City of Darkness,City of Light

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

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

Reader's Thoughts

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

Diana Skelton

"I don't speak the same language as the woman who sells old clothes. We barely understand each other. [...] Language is the great tool by which we manipulate each other socially and are manipulated. Poverty of life goes with poverty of mind. What we can't speak about, we can't think about.""Doesn't music communicate with us? Don't paintings? Through example, we can communicate to others even if they lack the language of philosophy."

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.


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.


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.


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.


Marge Piercy does a good job of bringing to life this complex historical period through an assortment of key characters. The prose had, for me, a feeling of abruptness, which I suppose comes from the need to deliver a tremendous amount of factual information.


brilliant. read it 3 times :)


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.


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.


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.

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