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The Peasant and the Prince   By: (1802-1876)

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The Peasant and the Prince, by Harriet Martineau.

This short novel describes in great detail the last months of the French Royal family. The book starts with four chapters describing the apalling lives that some of the French nobility were forcing their peasantry to live. Every last bit of value was extorted from these noblemen's estates, to finance their extravagant life styles, and the poor people suffered greatly as a result.

There then follow fifteen chapters of harrowing detail, as the Royal Family were treated with contempt and rudeness, interspersed with episodes of great kindness. There had been a revolution, and the cry was for the nobility to be hanged or guillotined, but for the Royals the process was a long drawn out period of torture and torment.

Particularly sad was the story of the last few months of the boy Louis, the Prince of the title, who at one stage was left on his own for months on end with no friendly face to comfort him, while he lay in a dirty and unmade bed. A kind tutor was ordered for him, and he was cleaned up and comforted a little, but soon after died, having not been allowed to see his relatives for years.

You can't help feeling that the French nobility had it coming, that their fate was one of their own making. Their behaviour during the eighteenth century made the Revolution inevitable.




One fine afternoon in April, 1770, there was a good deal of bustle in the neighbourhood of the village of Saint Menehould, in the province of Champagne, in France. The bride of the Dauphin of France, the lady who was to be queen when the present elderly king should die was on her journey from Germany, and was to pass through Saint Menehould to Paris, with her splendid train of nobles and gentry; and the whole country was alive with preparations to greet her loyally as she passed. The houses of the village were cleaned and adorned; and gangs of labourers were at work repairing the roads of the district; not hired labourers, but peasants, who were obliged by law to quit the work of their own fields or kilns, when called upon, to repair the roads, for a certain number of days. These road menders were not likely to be among the most hearty welcomers of the Dauphiness; for they had been called off, some from their field work, just at the time when the loss of a few days would probably cause great damage to the crops; and others from the charcoal works, when their families could ill spare the small wages they gained at the kilns. These forced labourers would willingly have given up their sight of the Dauphiness, if she would have gone to Paris by another route, so that this road mending might have been left to a more convenient season.

The peasants round Saint Menehould were not all out upon the roads, however. In the midst of a wood, a little to the north of the village, the sound of a mallet might be heard by any traveller in the lane which led to the ponds, outside the estate of the Count de D .

The workman who was so busy with his mallet was not a charcoal burner; and the work he was doing was on his own account. It was Charles Bertrand, a young peasant well known in the village, who had long been the lover of Marie Randolphe, the pretty daughter of a tenant of the Count de D . When they were first engaged, everybody who knew them was glad, and said they would be a happy couple. But their affairs did not look more cheerful as time went on. Charles toiled with all his might, and tried so earnestly to save money, that he did not allow himself sufficient food and rest, and was now almost as sallow and gaunt looking as his older neighbours; and yet he could never get nearer to his object of obtaining a cottage and field to which he might take Marie home... Continue reading book >>

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