Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting in her 18th century history class, and of having nothing to do but listen while the teacher droned on. Once or twice she had peeped into her history book, but it had no pictures or primary sources in it, only dates and great men, ‘and what is the use of a textbook,’ thought Alice ‘with no primary sources?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the teacher’s voice was droning on and making her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether it was even worth taking notes, or whether she should see if she could beat the vampire bat level on that smoothie game, when suddenly her phone buzzed, and an emoji of a white rabbit wearing an 18th century wig appeared.

There was nothing so very remarkable in that – her friend Judith was always making new emojis on her phone and sending them to Alice – except that Judith was really into the French revolution, and was sitting right up the front of the class, feverishly taking notes, or possibly writing Scarlet Pimpernel fanfic. One never knew with Judith. Her phone was nowhere to be seen. Also, there was no number next to the rabbit.

Alice looked down surreptitiously at her phone screen again, and started. The rabbit emoji had taken out a pocket watch and was scowling at it. As she watched, her phone pinged with a message. “UR late.”

Alice blinked, but the message was still there, and the rabbit emoji had begun tapping its foot in a manner that could only be described as impatient. It made her a little nervous.  Alice did not like to keep people waiting.

At the front of the classroom, Dr Carroll had moved on to a description of the Jacobite and Gyrating factions, and the role of Pentathlon Club in the Terror.  Alice put her phone into her pocket, and raised her hand.

The teacher paused in his lecture. “Yes, Miss Kingsley?”

“Please, Dr Carroll, may I leave the room?”

Dr Carroll frowned and looked at his watch. “If you must. But the material we are covering today will be on the final exam, so I would recommend you get yourself back here as fast as possible.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, and slipped quickly out of the room before he could change his mind.


Alice and the Smartphone (Tenniel)

Once out in the corridor, she took her phone out at once. The rabbit had not moved, but there was a new message on her phone:

“Any law which violates the inalienable rights of man is essentially unjust and tyrannical = CWOT Y/N?”

She frowned down at her phone. The quote looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it. Still looking at her phone, she rounded the corner, where the corridor dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

She fell rather more slowly than she expected, and after the first moment of shock, she began to realise that she was falling less down a well than down a sort of cylindrical library. She plucked a book off the shelf, but it was no better than the ones from history class. “The Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine”, she read aloud to herself.

A voice called back quietly from the walls: “Paine… reign… chain…”

Alice blinked. “An echo, I suppose,” she reassured herself. She looked back down at the book. “The rights of Man. Very nice, but what of women?”

“Women… human… amen…” came the echo. Alice waited, still floating steadily downwards, but there was no further reply.

There was also no space on the bookshelves she was passing. Alice wondered what to do with the book. She was too well brought up to drop it – and besides, she hardly knew whether it would fall beside her, or plummet at a more normal speed, or even fly upward. The laws of physics in this library were rather peculiar.

Since she was still falling, and the well showed no signs of ending, she opened the book and began to read. “Among the incivilities by which nations or individuals provoke and irritate each other, Mr. Burke’s pamphlet on the French Revolution is an extraordinary instance. Neither the People of France, nor the National Assembly, were troubling themselves about the affairs of England; and that Mr. Burke should commence an unprovoked attack upon them, both in Parliament and in public, is a conduct that cannot be pardoned on the score of manners, nor justified on that of policy.”

The echo had nothing to say to this.

“Well,” she said to herself, encouragingly, “That does seem rather rude. And I suppose it is rather like telling someone when they have a piece of spinach between their teeth at a party, rather than pretending not to see it. Or are you supposed to tell them about it, so that they can remove it discreetly? I can never remember… Oh dear, this fall seems to be lasting for an eternity.”

“Eternity… liberty… equality… fraternity…” the echo replied, helpfully.

Alice began to feel that this echo was rather a peculiar one, and had possibly spent too much time in Dr Carroll’s class. But she had no more time to think about this, because suddenly she had landed with a gentle thud on a rather nice carpet in what appeared to be someone’s sitting room. The bookshelf, she saw, ended on the floor beside her. There was gap of just the right size between John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.

She slotted the book into place, and picked herself up, wiping her hands carefully on her pinafore, as the book had been dusty. She saw that on the side table, there was a decanter and a glass sitting ready, and she wondered if anyone would mind her taking a drink. The fall had made her rather thirsty. There was a note pinned to the decanter:

“Men that can have communion in nothing else can sympathetically eat together, can still rise into some glow of brotherhood over food and wine.”

“Well,” said Alice, “That sounds welcoming enough, if a little wordy. I don’t suppose anyone would mind if I had just a little sip. And it does smell lovely.”

But as soon as she did so, the world suddenly seemed to shoot up around her.

“Well, this is certainly curious,” said Alice, who found that speaking aloud often gave her courage. It didn’t this time. Her voice was alarmingly squeaky. “I suppose all individuals are insignificant when one considers the broader course of history, but I should have preferred not to experience this personally.”

She sighed, and began exploring the room from this new, and undoubtedly educational, perspective. Soon, her eye fell on a cunning box made of frosted glass that had fallen, apparently, under a side table. The box was tiny enough to be picked up even in her small hands, and she examined it closely. “I believe there is a cake inside. It must have been made for a doll, or perhaps a sparrow. I can’t imagine it satisfying anyone else. Let me see. There are some words etched on the box – Let them eat cake. How droll. I wonder if eating the cake will return me to my normal size?”

Alice nibbled on the cake, cautiously, and then scrambled quickly out from under the table. She certainly was growing, and quickly. Dr Carroll would probably call it a metaphor for the growing power of the bourgeoisie in late 18th century France. She took another bite, just to be safe, and “Oh dear,” she said, as she suddenly shot up alarmingly, higher and higher, until her head was pressed against the ceiling. “I shall never get out of here now!”

And poor Alice burst into tears of frustration.

“Now, pull yourself together!” she told herself, a few minutes later. “At your size, too! At this rate, you will ruin the carpet, and nobody will be able to live with you.” She blinked, for where the carpet had been there was now a bathtub, filled nearly to the brim with her tears.

“Why, how did that come to be here?” she wondered. “And really, who would want a bath made of tears? With all that salt, I should think one would be quite crusty afterwards…”

As she spoke, a man entered the room, clad in a dressing gown. Alice recoiled at the sight of him. He was astonishingly ugly, and made more so by a sort of blistering rash that covered his hands and part of his face.

“Ah, good,” the man told her. “I see you have already drawn my bath. My doctor has prescribed a daily bath in the tears of traitors, and I find them quite restorative.” He grinned, rather unpleasantly. “Of course, I am my own doctor, which is very useful when it comes to prescribing suitable remedies. Devouring the palpitating hearts of France’s oppressors is also quite therapeutic.”

Alice stared at him in astonishment, and he frowned, as if noticing her for the first time. “Really, young woman, your height is grotesque and ridiculous. You will return to a sensible size at once, if you do not wish to be shorter by a head.”

Alice found herself nodding. “Yes, Monsieur.” To her surprise, she could feel herself shrinking once again to a normal size.


Death of Marat (Baudry & Tenniel)

“Yes, Citizen Marat. There are no Monsieurs and Mesdames here, only honest sons and daughters of the Revolution and of France.   Well, go on then! You don’t need to watch me bathe.”

Alice swallowed and nodded again. “Yes, Citizen Marat.”

As she opened the door to leave, she found a young woman standing on the other side. She looked disconcertingly like Alice, and was even dressed in a similar school uniform. Alice froze in surprise.

“My name is Citizen Corday,” the young woman stated. “I am here to see Citizen Marat. May I come in?”

And she pushed past Alice without waiting for an answer. Alice frowned as she closed the door behind her. The name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place it.

Outside the house, Alice found herself in a garden. She was, she noticed, still shrinking. “Oh, not again!” she said. “This is becoming absurd. I wonder if holding my breath would help?”

She tried, but all she achieved by that was a sense that the world was revolving around her rather fast. She sat down, suddenly.

“Mind where you sit!” a voice cried out.

Alice looked around, and realised that she had landed beside a rather large red and white spotted toadstool. On the toadstool, a caterpillar reclined, smoking a hookah. The caterpillar, she realised despairingly, was as large as she was.

“Oh dear,” she exclaimed, involuntarily.

“Is it, then?” inquired the caterpillar.

“Is what which? Or is which what? Oh, I don’t know.”

The caterpillar looked as disapproving as it was possible for a caterpillar to look. “Well, for someone who doesn’t know, you certainly have a lot to say.”

There didn’t seem to be any good reply to that, so Alice kept quiet.

The caterpillar sighed in annoyance. “You said it was dear. Has the price of bread gone up again?”

Alice blinked. “I think it’s around twelve sous,” she said cautiously. “Do caterpillars eat bread, then?”

The caterpillar snorted. “Does bread eat caterpillars?”

“Does it have to be one or the other?”

The caterpillar looked at her as though she was an idiot. “Well of course it does. And twelve sous is expensive. I may have to give up this mushroom. Have you noticed that you are shrinking?”

“Oh please, do you know how I can get back to my normal size?”

“Have you tried reciting poetry?”


“Yes. ‘You’re a villain, King Louis,’ is a good one.   Very patriotic.”

Alice frowned. “I’m not sure I know that one.”

“It starts, ‘You’re a villain, King Louis,” the caterpillar said, helpfully.

“You’re a villain, King Louis,” Alice repeated uncertainly, and then she realised that she did know this one after all. She stood up straight, with her hands clasped behind her back, properly, and began to recite with confidence.

“You’re a villain, King Louis”, the young man said
“And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet your people cannot afford wheat for their bread —
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the King, as he feasted at court,
“You will find I was thought to be tall.
But the crown on my head has made me appear short –
I’m not really fatter at all.”

“You’re a spendthrift, King Louis,” the young man cried,
“And hold parties by day and by night.
Then you ask for more taxes than we can abide
Do you think, for a King, this is right?

“As a young prince,” King Louis replied with a frown,
“I could be frugal yet debonaire
But Versailles must reflect the great power of the Crown
And we have to find money somewhere.” 

“You’re a traitor, King Louis,” the young man said,
“And you’ve sold out all France to the Prussians.
Yet you you sit here in silks with a crown on your head —
Don’t you think there will be repercussions?

“In my youth,” old King Louis replied with a groan,
“I was loved, and my people were loyal
But since they’ve betrayed me and taken my throne
I will do what I must to stay royal.”

“You are weak,” said the youth, “and incompetent, too
And your people are feeling irate;
Have you thought about what you are going to do
When the mob comes and breaks down the gate?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said King Louis; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

“That is not said right,” said the Caterpillar.

“Not quite right, I’m afraid,” said Alice timidly; “some of the words have got altered.”

“It is counter-revolutionary!” said the Caterpillar decidedly, and there was silence for some minutes.

“I don’t wish to be rude,” remarked Alice after a while. “But I am still shrinking. Didn’t you say that the poetry was supposed to cure me?”

“Certainly not!” said the Caterpillar. “Who ever heard of poetry curing anything?”

“Then why did you have me recite for you?” cried Alice.

The Caterpillar blew a smoke ring. “Rhyme requires no reason,” he said. “But if you really do want to be your usual size, you should nibble on this toadstool. There will certainly be no poetry in that.”

Alice was not at all sure that this was good advice, but since she was shrinking yet again and the toadstool was rapidly rising out of reach, she thought she had better try while she still could.

She jumped up to break off a piece, and took a cautious bite. To her pleasure, she found herself growing again, this time more moderately, a few inches with each bite. She nibbled carefully until the world appeared its normal size.

“Finally!” exclaimed Alice. “All this growing and shrinking is quite disconcerting. I don’t know who I am from one minute to the next!” She took out a handkerchief, and wrapped the remaining piece of toadstool carefully, before putting it in her pocket. “I’d better keep this just in case. The way things are going around here, I will probably be either a giraffe or a pimpernel again before the day is much older.”

“Better a giraffe or a pimpernel than a murderess and an enemy of the people!” cried a voice behind her.

Alice turned in astonishment. Before her stood a white Rabbit, wearing a short, grey-powdered wig, a grey coat with a red cockade, and a flowing cravat. He was carrying a teapot that appeared to contain a sleeping dormouse. Behind the Rabbit were arrayed a strange and motley collection of people and animals, including a dodo, a walrus, a March hare, and a man in a tall hat with prices stuck to it.

The rabbit cleared his throat. “Citizen Charlotte Corday, I denounce you as a traitor and a Girondin, and arrest you in the name of the French People for the most treacherous murder of Citizen Marat. How do you plead?”

“I’m afraid you must be mistaken,” stammered Alice. “My name is not Charlotte at all, it is Alice, and I have never murdered anyone!”

“A likely tale,” muttered the dormouse, without opening its eyes. “She hardly has any tail at all, in fact. Entirely unbelievable.” His voice trailed off into a snore.

“If you are innocent,” declared the Hatter, “then you will not mind answering our questions.”

“Well, of course not,” replied Alice.

“Good,” said the White Rabbit, firmly. “So tell me – how is a raven like a writing desk?”

“A raven like – how is that question even relevant to murder?” Alice was indignant.

“Thinks questions irrelevant. Does not respect the authority of the Assembly,” noted the March Hare.

“Well, you must admit, it’s rather absurd,” Alice protested.

The Rabbit frowned. “You find the murder of a citizen absurd?”

“Of course not! But I am not the person you are looking for. My name is not Corday, and I only saw Marat for a moment. He wasn’t my cup of tea, but I don’t think much of murdering someone for such a frivolous reason!”

“Frivolous… doesn’t think murdering people is much to worry about… compares it to making a cup of tea,” murmured the March Hare, making a note in his notebook.

“What? That isn’t what I said!” exclaimed Alice.

“Then you should say what you mean,” replied the White Rabbit, firmly.

“I meant what I said – isn’t that the same thing?”

The March Hare snorted. “You might as well say that a reign of terror is the same as being terrified of the rain.”

“Or that the Law of Suspects is a suspicious law,” added the Hatter.

“Or that L’Ami du Peuple really is the people’s friend,” suggested the Dormouse, waking up suddenly.

Everyone glared at him. “That is the same thing, of course,” the Dormouse added, hastily. He shut his eyes again and began to snore, as if to imply that he had never spoken in the first place.

“In any case,” remarked the Rabbit, “The verdict is clear. You are in contempt of court, and the Bastille must be sent for.”

Alice blinked. “Don’t you mean I must be sent to the Bastille?”


Robespierre (Louis Boilly & Tenniel)

“I said what I meant, and I meant what I said,” replied the Rabbit. He took a whistle out of his pocket, and blew three sharp blasts. All at once, stone walls erupted out of the ground surrounding them, shooting upward until Alice was completely enclosed. The White Rabbit nodded in approval. “Excellent. That should hold you until the beheading.”

He unlocked the door that had appeared in one wall, and let himself out.

“Beheading??” cried Alice.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said a voice behind her. “The guillotine is quite humane.”

“Contrariwise,” added another voice. “It is quite inhumane. But it is very egalitarian.”

Alice turned and saw two men, identically clad, with their arms around each other’s necks. They continued arguing as she watched them.

“It would only be egalitarian if they executed everyone,” said the man on the left.

“They mostly do,” remarked the man on the right.

“Mostly is not the same as always.”

“Contrariwise, it would only be humane if they didn’t execute the innocent.”

“But I am innocent!” said Alice, finally finding a place in this conversation.

“Oh, I doubt that,” said the man on the left.

“Contrariwise, I believe it absolutely,” said the man on the right.

“Nonsense. We’re all guilty here.”

“But that is preposterous!” cried Alice. “Not everyone can be guilty!”

“Of course they can. You only need to use your imagination.”

“I doubt she has an imagination,” said the man on the left.

“Of course she does, she just needs to exercise it more.” The man on the right stared at Alice. “Quick! Think of six impossible things!”

“I’d rather think of a way to get out of here,” remarked Alice. “But if you want impossible, why, this whole story is impossible. I have grown and shrunk so many times that I can hardly remember how large I ought to be, and –” she stopped, struck by a thought, and reached into her pocket. The toadstool was still there, wrapped in its handkerchief. She took it out and looked at it.

“I wonder if I could grow tall again. If I could grow as tall as this prison, I would be immensely strong. Perhaps I could break down the walls, like that man with all the hair – was it Solomon or Samson? In any case, it would certainly be harder for them to execute me, if I am large enough to tread on them all. I should not like to be guillotined, humane or otherwise.” She shuddered, and took a bite of the toadstool.

Immediately she shot up, her neck and limbs extending like telescopes. Her head hit the roof with thud. “Ow!” Alice cried, and put out her hands instinctively.   They hit the prison walls, and Alice braced herself.

For a moment she feared that she would be crushed as her arms continued to lengthen, but then there was a sudden cracking sound, and the walls began to crumble around her.

There were faint cheers from below.

“The Bastille has fallen!” someone cried, but Alice was not listening.

“Now, how am I to regain a reasonable height?” she wondered. “All this growing and shrinking is rather tiresome, though it is certainly better than being guillotined.”

From her height, Alice now had a panoramic view of her surroundings. In the distance, she could see a huge château in the baroque style, surrounded by extensive gardens and canals. In one of the gardens, several workmen, who looked oddly like playing cards were busily painting roses. In another, they appeared to be irrigating the furrowed soil with the impure blood of the oppressors. Alice frowned. That sounded familiar, if unpleasant. She turned her attention to a third garden, where several people appeared to be playing croquet using flamingoes as mallets.

“That can’t be good for the flamingoes,” Alice said to herself.   “Still, it looks more interesting than the other two gardens. I shall walk over there, and take a look.”

She tiptoed over, careful not to step on any houses in passing. Within a few steps, she had arrived at the croquet field, but she hardly had time to look around her before she felt a sharp pain in her toe. “Ouch!” cried Alice, and then “Oh dear!” because the ground was suddenly rising towards her at a rapid rate. She was shrinking, she realised, deflating, in fact, like a pricked balloon, and nearly as rapidly. She had stepped on a hedgehog, and it had defended itself in the manner of its kind. Alice lifted her foot, carefully. “I’m sorry,” she told the hedgehog. It rolled away rapidly, towards a flatter part of the croquet lawn, where a number of men had stopped playing in order to raise their flamingoes above their heads. The flamingoes had all stiffened into the same upright posture.

“Curioser and curioser,” said Alice. “Whatever are they doing?”

The White Rabbit came hopping up beside her, and Alice froze, but he did not appear to recognise her. “It’s the Third Estate,” he explained, in an unexpectedly friendly fashion. “They are taking a grave oath not to subordinate their clauses, and to reassemble wherever circumflexes require, until the constitution of the Kingdom is established.”

Alice thought that sounded very important, and said so. “But why the flamingoes?” she asked.

“It’s always flamingoes on Saturday,” said the White Rabbit, pulling out his pocket watch. “Now if you will excuse me, I’m late. I have a trial to attend.”

Alice froze, but the Rabbit was clearly not referring to her. But the croquet court was emptying, and everyone was filing into the palace, the White Rabbit among them.

“Well,” thought Alice. “They’re dreadfully fond of beheading people here; the great wonder is, that there’s any one left alive! I suppose I should go and see what this trial is all about. I hope they do a better job of it than they did with mine.”

The King and Queen of Hearts were seated on the throne when Alice arrived, with a great crowd assembled around them – all sorts of little birds and beasts, as well as a whole pack of playing cards: the Knave was standing before them in chains, and near the King was the White Rabbit, with a red cockade pinned to his jacket and a scroll of parchment in his hand. The back row of the court was entirely filled with sheep, knitting industriously. Alice blinked at them – she could hardly tell whether they were sheep or elderly women, but they did not appear sympathetic to the prisoner. In front of them, a dozen or so severed heads in elaborate wigs were chatting animatedly. They wore red ribbons tied around their necks, and were supported on pikes.

“How very peculiar,” mused Alice. “I have often seen a body without a head – in history books, I mean. But a head without a body! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life. I suppose that’s what they mean by talking heads, though they don’t wear ribbons on the television,” she added, thoughtfully. “I wonder if that’s why all the men wear collars and ties?”

In the very middle of the court was a table, with a large dish of jam tarts upon it: the jam was an unsettlingly bright red. “More like blood,” thought Alice, “than raspberries.” It made Alice quite queasy to look at them.

“Herald, read the accusation,” said the King.


On this, the White Rabbit cleared his throat, stared around the courthouse until there was silence, and then unrolled the parchment scroll and read as follows:

“The Queen of Hearts etc…”

“Consider your verdict!” the King said to the jury.

“Not yet, not yet!” the Rabbit interrupted. “There’s a great deal to come before that.”

“I shall advise you,” said the Duchess. “I know just what to do with villains of this type.”

Speak roughly to the peasantry
And tax them when they’re angry;
For even petty bourgeoisie
Work harder when they’re hungry.

I speak severely to my serfs,
I tax their lands and presses,
For they can thoroughly enjoy
Supporting their oppressors.

“Has the prisoner anything to say?” asked the King.

The Knave drew himself up to his full height. “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains,” he began.

“That is hardly to the point,” commented the King.

“Sentence first – verdict afterwards,” added the Queen. “Off with his head!”

“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”

“Any law which violates the inalienable rights of man is essentially unjust and tyrannical; it is not a law at all,” added the prisoner.

“Off with all their heads!” shrieked the Queen.

The White Rabbit stood again. “To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency, to forgive them is cruelty,” he announced in a ringing voice, staring directly at the Queen.

The Knave leapt out of his box, and seized the King by the corner of his playing card. “One must never compromise with tyrants,” he cried. “One can only strike at kings through the head. I vote for the death of the tyrant!”

“Off with their heads!” cried the playing cards.

“Off with their heads!” echoed the sheep.

“The King must die so that the country may live!” added the Rabbit.

“But this is all backwards!” exclaimed Alice. “You can’t run a trial like this – it makes no sense!”

But nobody was listening. The Rabbit had seized the Queen’s card and ripped it into two pieces, while the Knave shredded the King. The sheep had risen from their seats and begun to trample the Duchess, and the severed heads had somehow escaped their box and were devouring the tarts, which looked more like blood and less like jam with every bite.

Someone was shaking Alice by the shoulder.

“It didn’t go like that, though,” she murmured. “The Bastille should have been at the start, and Marat should have died after the King and Queen. And I don’t remember much about the Tennis Court Oath, but I know there were no flamingoes…”

“Alice, are you alright?”

Alice opened her eyes. She was lying in the middle of the corridor, and Judith was looking down at her with worried eyes. “Dr Carroll sent me to look for you when you didn’t come back to class. ‘They seek her here, they seek her there…’ Did you fall? You look a bit dazed. You must have hit your head, I think.”

Alice blinked. Her head did ache, now she thought about it. “I had the strangest dream,” she said. “I think Robespierre was a rabbit. And the Knave of Hearts must have been Danton. Marat was just Marat though. How very peculiar…”

Judith frowned. “I think we’d better get you to sick bay,” she said, helping Alice to her feet. “Nurse will want to check you out. Did you really say Robespierre was a rabbit?”

“Rabbitspierre!” exclaimed Alice, and began to giggle a little hysterically. “Oh ouch,” she added, as the movement made pain stab through her head. “Yes, I think sickbay would be a good idea.” She closed her eyes, then opened them again when she realised that Judith hadn’t replied.


But her friend was several steps away, staring wide-eyed at an entirely nondescript section of the wall. She reached out her hand, and for a moment it seemed to disappear into the wall.

“What an extraordinary thing,” said Judith. “I never saw a looking glass in this corridor before…”


Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland and the French Revolution

Robespierre station is located just outside the Boulevard Périphérique and the 20th arondissement, in the West of Paris, just a little north of the Château de Vaincennes.  It opened in 1937, when line 9 was extended out into the commune of Montreuil, and is named after the Rue de Robespierre, which in turn is named for Maximilien de Robespierre, one of the leaders of the French Revolution.

Robespierre was born in 1758, and educated as a lawyer, before becoming involved in politics.  He is a rather surprising figure in some ways; one of his early political causes was the abolition of the death penalty, which seems like a strange passion for the man who later led the Jacobin faction and was the main orchestrator and defender of the Terror, a period during which thousands of people were guillotined in the name of public safety.  Robespierre was ardently opposed to slavery and played a key role in its abolition in the French colonies.  He was also known for his incorruptibility which appears to have equated to an absolute dedication to his revolutionary ideals, regardless of who was destroyed along the way.  In 1794, shortly after becoming President of the National Convention, Robespierre gave a speech warning of a conspiracy against the Republic, but did not name any names.  A few days later, he himself was deposed and arrested – primarily by those who feared that they would be named as the conspirators.  He went to the guillotine on July 28, 1794.

Perhaps because I never studied it formally, I have always found the French Revolution profoundly confusing.  There seem to have been so many stages and factions rising and falling, and I find it hard to keep track of who was doing what when, and it is bloodthirsty and chaotic and senseless and self-defeating, like a horrible sort of dream.  Which to me gives it a certain amount in common with Alice in Wonderland, which is certainly a story about a dream, but not a very pleasant one – Alice’s dreamworld is illogical in dangerous ways, with a tyrannous Queen ready to execute people for any reason or none, and words and ideas being twisted until nobody is safe.  I think valid comparisons can be made between the trial scene and the Terror.  The rest of the comparisons I made are entirely invalid, but I enjoyed making them anyway.  And I want to state for the record that, despite appearances to the contrary, I didn’t just write a 5,000-word story purely to set up that Rabbitspierre joke.  That was just a bonus.

As Alice points out, I have completely overturned the timeline of the French Revolution in this story.  Properly, the Tennis Court Oath (June 20, 1789) should have been first, followed by the fall of the Bastille (July 14, 1789); the trial of King Louis (December, 1792) and his execution (January, 1793); the assassination of Marat (July 13, 1793), the start of the Terror (September 1793 – it ended in July 1794) and the trial and execution of Marie Antoinette (October, 1793).  But of course, I skipped a lot of fairly important dates and events entirely.

The quotes I have scattered through the text are mostly Robespierre’s – he had quite a way with words, which is perhaps to be expected given his legal background and his idealistic nature.  But there are a couple of quotes from Danton and at least one from Rousseau.  I haven’t quoted Marat directly, but he did say that ‘man has the right to deal with his oppressors by devouring their palpitating hearts’.

The images I have used here are a combination of Tenniel’s original illustrations from Alice in Wonderland with portraits of various historical figures.  These include the portrait of Charlotte Corday by Paul Jacques Aimé Baudry (1860), the portrait of Robespierre by Boilly (1791); and, in the courtroom picture, a drawing of Danton speaking in the Convention (artist unknown, 1849), and details from the portrait of Louis XVI by Duplessis, and details from portraits of Robespierre and Marie Antoinette for which I am yet to find attribution.  They are, however, all definitely in the public domain after 200+ years.

If you like soundtracks to go with your story, here are two songs that have been constantly in my head while I’ve been writing this. The first is Allan Sherman’s ‘You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louis‘, which my friend Nada played for me when I was staying with her when we were both twelve.  I thought it was so hilarious at the time that I memorised it, and now I can’t forget it.  The other is this fabulous Lady Gaga parody ‘Revolution in France‘, by the History Teachers, which basically tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the French Revolution and will stay in your head forever.  But in a good way.


Porte de Montreuil
fleur9left Robespierre
fleur9right Croix de Chavaux

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