Susanne Alleyn Interview

November 25, 2010 interviews
the author of Palace of Justice

author Susanne AlleynIt was great to have Susanne Alleyn visit the blog on November 25, 2010 to discuss her latest historical mystery, Palace of Justice, the fourth in the Aristide Ravel series set in Revolutionary Paris.

What originally sparked your interest in the French Revolution?

The short answer: A Tale of Two Cities. I fell in love with Sydney Carton at 13 and decided I needed to know everything about the background to the novel. Once I started studying the history of the Revolution (which isn’t very accurate in Dickens), and the fascinating personalities that drove the events, I was hooked. (Eventually I even re-told A Tale of Two Cities!)

The years following the French Revolution in Paris offer a catalog of horrors. Does your research for the Aristide Ravel mysteries ever get too gruesome for you to tolerate?

To be honest, not often. The 20th/21st centuries have outdone the French Revolution by a country mile. France in the 1790s was a lot less horrific than the Nazi regime or “ethnic cleansing” in Rwanda or the Balkans.

Certainly there were some atrocities in Paris during the Revolution--like the September Massacres of 1792, which I won’t describe--but they were isolated incidents. The Revolutionary Tribunal, which eventually became a tool of the ruling party, was initially created to bring law and order to “revolutionary justice” (aka unbridled vigilante justice) and prevent the massacres from recurring--and it did, at first, acquit many suspects.

The worst horrors happened during the civil war in the western provinces, where babies really were nailed to barn doors on occasion. That’s the part that gets too gruesome for me. Nobody’s guiltless, though; those atrocities were committed not only by the revolutionary forces, but also by the royalist rebels, fighting in the name of the king and the Catholic Church.

Reading about the "good" people who helped carry out judicial murders following the French Revolution sometimes reminds me of Nazi Germany. Do you see parallels in today's world?

As someone whose German father grew up in the Third Reich, I think of that issue when I try to understand the revolutionaries who were “only following orders” or who believed that good ends (democracy, equality, the Republic’s safety) justified tyrannical means. So many people who commit state-sanctioned violence, or restrict civil liberties, sincerely believe that it’s the right thing to do in defense of something genuinely good. And protecting your country and a fledgling democracy is a worthwhile goal for anyone, anywhere. That’s the tragedy of the French Revolution: the revolutionaries, in a time of economic and military crisis, chose to use repressive means in order to achieve liberty and democracy, and eventually found out that that never works.

Review of Palace of Justice by Susanne Alleyn

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