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A French Genocide: The Vendee

Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
Publication Date:
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 306
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A French Genocide: The Vendée provides a detailed narrative of the civil war in the Vendée region of western France, which lasted for much of the 1790s but was most intensely fought at the height of the Reign of Terror, from March 1793 to early 1795. In this shocking and controversial book, Reynald Secher argues that the massacres which resulted from the conflict between "patriotic" revolutionary forces and those of the counter-revolution were not the inevitable result of fierce battle, but rather were "premeditated, committed in cold blood, massive and systematic, and undertaken with the conscious and proclaimed will to destroy a well-defined region, and to exterminate and entire people." Drawing upon previously unavailable sources, Secher argues that more than 14 percent of the population and 18 percent of the housing stock in the Vendée was destroyed in this catastrophic conflict.

Secher's review of the social and political structure of the region presents a dramatically different image of the people on the Vendée than the stereotype common among historians favorable to the French Revolution. He demonstrates that they were not archaic and superstitious or even necessarily adverse to the forward-looking forces of the Revolution. Rather, the region turned against the Revolution because of a series of misguided policy choices that failed to satisfy the desire for reform and offended the religious sensibilities of the Vendéans.

Using an array of primary sources, many from provincial archives, including personal accounts and statistical data, Secher convincingly argues for a demythologized view of the French Revolution. Contrary to most twentieth-century academic accounts of the Revolution, which have either ignored, apologized for, or explained away the Vendée, Secher demonstrates that the vicious nature of this civil war is a key element that forces us to reconsider the revolutionary regime. His work, available for the first time in English, provides a significant case study for readers interested in the relationships between religion, region, and political violence.

Editorial Reviews

". . . highly recommended." --New Oxford Review

"Secher's work is among the most significant accounts of the Revolution. This translation will be welcomed by American historians of France. It provides a significant case study for readers interested in the relationships between religion, region, and political violence." --Thomas Kselman, University of Notre Dame

"In [this] controversial book, Reynald Secher takes some elements of the revisionist school and transforms them. . . . Secher sees in the violence a kind of precursor to the absolute ruthlessness of 20th-century totalitarianism." --New York Times Book Review

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