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Improbable Patriot: The Secret History of Monsieur de Beaumarchais, the French Playwright Who Saved the American Revolution
     

Improbable Patriot: The Secret History of Monsieur de Beaumarchais, the French Playwright Who Saved the American Revolution

by Harlow Giles Unger
 

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Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was an eighteenth-century French inventor, famed playwright, and upstart near-aristocrat in the court of King Louis XVI. In 1776, he conceived an audacious plan to send aid to the American rebels. What's more, he convinced the king to bankroll the project, and singlehandedly carried it out. By war's end, he had supplied Washington

Overview

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was an eighteenth-century French inventor, famed playwright, and upstart near-aristocrat in the court of King Louis XVI. In 1776, he conceived an audacious plan to send aid to the American rebels. What's more, he convinced the king to bankroll the project, and singlehandedly carried it out. By war's end, he had supplied Washington's army with most of its weapons and powder, though he was never paid or acknowledged by the United States.

To some, he was a dashing hero--a towering intellect who saved the American Revolution. To others, he was pure rogue--a double-dealing adventurer who stopped at nothing to advance his fame and fortune. In fact, he was both, and more: an advisor to kings, an arms dealer, and author of some of the most enduring works of the stage, including The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though best known for his comic operas, like The Barber of Seville, Pierre de Beaumarchais delivered critical support to American rebels, writes historian Unger (American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution), and he makes a convincing case. Though always musically inclined, Beaumarchais, the gifted son of a clockmaker, as a young man invented the small mechanism that made the first wristwatch possible. This, plus charm and musical talent, won him royal favor, wealth, and enemies. Harassed and often imprisoned by powerful aristocrats, he responded with satirical writings, which made him famous. After Britain's North American colonies rebelled in 1775, Beaumarchais convinced reluctant royal officials to support them. With a large government loan, he set up a private company that made no profits (because the Continental Congress never paid), but which shipped arms that may have turned the tide at critical moments such as at Saratoga in 1777. Beaumarchais's literary wit translates poorly here, but readers will probably agree that he was the "most underrated French hero of the American Revolution." 38 illus. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“This delightful rogue of many talents set up a company to front for the French and Spanish regimes secretly supplying weapons, munitions, clothing and food to the struggling rebels.”—American History

"The author of this book brings the secret life of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais into vivid relief with this well-written, engaging, and fast-paced tour de force." —The Historian

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781584659259
Publisher:
University Press of New England
Publication date:
09/13/2011
Pages:
260
Sales rank:
908,628
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are Saying About This

Thomas Fleming
“With wit and insight, Harlow Unger explores the question of whether Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was a rogue or a hero by demonstrating he was more than a little of both.”
Robert J. Allison
“Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais—perhaps France’s greatest playwright, editor of the works of Voltaire, master of the dramatic farce and father of musical comedy, creator of the immortal Figaro—said ‘the greatest act of my life’ was supplying Americans with the weapons that won their independence. Harlow Unger tells the story of Beaumarchais—playwright and patriot—bringing to life the tumultuous age of revolution.”

Meet the Author

HARLOW GILES UNGER was the 2008 Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at George Washington's Mount Vernon. A veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian, he is author of sixteen books, including five biographies of America's Founders.

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