Colin Jones

Colin Jones is a professor of history at Warwick University. He is the author of The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon (2002). His latest book, Paris: Biography of a City, has just appeared in paperback.

Shady: Voltaire’s Loneliness

Colin Jones, 25 May 2006

The life of François-Marie Arouet, a.k.a. Voltaire (1694-1778), could hardly have been as colourful as that of the eponymous hero of his most famous novella, Candide. In his brief but eventful life, Candide encounters, inter alia, massacre, pillage, rape, piracy, mutilation, brutal militarism, cannibalism, slavery, bestiality, vivisection, religious fanaticism and political...

Not a Belonger

Colin Jones, 21 August 1997

Richard Cobb, who died last year at the age of 79, began his career as a historian of Revolutionary France. When I first met him, in 1968, he was widely thought to be able to write only in French, but as time went on a strong personal vein and a taste for high comedy widened the scope of his writing and revealed a highly distinctive English style: intricate perceptions and sensations set down in long, baroque sentences, full of Gallicisms, argot and incantatory lists of French and English place-names. Increasingly autobiographical introductions to his works of scholarship spilled out into fragmentary memoirs, in which he recounted a Tunbridge Wells childhood, a youthful infatuation with France, war-time service in the Army and an early career teaching English in postwar France as a way of financing time spent in the Archives Nationales and countless provincial depositories. The episodes recounted in The End of the Line further illuminate a trajectory already largely mapped out in A Second Identity (1969), A Sense of Place (1975), Promenades (1980), Still life: Sketches from a Tunbridge Wells Childhood (1983) and People and Places (1985). The stories are told with Cobb’s customary skill and enthusiasm, but they also sound an increasingly valedictory note. Cobb was dying as he wrote: the manuscript was completed two days before he died and has been prepared for the press by friends and by his widow, to whom he pays tribute in the closing pages.

In Scheherezade’s shoes

Colin Jones, 23 November 1989

Like good detective novels, the letters of remission which are the subject of Natalie Zemon Davis’s most recent book usually start with a corpse which requires to be explained. Other offences – tax riot, heresy, the defloration of a virgin – could be the occasion for the ‘pardon tales’ such letters contained, but the procedure was most often resorted to by someone who had been the cause of someone else’s death. In 16th-century France, letters of remission obtained royal mercy and circumvented the vagaries of royal justice and the revenge of the victim’s friends and kin.’

Unnerved by death threats and assassination plots, Robespierre acquired a trio of bodyguards armed with clubs. In the end, however, his undoing was not the work of a murderous stranger but of his adversaries...

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A Laugh a Year: The Smile

Jonathan Beckman, 18 June 2015

In​ 1685, Louis XIV’s few surviving teeth were in such a parlous state that they required extraction, but the dentist operated so ineptly that he also removed a large section of one of...

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The French Revolutionaries identified the Enlightenment as the work of a small, brave band of 18th-century philosophes, whom they rushed to entomb as heroes in the gloomy crypt of the...

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Megalomaniac and Loser

Norman Hampson, 21 March 1985

Recent news from the French Revolutionary front is mostly about people who, for one reason or another, regarded the whole business as a disaster. No doubt as we approach 1989, things will change,...

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