Pleasure and Privilege: Life in France, Naples, and America 1770-1790

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Pleasure and Privilege: Life in France, Naples, and America 1770-1790

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"Only those who lived before the Revolution know how sweet life can be," Talleyrand wrote, many years before the event. Those who dip into Olivier Bernier's lively pages will discover just how sweet, how deep the pleasure, how precious the privilege. For he has populated this book with real people and offers real facts about them and their societies, all based on personal letters, memoirs, diaries, and biographies. The result is fascinating history, filled with irony and contradiction.

French culture during the 1770s and 1780s bloomed as it never had before (or never has since), producing the most etiquette-ridden, frivolous, glittering, and useless aristocracy since Louis XVI carried the court off to Versailles a hundred years earlier. Yet this spendthrift culture also produced the beginnings of just about everything "modern" we take for granted - fast communications, fast foods, and mass production, to name only a few.

It was a remarkable era by any standards, giving rise to ideas of liberty that in the end buried the very monarchy that sacrificed to make them a reality in the United States. It was an era that saw the rise of the colony of San Leucio, boasting an elected assembly with nobility, required education, and vaccination - all in the midst of the kingdom of Naples, ruled over by Marie Antoinette's slightly more clever sister and a court as irresponsible and even more disorganized (with candelabra but no plates for dining) than the French model it slavishly aped.

Bernier has given us a marvelously spirited view of those two pivotal decades when modern history began, when royalty and revolution, ironically, joined unwilling and violent hands to usher in a new age.

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