I'm Matt Stewart
, and I'm honored to be your cruise director this week on the Powell's Books blog. I'm here because I wrote a novel — out this week — called The French Revolution
. Many people reasonably assume it's a dry, doorstop history loaded with French witticisms and long-winded summary and a dominant tone of snootiness.
Au contraire! It's actually a San Francisco family saga loosely structured on the historical French Revolution. I've created an autocratic, out-of-touch monarchical matriarch; angry, violent "rabble"; a Napoleonic figure, who meets his demise at a proverbial Waterloo; and literary guillotines galore.
Most Americans don't know a whole lot about the French Revolution aside from "Let them eat cake," Les Miserables, and the iconic image of the guillotine. However, when you take a look at the all the crazy stories, it's clear the French Revolution is a pretty spectacular historical event, well worth an allegorical tale.
For a better understanding of just how awesome the French Revolution was, I've created a handy breakdown comparing the landmark French upheaval against its impressive (and personally beneficial) American forerunner. Please bear in mind the unscientific nature of this comparison, noting my obvious French Revolution bias and how I've been inundated with American Revolution propaganda my entire life.
Official Breakdown — French Revolution v. American Revolution
· French Revolution: Storming the Bastille Prison, executions of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, Waterloo, thousands of public guillotine executions.
· American Revolution: Shot heard round the world, Paul Revere's ride, crossing the Delaware River.
· Winner: French Revolution. Easy call. Killing a monarch alone would do it, but throw in a multinational battle against one of the most successful generals in history and bloody public killings and the deal is sealed. A tough river crossing and a horse ride through town are important American symbols, but relatively innocuous. Also, King George III was not harmed in the making of America; tell that to Louis XVI.
· French Revolution: Queen Marie Antoinette, publicly executed; King Louis XVI, of the infamous Bourbon dynasty; Robespierre and Marat, bloodthirsty revolutionaries; Napoleon, one of the best generals in world history.
· American Revolution: George Washington, one of America's greatest generals and presidents; Founding Fathers ad infinitum; King George III.
· Winner: Tie. Colorful characters everywhere you look — it was a wonderful time to revolt.
· French Revolution: Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite.
· American Revolution: Give me Liberty, or give me death!
· Winner: American Revolution. Patrick Henry's quote gives me chills just reading the Wikipedia article.
· French Revolution: Ended the Bourbon monarchy; perpetuated liberal democracies and republics; kickstarted secularism; a spectacularly cinematic affair loaded with drama, infighting, backstabbing, and general insanity.
· American Revolution: Installed the world's first modern democracy; began unraveling the British Empire.
· Winner: French Revolution, and it's close. But don't forget the French LIVED in the same place as their oppressor — it's a lot easier to throw a revolt with a 4,000-mile buffer zone. Also, the French had to unlearn monarchical habits that were centuries old; the Americans could start completely fresh. But the biggest difference for me involves style points — where, as usual, the French cleaned up. Guillotines beat a fife and drum corps any day of the week.
Overall Winner: The French Revolution
I'm looking forward to some feisty disagreements in the comments.