Lesson #303: General Lamarque

Sometimes, I wind up at lessons that could have been arrived at in a very direct way in the most indirect way possible. Today’s lesson comes as a result of what my friend in the Texas capital once described as, “suddenly, it’s two in the morning and you’re reading about Cairo, wondering how you got there.” These are the dangers of Wiki links.

I’m honestly surprised, given my combined love of failed revolutions and decade of theatre work in my younger days, that it took me this long to learn this. If you’ve read Hugo’s Les Miserables (or seen the musical*), you’ll at least have a passing knowledge of who Lamarque was. But somehow, despite the fact that Les Miserables is one of my favourite books and my general understanding that it’s a historical fiction novel, it never occurred to me to look up the events Hugo was writing about.

What’s totally stupid about this is that my great love of revolution can be traced directly to two (semi)fictional characters: Les Miserables’ revolutionary leader, Enjolras, who I read when I was 14 or 15, and, more, Mila 18‘s Andrei Androfsky, who I read at 17.** 

Anyway…Jean Lamarque was a commander during the Napoleonic Wars who later became a Member of Parliament. He was vocal in his criticism for Louis Philippe’s constitutional monarchy and was a proponent for French support of the Polish and Italian struggles for independence, which made him popular with the French people.

In the spring of 1832, France was in the midst of a slew of problems. Five years crop failures led to a food shortage and, consequently, a sharp rise in the cost of living, which bred discontent. Further, there was a continent-wide cholera outbreak that exacerbated things. As the constitutional monarchy was effectively a government for the middle class, when Lamarque died on 1 June, republican and Bonapartist (those who felt that Napoleon should be the leader of France, which feels obvious) opponents of the monarchy decided that his funeral on 5 June would be the place to make themselves known. So, with the support Polish, Italian, and German immigrants, they did and roughly 3000 revolutionaries took control of parts of eastern and central Paris. And then Louis Philippe brought in 20,000 National Guardsmen overnight, followed by 40,000 army troops the next day, and by sundown on 6 June, the June Rebellion had been quashed.

Interestingly, and this is actually common in violent revolutions, the rebels didn’t suffer the losses you’d expect. Their casualties came to 93 dead and 291 wounded. The damage they inflicted? 73 dead, 344 wounded. Also not surprising if you’re familiar with revolutionary theory, about two thirds of the participants in the uprising had come from the working class.***

*The proper musical, not the abomination that is the movie. The movie is terrible (and that’s coming from a girl who loves a. the source material, b. theatre, and c. Hugh Jackman). It took almost all of the points regarding the revolution out of it entirely and what was left in was poorly explained at best. And lest you think this is some sort of fluke, I have an even bigger problem with the musical version of Wicked. Wicked is my very favourite book of all time because it’s about revolution in a way that’s about who is right and who is wrong, where the line is drawn, and who gets to draw that line. The musical, while a good show in its own right, is an atrocious adaptation of the book because it removes all of the politics that make the book so deep. And I find it insulting that it calls itself “based on the novel” because it abandons everything that makes the novel great.

**Full disclosure: Mila 18 is the book that complete changed the way I saw the world. The first time I ever understood the broader implications of war (and revolution, even a failed one) was the direct result of that novel. This was also, incidentally, right around the time that I happened to walk through the living room just as the news was airing footage of a shell-scarred wall of a bombed out building in Sarajevo on which someone had spray painted “Welcome to Hell.” Draw whatever obvious conclusions you like between those two events and my later study of revolution.

***More can be read on Lamarque and the June rebellion here, here, here, and, combining a brilliant review of the rather revisionist history presented by the movie of Les Miserables with actual scholarship, here. If you want information on revolutionary theory, read Brinton’s The Anatomy of Revolution, which is the Bible of revolutionary theory, and Blackey and Paynton’s Revolution and the Revolutionary Ideal. And possibly Johnson’s Revolutionary Change and Hagopian’s The Phenomenon of Revolution.

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