The Marquis Lafayette Reconsidered, by Laura Auricchio
This isn’t a bad book, per se, but it is not as good a book as it thinks it is. The author is of the mistaken opinion that those who read books about the Marquis de Lafayette think of him as some sort of perfect plaster saint when virtually every book I have read about him (and this is at least the fourth or fifth) has commented on his adulteries as well as his general foolishness in seeking glory and in his political incompetence during and after the French Revolution. Indeed, there is very little that this book adds that one would not be able to read in a host of less unpleasant books except for the explicit pornography about Lafayette that was written during the early part of the French Revolution that the author spends a fair amount of time talking about and showing pictures of. If reading about French political pornography is your thing, then by all means this book may be of interest to you, but it contains a good deal less detail about Lafayette that show his good sense and his ability to make peace with the Oneida (only briefly mentioned here), his avoidance of trouble in not invading Canada, and in his visit to Prussia to meet with Frederick the Great and see the Prussian army in action than many other biographies do.
This book is a bit more than 300 pages of text and is divided into four parts. The first part of the book discusses the youth of Lafayette in the boondocks, his family background, and his move to Paris as a wealthy orphan fascinated by the insurgent Americans (1-3). After that the author discusses Lafayette as a devoted American patriot, including a discussion of the first impressions he had of the United States in South Carolina and Philadelphia (4), his disenchantment about the course of the war as well as his injury and struggle to gain glory (5), the issue of the French alliance (6), his temporary homecoming when he got his young wife pregnant again (7), his devotion to a particular view of honor (8), the momentous return to France in 1784 (9), and Lafayette’s role as a pro-American nobleman in Paris (10). The next few chapters discuss Lafayette as an unsuccessful political reformer (III), including chapters on his political education (11), the rights of man (12), some early successes (13, 14), his apparent triumph (15), as well as some unflattering pornographic portrayals (16) and his downfall (17). The rest of the book quickly (IV) discusses his exile (18), American trip (19), and the end of his life (20).
Indeed, it appears that the author of this book is somewhat mistaken in the fact that Lafayette needed a revisionist biographer at all. I’m not sure what sort of view of Lafayette the author feels the need to revise. Those people who are interested enough in the history of the American and French Revolutions to read about Lafayette will find books that are more enjoyable and certainly more gracious than this one that give information that shows Lafayette to be an immensely flawed if brave person. Most mention issues with his plantations in French Guiana and his general lack of religious belief as well as his political folly in striving to make France a constitutional monarchy in the face of Bourbon monarchs who had no interest in being constitutional and French radicals who had no interest in having a monarchy. Considering the fact that modern biographies of Lafayette are honest about his virtues and flaws, this book’s attempt to encourage reveling in Lafayette’s human foibles generally fails to provide very much that is new, or good when compared with more balanced offerings.