After three months, I finally have a new book to read. Two, actually. I made a book run to Barnes & Noble this afternoon and picked up St. Augustine’s “Confessions” and J. Christopher Herold’s “The Age of Napoleon“.
“Confessions” is meant to be a prequel for me to “City of God”. I bought “City of God” some while ago but never really dove into it. I was advised to read “Confessions” before making the attempt. “City of God” was written in 413 A.D. and the language is a little archaic to say the least. I figure I can get a feel for Augustine’s style before digging into the thicker book.
“The Age of Napoleon” is a sequel of sorts to the book I just, finally, finished. I started Thomas Carlyle’s “The French Revolution” way back before Thanksgiving and have been painstakingly making my way through it two or three pages at a time.
The language isn’t as old as Augustine’s, obviously, but Carlyle really knew how to turn a parenthetical phrase! The guy was so flowery he could’ve single-handedly populated the field of poppies in “The Wizard of Oz”. I read the first page and almost took the book back because I knew it was going to be a hard slog, but I challenged myself to get through it.
I’m glad I did. After getting a feel for the style, I started to enjoy it and got into the flow. I also found the tone of the novel to be more sympathetic to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette than I expected. You hear a phrase like “let them eat cake”, purportedly spoken by Antoinette, and you have little sympathy for either person.
While the novel does mention the widespread shortage of bread and grain, it never mentions the line and it was likely never spoken. Louis doesn’t come off as a hero of the affair but is certainly painted in the best light possible. Marie Antoinette is more sympathetic still and is portrayed as a strong and courageous woman. I certainly don’t feel that’s what I’ve been led to believe by popular history.
At any rate, the book portrays both as minor and incidental characters in the drama of the French Revolution, mainly culpable in their inability to understand the causes behind it than by any sin of their own.
More important players are those such as Lafayette, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre. I knew a little about Lafayette and knew enough to associate Robespierre with the Reign of Terror but that was about it. The book filled in a lot of holes and it was worth the read for that.
Had I to do it all again, I would have purchased a more updated history of the revolution than the one I chose. A more recent book would have given me the same historical detail in a much more easy to consume fashion, I’m sure.
I wonder if the same will be the case with the Saint Augustine novels. Somehow, I think not.