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A Place of Greater Safety

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I had heard that the Royal Shakespeare Company was going to dramatise Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and so when, a few months down the line, I got a call asking if I’d like to play Thomas Cromwell I was excited and slightly daunted. That was the beginning of my journey with Cromwell, and also with Hilary Mantel, who I first met in the RSC rehearsal rooms. Having just read her books it really hit home what an incredible piece of work they are. I found it fascinating, and was drawn into an understanding of the terrible events, as well as wondering, overall, how much difference it made.

This article about a historical novel of the 1990s is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it. Mantel uses the leaders of the Revolution – Danton, Robespierre and Camille Desmouslins – as the pivotal characters, which, of course, they were, but also manages to use their characters and positions to give information about lesser known characters, such as Lucille Desmoulins, without whom the revolution may not have run in the same way. When they have enough to eat and when the rich and the government stop bribing treacherous tongues and pens to deceive them; when their interests are identified with the people.

Marvellous...It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Hilary Mantel captures it all.’ Time Out

Contrary to the tendency in Anglophone media to focus on the crumbling of "l'Ancien Regime," A Place of Greater Safety is explicitly told through the eyes of the revolutionaries, opting to explore the lives of the previously-unknown men and women who gained fame and infamy in the swells of the Great Revolution. A tour-de-force of historical imagination, this is the story of three young men at the dawn of the French Revolution. Georges-Jacques Danton: zealous, energetic, debt-ridden. Maximilien Robespierre: small, diligent, and terrified of violence. And Camille Desmoulins: a genius of rhetoric, charming, handsome, but erratic and untrustworthy.

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A Place of Greater Safety is a 1992 novel by Hilary Mantel. It concerns the events of the French Revolution, focusing on the lives of Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Maximilien Robespierre from their childhood through the execution of the Dantonists, and also featuring hundreds of other historical figures.

Mantel’s triumph is to make us understand – and even like, in a grudging sort of way – this historically unattractive figure. Her meticulous research is lightly worn, unlike the carefully considered fabrics and textures of the courtiers, and her depiction of the many flawed human instruments on which Cromwell plays is sadly convincing. This may be how it was for Madame Guillotine, or it may be the author's detailing, but this happens over and over again. In this well-researched book, she draws flesh and blood portraits of the leaders of the revolution and what led them to the events of that stormy time. You feel embedded in it, experiencing what drove them from crisis to crisis and directed their actions. You see their relationships, their trials and their temptations. Although the details have to be surmised, they are based on careful analysis of the writings of the real people involved, drawing out their motivations and beliefs.Maximilien Robespierre: An earnest young provincial lawyer; slight, sober, and punctilious. He is unassuming, reliable, and competent, but a bore. Abhors the sight of blood. Hilary Mantel's gripping account of the cataclysmic events of the French Revolution seen through the eyes of three of its most important figures, George Danton, Camille Desmoulins and Maxime Robespierre. It is notable for being fairly epic in scope while maintaining an intimate tone and character-driven focus, and for averting Hollywood History. It also features vast supporting cast, all of whom are real historical figures.

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