City of Darkness,City of Light

ISBN: 0517327880
ISBN 13: 9780517327883
By: Marge Piercy Marge Percy

Check Price Now


18th Century Currently Reading Favorites Fiction France French Revolution Historical Historical Fiction History To Read

Reader's Thoughts


For me, Reading Marge Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light was like entering a time machine; it made me feel I was actually living through the French Revolution! The story is told through six actual historical figures: Claire Lacombe, Maximilien Robespierre, Manon Roland, Pauline Leon, Marie Jean Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet and Georges-Jacques Danton. Through their actions and associations, we meet most of the major figures of the period. I read this book for the first time about 10 years ago, while simultaneously reading a biography of Marie Antoinette, and enjoyed both immensely. I was prompted to read City of Darkness, City of Light again now because since 7/7/14 I've been enrolled in a free MOOC course at -The French Revolution, taught by Peter McPhee of the University of Melbourne. It's a great class, and I've learned amazing facts about the Revolution and life in Europe during the last half of the 18th century. Re-reading the novel while taking the course has been a real treat! Even if you know nothing about the history of France and the French Revolution, I highly recommend that you read this book.


I've been looking for a fictional book about the french revolution that would really explain its origins and progression. Tried Tale of 2 cities, which of course is a great book, but it didn't introduce me to the characters and progression of the revolution. This did. Not an easy or fun read- basically 8 stories of initially unrelated people's experience of the revoultion and role in it. I enjoyed that it includes women as primary characters, and includes some background on slavery and women's rights as revolutionary issues.

Linda Loewen

This is a piece of historical fiction set before, during, and after the French Revolution. Follows the lives of 3 women and 2 men, of whom some are commoners and some are famous. eg Maximillian Robespierre. A great read.


Marge Piercy recreates a well-rounded experience of The French Revolution by alternating the point-of-view of different characters: Claire (an actress), Max (Robespierre), Nicolas (an academic), Manon (an artisan's daughter/bureaucrat's wife), Pauline (a chocolatier), and Georges (an aspiring politician).Through these main characters the reader learns how the revolution affected different groups of people. Pauline and Claire are the closest to the poor people (the sans-coulottes) and the women who protested for the right to divorce, the right to inherit and the right to feed their families.Manon showed the other side of women's politics - a woman who was well educated and influential but priding herself on staying behind the scenes as a "proper woman."The men - Max, Nicolas, and Georges lead the reader through the range of revolutionary thought. Maximillian Robespierre was focused on his virtue and his belief that he stood for the people, although he didn't believe they should be making decisions directly. Nicolas struggled for true suffrage and an elaborate governmental set-up to secure those rights against the popular demand. Georges is the new politician - political because he sees a way to move up in the world.Many of the issues discussed in the book seem pertinent to today's political climate - how the rich pay less to the common cause than the poor, politicians and bureaucrats who are more focused on retaining their power than responding to the will of the people, and how after huge changes are made society seems to take several steps back so that only some minor changes remain.


For an American whose only knowledge of the events leading up to the French Revolution was based on a sketchy version of Louis XV and Marie Antionette, sprinled with a little Les Miz, this was an eye-opener. I love good historical fiction and this was great. One of the few books kept in my permanent lending library and which I'll probably re-read many times as I felt the events sort of slipped up on me (as it did on the noblesse, I'm sure) and so I'll need to revisit it a few times to really grasp it.

Geoff Sebesta

Update: have now read about ten books on the revolution. This is by far the best. By FAR.I credit this book with sparking my fascination with the French Revolution over the last nine months -- I've read five or six other books on the subject since then. Piercy does a masterful job of humanizing the events, putting them in order and making them mean something. I would recommend this book as an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the subject.


I am pretty particular about historical fiction because if I know anything about the era and an author gets it wrong (You wouldn't have wanted to be in the audience when I saw Elizabeth..I couldn't stop pointing out what was wrong and getting all huffy about it). Marge Piercy does an excellent job of creating her characters, both well known and unknown (and in between). Wonderful book for people who love historical fiction or the French Revolution. Others may enjoy it too.


It took me a few tries to get into this book, but once I did I was captivated. Piercy tells the story of the French Revolution from the perspective of a handful of the major players, including several women. The books does a great job of giving the story of the French Revolution more dimension than it gets in history textbooks. It also describes the Reign of Terror, illuminating it as a witch hunt. Piercy also does a great job of making most of the characters, in spite of their wildly differing viewpoints, seem sympathetic.


Marge Piercy's historical novels are well-researched forays into a kind of history I wish they'd taught me in high school -- I might have paid more attention! City of Darkness, City of Light chronicles the tumult of the French Revolution from the perspective of about five real historical characters, including two women responsible for co-founding the Republican Revolutionary Women, a political and activist organization comprised entirely of women who made public speeches, demonstrated in the Legislative Assembly, and bore arms in the many skirmishes and riots in Paris.In her prologue, Piercy points out that many of the economic and social trends that led up to the French Revolution are repeating themselves today. In that sense, the book serves both as a fascinating retelling of a sea change in the Western world, and also as a chilling cautionary tale.


I did enjoy the book, but I think the first part (1789-1791) was stronger. The POVs varied in quality, I found Pauline, Danton, Claire and Robespierre's stronger than Manon and Condorcet's. There were some characterisation choices I don't agree with: I think Danton lacked some strenght and I am not so sure about Robespierre's portrayal of ever-increasing insanity, as well as his treatment of Elèanor. The prose was flat at some points but it was good at showing the material realities of Paris in the late 18th century, especially between the lower classes. All in all, a good book that I enjoyed, but lacking in some areas.

Randi Winter

This rather detailed account of the French Revolution added to my knowledge especially regarding the in-fighting that propelled the Reign of Terror. It was fun to read in conjunction with a trip to Paris. I did find it a bit long and tedious, however.


brilliant. read it 3 times :)


Continuing my french revolution fest with this book...which was a bit disappointing. As I was checking it out of the library, I got into a conversation with one of the librarians who said that she had read it and she felt that it just didn't ring particularly true. I totally agree with that statement, it just didn't feel like real, fleshed out characters and I couldn't find myself invested in any of them. Plus, its really long...and it ends up feeling like one of those books which FEELS very long.

Katherine Harms

If you think you know all about the French Revolution, think again. This book chronicles the events of that tumultuous era from the viewpoint of three women who were deeply involved. The author shows us an altogether different view of the male characters with whom we are more familiar, and she opens up details of the culture that spawned this revolution which may take your breath away.I am convinced that one reading of this book is not enough. I will happily recommend it to my friends, but they will need to get their own copies. I will be reading mine again, and maybe again after that.


Wonderful novel about the French Revolution. All the characters are real people from that period and their personality are well fleshed out.. A chapter is in the voice of one character and the next chapter is in the voice of another character as the chapters move the history along. Very-well-researched. Almost makes you feel you're in the middle of it all. Marvelous novel.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *