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Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville was born in 1805 into an eminent Norman aristocratic family, with ancestors who had participated in the Battle of Hastings and the conquest of England in 1066. This was a family and social milieu that was to be deeply scarred by the French Revolution of 1789–99. His parents were Hervé, Comte de Tocqueville, formerly an officer of the personal guard of Louis XVI, and Louise Madeleine Le Peletier de Rosanbo, a relative of the powerful political figures Vauban and Lamoignon. The couple married in 1793; the following year they barely escaped the guillotine. Louise’s grandfather Malesherbes (Louis XVI’s minister and defence lawyer at his final trial) and both of Louise’s parents were condemned to death, as were her elder sister and her husband.

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In life and in literature, Peter Carey has been as attracted by the pull of the past as by realities of the present. Then there is his recurrent fascination with the two-country divide, where the lure of exile vies with the sentiment of ‘home’, and the schism between country of choice (or country that ‘chooses’ you) and country of birth means that neither is ever fully suitable.

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