Tuesday, July 12, 2011

City of Darkness, City of Light

Mary Wollstonecraft is entirely absent from Marge Piercy's novel of the French Revolution, City of Darkness, City of Light. (This review comes to you courtesy of the week remembering Mary and France.) I had hoped to see Mary through the poet's prose; after all, her friend the saloniere Madame Roland is one of the six principal characters whose interleaved stories structure the book. But no, the more than 150 member supporting cast does not have room for her.  A walk-on speaking part I did earnestly desire, but 'twas not to be. Not even the whisk of a petticoat as the hyena left the room: "Sir, had you attended the salon last week, you would have profited from the opportunity to meet Mrs Imlay." No. Nor Gilbert either: not a whisker of him. (Widow is to widower as whisk is to whisker. Hmm.) I sort of thought MP might have included him, her, or them, not least for the American connection for her predominantly American audience, but there perhaps I grow too publisher-marketing cynical. There is every chance the scenes were left on the cutting-room floor, in one of the jumps between rewrites. Aside from this disappointing omission, it is a very good book, vivid and enjoyable to read, and dense with networks of policy and of friendship

Marge Piercy says about the book:
CITY OF DARKNESS, CITY OF LIGHT is my take on the French revolution. Why be interested? First of all, modern politics began there, even the notions of "left" and "right." Second, modern feminism began right there, and many of the demands those women fought for are not yet achieved - although some have been. Third, late 18th century France was a society that had some of the same characteristics as ours - the top was becoming ever richer, the poor were getting poorer, and the middle class were being squeezed with taxes the rich did not have to pay. Fourth, the people who made the revolution and those who fought against it were lively, colorful, intelligent, willful and sometime sexy individuals. It was an extremely dramatic time and you might enjoy visiting it.

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