We’re reading Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women for our winter selection for the Family Locket Book Club on Goodreads. Written by historical fiction authors Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, and Eliza Knight, the book provides a fascinating insight into the French Revolution through the eyes of seven women who were part of it. Based on historical accounts, speeches, writings, letters, and diaries, with fictionalized dialog, Ribbons of Scarlet is an exciting look into life as a woman during the French Revolution. The book’s description reads:
A breathtaking, epic novel illuminating the hopes, desires, and destinies of princesses and peasants, harlots and wives, fanatics and philosophers—seven unforgettable women whose paths cross during one of the most tumultuous and transformative events in history: the French Revolution. Ribbons of Scarlet is a timely story of the power of women to start a revolution—and change the world. In late eighteenth-century France, women do not have a place in politics. But as the tide of revolution rises, women from gilded salons to the streets of Paris decide otherwise—upending a world order that has long oppressed them.
Blue-blooded Sophie de Grouchy believes in democracy, education, and equal rights for women, and marries the only man in Paris who agrees. Emboldened to fight the injustices of King Louis XVI, Sophie aims to prove that an educated populace can govern itself–but one of her students, fruit-seller Louise Audu, is hungrier for bread and vengeance than learning. When the Bastille falls and Louise leads a women’s march to Versailles, the monarchy is forced to bend, but not without a fight. The king’s pious sister Princess Elisabeth takes a stand to defend her brother, spirit her family to safety, and restore the old order, even at the risk of her head.
But when fanatics use the newspapers to twist the revolution’s ideals into a new tyranny, even the women who toppled the monarchy are threatened by the guillotine. Putting her faith in the pen, brilliant political wife Manon Roland tries to write a way out of France’s blood-soaked Reign of Terror while pike-bearing Pauline Leon and steely Charlotte Corday embrace violence as the only way to save the nation. With justice corrupted by revenge, all the women must make impossible choices to survive–unless unlikely heroine and courtesan’s daughter Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe can sway the man who controls France’s fate: the fearsome Robespierre.
The narrative is split into six parts, each written from a different perspective by a different author. The authors worked together using Google Docs to write their section then weave them together. Each of the authors are well-known and bestselling historical fiction writers.
Part I: The Philosopher, is about Sophie de Grouchy, by Stephanie Dray. From Sophie’s perspective, times are changing, and she wants to be a part of it. I enjoyed her love story – falling in love with her husband. Stephanie Dray writes historical women’s fiction, including America’s First Daughter about Martha Washington. She also wrote My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton with Laura Kamoie.
Part II: The Revolutionary, is written through the eyes of Louise Audu, by Heather Webb. Heather Webb has written six historical novels set in France.
Part III: The Princess, by Sophie Perinot, is about Madame Elisabeth, the sister of King Louis XVI. Apparently, Elisabeth had a shoe obsession! That was a fun detail. Sophie Perinot writes females-centered historical fiction and has a passion for French history.
Part IV: The Politician, by Kate Quinn, is about Manon Roland. As the wife of a politician, she had great influence. Kate Quinn has written historical novels set in the Roman Empire, Italian Renaissance, and the 20th century.
Part V: The Assassin, by E. Knight, is through the perspectives of Pauline Leon and Charlotte Corday. It was neat to see these women with opposite viewpoints portrayed alongside each other. Eliza Knight is an avid history buff, and true crime obsessed. Her love of history began as a young girl when she traipsed the halls of Versailles.
Part VI: The Beauty, by Laura Kamoie, is about Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe, one of the most beautiful women in Paris. Laura Kamoie holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary and has published two non-fiction books on early America. She also writes historical fiction.
One of my favorite parts of historical fiction books is the “about the book” section where the authors share their notes about how they wrote the book. Stephanie Dray wrote that she and E. Knight came up with the idea for a collaborative novel with six authors. Heather Webb shared, “the task was to choose one of six incredible women who shaped the French Revolution through their pens, their speeches, their battles in the streets, and their sacrifices. The group of authors on this project, my Scarlet Sisters, are a pack of warriors in their own right, and they had my back as I attempted to nail down the most accurate-as-possible account of Louise’s life. We researched, wrote, edited, deleted entire scenes, perfected and honed and tied all these fascinating stories together into a colorful novel.”
I enjoyed listening to the audio version of Ribbons of Scarlet. I hope you enjoy it as well – Ribbons of Scarlet – affiliate link to Amazon.
Writing Family History
When writing our own ancestors’ biographies, we often have multiple perspectives to include. Ribbons of Scarlet gives us an example of masterfully weaving multiple people’s experiences into one narrative.
Even if your ancestor didn’t leave behind letters like Sophie de Grouchy and Princess Elisabeth or a memoir like Manon Roland, you may be able to weave such accounts into your ancestor’s biography. Studying the historical context of the location, migrations, and significant events that your ancestor was part of might provide helpful material to round out the story.
When I wrote the story of my Mormon handcart pioneer ancestor Sarah Jane (Miller-Bradley) Creer, I was thrilled to discover a wide array of historical accounts of her voyage on the S. Curling on the Saints by Sea database. Also, the Edmund Ellsworth Handcart Company in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Database, now called the Church History Biographical Database, has a section called “sources” with several diaries and memoirs written by other members of the journey.
Including excerpts from these diaries and memoirs enhanced my narrative and helped me understand more about Sarah’s life.