A Word from the Editor
Do literary distortions of historical events offer food for thought or merely drive us crazy? A new film on Marie-Antoinette, based on the novel by Chantal Thomas, takes us Upstairs/ Downstairs at Versailles during the fateful days of 14 to 17 July 1789. The queen is desperate to revive her relationship with the beautiful duchesse de Polignac and barely seems aware of the events taking place around her. Nothing here about the short-lived Breteuil ministry or the royal family mourning their recently deceased son. Yet rumours of the uprising in Paris reach the palace’s kitchens and barracks, and we follow the rapidly deteriorating situation through the eyes of the queen’s young reader. The vignettes about the queen’s household and the daily routines of her sevants, as Laura Mason points out, lend the film an unexpected charm.
Short of Quentin Tarentino taking on the French Revolution, Ken Russell’s The Devils offers the most outré version of Old Regime politics one is likely to encounter. Its ostensible subject is the trial and execution in 1634 of Urbain Grandier of Loudun, after accusations of witchcraft by hysterical nuns. But the real culprits are Richelieu and the Church that exact a terrible vengeance on the cleric who defies the chief minister. The depiction is so over-the-top that Darryl Dee doubts that any segment is salvageable, except to make students reflect on contradictions within the Catholic revival. The film that takes the opposite stance, Monsieur Vincent, presents its own problems for the historian, as Michael Wolfe explains. Politics are practically absent, such as Vincent de Paul’s relationship to Queen Anne, or the efforts to eradicate Protestantism. Yet the film offers a highly engaging vision of the socially conscious saint, and the world of the pious in the seventeenth century.
A retired geography professor who lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake captures the atmosphere of the German Occupation through a French Chief Inspector and a Gestapo Detektivinspektor who must work together to solve murders that fall under both jurisdictions. Robin Walz, who invited Robert Janes to a meeting of the Western Society a decade ago, picks up the tale in its most recent incarnation. Especially attuned to the details of daily life, Janes shows how conditions in France have deteriorated by the third year of its occupation. The Germans are now aware that their hold on their conquered territories is growing more tenuous. The series (and two new titles have already been announced) therefore offers a finely tuned picture of France during its dark years.
University at Buffalo, SUNY