chapter  1
27 Pages

PART I: OBSESSIONS 1Revolution

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.