Most of this blog's readership is composed of authors and editors, so they will be pleased to hear that I'm actually reading a book! A pretend fiction novel. First one in a year that I've made good headway on. Wait, no, I read December's... hope that wasn't a year ago. Anyway, a novel!
So I'm reading some new author in order to support the literary world, right?
Does Alexander Dumas count as "new"?
But wait, wait! It's not the Count of Monte Cristo for the 12th time. This time I'm reading my second Dumas novel -- The Knight of Maison Rouge, but at least it's a new translation, so I'm helping some wonderful translator/author out there make it on the midlist.
I'm enjoying it very much and will do a book review when finished. It's amazing how the thing reads exactly like a contemporary action novel / movie plot. With the sans culottes. It only takes five pages max for our hero to rush into a group of thugs with a sword and a joke to rescue a beautiful woman; blood is spilt by the end of the chapter. I won't say anymore now because what would I then say in my book review?
This book reminds me how much trouble I have with plot in the contemporary world. Nothing important happens in the real world! I can only think of idle banter or aliens invade; those are the only two intriguing contemporary plots. But I can see all sorts of amazing things happening throughout history and in non-existent worlds.
I know this is my limitation, not the world's.
The book, which is set during the Terror of 1793 (as opposed to the Whatever of 2003), also reminds me again of how different the American and French Revolutions were. I've heard it said many times that the French Revolution was more of a social revolution, while the American one was political. That's not quite right, but it's a start. And when did the French Revolution really end? You could argue not until after what, 1890 something, did France really start to settle into a consistent form of government (before that they lurched from Committee to Emperor to king to bourgeois king to emperor...) while the Americans have kept the same dang Constitution since 1789. However, one could argue that America is still, 219 years later, implementing that Constitution for all of its citizens.
Anyway, I think the difference between the American and French Revolutions could be summed up in the word "equality". For the French, you have Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité (Surrenderé (hey, you gotta stick in a cliché French joke; I wouldn't be American without doing so)) and, in the U.S., you have, "We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; and that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." (did I get that right, from memory?) But I think the Americans and French had different things in mind by the term equality. Equality for Americans was more about freedom and self-determination. People have a right to their own life and to pursue their own dreams. All people are equal because they all have these rights to find their own way.
But the French were fighting a different beast. They were trying to destroy an old regime (an ancien regime, if you will) in which a certain, rather enormous group of people kept most power and most wealth. The bourgeoisie had increasingly entered into that world in the decades before the revolution, but the world remained. And so the revolution quickly deteriorated into destroying others.
I came up with a parable once while reading about the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 60s: The Communists noted that it was unfair for only some people to have pianos, people who didn't deserve the pianos any more than anyone else because of their talent or passion. So they went through and destroyed all the pianos so that no one could make music. Instead, they should have worked to make pianos available to all.
I think I need to work on that parable before I use it in a national debate.
Anyway, the French equality was about bringing all people to the same level, and they did this in the Terror by destroying those with more stuff. Later they redistributed.
I think this still plays out in contemporary politics where the French are much more comfortable with socialism in which they try to make sure everyone has a certain minimum standard of living (Jerry Lewis movies for all!). Americans still focus on allowing everyone the right to do their own thing. Of course, neither version of equality truly works by themselves.