jacques Danton was the driving force behind it. In the first biography of Danton in over forty years, David Lawday reveals the larger-than-life figure who joined the fray at the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and was dead five years later.

To hear Danton speak, his booming voice a roll of thunder, excited bourgeois reformers and the street alike; his impassioned speeches, often hours long, drove the sans culottes to action and kept the Revolution alive. But as the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Danton struggled to steer the increasingly divided Revolutionary government. Working tirelessly to halt the bloodshed of Robespierreand#8217;s Terror, he ultimately became another of its victims. True to form, Danton did not go easily to the guillotine; at his trial, he defended himself with such vehemence that the tribunal convicted him before he could rally the crowd in his favor.

In vivid, almost novelistic prose, Lawday leads us from Dantonand#8217;s humble roots to the streets of Revolutionary Paris, where this political legend acted on the stage of the revolution that altered Western civilization.

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OneMansView, July 7, 2010 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Unsung leading figure of the French Revolution

This book is clearly a sympathetic biography of an obscure, important, and controversial leading figure of the French Revolution, Georges-Jacques Danton. While the author takes into account the broader social and political currents that led to the storming of the Bastille in July, 1789, and drove the Revolution over the next several years, the focus is clearly on the personal life of Danton – his movements, thinking, emotions, his domestic life, and his numerous public roles as he steered a course in the perilous revolutionary waters. In addition to bringing to light the relatively unknown Danton, the book is an alarming look at how a movement determined to overturn a corrupt order in the name of right and justice can turn fanatical, sweeping away any who merely appear to be insufficiently arduous for the cause, are victimized by informants, or, worse, suggest caution in condemning others.

The author captures that Danton was an unusual man. Born in rural France, in the village of Arcis in 1859, into modest circumstances, he was reasonably well-educated and went to Paris to study law, becoming a practicing lawyer. Danton was very large man, with a rather unsightly disfigurement due to childhood smallpox. But he had a commanding presence, even intimidating, with a tremendous speaking ability; his near perfect memory allowed him to quote extensively from literary and historical works in his extemporaneous speeches. When the French working-class began to assert itself against authorities and the well-to-do due to severe economic deprivations in the late 1780s, Danton’s oratory abilities served him well when he became a leading member of the Cordelier political club, one of many that formed to become a part of the increasingly turbulent political climate. Danton was perhaps not the major intellectual figure of the times, but he could be very persuasive in his desire to see his fellow citizens freed from the arbitrary authority of a monarchy and to form a representative republic.

There were any numbers of developments in the revolutionary period involving all manner of legal and extralegal legislative bodies and committees, the disposition of the monarchy, the threat of invasion from foreign powers, rural-driven counter-revolutionary movements, etc. Danton had official roles in virtually all of these developments. He attempted to walk the middle ground between the moderates who continued to see a place for a king and the Church and the radicals who wanted to smash virtually all social and political institutions of the past. He was an original member of the Revolutionary Tribunal, which sent royalists and others to the guillotine, and the Committee for Public Safety which gradually usurped all political power. Danton was never sufficiently bloodthirsty for the Jacobin Robespierre, the head of the CPS. He and his henchmen gradually marginalized Danton, and after a protracted campaign of discrediting information, they actually secured a conviction of Danton for crimes against the state and sent him to his death in 1794. However, that action against the popular Danton virtually ensured their evisceration and the end of their regime of Terror only three months later.

The book is an interesting inside-out look at the French revolution – how did a person actively committed to liberty view the unfolding of events and how was he affected. The author admits that much of the information concerning Danton is sketchy. Though a gifted speaker, he was a poor writer and left behind little in the way of a written record. The author relies upon bits and pieces of speeches that were partially captured and undoubtedly no small amount of creative reconstruction. The author clearly views Danton’s over all actions in the Revolution in a positive light, which is not necessarily a universal opinion. The rather narrow focus of the book does leave one grasping for a broader, deeper understanding of the entire French Revolution, intellectually, historically, and practically.
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Product Details

Lawday, David
Grove Press
David Lawday
Historical - General
Europe - France
France History Revolution, 1789-1799.
Revolutionaries - France
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
BandW illustrations
9.00 x 6.00 in

Related Subjects

Biography » Historical
History and Social Science » Europe » France » 18th Century and Revolutionary
History and Social Science » World History » France » General

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Product details 304 pages Grove Press - English 9780802119339 Reviews:
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