Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women. Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb and E. Knight. William Morrow/Harper Collins. October 2019. pb, 560 pp.; ISBN: 9780062916075.
Six dynamic women’s part in the French Revolution is depicted in this historical novel by six very talented, skilled writers, ensuring that every aspect of the Revolution is covered. The terrible fears, passionate hopes and dreams, debilitating confusion, truthful and lying promises, and torturous resignations are vividly described as the life-changing reality of true revolution.
Sophie de Grouchy is the voice behind her husband, the Marquis de Condorcet. She believed that royalists and commoners were working toward the same end – a better world. Bread is up to fourteen sous a loaf and France waits for King Louis XVI to call the Estates General which will guarantee a place in government for all economic and social classes. Even the poor believe the Condorcet family is denying rights to those not so fortunate such as fruit-seller Louise Audu who learns to read in one of Sophie’s saloniere gatherings.
Louise is the Revolutionary, leading the people in the streets to join the National Assembly where they will present their demands for liberty, equality and fraternity in practical ways that will hopefully remove their dire, starving conditions. Louise’s primary goal is vengeance. This results in the storming of the Bastille, with resultant bloodshed and chaos as well as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. They now avidly own and present their “Pride, Purpose and Passion” in their demanded rights.
Princess Elizabeth, the King’s sister, is depicted as a true royalist. Loving her brother as blood family as well as the man appointed by God to rule, Elizabeth also has a compassionate heart that reaches out to those suffering in France. Such loyalty will not save her eventually, but she naively hopes against hope when her family attempts to escape Paris only to be brought back and imprisoned. She fails to acknowledge her brother’s responsibility for the horrible state of affairs in France. She, however, does foresee that those who sow violence now will later be “eaten up” by it.
Manon Roland, the wife of writer Jean-Marie Roland, is a complex woman. She is a woman who suffered sexual trauma when younger but now is an author who assists her husband in writing revolutionary pamphlets and attempts to fend off a lover. Those who now screech counterrevolutionary terror are Robespierre, Danton and Marat, leaders who are after the Girondists, those who suggest less violent government and methodology. Her confession of past and present thoughts will prove to be her undoing. Political involvement is her end when she announces, “Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name?”
Charlotte Corday comes to Paris to assassinate Marat and becomes infamous as the “Angel of Assassination, a murderous harlot from Caen.” Her motivation is to end the betrayal of the revolution for love of country. Her acquaintance, Pauline, fights for women’s rights but then loses them because of “lust and weakness.”
Finally, when Robespierre’s power is unassailable, terror reigns. Citizeness de Ainte-Amaranthe or Emilie de Sartine, renowned for her beauty, becomes the object of Robespierre’s lustful admiration and then his destructive power. She is the last victim of “our revolution…a great wheel of torture upon which women have been broken and silenced.”
So many more scenes and discussions are presented that readers will never forget, all dramatically told. We share their powerful, poignant and comprehensive thoughts and feelings which are unspoken but lie behind their words and deeds in public. We see France ripped apart, citizens destroying each other in partisan bickering and violence. If fervor were a virtue, all these women and the people associated with them would be canonized. Instead, their futile efforts turn to mourning but still leave hope, prayers and dreams for a better future, including the Declaration of the Rights of Women.
This is stunning historical fiction which is highly recommended reading!