Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women by Kate Quinn, et al.

Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women is a heartbreaking book. The six authors told the stories of women who were intimately involved with the French Revolution, as instigators, writers, politicians, survivors. Some of the women were executed on the guillotine. However, even the survivors lost loved ones, their purpose, their dignity. The authors point out that women are usually the losers in revolution, in marriage, in life. And, in the 18th century, no matter how they started out, they were crushed under weight of men's power and cruelty.

While Ribbons of Scarlet is not an easy book to summarize, the stories flow easily from one to another. Each author focused on one woman, but their lives intersected, and Heather Webb, who wrote the second part, introduced most of the characters. Stephanie Dray kicked off the book with the story of Sophie de Grouchy, "The Philosopher", a woman who married a man who treated her as an intellectual equal, but she learned to love him. Each author selected a woman who helped to shape the French Revolution. Heather Webb said they shaped it "through their pens, their speeches, their battles in the streets, and their sacrifices. Webb selected Louise "Reine" Audu, a radical activist caught up in the mob violence, whose life ended tragically. And, Webb emphasizes women's fierce nature as she writes of "The Revolutionary".

Sophie Perinot took on the third woman, another woman who changed her life and hopes for a man, her brother, and whose end was tragic. Perinot writes of "The Princess", "Madame Elizabeth", sister of Louis XVI. When her brother asked her to give up her hopes of being a nun, she stays by his side. But, she's a complex character, as Perinot shows.

Manon Roland is a woman who became a politician's wife. In today's world, she herself would be the brilliant politician and writer. Instead, she became the force behind her husband, as Kate Quinn shows in part four, "The Politician". But, she was not respected for her brilliant words. Instead, she and her husband were mocked because it was known she wrote his speeches. This force behind the man was another woman whose life was cut short.

E. Knight writes of the one woman with a name many will recognize, Charlotte Corday, "The Assassin" who tried to end the bloodshed of the revolution by killing the man she thought was one of the forces behind it, Marat. She thought he had incited massacres in his newspaper, and she hoped to save the Republic.

Laura Kamoie tells of the tragedy that may have finally hit home with the people in the chapter "The Beauty". She writes of Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe Sartine, the daughter of a courtesan who was a young beauty. And, Emilie's story intersects with some of the other women from the very beginning when she's a young girl.

Ribbons of Scarlet is not a pretty story. It spans the entire length of the French Revolution, and Napoleon is about to take the stage as Emperor by the end of the book. "By 1793, years of political unrest, revolution, and chance had transformed Paris into a city of ugliness and hate." And, many of the women of this book, actual women whose lives are portrayed in the novel, were viewed as whores. "That is the word for any woman with an opinion and a voice to express it." Sound familiar?

Tragedy. I used that word numerous times in this summary. The revolution itself ended in tragedy and death for so many. You'll find women in these pages who wrote about human rights, wrote against slavery, marched for women's rights, not just the rights of men. But, what happens to those kind of women? People "Killed women for being too political, too intelligent, too opinionated, too darling, too pretty." And, it's still going on today. The authors of Ribbons of Scarlet emphasize women's roles, and what happens to women in this noel of revolution.

Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb. HarperCollins Publishers, 2019. ISBN 9780062952196 (hardcover), 560p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a book tour.

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