Olwen Hufton

Olwen Hufton a professor of history at the University of Reading, is the author of The Poor of 18th-Century France. Her most recent book, Europe: Privilege and Protest 1730-1789, was published in 1980.

Cobban’s Vindication

Olwen Hufton, 20 August 1981

Few historians have had their judgments as little challenged as Alexis de Tocqueville. When he pronounced that the French Revolution had its origins in the very society which it was destined to destroy, he articulated a view which, for different reasons, would be acceptable to historians of every persuasion for the next century and a half. Writers of both Right and Left found common ground in asserting that the Revolution of 1789 had specific social origins which produced the political upheaval that left France socially, economically, institutionally and politically altered, never to be the same again. For the Right, this tragedy, for it was no less, was attributable to the failure of the monarchy to share power – at least with the propertied – and to introduce needful social reform. For the Left, the French Revolution was a stage in the epic march of the people towards their political destiny. It represented the point at which emergent capitalism, using a nascent proletariat, destroyed feudalism, and the bourgeoisie seized political power, sharing it grudgingly – and fleetingly – with the people in 1793-5. 1789 was for them the bourgeois revolution in France and the promised triumph of the people was deferred to a speculative future.

Rescued by Marat

Hilary Mantel, 28 May 1992

In 1817, at the asylum of La Salpêtrière in Paris, a long-term inhabitant died of pneumonia. Her malnourished, oedematous body was taken away for autopsy. For some years before her...

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J.M. Roberts, 22 January 1981

1789, alas, is the great year of the 18th century. That is one of the problems in characterising the age: whenever it is thought to begin – in 1700, or with the death of Louis XIV in 1714,...

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