The overwhelming focus on Paris is probably nowhere in French studies more obvious than in treatments of the French Revolution. Until recently, with few exceptions, historians of the revolution have begun and ended with the events and philosophies of the capital. In this volume, however, the authors describe how men and women across France sometimes welcomed, often modified, but most often rejected policies emanating from Paris, thereby inflecting the course of the fateful revolution. Steven G. Reinhardt examines peasant unrest in the region of the Perigord in 1789-90 and concludes that the blow they dealt seigneurialism pushed the revolution in a more radical direction than the delegates in Paris had ever intended. In the Midi-Toulousain, a region of longstanding sectarian tension and hostility, violence erupted over the revolutionary decision to strip the Catholic church of much of its temporal power and property. Clarke Garrett examines the differing responses of Catholics and Protestants and the resulting disturbances.
Roderick Phillips describes the wide variation in provincial response to the revolutionary assembly's family reform measures. He traces the different reactions of urban and rural residents to such legal measures as liberalization of divorces, secularization of birth, death, and marriage registrations, and inheritance reform. Peasants in central France were already engaged in total revolution when Joseph Fouche arrived there in late 1793. Nancy Fitch argues that Fouche was formed by his encounter with indigenous peasant radicalism as much as the peasants were influenced by his rhetoric of a new political culture.
Donald Sutherland, summarizing scholarly debate on the subject, argues that, in the final analysis, the Revolution itself was tragically and profoundly alien to many French men and women in 1789. Together these essays and the introductory essay by Robert Forster bring into clear relief the ambivalent relationship between Paris and the provinces and offer a fresh approach that emphasizes the extent to which provincial history supplies the key to understanding the dynamic of the French Revolution.