Yalom, a faculty member of Stanford University's Institute for Research on Women and Gender who has written many books in the fields of French history and women's studies ( Rethinking the Family ), here uses her expertise to provide a thoughtful feminist analysis of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror that followed. Quoting heavily from more than 75 memoirs, some written by women loyal to the throne, others by those who supported the Revolution, Yalom posits that, because the writers had in common both gender and a primary concern for personal relationships, they viewed the bloodshed differently than their male counterparts. She cites Rosalie Lamorliere's poignant chronicle of Marie Antoinette's last days, Charlotte Robespierre's memories of her brother Maximillian, who sent hundreds to the guillotine, and Alexandrine des Echerolles's account of the 1793 Lyons uprising as examples of the horror at the wanton loss of life that all these memoirists shared. A unique contribution to historical studies. Illustrations not seen by PW. History Book Club alternate. (July)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This masterfully crafted book adds a new dimension to our understanding of the French Revolution: it demonstrates how French women, as distinct from French men, remembered that event. Yalom (French literature & history, Stanford) draws upon the memoirs of 80 women. While the majority were aristocrats, like Germaine de Stael and Madame Roland, a few were of the peasant and working class, and most were sensitive to areas in which gender affected their experiences and sensibilities. All, in some way, felt a duty to record the pain and tragedy they had witnessed. Yalom incorporates their reminiscences within the chronological narrative of the revolution and organizes her text geographically. Interspersed with insights from recent scholarship, the book includes a useful annotated bibliography. Scholars and students alike will benefit from this important volume.-- Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J.
Aristocrats and bourgeoises, royalists and republicans, as well as servants and peasants, left accounts of the turbulence they witnessed. These women's chronicles, now restored to the historiography of the Revolution, range from the political to the personal and eloquently attest to the human costs of radical social change. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
When asked his opinion about the French Revolution, Chou En-lai replied "It's too soon to tell," a wry comment that its events are an infinite source for the subsets of historiography--women's history included. Yalom's view of the Revolution seems to be negative, but whether that feeling stems from her own inclination or from the nature of her raw documentation is unclear. Certainly the 80 female memoirists she paraphrases, with a few exceptions such as the sister of Robespierre, detested what had happened. One, the Girondist Mme. Roland, lost her head; Mme. de Stael, the famed salon hostess of the day, fled to exile as did the portraitist of royalty, Vigee-Lebrun. Away from Paris, away from the upper crust, the provincials in Vendee and Lyons added their tincture of horror to scenes of the civil war and Terror. Though naturally varied in their separate colors, from sophisticated to pathetic (the case with recollections of Marie Antoinette's maid), to Yalom's mind these women's words represent a development in the memoir form, from simple chronicles of family domesticity to the recording of public activity, that like so much else the Revolution unleashed, was never to be fully turned back. Chou was right.
Blood Sisters not only gives us a vivid and fresh picture of the French Revolution; it inspires us to rethink the old truism about history being written by the victors. History's victims write too, but their accounts sound different-less glorious, and much more like the way we imagine things really happened.
An endlessly interesting and moving account of the articulate amateur memoirists of the Reign of Terror.