Brunswick writer Alison Johnson enjoys her bi-weekly lunches with a local group of Franco-American friends.
Johnson speaks fluent French and enjoys visiting France at least once a year. Now, she’s about to publish a biography about one of the most notably tragic monarchs in French history.
Johnson’s interest in the French motivated her to write a biography about King of France Louis XVI, but that was 27 years ago. Her biographical manuscript sat on a shelf, until about a year ago, when she re-submitted the book to McFarland publishing.
Obviously, Johnson was delighted to finally have her book accepted for publication. “Louis XVI and the French Revolution” is scheduled for release this spring, by McFarland, an independent publisher of academic and non-fiction books.
Although dozens of books are in print about Marie Antoinette, who was the tragic wife of King Louis XVI, she was historically a “lightweight,” compared to her husband, says Johnson. “I was motivated to write about Louis XVI by my realization that so much incorrect information has been disseminated about him. I think he deserves far better from history”, she says.
Over two centuries have passed since King Louis XVI (1754-1793) was executed by guillotine. He is the only French King to die by execution. Ironically, Louis XVI did not want to be the king, writes Johnson. Rather, he preferred a quiet life in pursuit of his interests in locksmithing, carpentry and geography. When he accepted the throne, his work was dedicated to the welfare of his people until his government became engulfed in the violence of the French Revolution.
Regrettably, his reputation as being a “weak king”, were the result very bad historical timing. Nevertheless, his personal courage was undeniable. For example, she describes an account when Louis XVI met with insurgents, who led street mobs who had murdered two of his personal officials and paraded their heads through the streets of Paris on pikes. Just a few days later, Louis XVI rode from his palace in Versailles to Paris with no protection to meet the insurgents.
Her book’s last biographical chapters are based on accounts written in the journal kept by the king’s valet. A poignant record of the King’s calmness in the face of death is described. His valet recorded that when he awakened the king on the morning of his execution by guillotine, the King told him that he had slept very well. “That’s the mark of a man absolutely secure in his conscience and religious faith,” says Johnson.
Johnson’s appreciation for France and French history dates to when she lived in Paris while on a National Science Foundation fellowship.
After graduation from Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota, she attended the Sorbonne, in Paris, where she studied mathematics. She later received an M.S. in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin. In 2010, she received a Distinguished Achievement Award from Carleton College.
Although Johnson only took two undergraduate courses in French, she picked up the language during the year she studied in Paris and by reading.
“My French has been greatly improved by my participation in our French conversation group that I’ve been part of in the Brunswick area since 1964,” she says.
Johnson says France is fascinating because of the country’s monumental contributions to literature, art, architecture, music and cuisines. “That’s why I spend a couple of weeks every spring in Paris,” she says.
Johnson began writing in 1984, shortly after her parents died, because she wanted to write a memoir about her father’s obsession with amassing two tons of gold and silver coins when he thought the nation’s economy was about to collapse during The Great Depression. Her family memoir, “The Eleventh Hour Can’t Last Forever,” is now in its second printing. For more information contact Johnson at [email protected].