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The Past in French History

Robert Gildea

View Inside Price: $39.00


April 24, 1996
432 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
24 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300067118
Paper

Also Available in:
Cloth

This fascinating book examines how the past pervades French public life, how the French both commemorate their past triumphs, heroes, and martyrs and attempt to erase the more violent events in their history. The book surveys the ways that various political communities in France during the past two centuries have manufactured different versions of the past in order to define their identities and legitimate their goals.

Beginning with a discussion of the bicentenary of the French Revolution in 1989, Robert Gildea moves backward in time to show how rival factions have used various elements of French political culture—from the grandeur of the ancien régime to Catholicism, Jacobinism, Anarchism, and Bonapartism—to further their ends. Gildea shows how proponents of revolution and counterrevolution, church and state, centralism and regionalism, and national identity and nationalism campaigned to achieve the widest possible acceptance of their own view of the past. He describes the continuing battle between Left and Right for association with national heroes such as Joan of Arc and Napoleon. He exposes the reworking of collective views of the past by political communities, in order to increase or recover political legitimacy. Written in clear and trenchant prose, the book offers a new perspective on French history and political culture.

Robert Gildea is a fellow of Merton College and lecturer in history at Oxford University.

"This is a huge, ambitious and magnificent work. A history not so much of events but how they are perceived, it is a brilliant account of how the French think about their past. Arranged thematically, its scope is awesome: Gildea takes in a vast sweep of time and personalities, from Louis XVI to the student leaders of 1968, without resorting to sweeping statements. . . . The outstanding virtue of a book like this is that it shows that history is a continuous dialogue between past and present."—Rosanna de Lisle, The Times (London)

"Never before have the competing constructions of the past been examined in a single volume with such erudition and panache. . . . Gildea deals with his subject theoretically, but he intertwines his themes with dexterity and originality."—Douglas Johnson, Times Literary Supplement

"A brilliant book. Its starting point is a simple but ingenious premise that allows Robert Gildea to discuss huge swathes of history in relation to national dreams and nightmares. This makes for very engaging reading."—Martin Bright, New Statesman & Society

"This book will provide specialists and students with an indispensable handbook of French political culture. General readers will find it a surprising and fascinating guide to the country that is for many of us a second home, but whose thoughts and aspirations we little understand."—Robert Tombs, The Observer

"Rich, clear, lively. . . . Gildea shows in the most compellingly possible terms that history is less factology than versions. . . . This is a fundamentally important book which deserves to be read and reread—not only by historians."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"An excellent introduction to these French family stories."—Patrice Higonnet, London Review of Books

"Gildea's book is a timely reminder of why history is such a subversive subject: because it is never just about the past, but also the present and the future. Importantly too this is a well-written book. Out of a myriad of complex events Gildea skillfully pulls out key concepts, such as grandeur and revolution, examining how they have been articulated by both Left and Right. . . . What he has produced is an ambitious piece of scholarship which succeeds brilliantly."—Martin Evans, History Today

"Gildea must be congratulated for having the courage to tackle such a vast subject. What he has produced is an ambitious piece of scholarship which succeeds brilliantly."—Martin Evans, History Today

"This book is really about the importance of myths in history and how groups use them to perpetuate their particular interpretation of the past. . . . Well-written and researched, this original monograph should be of interest to anyone seeking to understand the history of modern France."—Leigh Whaley, Modern & Contemporary France

"This is a work of massive erudition: even specialists will find in it a whole load of things they didn't know. But the erudition is treated with a genuine lightness of touch, such that the non-specialist will find it an enjoyable—and on occasions provocative—read. In fact anyone with an interest in France between the Revolution and the present day will get something from it."—Ralph Gibson, French Studies

"Dr. Gildea's book will be read with enjoyment by anyone with a serious interest in the history of modern France. . . . An impressively researched and imaginatively conceived work which leaves the reader hungry for more of the same."—James F. McMillan, English Historical Review

"A well documented study. . . . The volume is always stimulating. The interplay between nineteenth century views and critical interpretations is a fascinating subject."—Oscar A. Haac, French Review