Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
~  Lauren  Zullo ~

Fashion in the French Revolution

Irčne Némirovsky: The Tragic Effects of Succumbing to Human Weaknesses

Albert  Camus
Irčne Némirovsky, an author who has posthumously achieved fame and success, develops characters who exhibit universal human weaknesses and shapes her stories around their ability to rise above and overcome those weaknesses, or their choice to surrender and fall victim to them. The hope is that, from reading Némirovsky’s stories, which are filled with great wisdom and insight, humanity will be able to extract deeper meanings from them, and will then be able to learn and apply their lessons to their own lives. Whether it be egotism, greed, lust, sinfulness, or the other weaknesses that her characters struggle with, all of them prove that it is easy to make choices that lead to regrets, and that it is easy to be hindered by external forces. Némirovsky’s various stories teach of the necessity to be in complete control of one’s own destiny, and to never let one’s humanity, desire for life, or freedom be taken away.

One of Némirovsky’s characters, a Russian revolutionary assassin named M. Legrand, makes this observation about revolutions… “A revolution is such a slaughterhouse! Is it really worth it? Nothing’s really worth the trouble; it’s true, not even life” ( The Courilof Affair 332). While historians differ in their justification of revolution, there is more agreement concerning the success of specific revolutionary methods. One successful method was the use of dress to show one’s political affiliations and goals for the French Revolution. Wearing their hearts on their sleeves, these participants in the revolution transformed fashion as well as their nation. To accomplish this transformation, they opted for simplistic styles, adopting the patriotic tricolors of red, white, and blue, along with bonnets rouges all signs of democratic ideals. As the Revolution ebbed, however, fashion returned to the pre-revolutionary style. By the time Napoleon was crowned emperor, fashion had completely reverted back to the ways of old, which raises a question much like M. Legrand’s, “Are revolutions invariably ineffectual bringing destruction, but no real change?” Assessments of the French Revolution as a whole vary, but the use of dress as a form of protest served as a very successful, yet nonviolent, way to bring about change.

Major Works Consulted:

Barber, Nicola. Questioning History: The French Revolution. North Mankato: Smart Apple Media, 2005.
Némirovsky, Irčne. David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair. New York: Borzoi, 2008.
---. Suite Française. New York: Vintage, 2006.
Ribeiro, Aileen. Fashion in the French Revolution. Bath, England: Bath, 1988.
Photo Credit: Némirovsky, Irčne. Fire in the Blood. New York: Borzoi, 2007.