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Because Anatole France begins this book after the Terror has already begun and because we know the truth of his warning, it is a less successful novel than it could have been. The central character, the mediocre artist (fitting, no?), Évariste Gamelin, is rewarded by his devotion to the Revolution with a seat on the Revolutionary Tribunal. Here he can participate in the project to destroy any and everyone who demonstrates insufficient fealty to the notion that France is in the midst of creating a new Man: "What's it matter if we suffer hardships for a short while? The Revolution is going to make the whole human race happy for ever and ever!" And what is the source of this silliness, the fundamentally Rousseauvian error: " naturally good. God has planted the seed of virtue in the hearts of all men." Happily, the Anglosphere rejected these Continental ideas, that human nature was pure until corrupted by malformed institutions and that it is malleable enough to be restored to purity by correcting those institutions. But they would horrifically damage France, Germany, Russia etc. for the next two centuries.

Set off against the monstrous Gamelin are the relatively progressive aristocrat Maurice Brotteaux. He survived because he did not oppose the Revolution initially, but is endangered now because he recognizes that, having adopted the ideology of Marat, Robespierre and company, it is detached from reality, particularly in its confidence that it is creating the future:
A man’s life would become intolerable, if he knew what was going to happen to him. He would be made aware of future evils, and would suffer their agonies in advance, while he would get no joy of present blessings since he would know how they would end. Ignorance is the necessary condition of human happiness, and it has to be admitted that on the whole mankind observes that condition well. We are almost entirely ignorant of ourselves; absolutely of others. In ignorance, we find our bliss; in illusions, our happiness.
The central flaw in the Revolutionaries ideology is that they have elevated Reason above Faith:
I love reason, but my love does not make me a fanatic,' Brotteaux answered. 'Reason is our guide, a light to show us our way; but if you make a divinity of it, it will blind you and lead you into crime.
Fittingly, it is a third character, Father Longuemare, who is the most humble and sympathetic depicted. As the two await their doom, he says to Brotteaux, who has stated that he is helping the priest only to show what an atheist is capable of:
Do not slander yourself, monsieur[...] God has revealed to me more than He has to you, the power of His grace, yet I am not as good a man as you, and am far inferior in natural loving kindness. However, you must allow me this advantage over you. You say you cannot love me, because you do not know me. Yet I, monsieur, not knowing you, love you better than myself: God demands that of me.
The superiority of Revelation to Reason makes the novel significant and unusual for a Frenchman, as witness the attempts to claim Mr. France for anti-Christianity.

But the plot of the novel, such as it is, proves almost inert. Yes, we get the marches to the guillotine, including, inevitably, that of Gamelin, whose only regret is that he didn't send enough enemies of the Revolution before him. But that attitude is the one he begins the story with, so there's no drama to his tale. The brutality of the Terror is not something the true believers descend into, it is where they start. I'm personally sympathetic to the view that it was evil from the outset and that Danton was the Lenin to Robespierre's Stalin, but beginning in medias res, Mr. France doesn't even develop this idea. As is, the book seems more worth reading because it is "important" than because it is actually good as literature.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

French Literature
Anatole France Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Anatole France
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Anatole France (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Gods Are Athirst
    -AUDIO BOOK: The Gods are Athirst (Librivox)
    -AUDIO BOOK: The Gods are Athirst (You Tube)
    -ARCHIVES: Anatole France (Internet Archive)
    -AUDIO BOOK ARCHIVES: Anatole France (LibriVox)
    -ENTRY: Anatole France: French writer (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Anatole France (Free Dictionary)
    -ENTRY: Anatole France (1844–1924) (Bartleby)
    -ENTRY: Anatole France (Annie Laurie Gaylor, Freedom From Religion Foundation)
    -COLLECTION: Anatole France Collection (An inventory of his collection at Syracuse University)
    -ENTRY: Anatole France (1844 - 1924) (For or Against Dreyfus)
    -ENTRY: Anatole France (The Literature Network)
    -AWARD: Anatole France (Nobel Prize)
    -ARTICLE: Anatole France, Nobel Prize Winner (Herbert S. Gorman, 11/20/21, NY Times)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Gods Are Athirst (Enotes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Gods Will Have Blood (Book Rags)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Gods Will Have Blood (Grade Saver)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Gods Will Have Blood (Free Book Notes)
    -ESSAY: Whose Side Are You On, Professor Coyne? What Anatole France Really Said About Miracles (Uncommon Descent, January 12, 2013)
    -TRIBUTE: Anatole France (Joseph Collins, Spring 1925, VQR)
    -ESSAY: New Light on Anatole France (E. Preston Dargan, Winter 1936, VQR)
    -ESSAY: Anatole France as a Politician: Joanna Richardson finds that Anatole France's politics, like his private life, remained unorthodox, but the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s changed his literary life. (Joanna Richardson, 11 November 1975, History Today)
    -ESSAY: Anatole France (James Huneker, Jan. 4, 1907, The North American Review)
    -ESSAY: The Brain of Anatole France (Arthur Keith, December 3, 1927, British Medical Journal)
    -ESSAY: ANATOLE FRANCE AND MORALITY (A.M. Ross, January 30, 1915, The Lancet)
    -REVIEW: of The Gods Will Have Blood by Anatole France (Resolute Reader)
    -REVIEW: of The Gods Will Have Blood (Joel Swagman)
    -REVIEW: of The Gods Will Have Blood (Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings)
    -REVIEW: of The Gods Want Blood (Stacie Allan, British Society for 18th-Century Studies)
    -REVIEW: of the Gods are Athirst (American Review of Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Penguin Island by Anatole France (Edith LaGraziana, edith's miscellany)
    -REVIEW: of ANATOLE FRANCE HIMSELF. A Roxiselisan Record. By his secretary Jean Jacques Brousson. Translated by John Pollock (H.i. Brock, June 14, 1925, NY Times)

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