Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution by Olivier Blanc - review by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

The Last Post

Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution


André Deutsch 272pp £12.95 order from our bookshop

The Revolution executed feminists, insider-traders, and turbulent printers of a left-wing bent; it cut a swathe through the Paris intelligentsia, ‘devouring,’ as Vergniaud said, ‘its own children.’ There were many aristocrats among its victims, though they were not often the tragic angels of legend; the Scarlet Pimpernel would not have exerted himself for the noble hoarders, conmen and spies who filled the Paris prisons of the Year II. Still, that was a cruel year. Beware of regimes which tamper with the calendar.

The guillotine began its public career with a highway robber, and ended it, for political purposes, with a round-up of Robespierrists and the eighteenth century version of the loony left. Between March 1793 and January 1794, there were 381 executions; then at the height of the Terror, between early June

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