My novel, The Pale Assassin, is set during the French Revolution. As a writer, what fascinated me during my research was the discovery of how many contradictions this extraordinarily dramatic period contained.
The complex character of the king, Louis XVI: compassionate, but blind to the suffering of his people. His queen, Marie-Antoinette: vain and extravagant, yet one who endured her imprisonment with great fortitude. Then the aristocrats, privileged and wealthy, yes, but many of whom actively supported the introduction of a constitution that would bring equality and the end of the corrupt ancien regime.
Foremost among them was the Marquis de Condorcet, who drafted the first constitution, basing it on the Declaration of Independence – it is said with the help of George Washington. And Robespierre, the most powerful man in the new Republic, who lived a life of moral purity, yet was the cold-blooded architect of the Terror, when thousands were guillotined in order to preserve a “republic of virtue.” The Terror itself was sanctioned by a government paranoid about the enemy within, for, as Jefferson is believed to have said, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” But the majority of the Terror’s victims were not the hated aristocracy but the ordinary, innocent people of France.
Lastly, the most tragic and ironic paradox of all was that in order to uphold the ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity,” the revolutionaries resorted to a ruthless denial of human rights that was to have its echo down the ages.