Interpretations of the French Revolution, whether orthodox or revisionist, can easily narrow the scope of discussion to the political or philosophical 'movements' of the time. It is only since the end of the 1980's, when the collapse of the Soviet Bloc seemed to geo-politically kill Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution, new studies extended our knowledge of the Revolution relating to the culture of the era, the impact on the rural population, and the place of conceptions of gender in the revolutionary 'political culture'.1
Two recent books which reassert and address the importance of social dynamics in the French Revolution during the arduous first decade are by David Andress, French society in revolution 1789-1799, and Peter McPhee, Living the French Revolution, 1789-99. Both contain historiographic analysis of recent research, and McPhee addresses some of the arguments in Andress' book directly.
The books offer well-argued and occasionally similar - but ultimately different – propositions: Andress argues that the French Revolution, in its own time, failed to achieve its political objectives and by the end of the turmoil the same conflicts and tensions in French society remained. However, the revolution irreversibly challenged the conventions of French and European society. Ultimately, the ideas the revolutionaries fought for, of a society of equal citizens, became the basis of all the freedoms modern Europeans enjoy. McPhee does not refute the claim that modern ideals of freedom were inspired by the revolution, and similarly argues the social impact of the Revolution cannot be overlooked. McPhee puts considerably more emphasis on the social effects of the revolting in the time it occurred, arguing that the revolution went to the heart of community and family life. Although much of daily life may have been unchanged for most in France during the Revolutionary decade, the experience of the Revolution was irrefutably felt by everyone.