"The Devil in the Holy Water is very ambitious," writes Ruth Scurr in the latest issue of the Nation. She goes on to praise Robert Darnton's new book for being "long, complex and important," as well as interesting to many people outside of the academy–and not just because of the saucy bits.
Scurr says, "This is a book for
experts on eighteenth-century France; but it is also lucid and
scurrilous enough to have much wider appeal. The spectacle of a public
figure cut down to size by revelations–true or false–about her or his
private life is a literary genre that continues in rude health when more
refined forms of writing–literary fiction, criticism and poetry, for
example–threaten to become obsolete. Readers will find much to
titillate and shock in the slanders that brought -les grands- of
eighteenth-century France to their knees. But there is also a
contemporary resonance to consider: as our own voracious yellow press
goes from strength to strength and life-writing converges on celebrity
biography, the more defamatory the better selling, what can the history
of slander and libel teach us?"
The complete review is available online to thenation.com subscribers and it will be on news stands April 12.