Bastille Day

The birth of a national legend? Simon Schama describes the myth-making  in “Citizens”:

No one wanted to be in the Bastille. But once there, life for the more privileged could be made bearable. Alcohol and tobacco were allowed, and under Louis XVI card games were introduced for anyone sharing a cell as well as a billiard table for the Breton gentry who requested one. Some of the the literary inmates even thought a spell in the Bastille established their credentials as a true foe of despotism….If the monarchy was to be depicted (not complebastille engraving louvretely without justice) as arbitrary, obsessed with secrecy and vested with capricious powers over the life and death of its citizens, the Bastille was the perfect symbol of those vices. If it had not existed, it is safe to say, it would have had to be invented. And in some senses it was invented by a succession of writings of prisoners who had indeed suffered within its walls but whose account of the institution transcended anything they could have experienced. So vivid and haunting were their accounts that they succeeded in creating a stark opposition around which critics of the regime could rally… The critique was so powerful that when the fortress was taken, the anticlimactic reality of liberating a mere seven prisoners (including two lunatics, four forgers and an aristocratic delinquent who had been committed with de Sade) was not allowed to intrude on mythic expectations.

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