City of Darkness, City of Light: A Novel

City of Darkness, City of Light: A Novel

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by Marge Piercy
     
 

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Bestselling author Marge Piercy celebrates the lives of the brave and dedicated women who changed the destiny of a nation in this novel set during the French Revolution

For Claire Lacombe and Pauline Leon, two poor women of eighteenth-century France, the lofty ideals of the coming revolution could not seem more abstract. But when Claire sees the gaping

Overview

Bestselling author Marge Piercy celebrates the lives of the brave and dedicated women who changed the destiny of a nation in this novel set during the French Revolution

For Claire Lacombe and Pauline Leon, two poor women of eighteenth-century France, the lofty ideals of the coming revolution could not seem more abstract. But when Claire sees the gaping disparity between the poverty she has known and the lavish lives of aristocrats as her theater group performs in their homes, and Pauline witnesses the execution of local bread riot leaders, both are driven to join the uprising. They, along with upper-class women like Madame Manon Roland, who ghostwrites speeches for her politician husband and runs a Parisian salon where revolutionaries gather, will play critical roles in the French people’s bloody battle for liberty and equality.
 
Author Marge Piercy’s thrilling and scrupulously researched fictionalized account of these real women’s lives shines with emotional depth and strikingly animated action. By interweaving their tales with the exploits of men whose names have become synonymous with the revolution, like Robespierre and Danton, Piercy reveals how the contributions of these courageous women may be lesser known, but no less important. Rich in detail and broad in scope, City of Darkness, City of Light is a riveting portrayal of an extraordinary era and the women who helped shape an important chapter in history.
 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Depicting the experiences of three brave women, Piercy (Gone to Soldiers) explores the human reality of the French Revolution, bringing to life the immense role women played in bringing down the monarchy. Claire Lacombe escapes the grinding poverty of her youth by becoming an actress in a traveling troupe. Beautiful and filled with the determination that can be forged by enduring hardship, she becomes an inspiring symbol as she dares to participate in pivotal events. Manon Philipon, a jeweler's daughter, idolizes Rousseau and the life of the mind. Marrying an austere government bureaucrat, she learns that she has an innate grasp of politics. Pauline Lon, the owner of a chocolate shop, is galvanized when she witnesses the executions of poor people rioting for bread. Their three stories are deftly braided with the lives of three menthe incorruptible Robespierre, the opportunistic Danton and Nicolas Caritat, an academician trying to walk the high wire between old and new. Men may be necessary to drive the plot, but women are its engine. It is women who take to the streets looking for "justice, bread and freedom," and who win concessions on issues like divorce and inheritance rights. Piercy skillfully juxtaposes the political debates, painfully slow reforms and bloody confrontations against the ironies and absurdities of everyday life. Since the novel offers multiple perspectives, events sometimes overlap and readers must pay close attention to the dates listed with chapter headings. This is a minor obstacle, however, in a novel that adds fresh, powerfully grounding perspective to accepted historical fact. QPB featured alternate. (Nov.)
Library Journal
The best-selling author of epic novels, poetry, and short stories (e.g., The Longings of Women, LJ 1/94) here records the fictional exploits of three influential women who helped pilot the French Revolution.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781504033367
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Publication date:
04/12/2016
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
608
Sales rank:
46,027
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

City of Darkness, City of Light

A Novel


By Marge Piercy

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1997 Marge Piercy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3336-7


CHAPTER 1

Claire


(1780)


Claire Lacombe was fifteen when she determined she must find a way out. Her brother Pierre's friend Albert pushed her down on the floor and tried to mount her. He threw her skirts up, almost choking her as his large callused hands pawed her. She broke a bottle of vinegar on his head. Then Maman punished her for breaking the bottle and wasting the vinegar. Grandmère said to her quietly, "Good thing. Always fight hard when you fight. Don't be afraid of hurting the man. He isn't afraid of hurting you. Always fight like you mean to win." Claire listened, although she was covered with bruises, first from Albert, then from the beating. Whenever she was beaten these days, which was often enough, she planned to run away. But how? Where would she go? The only reason women ever left Pamiers was if they went off to be servants in Toulouse. If they entered a convent. If they married away.

Pamiers was small and dusty, with more history than wealth. From the edge of town she could stand and stare at the Pyrénées, crowned with snow even when the streets were sweltering. But it was a false promise. What would she do in the mountains? Hire herself out as a shepherdess? The river Ariège flowed by, a spot she frequented because Maman was a laundrywoman. Anne-Marie always had water boiling in the shed attached to their one-room house, but she washed the linens down at the river, using the wet rocks for a scrubbing board and the rocks above water level for a drying rack. Their house smelled of soap and smoke, from the fires under the huge kettles Anne-Marie had inherited from her own mother, who had been a laundress until crippled with arthritis. Now Grandmère sat by the bubbling cauldrons, stirring them or bidding Claire stir them with heavy wooden paddles.

Claire was the youngest of five surviving children. Anne-Marie had been twice widowed. The father of the three oldest boys, a hired man, died after being gored by a bull. The father of Claire and her sister Yvette and two babies who had not survived had been a bricklayer. It would have been better if she had done like the others, she heard her brother say. Died, Grandmère explained. Babies died easily of neglect. "I'm glad you thrived," Grandmère said. "Who else would I talk to?" She understood that Grandmère had taken pains to keep her alive, slipping her crusts of bread dipped in broth. In bad years, when everyone was hungry and what food there was went to wage earners, children and old people died every week.

When her father was alive, the family lived comfortably. Most of the nice things in the house – the pots in the fireplace, the hangings on the wall, the warm curtains on the family bed – were from his reign. What goes up must come down, Grandmère was fond of saying, and down he came, while repairing the octagonal clocktower of the church of Saint Antoine. She had been carrying his lunch to him, bread and a bit of cheese wrapped in a kerchief and some beans heated by the fire under one of the cauldrons and seasoned with herbs. She loved to carry his lunch because he would come down to her or sometimes take her to where he was working, and she would sit with him and eat a bite of his lunch, always better than her own, and he might give her a swig of wine and talk to her about how the work was going. As the youngest daughter, she was a disappointment (another girl) but he was often nice to her.

She had been carrying his lunch and humming to herself. She was just eleven and already tall for her age. She was looking up at the octagonal clocktower, one of the most imposing things in the entire town, and she was thinking how fine it was her own papa was chosen to work on it, when she heard the cry and looked up in time to see him fall. He fell not straight down but in a little arc, and his legs moved in the air as if he were trying to run. Then he struck the paving stones with a sickening thud she could hear yet. She had run to him, pushing through the crowd that already began to gather, to cradle his bloody broken head in her lap. It was considered a bad death, a violent death without last rites, but Papa had not been a believer. He said the Church was a soft way for lazy men to grab a living.

He liked to sing. He would accompany himself beating on the table or on one of the big cauldrons. He did not have the thick Provençal accent of Maman and Grandmère, for he came from away. If he had not been a good bricklayer, nobody would have trusted him, since he did not speak like the other men of Pamiers. He came from the Loire valley, but he never said where or why he had left. Let sleeping dogs lie, Grandmère said. He was a good husband and a good father. Occasionally he got into a fistfight, for he had a temper and he would not let anyone insult him or his family. But he never hit Claire. He liked to tell her stories. He never talked about himself but about his travels and what he had seen. Claire wanted to go everyplace and see everything, instead of minding the kettles and scrubbing linen and eating only porridge and beans, when they had that. Rent came first and taxes and soap. Then food. Claire had only one skirt, two chemises and a shawl against the cold. She lumbered through the mud in wooden shoes and woolen stockings. Outside in warm weather the women were spinning. They took in wool to spin. Maman, Grandmère, most of the women wore greasy black clothes green with age. Sometimes the same worn skirts had covered the scrawny flesh of three generations of women.

Nowadays Maman hit her often. Maman felt sorry for herself and she was always tired. Anne-Marie was forty-two, an old woman with white braids and a deeply lined face. Her own hands were getting arthritic now and she was talking more and more about Claire taking over the laundry. Grandmère said, "Anne-Marie is angry because you remind her of how she used to be. She was a beautiful woman. Use your beauty, Claire, but don't rely on it. It goes. Be strong. Tomorrow always does come, until you're dead." Claire had been told she resembled Grandmère when she was young more than Anne-Marie. It was hard to imagine Grandmère young, ever. She was a raisin.

Claire stared at the huge cauldrons bubbling on the fires that must always be fed. Wood was expensive, so the only brother left at home, that lout Pierre, had to go and cut it in the woods that belonged to the lord, whom they had never seen. That was forbidden and if he got caught, that would be the end of him. Sometimes Claire had to go with him, for Yvette had a gimpy leg, shorter than the other. Yvette was devout. Religion was a sore spot in her family. Grandmère was Protestant, as were many around here, some secretly, some openly. Claire's father had been born a Catholic and had gone to mass a couple of times a year, although he made fun of the Church. Maman had turned Catholic for her first husband, pro forma. Both her parents shared a deep distrust of churches, priests, monks, the whole apparatus. Only Yvette attended church. Claire thought if she was anything, she was Protestant, like Grandmère. Grandmère was her history teacher, her book of lore and wisdom and anecdote, like the blue books Grandmère bought. Besides their Bible, they had an almanac, a history of Charlemagne and Roland, two song books and a book of fairy tales.

People in Pamiers had long memories and a suspicion of Paris and the north and the French kings handed down from father to son and mother to daughter like a family heirloom. People still spat when they mentioned the name Simon de Montfort, and his name was not infrequently mentioned for a lord who had been dead five hundred years. He was the model of evil coming down on them from above and from away, from the north. They had had their own religion, their own culture, their own language down here. They had been a prosperous and cultured people, with as many ties to the Moors and to Italy as to the sword-rattling rosary-telling north.

Pope Innocent had declared a crusade against them. The fierce armies of the Capetian kings of Paris set fire to the country and slaughtered the people and burned alive their leaders, their saints, their prefects. The anger of the people had been forced underground, but every couple of hundred years, it erupted, hot and molten. A little less than two hundred years before Claire was born, militant Protestants attacked the churches, smashing icons. The royal Prince de Condé sacked the town then, burning, turning loose the casual slaughter of his troops. This history blew in the dust of the streets, in the old marks of fire on buildings, but she had Grandmère to tell her the tales as they minded the boiling cauldrons. Grandmère taught Claire all she knew about who she was and why.

Anger and rebellion were in her blood. She was born to it, as she was born to the dark hair and the sturdy bones and muscles of her people. She was strong in the back and shoulders. Her bust developed early. Men began looking at her. They began to try to touch her, to pull at her when she went by. She punched them. She cursed at them. She knew what happened if they got their hands on her. Her oldest brother had to marry his girlfriend after the men held a charivari under her window to shame her. Her second brother had been a smuggler, and from one trip, he never returned. Pierre was the only boy at home, and she hated him. He was always pinching her. They had a few chickens in the yard and an orange tabby she loved called Rougie. One day he had been teasing Rougie, who had scratched him, so Pierre threw Rougie in the boiling cauldron. He died, screaming as he cooked alive although Claire had burned her arm trying to fish him out. She hated Pierre and he hated her. He called her Big Mouth. He said she would die in a ditch with her throat cut. No man wanted a woman with a loud mouth. Fine, she did not want to be wanted.

She always paid attention to travelers, organ grinders, fiddlers, conjurors, displayers of relics, storytellers, peddlers with marmots or ferrets who performed or caught rats. That summer of her fifteenth year, a troop of actors arrived. Town people spit at them and made the sign of the evil eye, as they did when the Jews came through selling horses, but almost everyone went to the performances. Jews were horse tamers and traders, sometimes peddlers; actors were outside the law too. They could not be married in the Church. All Protestants were considered illegitimate, as were all Jews. And all actors. None could be buried in regular cemeteries.

But she thought them splendid, dressed in shining clothes and reciting fine speeches. There were seven of them, all dressed as kings and queens and great lords and ladies. The women got to talk as much as the men. One woman, who was a Greek queen, was the center of the play. Claire had a little money she had saved, and she took from her precious hoard so that she could go to every performance. Then she came home and told Grandmère how the queen spoke and everyone listened. She was fascinated by the woman who played the queen. There was one younger woman too, but she did not have as loud a voice. She could not decide which of the two important men was the most imposing. One was taller, but the other strode about like a real king must. He made the air ring. He had red hair. She had never seen a man with red hair. He was handsome and exotic and when he spoke, his voice was like perfume, like incense and oil.

She thought them the luckiest people she had ever seen. They went from town to town. If they didn't like Pamiers or Pamiers didn't like them, the next day they would be in Foix or Toulouse. They spoke words that filled her mind. Words that shone and sparkled and shook out like the richest velvet. She wanted to come close to them. She wanted to become them. They made people laugh and cry. Everyone shut up and listened. That was glory. She had a big loud voice. She could do it too. Then there would be power instead of shame in being Big Mouth.

Claire did not want to live like her mother. She did not want to be a laundress. She did not want to kneel soaking wet in the cold and the raw weather scrubbing bloody sheets until her knuckles were red and swollen. She did not want to go hungry with too many children to fill up with bread. She did not want to give birth to five loud screaming hungry children and two who failed and a stillbirth. Nor did she crave the attentions of the men in the square who called to her as if she were a dog, or the monk pressing against her at the market, or the men who tried to pull her inside when she delivered the laundry. She was tired of the dusty streets of Pamiers where the icy wind blew down from the Pyrénées in the winter and the hot wind scorched them in the summer, where the Ariège rose out of its banks to drown them and mosquitoes swarmed and the young and the old sickened and died.

The troupe had her mother wash their shirts and chemises. Claire brought them to the inn. The actors were to give one more performance and then move on toward Toulouse. She spoke to the woman who had played the queen.

"How do you get to be an actress, madame, please." She spoke carefully, like her father, keeping the heavy southern accent out of her speech. She had always known both ways of speaking, like her father or like her mother.

"You have to have a natural talent, child," the woman said loftily. On stage she had looked imposing. Now Claire could see she was middle-aged and stout. "You have to be able to read your lines or get them by rote."

The red-headed man leaned forward. "A fine-looking girl. How old are you?"

She was fifteen, but she decided to be older. "Eighteen, sir."

"So you want to be an actress? Instead of a laundress?" He laughed, but he did not seem cruel. He seemed to feel anyone would want that.

"Yes, sir, but I'd do your laundry too if you took me along. And I do know how to read." Grandmère had taught her. As a Protestant, Grandmère believed in Bible reading.

"Child, we don't need a laundress. Every town has its own."

"She's a beauty, isn't she, Jean-Paul? Flashing dark eyes, the carriage of a princess. But what about the family? All we need is to get charged with abduction."

"These poor families, they'd just as soon be rid of a girl," the older lady said. "They probably haven't the money for a dowry."

"I'll ask my mother. My father's dead," Claire said. "Where do you go next?" She memorized their route. If they would have her, she would go with them. She would let them leave, and then she would run away after them. She would not say a word to her mother, for Maman would never let her go. Maman would chain her to the cauldrons. No, she was going to wear fine costumes and speak words that rippled on the air like banners and travel all the roads of the country. That was living. That was being a free woman.

She told no one but Grandmère. Grandmère had been to Toulouse three times and told her how to go. Once she was far away she would write Maman. They would consider her a fallen woman, but if she sent money, they would not really mind. She would see the world, as her father had. Goodbye to the laundry pots, to the dusty streets, to Pierre and his friends, adieu.

CHAPTER 2

Max


(1766–1775)


Max liked to watch his flock peck grain. Holding a dove gave him softness and warmth, comforting, reliable. He tried never to think of his mother, since the day she had screamed and screamed upstairs and then did not scream any longer. That had been the fifth child. It had survived her three days. Nothing had ever been the same again; nothing had ever been right. His mother had adored him. She had called him her prince. He was gentle with his doves. This was Doucette. He said her name softly as she cooed in his hand. He could not bear to think of them going hungry, being attacked by a dog or cat, carried off by a hawk. He would protect them. They would not leave him.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from City of Darkness, City of Light by Marge Piercy. Copyright © 1997 Marge Piercy. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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"A simply superb book, truly a mastepiece."

Meet the Author

About the Author

Marge Piercy (b. 1936) is the author of nineteen poetry collections, including The Hunger Moon and Made in Detroit, and seventeen novels, including the New York Times bestseller Gone to Soldiers and He, She and It, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction. She has also written a memoir, Sleeping with Cats; a collection of short stories, The Cost of Lunch, Etc.; and five nonfiction books. A champion of feminism, antiwar, and ecological movements, Piercy often includes political themes in her work and features strong female characters who challenge traditional gender roles. Her book of poetry The Moon Is Always Female is considered a seminal feminist text. Piercy’s other works include Woman on the Edge of Time, The Longings of Women, and City of Darkness, City of Light. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, radio personality and author Ira Wood, with whom she cowrote the novel Storm Tide.
Marge Piercy (b. 1936) is the author of nineteen poetry collections, including The Hunger Moon and Made in Detroit, and seventeen novels, including the New York Times bestseller Gone to Soldiers and He, She and It, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction. She has also written a memoir, Sleeping with Cats; a collection of short stories, The Cost of Lunch, Etc.; and five nonfiction books. A champion of feminism, antiwar, and ecological movements, Piercy often includes political themes in her work and features strong female characters who challenge traditional gender roles. Her book of poetry The Moon Is Always Female is considered a seminal feminist text. Piercy’s other works include Woman on the Edge of Time, The Longings of Women, and City of Darkness, City of Light. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, radio personality and author Ira Wood, with whom she cowrote the novel Storm Tide.
 

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City of Darkness, City of Light 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
JBronder More than 1 year ago
This story takes place during the French Revolution but focuses on women during this time. We follow an actress, and aristocrat’s wife and a chocolate shop owner among others. We follow along as each is affected by the Revolution and how each finds their own ways to change its outcome. I love how we have a variety of people from different social standings. You have a shop owner fighting day to day and an aristocrat’s wife writing his speeches. This book gives the untold stories that you don’t hear about. I admit that I don’t know much about the French Revolution. But after reading this story I am interested in researching what happened. As you read you can tell that Marge Pierce has done a lot of research because the story is rich with details. The only thing that I have as a negative is that the book was slow to start. But I do understand since we started before the revolution and they don’t just start in the middle of all the action. If you like the French Revolution and would like to find out more about the female aspect in it, this book would be great for you. But if you are like me this book may inspire you to look for more information. I received City of Darkness, City of Light for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago