À cinq heures nous serons tous morts! Sur la barricade Saint-Merry, 5-6 juin 1832 by Charles Jeanne (review)
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Jeanne, Charles. À cinq heures nous serons tous morts! Sur la barricade Saint-Merry, 5-6 juin 1832. Présenté et commenté par Thomas Bouchet. Paris: Vendémiaire Éditions, 2010. Pp. 217. ISBN: 978-2-36358-018-4.

The failed Paris insurrection of June 5-6, 1832 would hardly be remembered beyond the ranks of period specialists had it not served as the backdrop for Books 4 and 5 of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Literary scholars and historians continue to debate how faithfully that work of fiction (and, more recently, the stage and film versions based upon it) captured the reality of urban unrest in nineteenth-century France and whether Hugo's portrayal of the 1832 insurgents was colored by passions aroused by later political events, notably those that led to his own exile. The fascinating volume under review poses the question of how our understanding might be reshaped were we suddenly to unearth an authentic first-person account penned by the real-life individual on whom Hugo loosely based his characterization of the rebel leader, Enjolras.

Thanks to Thomas Bouchet, we now have access to the recently discovered sixty-page letter that Charles Jeanne addressed to his sister from his prison cell on Mont-Saint-Michel in December 1833. It provides a comprehensive account of those two days of struggle, from the funeral procession paying homage to General Lamarque, to the call-to-arms Jeanne then issued to fellow members of the militant Société Gauloise, through the desperate last stand insurgents mounted at the barricade in the rue Saint-Martin. There, virtually in the shadow of the Église Saint-Merry, some 120 insurgents fought, very nearly to the last man, in a cause rendered hopeless by the lack of support from the general Parisian population.

Jeanne's account touches upon aspects of the insurrectionary dynamic familiar enough to those who study these ephemeral events. It relates how the repressive actions of the forces of order—responding, Jeanne was convinced, to the actions of agents provocateurs—caused a relatively peaceful demonstration to escalate into an armed conflict. It details the steps involved in constructing, in what seemed the twinkling of an eye, a formidable redoubt consisting of three interconnected barricades that made strategic use of adjacent buildings. It highlights how quickly and completely bonds of solidarity were forged among combatants committed to shared principles and resigned to their common fate. It retraces the crucial interactions between insurgents and the forces of order, as each side probed the other's weaknesses and sought tactical advantage and as the insurgents tried, mostly in vain, to fraternize with the troops on whose wavering loyalty their lives depended. It discerns the subtle distinctions the rebels made between soldiers of the line, whom they harbored fading hopes of winning over, as opposed to the National Guard (above all those from the city's suburbs), for whom they reserved a special hatred. It describes the reckless, last-minute charge, once their ammunition was depleted and canon had reduced their [End Page 323] once imposing barricades to heaps of rubble, that, against all odds, allowed Jeanne and seven other survivors to break through enemy lines and avoid falling victim to the final massacre.

Jeanne's account helps us understand not just these sorts of factual details but also the subjective mindset of those who manned the June barricades. He conveys the contempt and revulsion that republicans like himself felt for Louis-Philippe, whom they reproached with having "stolen" the 1830 revolution from those who had shed their blood to free France from monarchical rule, only to see a new king installed on the throne. But we also learn that Jeanne, though a decorated hero of the July Days and a committed activist, hardly represented the views of the radical fringe of the republican movement. On the contrary, he displayed a moderation most eloquently expressed in a brief, impromptu speech in which he criticized those of his men who had raised a red flag atop the barricade in the rue Saint-Martin. In insisting that the tricolor, signifying the glory of the French nation, was the more appropriate symbol for their struggle...


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