Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women
Women are central in our visual imagination of the French Revolution – from the doomed Queen Marie Antoinette to Charlotte Corday, who stabbed the radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat in his bath, to “Lady Liberty,” the painting by Eugène Delacroix of the goddess of liberty leading the people. So this novel of some of the women involved is a natural. It’s an ambitious project: six leading historical novelists collaborated on it, each contributing a chapter on a woman who influenced or experienced the tragic trajectory of the revolution. The six authors pull it off. Ribbons of Scarlet is a seamless, compelling novel, each woman’s story flowing into the next without any jarring change of pace or quality of the writing.
The novel begins with a chapter by Stephanie Dray titled “The Philosopher.” It’s about Sophie de Condorcet, an idealistic intellectual who, with her philosopher husband, believed that the French people could do what the Americans had done: birth a nation where all citizens would have a voice. Sophie’s is a love story, both about falling in love with her husband and also about her love for progress.
The last chapter, “The Beauty,” by Laura Kamoie, is about Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe, a beautiful young woman simply trying to survive the chaotic times. Kamoie shows how someone doesn’t have to be a saint or a hero in order to be saintly and heroic in a terrible situation. De Sainte-Amaranthe’s strength came from love.
I finished this book with the sense that I had just been swept along in a terrible and marvelous time and witnessed real women who rose to meet their place in history with courage and fortitude. I was grateful for the notes at the end where the authors shared their feelings about the women they were writing about, and also for the recommended reading list. Ribbons of Scarlet is now on my own recommended reading list.