Allan Massie

Dressed To Be Killed

Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France

By

HarperCollins 441pp £20 order from our bookshop

I suppose many people if asked to name women who were prominent during the years of the Revolution in France might be hard put to come up with more than Marie Antoinette, Charlotte Corday and Madame Defarge, a fictional character. Some who read history at university might add the Girondin, Madame Roland, who, condemned to the guillotine, said, with much truth, ‘O Liberté, que de crimes on commet en ton nom!’; and Madame de Staël, the bluestocking who, years later, lectured Byron on his treatment of his wife and kindly offered to act as intermediary in order to effect a reconciliation – this was somewhat impertinent, given that she had long discarded her husband, formerly the Swedish ambassador to France, in favour of a succession of lovers. And then, I suppose, you might think of the beautiful Creole who became first Napoleon’s wife and then his Empress. But that might be about it.

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