We’re in week three of history, and you may recall that this year we are covering the Victorian Era and in the Americas, the Westward Expansion. Week one was nice and easy: husband-Jamie, the Victorian scholar, provided plenty of lecture and discussion as an overview of the period. He brought out maps and really really old films of Victorian Londoners. The kids read Horrible History books, watched Horrible History episodes, perused our old standby, Take Me Back, and in general we had a smashing good time.
Week two brought the French Revolution. My digging at the library produced a PBS documentary of Marie Antoinette, and we love good documentaries. So after the first day or so of discussion, we popped in the film. And… oh, my. See, this is when it is really funny that I am no history scholar. For those not in the know, let me enlighten. The year is 1770, and Austrian teenage princess Marie is sent to marry French teenage prince Louis XVI. As it turns out, they weren’t exactly “in” to each other. They got along fine, just not in the bedroom sort of way. This became a major problem for the French, and there was oh-so-much-discussion about the lack of sex between the royal couple. Sex, the lack thereof, and the rumors of extra-marital sex were actually major themes throughout the PBS documentary.
And I haven’t even told you about the pamphlets. As Marie Antoinette became increasingly unpopular, private illustrators began generating all sorts of R- and X-rated pamphlets featuring Marie in compromising and scandalous positions with various men; these were distributed throughout the countryside. The story was fascinating – the full power of the press was still unfolding, and Marie had no idea for such a long time how catastrophic these images were to her position. And there were tons of these pamphlets. I know this, because PBS took great pleasure in showing us all of them.
You are probably wondering now why I didn’t stop watching the film with my 9 and 12 year old. Well, hindsight and all. But as the documentary got increasingly uncomfortable, I kept feeling like surely the worst was behind us. And this was history, and we could be mature about this, yes? We talked a lot about what we were learning, and I tried Very Hard to put the sexual themes in political context, and downplay their more racy natures. And I let the kids talk privately about how they felt about it all. But hoo-boy, had I previewed the film, let’s just say I would have chosen differently.
Ultimately we did stop it once Louis was beheaded and Marie and her children were imprisoned. The breaking point happened when they took Marie’s young son from her; reportedly Marie could hear him crying at night in another part of the tower. I mean, that almost broke me. Tender-hearted Eva simply dissolved in tears.
Wowza! That day and the next, we talked a lot about the revolution and the documentary, and after all it did lead to good discussion. We laughed at the awkwardness, posed theories about why the French Revolution ended up so differently than the American Revolution, commiserated with the French’s frustration with Marie and Louis, and felt sympathy for her suffering, despite her frivolity and general uselessness as a queen. And when it’s all said and done, neither Ian nor Eva will forget Marie and Louis and the French Revolution, I guarantee ya.
This week we have moved to the Regency era of England, and after a short discussion of the general events, we settled in to watch the BBC’s fabulous mini-series adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Normally I would have the kids read our literature selections instead of watching filmed adaptations, but this one is done so beautifully; the fashions, the culture, the music, the charged interactions between classes and gender all put the audience right there in that world. The kids are already in love with Eliza, annoyed by her mother, mixed in opinion about broody Mr. Darcy. They love Mr. Bennett, and are rooting for Jane and Mr. Bingley. It is such a refreshing change from our dark and scandalous Marie Antoinette.
So that’s where we are, my friends! Imperfect and messy and little bit scandalous. Just like history.
PS: on my last post about biology, I failed to create the link for the additional resources I’m using. I’ve fixed that now, but basically, it was simply a link to my Curricula and Resources page. Sorry about that!