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European History


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne: Volume 1: 1781-1815 edited by Anka Muhlstein with an afterword by Olivier Bernier; Memoirs of the Comtesse De Boigne: Volume 2: 1816-1830 edited by Anka Muhlstein, with an afterword by Olivier Bernier (Helen Marx Books: Turtle Point Press)Dear Friend,

So begins an unforgettable chronicle… The book that a century ago delighted one of its first readers, Marcel Proust, is finally, after 94 years, available to readers in a new English-language translation, the first to be widely available in the United States . This new two-volume edition is a spellbinding account of life during one of the most agitated and exciting period in French history.
Born Adèle d'Osmond in 1781, the daughter of a lady-in-waiting in Louis XVI's court, Madame de Boigne was raised in the intimacy of the King and his royal family. She was also a sharp-eyed, opinionated witness to a tumultuous world – both public and private.
Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne, Volume 1 of her memoirs begins in the 1780s with her childhood at Versailles , continuing through her family's travels to Italy and England and their subsequent returns to France . We join her when she and her family follow her father to Italy for an ambassadorship in Turin ; when Napoleon arrives in Paris ; and when, in 1816, her father is appointed ambassador to London . Volume 2 of this gripping chronicle, Memoirs of the Comtesse De Boigne, begins with Madame de Boigne's arrival in England in 1816 and continues through the last years of Louis XVIII's reign and the Revolution of 1830. Though her diaries end there, the countess went on to live until 1866. These diaries reveal a woman of intelligence and contradictions. Although she claimed to be heartbroken when her wealthy older husband died – she had married him to save her family from financial ruin – shortly thereafter she began a 30-year love affair. She admired England but found its customs distasteful. She loved French society but hated its political stagnation. Although she was a staunch Royalist, she still respected Napoleon and was appalled by the rigidity of the last two Bourbon Kings. Her intimately thorough and intelligent diaries include both court gossip and well-informed commentary on the ever shifting loyalties of those who surrounded her during these decades of upheaval.

In firsthand observations that are immensely readable, knowledgeable, and enjoyable, Madame de Boigne reveals a woman –`and a chapter in history – never to be forgotten. Revised and edited by Anka Muhlstein, this two-volume edition of Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne will undoubtedly appeal to a wide range of students, historians, and lovers of great writing.

French Society: 1589 – 1715 by Sharon Kettering (Longman) presents a bird's eye view of social change in France during `the long seventeenth century' from 1589 to 1715, covering the reigns of the first three bourbon kings, Henri IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV It provides an original perspective on social change by examining the shifts in social solidarities, the personal`bonds and loyalties acting as forces that hold society together and counteract instability and fragmentation.

These bonds included rank, honour, and reputation; family, household and kinship; faith and church; state and obedience to the king; seigneurial and patron‑client ties; sociability; workrelated ties; and regional ties such as neighbourhood and village loyalties. The changes in solidarities included the proliferation of nuclear family ties at the expense of extended kinship ties. The indirect power and influence of women continued to be important. The demographic crisis and agricultural stagnation encouraged labour mobility, which with absentee landlordism helped to undermine traditional rural ties. There was a significant transformation in the traditional role of the nobility, while a new emphasis upon loyal obedience to the king and an emerging national consciousness changed how the French saw themselves. A resurgent Catholicism sought to reform the church by imposing Tridentine orthodoxy while eliminating Protestant heresy and Jansenist heterodoxy. Individuals on the margins of society such as beggars, vagrants, and criminals, who lacked many of the ties and solidarities characterizing the rest of society, are discussed in the last chapter. France by 1715 had become a more peaceful, civilized place in which to live, and this book discusses some of the reasons why.

The French Civil Wars, 1562-1598 by R. J. Knecht (Modern Wars in Perspective: Longman) The Wars of Religion tore France apart for the best part of fifty years (1562‑1598), most spectacularly in the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572, in which thousands of Huguenots were killed. The wars were part of a conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism that convulsed much of Europe during the 16th century. They are a crucial dimension of European early modern history.

The French Civil Wars is not just an account of battles and sieges. Civil wars, like family quarrels, are bitter; their causes are usually complex and deep‑rooted. R.J. Knecht shows that religion was a genuine enough issue, but demonstrates that there were other causes as well, notably an unemployment crisis among the nobility combined with a catastrophic decline in royal authority following the accidental death of Henry II.

Civil wars differ from foreign wars: they resemble forest fires which break out in many places at once. In sixteenth­century France their savagery was exemplified by a series of massacres and political assassinations. As the technology of war developed so did its cost. Unable to pay for it out of its traditional sources of income, the crown was driven to make unsatisfactory peace treaties which repeatedly broke down. As artillery developed, sieges became more common than pitched battles.

This is an exciting and important new account explaining both conflicts and the attempts for peace in early modern France.

ZARAFA by Michael Allin ($22.00, hardcover, 224 pages, Walker & Co, ISBN: 0802713394) In October 1826 a ship arrived at Marseilles carrying the first giraffe ever seen in France. A royal offering from Muhammad Ali, Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, to King Charles X, she had already traveled 2,000 miles down the Nile to Alexandria, from where she had sailed across the Mediterranean standing in the hold, her long neck and head protruding through a hole cut in the deck. In the spring of 1827, after wintering in Marseilles, she was carefully walked 550 miles to Paris to the delight of thousands of onlookers. The viceroy's tribute was politically motivated: He commanded the Turkish forces then fighting the Greeks in their war of independence, and hoped his gift would persuade the French not to intervene against him. But the viceroy and his intentions were quickly forgotten as France fell in love with its "beautiful stranger." ZARAFA chronicles the full story of this remarkable animal, revealing a kaleidoscope of history, science, and culture that opens an exotic window on the early nineteenth century. From the Enlightenment's blossoming fascination with science to Napoleon's ill-fated invasion of Egypt in 1798 from the eminent French naturalist Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire to Bernardino Drovetti, French consul general in Egypt and tomb robber extraordinaire, the era was full of memorable events and characters. Michael Allin deftly weaves them into the story with an appreciation for detail and an uncommon affection.

The giraffe's strange and wonderful journey linked Africa and Europe in mutual discovery. Although her arrival did not keep the French out of Ali's war, she became an instant celebrity in Paris and over the next eighteen years she fascinated all of Europe. Through Michael Allin's narrative skill, ZARAFA stirs the imagination as it provides a new context for the history of a distant age.

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