…It’s as if the TLS just knew Novel Readings would be talking about Carlyle this week. They’ve posted a lively piece on his French Revolution by Ruth Scurr, described as “an edited version of the introduction to a selection from Carlyle’s French Revolution, published by Continuum later this month.” Like me, Scurr considers Carlyle’s “the most exciting account of the Revolution there has ever been.” An excerpt from the essay:
He has brilliant visual sense, cutting for example, from the flow of blood outside the prison walls to the great Bastille clock in its inner court, ticking at its ease “as if nothing special, for it or the world, were passing!” After the action is all over, he pauses to consider “what precisely these two words, French Revolution, shall mean; for, strictly considered, they may have as many meanings as there are speakers of them”. Carlyle’s answer to this question is revealing of his narrative purpose:
“For ourselves we answer that French Revolution means here the open violent Rebellion, and Victory, of disimprisoned Anarchy against corrupt worn-out Authority: how Anarchy breaks prison; bursts up from the infinite Deep, and rages uncontrollable, immeasurable, enveloping a world; in phasis after phasis of fever-frenzy; – ’till the frenzy burning itself out, and what elements of new Order it held (since all Force holds such) developing themselves, the Uncontrollable be got, if not reimprisoned, yet harnessed, and its mad forces made to work towards their object as sane regulated ones.”
You can read the whole piece here, if you want, but because, inevitably, the best bits are the quotations from Carlyle himself, your best bet for a wild reading experience is really just to go and read The French Revolution.