Nathan Thrall Longlist Interview
6 October 2023
How does it feel to be longlisted?
It is wonderful to be noticed in connection with a prize like this one and to be listed among such accomplished authors.
How did you conduct your research?
I read and read and read and read in books, newspapers, pamphlets, memoirs, and letters, until I could hear the voices of the people of 1848 as I went to sleep. The slowing of everything during the COVID pandemic enabled me to read more deeply and thoughtfully than would otherwise have been possible. The hardest part of the research was devising a narrative structure that would do justice to such a sprawling subject. I filled many A3 pages with swirls of scrawl before I found something that seemed to work.
What do you think is the most enduring moment from the tumultuous events of 1848 on Europe, and how it shaped the Europe we know today?
For those who took part in it, the memories of the spring of 1848 lasted as long as life itself. The euphoria, the falling away of fear, the sense of history in motion, the experience of immersion in a collective self – decades later people could remember these moments as if they had only just happened. The parliaments and constitutions of 1848 are less deeply etched in European memory, but they were among the most durable legacies of the upheaval. Looking outside Europe, the formal abolition of slavery in the French Empire, an achievement of the Provisional Government established in Paris February 1848, created a new point of departure for the enslaved people of the French colonies, even if social and racial equality would take generations to accomplish.
In you exploration of the events of 1848 in Europe, which historical figures stood out as particularly significant or emblematic of the sweeping changes and challenges faced by societies during this period of upheaval?
Hundreds come to mind, but I was particularly struck by the women who wrote as witnesses of the events of 1848. Women were present everywhere in that year – as fighters on the barricades, as newspaper editors and as protestors on the streets of the European cities, yet they were excluded from the new ministries and parliaments (except as spectators in the galleries), denied the right to vote and barred from membership of most political clubs and associations. Perhaps for that reason, their writing on the events of that year is unique in its detachment, its willingness to grant all protagonists a share of the writer’s sympathy and to replace polemic with the balanced analysis of complex conflicts. Marie d’Agoult, Cristina di Belgiojoso, Eugénie Niboyet and Margaret Fuller (among many others) all embody these virtues.
What are you working on next?
I am thinking about a prequel to Revolutionary Spring that will focus on the long-term impacts of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
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