chapter  1
27 Pages


In their own eyes, and those of others, the French since 1789 have been the revolutionary nation. This, in complete contrast with their image in the eighteenth century as a law-abiding and tranquil people, was the principal distinguishing characteristic of being French in the nineteenth century: for good or ill the turmoil begun in 1789 had made French society and the French nation what they were. The Revolution was ‘the only historical event that served as a chronological milestone for all French people . . . the great dividing point that separated the present from the past’.2 But every new political crisis made it seem clearer that ‘the Revolution’ - not a succession of separate events, but one single process - had not ended in 1795 or 1815.