Narrating the French Revolution
This chapter explores the ‘narrative’ part of Paine’s Rights of Man. Besides evaluating its historiographical validity, its main focus is the kind of story Paine told. His handling of both the period from early 1787 to August 1789 and of two emblematic events of the Revolution of 1789 (14th July and the October Days) was not a mere reply to Burke. Paine’s ‘chain of circumstances’ featured the ‘republican’ aristocracy and upper Tiers-Etat (although Paine did not say so) as the agents of reform and of revolution, whereas the events of July and October showed the common people’s participation in the Revolution. This also pertained to Paine’s wish to promote 1789 as an orderly and rational political revolution. It helped Paine build a republican mythology featuring heroes such as Lafayette and the Parisian people.