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Word Count: 500
The political upheavals of the French Revolution and the violent reaction against it by all of Europes threatened monarchies shattered the illusion that change would be peaceful Historical events had to be interpreted and reinterpreted as rapidly as they occurred At the outbreak of the French Revolution enlightened intellectuals relished the fall of the Bastille a symbol of the power of kings and aristocrats to have ordinary people imprisoned on a personal whim or for mere revenge The idea that a tyrannical king Louis XVI could be forced to yield power inspired new democratic hopes By adopting The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens in August 1789 the members of the French National Assembly seemed to have achieved the ultimate realization of the Enlightenments aspirations The actual course of the Revolution however yielded doubt tragic resignation confusion and many political about-faces More moderate supporters became alarmed by what they saw as the upsurge of the uneducated mob whose years of suffering at the hands of the social system were not easily appeased The severed head of Louis XVI executed in 1793 gave a new image of revolution which unlike the fall of the Bastille challenged centuries of European reverence for royalty and aristocratic birth During the horrible period of violence known as the Reign of Terror in the name of true democracy Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobin leadership of the Revolution purged every group that challenged their supremacy designating them enemies of the people The very principles of Liberty Equality and Fraternity themselves could become tyrannical Writers and thinkers were faced with unprecedented questions and were pushed to make decisions or take stands with unpredictable consequences In the larger span from 1789 until 1850 deeper changes in the social structure kept complicating the context in which ideas poems and novels were produced the disruption of rural life in England the growth of industry and urbanization the changing role of slavery in the
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