Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution is a landmark of literary history. Conceived not as a dry recounting of facts, but as a personal, vivid, direct and dramatic encounter with the turbulent times of revolutionary France, it is in fact an extended dramatic monologue in which we meet not only the striking personalities and events of the time, but the equally striking personality and mind of Thomas Carlyle himself.
In this, the first volume of the series, we live out the course of the French Revolution, from the death of Louis XV to the triumphal celebrations of early days of the National Assembly.
Thomas Carlyle's writing is a true challenge to the reader and the listener. He does not write in the calm, objective, matter-of-fact style of a modern historian; quite the contrary! He writes as if he were there, a witness to history, passionately involved with the events that he makes unfold before our eyes. He gives his rare mastery of the outer reaches of the English language full scope, challenging us to grasp not only his complex thoughts, but his intricate manner of expressing them. Grappling with his mind and with the events of the Revolution at the same time is a powerful challenge for any reader or listener.
(P)2009 Robert William Bethune
The first reviewers of this audio-book missed the point entirely. Clearly Carlyle is not a contemporary writer and he is not writing an expository text. They should have known that if they had only bothered to consult the work ahead of time. But that's not the point of my post. The fact of the matter is I've been trying to make sense of the French Revolution, on and off, for the past twenty years and this book takes, as one of the reviewers noted, a poetic approach to the entire episode, if we may call it that. Surprisingly, I started Carlyle's book and couldn't stop reading. That's when I decided to order the audio edition primarily for help with French pronunciation of place names and persons. Once you get into the rhythm of the writing is carries itself, as poetic writing does. Yes, the diction and word order will be a challenge for today's reader, but the underlying unity of the work with it's historical sensibility is outstanding. I certainly recommend the audio edition as well, because it's a complement to the silent reader.
I gave this entire series (The French Revolution: Bastille, Constitution and Guillotine) a rating of '1', only because I couldn't rate it any lower. Admittedly, I could only sit through the first two hours of the first volume. I honestly couldn't figure out what the author was trying to say.
The problem (for me) is that the entire book seems to be written in a style of stanzas (poetic), rather than a paragraph (narrative) form. Also the language style uses a psuedo-period (1770's) English, even a Shakespearian-like English, all put together in a rather poor attempt of something like Iambic Pentameter style. At least that's the impression I got while listening. Using every allagory, metaphore, simile, and every other literary trick in the book simply confused the verbage into such a tangle, that virtually nothing could be made out of any particular point. I assume a point was trying to be made.
Please don't take my word for all of this - I advise listening very closely to the sample that Audible provides before you buy. If you like this style, and can make out what's being said, by all means go ahead and buy it. If you have a problem, I can only assure you that it won't get any better.
I have been an Audible.com customer for many years, and have purchased many history genre books. Among my selections include such authors as Suetonius, Tacitus, and Horoditus, as well as Shelby Foote, Winston Churchill, Bruce Catton, David McCullough, and many other modern authors. 'The French Revolution' has to be my greatest disappointment in any historical genre book purchased from Audible, and has earned the only '1' rating in my entire collection.
A definite NOT recommended.
According to Wikipedia, the first volume of Thomas Carlyle's "The French Revolution" was accidentally burned by John Stuart Mill's maid, only to be rewritten later from scratch by the author. If I had the opportunity, I'd burn it again.
Granted, I really ought to read these Audible listings more carefully. I mistakenly assumed this book was a straight-up history, rather than a heap of ponderous, indigestible 19th Century verbiage. Far from being a history, it's more of a rambling, virulently-opinionated prose poem. Maybe that's your cup of tea, but as far as I'm concerned, puffed-up spume like this explains why the mantra of modern writers is "show, don't tell."
Carlyle's "The French Revolution" might prove useful as a natural alternative to prescription sleep aids, but otherwise it's a must-skip!
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