The First Apostle

Written by Katherine Pym
Review by B. N. Peacock

The First Apostle is a fictionalized biography of Camille Desmoulins. He was the first to envision France as a Republic and to be a prime instigator of the attack on the Bastille, truly the Revolution’s first apostle.

Katherine Pym brings Desmoulins, a stammering, failed lawyer, lavishly to life. She sympathetically follows him from a pre-revolutionary dinner in 1784, through his highly successful career as a political writer to his death during the Terror. Yet Pym sagely doesn’t idealize Camille. She shows him initially envying his old friend Robespierre, adoring Lucille Duplessis, his future wife, but despising her father, who in turn despises penniless Camille, and sharpening his pen with ego, thus helping send former friends to the guillotine. Pym deftly delineates Desmoulins’ twin passions, revolution and Lucille, neatly capturing the childlike nature contemporaries often noted.

The result is a highly edifying read about a man who burned with idealism though not necessarily wisdom. Pym also does a creditable job highlighting the contradictions of the Revolution itself and its adherents. Friendships frayed because of political dissension, none more notable than between Robespierre and Danton, and Robespierre and Desmoulins, with the inevitable results.

The front cover was arresting, with the guillotine superimposed against a blood-red backdrop. Inside, there were a few typos and French words could have been italicized. Overall, though, I recommend The First Apostle for all who like this period.