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Women's Travel Writings in Revolutionary France


Chawton House Library: Women’s Travel Writings

Editors: Stephen Bending and Stephen Bygrave

Part I
3 volume set: 1008pp: 234x156mm: 2007
978 1 85196 862 6: £275/$495
Part II
4 volume set: 2064pp: 234x156mm: 2008
978 1 85196 866 4: £350/$625

'deserves a place on library and specialists’ shelves.’

European History Quarterly


  • Description
  • Contents
  • Reviews

This seven-volume facsimile set comprises first-hand accounts of France in the 1790s. Helen Maria William's letters narrate the fall of Robespierre in 1794 and her 1798 book on Switzerland comments sceptically on the necessary coexistence of liberty with peace. Charlotte West (who, like Williams, celebrated the fall of the Bastille but was later imprisoned by the Republic) records the corruption, paranoia and violence of the Terror both in the provinces and in Paris. All texts, the majority of which have never been republished, are reproduced in full, augmented by a substantial general introduction to each set, headnotes, endnotes, and a consolidated index in the final volume. Selected for their rarity, the texts are drawn from the unparalleled Chawton House Library collection; each facsimile page has been digitally cleaned and enhanced, significantly improving on the quality and legibility of the original.

Part I

Volumes 1 & 2

Helen Maria Williams, Letters Containing a Sketch of the Scenes which Passed in Various Departments of France during the Tyranny of Robespierre (1796)
Written at a moment of optimism after the brutal politics of the Terror, Helen Maria Williams’s letters (drawn from her bestselling account of France in the 1790s) combine the sentimental language of sympathy with an account of the horrors of Republican violence and a detailed narrative of Robespierre’s rise and fall.

Volume 3

Helen Maria Williams, A Tour in Switzerland (1798)
Having fled to Switzerland following her critical account of Robespierre Williams’s 1798 book relates the electrifying effects of the Revolution on the cantons; it combines an account of the topography of the Alps with an acerbic and sceptical commentary on the claim that liberty inevitably accompanies peace.

Charlotte West, A Ten Years’ Residence in France, During the Severest Part of the Revolution … 1787 to 1797 (1821)
Charlotte West who, like Williams, celebrated the fall of the Bastille and was later imprisoned by the republic, records the corruption, paranoia and violence of the Terror both in the provinces and in Paris: she claims to host the French royal family after they are turned back from Varennes and glimpses a ‘gloomy’ and ‘mischievous’ Napoleon.

Part II

Volume 4

A Sketch of Modern France (1798)
‘By a Lady’, though equally possibly by its putative editor, Christopher Lake Moody, the epistolatory Sketch of Modern France relates travel through that country in the turbulent years of the Directory, where the slogan ‘liberty or death’ names a real and urgent choice.

Volumes 5–7

Anne Plumptre, A Narrative of a Three Years’ Residence in France, 1802-5 (1810)
Plumptre’s Narrative combines a cosmopolitan travel narrative of southern France in the early 1800s with reflections on the 1790s, anecdotes from the Revolution, of the fall of Robespierre and a lengthy defence of Napoleon against the accusations of his English critics, looking back on the revolutionary period before the Terror as a moment of high ideals and now defeated aspirations.

  • 'deserves a place on library and specialists’ shelves.’

    European History Quarterly

ISBNs: 9781851968626 978-1-85196-862-6 ISBNs: 9781851968664 978-1-85196-866-4

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