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French Forum 26.2 (2001) 113-115

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The French Emigrés in Europe and the Struggle against Revolution, 1789-1814

Kirsty Carpenter and Philip Mansel, eds., The French Emigrés in Europe and the Struggle against Revolution, 1789-1814. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1999 .

This interdisciplinary collection of essays is a valuable contribution to the study of the French emigration, 1789 -1814 . Drawing on a rich array of personal journals, correspondences and archival sources, The French Emigrés depicts the socio-political, economic, military and cultural dimensions of the émigrés' movements across Europe; it analyses the émigré government's deliberate Europeanization of the Bourbon cause and hints at the emigration's long-term effects on European and American history.

Countering legendary representations of the émigré as a nostalgic and decadent aristocrat doggedly attached to ancien régime life, this book is at its best when it illustrates the fundamental heterogeneity of the French émigrés. Distinctions in class, economic condition, political views, religion, as well as in the timing and geography of each person's movements made for very different [End Page 113] experiences abroad. If it remains true that the first émigrés were nobles or clerics who decided to leave France immediately because they could not accept the Revolution's fundamental principles, the majority of émigrés left only after 1792 , after the outbreak of the French civil war. To a great extent, moreover, the latter were men and women of humbler origin.

While the wealthier nobles remained attached to their ancestral values and traditions--and Louis XVIII continued to rehearse his royalty wherever he was (Mansel)--most émigrés had to adapt to the cultures of their host countries in a daily struggle for survival. Given their economic difficulties, the émigrés rarely had the time and energy necessary to be politically active (Doyle). When the émigré armies or the French bishops did try to mobilize their forces, the scope and success of their actions were limited by profound disagreements in political or religious philosophies (d'Agay and Aston). Nonetheless, these émigrés served an important political role, for their presence across Europe served as a reminder of the revolutionary horrors they had witnessed. As such, for example, they not only excited the sympathy of the British élite, but also contributed to the latter's shift towards political conservatism (Carpenter). The émigrés found temporary refuge in Hungary and Portugal, but they were often treated with diffidence, as potential carriers of an undesirable revolutionary ideology (Tóth and Higgs). The Prussians manifested a similar Francophobia, while also worrying about the religious beliefs of the dissident French clergymen (Höpel). From a historiographical point of view, the émigré press presented Europe with some of the first--as well as some of the most critical--accounts of the French revolution (Burrows). Throughout the XIXth century, memories of the French emigration were condensed into a rhetorical phrase ("le milliard des émigrés") used and manipulated for a number of different political purposes (Franke).

As it insists on the versatility and resourcefulness of these displaced men and women, The French Emigrés re-casts the French emigration as a distinct cultural and political phenomenon. Although the émigrés who stayed on the Continent were often on the move, as the political alignment of their host nations changed in conjunction with the evolution of French politics, those who sought refuge in Britain or America were better able to settle. In London, Edinburgh, Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston they founded lively social, political, religious, economic and artistic communities (Carpenter, Mackensie-Stuart and Sosnowski). The émigrés produced their own literature and painting, demonstrating a common fascination with themes such as travel, movement and absence (Cook and Goodden). The combination of linguistic barriers and cultural snobbism, however, sometimes worked to isolate the French (Higgs, Bellenger, Sosnowski et al.). Still, even when they did not fully integrate, the émigrés served as cultural ambassadors in their different host [End Page 114] countries: they stimulated interest in the French...


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