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The man who was France

Patrice Higonnet, 21 October 1993

At the Heart of a Tiger: Clemenceau and His World 1841-1929 
by Gregor Dallas.
Macmillan, 672 pp., £25, January 1993, 0 333 49788 0
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... Clemenceau was an archetype; he even looked like the Third Republic. He wore, in Keynes’s words of 1919, ‘a square-tailed coat of very good, thick broadcloth, and on his hands, which were never uncovered, grey suede gloves’. For Churchill, who much admired his French counterpart, Clemenceau was ‘as much as a single human being, miraculously magnified, can ever be, a nation; he was France ...

Family Stories

Patrice Higonnet, 4 August 1994

The Past in French History 
by Robert Gildea.
Yale, 416 pp., £30, February 1994, 0 300 05799 7
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La Gauche survivra-t-elle aux socialistes? 
by Jean-Marie Colombani.
Flammarion, 213 pp., frs 105, March 1994, 2 08 066953 2
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... Robert Gildea’s subject is less French history than French ‘political culture’. His method eschews ‘the theorising pretensions of the Marxist and the Annales schools’ without ‘reducing history to one senseless deed of violence after another’, as he presumes (wrongly) Simon Schama to have done. Also to be avoided is Theodore Zeldin’s pointilliste description of isolated individuals, moving through time and space like ‘rogue electrons ...


Patrice Higonnet, 14 November 1996

Benjamin Franklin and his Enemies 
by Robert Middlekauf.
California, 276 pp., £19.95, March 1996, 0 520 20268 6
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... Sloth, by bringing on Disease, absolutely shortens Life.’ ‘The cat in gloves catches no mice.’ ‘A watched pot never boils’. No one can wholly avoid hating ‘Old Daddy Franklin’, from whose Poor Richard’s Almanac these sayings come, especially if brought up to revere him in Public School, USA. Abraham Lincoln is the father of his people; George Washington, of his nation; but Benjamin Franklin – as it happens, a basically very decent man – hovers over the entire tradition of American ‘Babbittry ...


Patrice Higonnet: On Jacques Chirac, 22 June 1995

... Did France need François Mitterrand? I hope not: the man was so vain, so shallow, so duplicitous, so amoral. It wasn’t just that you couldn’t believe anything he said: you couldn’t even consistently believe its opposite. In fact, you couldn’t listen to him without feeling you had somehow been deceived. When this deeply cynical politician placed his hand on his heart, spoke about the poor, reminded you that he had never been interested in money, even as a child, and smiled through his bloodless lips, then you could be pretty sure he was lying ...

De Gaulle’s Debt

Patrice Higonnet: Moulin, the French martyr, 4 December 2003

Jean Moulin: Le politique, le rebelle, le résistant 
by Jean-Pierre Azéma.
Perrin, 507 pp., €24, April 2003, 2 262 01329 2
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... By 1995, there were 37 monuments and 113 plaques dedicated to Jean Moulin in France; 978 boulevards, avenues, streets, squares, bridges and stadiums were named after him, as well as more than 365 schools, including one university. There are even more today; only de Gaulle is more honoured. And yet at the time of his death at the hands of Nazi torturers in the first days of July 1943, Moulin was unknown even among the elite circles of the day ...


T.H. Breen, 10 May 1990

The First Salute 
by Barbara Tuchman.
Joseph, 347 pp., £15.95, March 1989, 0 7181 3142 8
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Sister Republics: The Origins of French and American Republicanism 
by Patrice Higonnet.
Harvard, 317 pp., £19.95, December 1988, 0 674 80982 3
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Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America 
by Edmund Morgan.
Norton, 318 pp., £12.95, September 1988, 0 393 02505 5
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... error” the mould of the species is permanent. That is the earth’s burden.’ Edmund Morgan and Patrice Higonnet are less pessimistic. They see the great ideological transformations of the 18th century as a continuing challenge. To be sure, those who dreamed of creating a genuine liberal democracy may have failed to achieve their immediate goals, but ...

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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... world of its participants, but this is not enough to explain why things turned out as they did. Patrice Higonnet’s subject is not the nobles and what happened to them, but the way the evolution of other people’s attitudes towards them illuminates the objectives and assumptions of the revolutionaries. His starting-point is the assertion that changes ...

There is no more Vendée

Gavin Jacobson: The Terror, 16 March 2017

The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution 
by Timothy Tackett.
Harvard, 463 pp., £25, February 2015, 978 0 674 73655 9
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... individualistic and communitarian, and it inherited the hard-nosed intolerances of absolutism. Patrice Higonnet put it best in Goodness beyond Virtue (1998): ‘Jacobinism could not stand still … [it] would either fall back or move forward. It required commitment. It could not pause. Time and time again, Jacobin politics excluded those ...

Last Farewells

Linda Colley, 22 June 1989

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution 
by Simon Schama.
Viking, 948 pp., £20, May 1989, 0 670 81012 6
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The Oxford History of the French Revolution 
by William Doyle.
Oxford, 466 pp., £17.50, May 1989, 0 19 822781 7
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The Shadow of the Guillotine: Britain and the French Revolution 
by David Bindman.
British Museum, 232 pp., £14.95, June 1989, 0 7141 1637 8
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... the violent aspects of the Revolution; and only recently another Harvard historian of France, Patrice Higonnet, wrote an anguished essay linking the Terror of the 1790s with the Holocaust of the 1940s. Stanley Hoffman’s reply to this latter piece in the journal French Politics and Society seems to me to be important: ‘Today, those who ask 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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... is an active force that puts the public good before private interest. Its meaning is explored in Patrice Higonnet’s Goodness beyond Virtue (1998), which is an extraordinary manual of practical Jacobinism. Higonnet has not much time for Robespierre, who, he says, ‘probably died a virgin’ (not that historians ever ...

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