Posted by: Sarah | July 14, 2010

In Honor of Bastille Day: Three Classic Revolutionary Novels

While we lit sparklers and ate watermelon on the 4th of July, I guarantee a handful of Parisians sat in Café de la Paix having coffee and butter croissants, complaining about the disastrous French football (soccer) at the World Cup. The only fireworks being of the verbal variety on the mention of Nicolas Anelka.

Turnabout is fair play.

Today is the French Bastille Day, and I’m sitting at home drinking iced tea, eating a turkey burger, and emailing pre-season football (American=helmets and jockstraps) plans with friends. But I always stop to remember the day because it also happens to be a dear friend’s birthday. She’s a Bastille baby. I figure the historical triumph imparted some cosmic oomph to her aura because she’s all heart and courage.

As I recall from history class a couple decades back, Bastille Day was the rallying event of the French Revolution; the moment when Frenchmen and women said, “No more! We, the people, deserve our say!” The power of the select few was abolished giving way to the free and equal voice of the populous. It’s a beautiful thing. No matter what our past squabbles have been with the French, we can unite around this common red-white-&-blue spirit.

So with Bastille Day in mind, I came up with my three favorite novels set during the French Revolution. Here they are in no particular order:

1) A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Need I say more?

2) Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo

Oh, Jean Valjean, poor Cosette and precious Fantine. The Broadway score is tuning up in my head: “There is a castle on a cloud…” (Thank goodness you can’t hear me sing. It’s not fit for public practice.)

3) The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Years ago, I saw the old Hollywood adaptation with Leslie Howard (a.k.a. Ashley from Gone With the Wind) as Percy/Scarlet Pimpernel and Merle Oberon as Marguerite. I was so taken that I read the novel, imagining Leslie and Merle the whole time. Plus I fancied the word Pimpernel. It’s just so fun to say, especially with a British accent. Go ahead, nobody can hear you, try it: Pimpernel! Pimm-perr-nel!

Those are my quick three picks to honor the French Independence Day. If you haven’t read these, I wholeheartedly suggest you trot down to the library or local bookstore and pick up a copy now. You can thank me later. 😉

Bonne Bastille! And happy birthday Cindy!

Yours truly, Sarah



  1. Of critical note: The 1935 film adaptation of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, is showing on TCM in exactly 1 minute. 6 p.m. ET. Hurray for Bastille Day!

    Here’s the link:

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