A unique event, a common topic

A fellow author on LinkedIn has congratulated me on my choice of a unique event for my novel. Yes, of course he's right, the Paris Commune was unique, as the first (briefly) successful uprising in a modern, capitalist society. Urban revolt has been occurring almost since there have been cities, and there were immediate precedents in France: 1789, 1830, 1848. But the context had changed so much by the late 19th century (France was multi-continental imperial power, its major cities now included big industrial proletariats, communications had advanced enormously, and Paris itself had become "the capital of the 19th century" in Walter Benjamin's famous phrase), and running such a huge city had become so complex, that the communards had to invent everything as they went along.

What is not unique is my choice of subject matter. Like any powerful, dramatic event, the Commune has attracted scores of novelists and probably thousands of historians. I'm reading a recent novel now,  Le cri du peuple, by Jean Vautrin. It's a lot of fun, fast moving and thoroughly researched, but not like what I'm aiming to do. But I'll say more about that after I finish Vautrin's novel — it's slow going for me (despite the speed of the action), mainly because Vautrin inserts so much underworld argot that I'm clicking on the dictionary every couple of paragraphs. At least, I'm learning a lot of vocabulary. But it will be hard to work it into conversation, unless I want to insult my French friends.

Vautrin has collaborated with illustrator Jacques Tardi to produce this marvelous bande dessiné, for which the two authors studied (among many other sources) the collection at the Musée de Saint-Denis, where I also have spent emotion-filled hours. For a video on this collaboration (in French), see "Le Cri du peuple" de Tardi et Vautrin - Vidéo Ina.fr.

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