La guerre de Sept Ans, 1756–1763 by Edmond Dziembowski (review)
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Reviewed by
Dziembowski, Edmond – La guerre de Sept Ans, 1756–1763. Québec: Septentrion, 2015. Pp. 670.

Between 1754 and 1763, the Seven Years’ War spread around the world. Fighting raged across Europe, the Americas, and India, redrawing borders and shattering empires as the French and British vied for dominance. However important the battles of Rossbach, Minden, Plassey, and the Plains of Abraham may have been, Edmond Dziembowski draws attention to a parallel, cultural war between the European contenders. The historic campaigns prompted an outpouring of patriotic literature and art on both sides of the English Channel as the public sphere itself became a battleground. Away from the front lines, radical ideologies, some of which had been germinating for decades, had found an outlet. For Dziembowski, [End Page 194] these ideologies would gradually erode the stability of the battling empires and usher in a move towards the “Age of Reason” of the late eighteenth century.

With this emphasis on a parallel political and literary war, Edmond Dziembowski’s La Guerre de Sept Ans departs from a long line of military histories of the Seven Years’ War. Drawing on his extensive background in research on patriotism, propaganda, and public opinion in eighteenth-century France and Great Britain, Dziembowski weaves together a traditional account of the diplomatic and military manoeuvrings of the war with a nuanced study of public opinion as expressed through popular patriotic literature. Dziembowski’s take on the military and diplomatic campaigns is appropriately global, giving a far-reaching account of the engagements in all the major theatres of the conflict. Dziembowski is not a military historian by training, and his rendition of the war is predominantly a blow-by-blow account of the conflict from the death of Jumonville to the Treaty of Paris; yet he delivers it with a fluid writing style that seamlessly switches between the perspectives of the key protagonists. In doing so, Dziembowski succeeds in restoring balance to the narrative and engages the perspectives of many of the players often left ignored on fringes of the Anglo-French competition.

Dziembowski’s rendition of the conflict offers little that will be new to any readers familiar with the general course of the war. Yet his military and diplomatic narrative provides excellent and much-needed context to the political and literary analysis present in the text. After all, as he rightly points out, “la guerre des Abares et des Bulgares dépeinte dans les pages célèbres de Candide a débuté dans les forêts de l’Ohio par un coup de tomahawk” (p. 10). The military and diplomatic history in this synthesis instead play second fiddle to a series of fascinating cultural vignettes carefully drawn from an array of contemporary French and British popular literature that punctuates the narrative. Amongst the works presented on the French side of the literary war we see the likes of Pierre Buirette de Belloy’s Le Siège de Calais, Antoine-Léonard Thomas’s Jumonville, several works of Voltaire, and entries from the journals of Edmond Barbier. On the British side we are presented with William Pitt’s personal correspondence, Benjamin West’s tableau “The Death of Wolfe,” and excerpts from newspapers such as the London Evening Post and the Monitor. It is in the close analysis of this vast array of cultural material that Dziembowski shines. Given the author’s previous work, the vignettes do perhaps reveal more about the French than their rivals, but his apt choices throughout offer readers a valuable glimpse behind the veil of the drums-and-trumpets narrative, to see the rise of patriotism in France and Great Britain and its consequences for the post-1763 world.

Through this focus on the rise of patriotism Dziembowksi readdresses the question of the significance of the Seven Years’ War. Many historians have seen the conflict as a precursor to the American War of Independence and the French Revolution, and Dziembowski does not challenge these perspectives, but rather sheds new light on this interpretation. He argues that the Peace of Paris “porte mal son nom” (pp. 526), for it did little to bring an end to a multitude of...


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