Book Quote:

“ ‘But the man was beaten and made to pay because he was a poacher and mama said it was unjust because he was only getting food for his family so it’s unkind.’
‘That is so but it’s also the law.’
‘It shouldn’t be.’
‘Ah, Charlotte, not for us to say. That’s the way it is.’”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Katherine Petersen (SEP 25, 2009)

Novelizations of historic events can serve as an exemplary tool for understanding history for those who don’t have the patience to explore original documentation. Graeme Fife’s The Angel of the Assassination, the story of Charlotte Corday: her life and her ultimate sacrifice, is no exception. Charlotte grew up in Calvados in Normandy, the daughter of a nobleman, but her father, Jacques-Francois was an impoverished nobleman with the ideals and not the wherewithal due his station. Rather than accepting his lot, he continually fought to gain what he felt he and his family deserved, sending his two sons to officers school where they would compete against boys–and ultimately, men—who would always have more. Jacques-Francois never settled, and his schemes to gain riches put much stress on his wife and children. In the midst of an unsatisfactory lawsuit, he lost his wife and newborn child during childbirth.

One of the benefits of his wanting more for his children was Charlotte’s education with her uncle and at the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen, where she decided to become a nun until the National Assembly in Paris handed religion and ownership of all religious houses into secular control, leaving all the sisters to find their own way. Charlotte found her way back to Caen to live with a far-removed cousin where she learned about Jean Paul Marat, who she saw as the focal point of the revolution and met and interacted with many “rebels” who had escaped Paris with their lives to re-group and continue their plans to put down Marat and the revolution. Feeling useless as a woman, Charlotte began making plans to play her own part in Marat’s destruction.

Fife doubtless learned of Charlotte Corday doing research for his history book The Terror: Shadow of the Guillotine, which detailed the terror that overwhelmed Paris from 1792 to 1794. With deft writing and intuitive insight, he tells the story of her life, drawing the reader along with poignant detail so the reader experiences her emotions and understands her convictions at her side. He illustrates both the mood of the times and Charlotte’s character with care, detail and grace. In addition to Charlotte, he tells of a girl raped in the street, how the flimsiest evidence gets another woman killed and the death of a Royal Army leader who disagreed with the mobs.

From an early age, Charlotte questions the unfairness of many of the king’s laws such as how a poacher can be whipped merely for killing game on her father’s land. And, while she too, believes in the concept of a republic, she can’t condone Marat’s viewpoint that it’s necessary to kill thousands to obtain liberty.

Through a combination of research and his own insight, Graeme takes the reader through the development of Charlotte’s beliefs including stories and legends told by her mother and teachings from her uncle about everything from slavery to the Roman Empire. Always independent, Charlotte continually questioned, forming her own ideals and opinions. This lead to contentious relations with her sister, brother and father. Although she remained true to herself, she never stopped loving those closest to her.

Having watched marriage and family life overwhelm her mother, Charlotte vowed not to submit to either. This reader wasn’t surprised when she opted to become a nun as she possessed the calm serenity often associated with those in religious orders.

With a superior sense of language, Fife brings her surroundings to life with vivid descriptions that allow readers to easily find themselves in every location. Fife’s word pictures of nature are especially stunning whether he envisions birds, flowers or snow-covered fields.

The story does bog down in the middle to a degree with some of Charlotte’s teachings with her uncle, but patient readers will persevere. My only other complaint is that an epilogue would have answered some questions that remain such as the reactions of her friends and family to her actions. As a major in French in college, this has definitely rekindled my interest in the period of the French Revolution, and I plan to read Fife’s historical account of the time period.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: Merit Publishing (August 15, 2009)
REVIEWER: Katherine Petersen
EXTRAS: An article on Graeme Fife
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More historical fiction:

Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell

Susannah Morrow by Megan Chance

Versailles by Kathryn Davis

Seraglio by Janet Wallach




September 25, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, France

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