Experiencing Revolution

SVEC-2013-05-smallIt’s fair to say that we live in a news-overload age. I for one am guilty of tuning out of events that seem very far removed from my own day-to-day life. This is how I sometimes find myself reacting to news from Syria. But I soon realized that this reaction stemmed in part from not being able to comprehend what it is like to live in a country undergoing such a raw and immediate upheaval. How can I understand their experiences when I am not living them?

Time is a powerful thing, and we can better judge past events through the lens of history, but, as David Andress notes, ‘how we mediate experience recorded in fragmentary and assumption-laden evidence into present-day conclusions will always be a delicate question’ [1], which is why he argues for a plurality of approaches in his new edited book Experiencing the French Revolution.

Indeed it is this kaleidoscopic view of one of the most significant revolutions to hit Europe that is so engrossing. To pick out one contribution above all others would be an injustice to all authors, as the book moves from analyses of broad cultural trends to very personal insights. However, from a completely biased perspective, tinged with a certain hiraeth, I’ll admit to being totally engrossed by Ffion Jones’ contribution on how the Revolution affected not just the French but also my own compatriots in Wales [2]. She highlights the religious persecution of the growing community of Dissenters, who were cast in the same light as ‘dangerous’ French revolutionaries following a quickly quashed invasion of French soldiers on the Pembrokeshire coast. Revolution abroad was clearly convenient for the Establishment to rein in its own subjects.

So where does this leave me? The knowledge that everyone’s experience is different and that everyone’s synthesis of another person’s experience will differ.

Lyn R.

[1] Experiencing the French Revolution, edited by David Andress (SVEC 2013:05), p.4.

[2] Ffion Jones, ‘The silly expressions of French revolution…’: the experience of the Dissenting community in south-west Wales, 1797’, in Experiencing the French Revolution, p.245-62.

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