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Art and Revolution

Norman Hampson, 18 December 1980

Jacques-Louis David 
by Anita Brookner.
Chatto, 223 pp., £25, November 1980, 0 7011 2530 6
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... In what her publishers claim to be the first monograph in English on David, Dr Brookner explains that she sees her book as a ‘preparation’ for more specialised studies at present under way in France and America. It is intended ‘for the general reader whose eye has been arrested by David’s images and whose mind has been haunted or irritated by their supernal energy and conviction ...

Revolutionary Economics

Norman Hampson, 20 August 1981

The French Revolution and the Poor 
by Alan Forrest.
Blackwell, 198 pp., £12.50, May 1981, 0 631 10371 6
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... It is generally assumed that social revolutions must be good for the poor. To suggest the contrary is to appear wilfully paradoxical. After all, revolutionaries assert, and most of them probably believe, that their new order will be especially favourable to those who are least able to look after themselves. Their intentions may be benevolent enough, but the effects of their policies on the lives of ordinary people are another matter ...


Norman Hampson, 19 April 1984

France 1815-1914: The Bourgeois Century 
by Roger Magraw.
Fontana, 412 pp., £4.95, November 1983, 0 00 635741 5
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... This is the first volume to appear in the ‘Fontana History of Modern France’, edited by Douglas Johnson, which will eventually cover the period from the Ancien Régime to the present day. The intention is presumably to provide the student and general reader with a synthesis of the enormous amount of new writing on French history since Alfred Cobban published his much shorter history of modern France twenty years ago ...

British Politicians

Norman Hampson, 4 August 1983

The Younger Pitt: The Reluctant Transition 
by John Ehrman.
Constable, 689 pp., £20, June 1983, 0 09 464930 8
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Lord Aberdeen: A Political Biography 
by Muriel Chamberlain.
Longman, 583 pp., £25, May 1983, 0 582 50462 7
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... If Robespierre could have read the second volume of John Ehrman’s massive biography of Pitt it would have saved him a good deal of worry. The two men had more in common than might appear at first sight, or than either of them would have cared to admit. Each was a decidedly cold fish, a bachelor of that alarming species that lives only for politics ...


Norman Hampson, 20 August 1992

Diderot: A Critical Biography 
by P.N. Furbank.
Secker, 524 pp., £25, February 1992, 0 436 16853 7
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This is not a Story and Other Stories 
by Denis Diderot, translated by P.N. Furbank.
Missouri, 166 pp., £22, December 1991, 0 8262 0815 0
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Diderot: Political Writings 
edited by John Hope Mason and Robert Wokler.
Cambridge, 225 pp., £30, May 1992, 0 521 36044 7
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... Once upon a time, a distinguished French Department in a well-known British university set a question on Diderot in its Final Examination. Owing to a couple of unfortunate misprints, his name appeared as ‘Piderst’. Understandably, it was not a popular question. But it did attract one answer, from a candidate who discussed the merits of Piderst with enthusiasm, if in rather general terms ...

Megalomaniac and Loser

Norman Hampson, 21 March 1985

Beyond the Terror: Essays in French Regional and Social History 1794-1815 
edited by Gwynne Lewis and Colin Lucas.
Cambridge, 276 pp., £22.50, October 1983, 0 521 25114 1
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Chouannerie and Counter-Revolution: Puisaye, the Princes and the British Government in the 1790s 
by Maurice Hutt.
Cambridge, 630 pp., £60, December 1983, 0 521 22603 1
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Britain and Revolutionary France: Conflict, Subversion and Propaganda 
edited by Colin Jones.
Exeter, 96 pp., £1.75, June 1983, 0 85989 179 8
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... 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, and a chorus of pious commemoration will drown the irreverent voices of those who express their reservations about the quality of the Emperor’s tailors. This is as it should be: historians, however scrupulous and dispassionate, usually derive from the present the incentive to persevere in their arduous exploration of a past whose significance depends to some extent on the angle from which it is illuminated ...

The Big Store

Norman Hampson, 21 January 1982

The Bon Marché: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store 1869-1920 
by Michael Miller.
Allen and Unwin, 266 pp., £12.50, September 1981, 0 04 330316 1
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Ladies of the Leisure Class: The Bourgeoises of Northern France in the 19th Century 
by Bonnie Smith.
Princeton, 303 pp., £15, November 1981, 0 691 05330 8
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Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France 1789-1880 
by Maurice Agulhon, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Cambridge, 235 pp., £18.50, June 1981, 0 521 28224 1
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... When she regretfully consigned the old world to the dustbin of history in North and South, Mrs Gaskell had no illusions about the nastiness of the new, but still saw it as conferring an unprecedented independence on the working man. Dickens put the emphasis on the dehumanised pursuit and efficient accumulation of material wealth, as an end in itself: the replacement of Squire Allworthy by Mr Bounderby ...

Friend Robespierre

Norman Hampson, 5 August 1982

Interpreting the French Revolution 
by François Furet, translated by Elborg Forster.
Cambridge, 204 pp., £15, September 1981, 0 04 330316 1
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Class, Ideology and the Rights of Nobles during the French Revolution 
by Patrice Higonnet.
Oxford, 358 pp., £22.50, November 1981, 0 19 822583 0
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... Francois Furet’s book, which appeared in France in 1978, reopens the debate on the nature and significance of the French Revolution. For a very long time, what Professor Soboul likes to describe as the ‘classical’ interpretation provided the frame of reference for all the arguments. It was challenged by the late Professor Cobban in his Wiles Lectures, published in 1964 as The Social Interpretation of the French Revolution, but Cobban’s attack was essentially negative ...

Six French Frizeurs

David A. Bell, 10 December 1998

The Perfidy of Albion: French Perceptions of England during the French Revolution 
by Norman Hampson.
Macmillan, 210 pp., £40, June 1998, 0 333 73148 4
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Poisoning the Minds of the Lower Orders 
by Don Herzog.
Princeton, 472 pp., £18, September 1998, 0 691 04831 2
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... or Hanoverian prisoners alive. Fortunately, the commanders mostly ignored the order, although Norman Hampson, in his valuable new book, has found a couple of unfortunate instances where they followed it to the letter. Not a date to recall at official functions of the European Union, you would think. Yet, in a twisted way, Barère’s motion was ...

Missed Opportunities

Judith Shklar, 4 August 1983

Will and Circumstance: Montesquieu, Rousseau and the French Revolution 
by Norman Hampson.
Duckworth, 282 pp., £19.50, June 1983, 0 7156 1697 8
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Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1754 
by Maurice Cranston.
Allen Lane, 382 pp., £14.95, April 1983, 0 7139 0608 1
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... specific ways. One might well speak of a sort of psychological materialism. The first part of Norman Hampson’s Will and Circumstance reads like just such a production. It begins with Rousseau singing a revolutionary song in counterpoint to Montesquieu’s reforming liberalism. They were the two writers most often quoted by the revolutionaries, but ...


John Dunn, 4 April 1991

by Norman Hampson.
Blackwell, 245 pp., £27.50, January 1991, 9780631162339
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... This would certainly not have been the opinion of Michelet. It is a very nice point whether it is Norman Hampson’s. When Michelet introduces Saint-Just to his readers he does so with as little enthusiasm as Hampson, showing him calling implacably for the death of Louis XVI and sending shivers of joy through the ranks ...


Alan Ryan, 9 November 1989

Burke and the Fall of Language: The French Revolution as Linguistic Event 
by Steven Blakemore.
University Press of New England, 115 pp., £10, April 1989, 0 87451 452 5
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The Impact of the French Revolution on European Consciousness 
edited by H.T. Mason and William Doyle.
Sutton, 205 pp., £17.95, June 1989, 0 86299 483 7
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The French Revolution and the Enlightenment in England 1789-1832 
by Seamus Deane.
Harvard, 212 pp., £19.95, November 1988, 0 674 32240 1
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... opening attempt to divine the ruling principles of the Revolution at one end of the book to Norman Hampson’s engagingly self-mocking attempt to draw out its lessons at the other. But a good many of the essays are sustainedly interesting, and all have their moments. The less literary-minded will probably enjoy Professor ...


Rosalind Mitchison, 21 January 1982

Enemies of God: The Witch-Hunt in Scotland 
by Christina Larner.
Chatto, 244 pp., £12.95, September 1981, 0 7011 2424 5
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The Enlightenment in National Context 
edited by Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich.
Cambridge, 276 pp., £19.50, September 1981, 0 521 23757 2
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... The ‘craze’ was a short one, coinciding with the late wave of the general European scare. Norman Cohn has established that the existence of a witch scare in the early 14th century is an invention of historians. Witchcraft, in theory and in suppression, was a growth at the end of the 14th century, died down in the early 16th century to return in the ...

‘What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!’

Hilary Mantel: Springtime for Robespierre, 30 March 2000

edited by Colin Haydon and William Doyle.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £35, July 1999, 0 521 59116 3
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... you have not chosen to fight – abandoned Danton when he could do nothing more for him. But as Norman Hampson says elsewhere, the Danton of legend is hard to resist, especially since he imposed himself on contemporaries as well as posterity. After his death this well-read, greedy, secretive lawyer became a sort of roaring boy, a ...

If you’d seen his green eyes

Hilary Mantel: The People’s Robespierre, 20 April 2006

Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution 
by Ruth Scurr.
Chatto, 388 pp., £20, May 2006, 0 7011 7600 8
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... his well-shaven jaw set, his thin shoulders stiff with rectitude inside his well-brushed coat. As Norman Hampson wrote in The Life and Opinions of Maximilien Robespierre, ‘there’s nothing the facts can do to change the myth.’ Still, one must keep trying: stating the facts as we have them, living with the myth while scrutinising it. Robespierre was ...

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