This is a story about an idealistic young artist named Gamelin who is appointed as a magistrate during the French Revolution in the days of the terror, and quickly becomes sucked into the bloodshed and turns into a monster himself.
The author, Anatole France, was not anti-revolutionary, and was a member of the French Socialist party and a supporter of the Russian Revolution in its early days. The story, then, is not about the evils of revolution, but about how even good ideals, when not tempered by a sense of humanity, can turn people into monsters. In many ways it is the same story of Robespierre, whose path Gamelin parallels.
Despite the complexity of the human problems under discussion in this book, subtlety is a bit out the window. The path that Gamelin takes from idealist to monster could easily be plotted on a graph if one wanted to make a chart of this book. And yet it still stands as a good insight into how the original humanist ideals of the revolution went so terribly wrong.
The French Revolution, like all historical events, is one that is extremely simple in brief and very confusing in the details. For instance in “A Tale of Two Cities” Dickens portrays the French Revolution as nothing more than the poor rising up against the aristocracy. “The Gods Will Have Blood” is slightly more complex, dealing with the struggle between the Girondists and the Jacobins, culminating in the fall of Robespierre. The point of the book is not the history though, and so it never gets too complex. If you have a vague idea of who Robespierre is, you’ll be all right. Even if you don’t, most of that history is in the background, so you should still be able to understand the main story line.
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