First sentence: The history of France in 1792 has been too fully written, and too generally read to leave the novelist any excuse for describing the state of Paris at the close of the summer of that year.
Premise/plot: Trollope's only historical novel is set in France during the French Revolution. It has, at best, a bittersweet ending so be warned. The heroes of La Vendee are Royalists, men determined to fight against the Republic and bring back a King. These men, as you might imagine, are supported by others: fathers, mothers, sisters, and lovers. Romance does play a role in this one.
M. de Lescure (Charles, I believe) is happily married but circumstances are leading him away from his wife and sister (Marie) and the life he's always treasured. He's called--by necessity--to take up arms and fight for what he believes in: the monarchy.
Henri de Larochejaquelin is his cousin and best friend. Henri truly loves Marie and wishes that times were different. He could easily imagine himself marrying Marie and living peacefully and happily. But the times are not peaceful but turbulent. The Republic is not content to manage Paris but wants to "fix" the whole nation. Henri has a sister, Agatha, and an aging father.
Adolphe Denot is another friend. He madly loves Agatha. But she doesn't return his feelings, and, when faced with rejection on the eve of leaving for war, he loses first his courage, then his sanity, and at last his loyalty.
Jacques Chapeau is Henri's oh-so-faithful servant who really rises to the occasion throughout the novel. The woman he loves is Annot. Her father is less than enthusiastic to see his own sons go off to war. The idea of his daughter marrying a soldier--and a SERVANT--proves troubling. But love for his daughter wins out with this blacksmith.
These are just a handful of the men (and women) we meet throughout the novel. Most of the characters we meet are Royalists, but, Trollope also takes the time to give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Republican army and convention.
My thoughts: This one was a compelling read certainly. I never really held out much hope for happy endings for one and all. The soldiers feel fated to die for their cause either in battle or by guillotine. The women feel fated to--at the very least--mourn the loss of their lovers, and, at worst face death as well by the hands of the Republicans.
I definitely came to care for the characters. (I haven't even mentioned Cathelineau and Father Jerome.)
The peasants declared that they would not obey the orders of the Convention — that they would not fight the battles of the Republic. This was the commencement of the revolt.
“We cannot have war without the horrors of war,” said Henri.
“You must be very good to Victoriana,” he said to his sister; “you must be very good to each other, Marie, for you will both have much to bear.” “We will, we will,” said Marie; “but you, Charles, you will be with us; at any rate not far from us.” “I may be near you, and yet not with you; or I may soon be placed beyond all human troubles. I would have you prepare yourself; of all the curses which can fall on a country, a civil war is the most cruel.”
“His will be done. He may yet turn away from us this misery. We may yet live, Charles, to look on these things as our dearest reminiscences.” “We may; but it is not the chance for which we should be best prepared. We are not to expect that God will raise his arm especially to vindicate our injuries; it would be all but blasphemous to ask Him to do so. We are but a link in the chain of events which His wisdom has designed. Should we wish that that chain should be broken for our purposes?” “Surely not. I would not be so presumptuous as to name my own wishes in my prayers to the Creator.”
We must fight our battles by inches, and be satisfied, if, when dying, we can think that we have left to our children a probability of final victory.
Don’t be afraid of our lacking courage. Do not be afraid that the truth will frighten us. Agatha, and Victorine, and I, have schooled ourselves to think of death without flinching.” “To think without flinching of the death of others, is the difficulty,” said Agatha. “I fear we have none of us as yet brought ourselves to that.” “But we must think of the death of others,” said Henri.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews