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 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.

Suzanne Prichard

It cured me of my obsession with the French Revolution. What is that called, the technique of having every chapter be a different character - and nobody ever really interacts? I I know - LAZY!


My feelings on this book were really divided. Sometimes I was really pulled in and captivated by the characters. Other times, I felt like it couldn't go by fast enough. I think part of the problem was that I wasn't really thrilled by the style the story was written in; it felt very much like telling instead of showing. Still, it was a very interesting look at the French Revolution, a subject that I don't do a lot of reading on, and it made me think that I might like to do more reading about it in the future.


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.


Loved it. The french revolution. Marge Piercy is a very feminist writer who always writes about everyday people. In this case the French Commune was positively revolting.Yesterday I saw an art museum exhibit of the tuilleries, Catherine Medici's sculpture garden. Interesting to think that the palace grounds described in this book as a place where unreal people hung out to see & be seen is the same place all this amazing art came from. My favorite pice was a larger than life staue of a shepard playing his instrument sitting on a stump, whilst behind is a small impish child with the goat legs of a pan.


I learned a lot from this book about the French Revolution. It was a bit long; however, Marge Piercy does a great job of developing characters and it took a while for all the historical details to be worked out! It is an amazing time in history, a great one to learn about through the imagined day to day struggles of characters, some right from the history books (Robsespierre, Danton....) and some from Ms. Piercy's vivid and well researched imagination.

Marina Mowrey

The point of historical fiction is to tell the true story from a particular person's perspective. This book doesn't really do that--it rotates around half a dozen people, none of whom are especially interesting, and I just haven't gotten emotionally invested in any of it.


My one gripe with this fictionalized history has more to do with history than the book itself. The constantly revolving cast of characters had my head spinning. And while it's not a Russian novel with 14 names for each character, Pierce often does refer to the same character by both first and last name in the same paragraph, which slows me down quite a bit.I feel like I learned something about the French Revolution, but mostly I got a better sense of how the revolution was a revolving door of governments killing off their predecesors. Nasty stuff.

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.


This book offers a reader-friendly account of the French Revolution through six men and women who played an active role in it: well known figures like Robespierre, Danton, Mme Roland, Condorcet and some less recognizable ones (unsurprisingly enough women) like the actress Claire Lecombe and the chocolate maker Pauline Leon, who were the leaders of a protofeminist women's group. It was certainly interesting to learn about the latter ones, as I had hardly ever heard about them. It was equally interesting to delve into the characters of infamous, complicated individuals who changed the course of history and Piercy has to be commented on her effort to represent them, retrace their inner world and their course of action. Having said that I did not find so rewarding the structure of the book. As it is, it had to be narrated in turns, but somehow the 'episodes' did not always worth the alternation. In addition, some characters were definitely less developed than others. Condorcet for example was by far the least interesting and most one-dimensional. And it's a shame, as his story exemplifies the demise of the Enlightenment ideals as the intellectual backbone of the Revolution. I found Pauline equally one-dimensional, while Piercy's best work lies with Robespierre and Danton in my opinion and secondarily Claire. An aspect that did not come through so well in my opinion is the blending of the historical events with the personal lives of the characters. In several cases it felt too forced. Plus, the narration by the end is forwarded after the fall of the Reign of Terror and as her remaining characters are all in jail, we lose sight of the historical events that shape their lives as they are covered blurry and hastily, taking place in the outside world. The other level on which this book strikes me as one-dimensional is the kind of sweeping and unquestioning populist overview of the events. In several cases, well known misrepresentations are uttered without another voice to counterbalance their effect, when the plethora of characters could have served as a platform where several accounts and stories would be exposed. It's clear that one of Piercy's main aims is to highlight the wrong turns of the Revolution and the Revolutionaries, their disillusionment and the aftermath of it all, but it's a one note voice that resonates from this book, despite the several ones that she tried to bring to life.


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.

Rita Graham

There's nothing like a book about the French Revolution to remind one of how unbelievable it is that humans haven't already exterminated themselves.The main revolutionary ideas and characters are presented, but separated into chapters that chopped (no pun intended) up the story too much to make it flow. Meh.


brilliant. read it 3 times :)

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.


This book was too much. Too many characters, too many pages, too many intertwining stories that never actually intertwined. I found that I would read one section about one character and by the time that character appeared again, I had forgotten their story. Boring. I should have stopped reading. I am sure there are much better books about the French Revolution.

Share your thoughts

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