When it comes to most of the major events of history, you have to go looking for the women, have to hunt in the darker corners of the archives, seek their behind-the-scenes presence. That's not, however, the case with the French Revolution. From the legendary revolutionaries Theroigne de Mericourt and Olympe de Gouges, who had hoped that the new regime would extend some of the rights now being given to men also to their wives and sisters, to the tricoteuse watching heads roll from the guillotine, women's role was very public, if very controversial, and anyone who's studied the Revolution at even the most basic level will have some sense of it.
But there's far, far more to know - and for an overview you couldn't do any better than Marilyn Yalom's Blood Sisters: Women of the French Revolution. She's collected all of the revolutionary memoirs of women known, and sorted and sifted them into one neat, accessible volume. Yalom provides a certain amount of academic framing for this, noting particularly the way in which women jump from the personal to political and back again, giving equal importance to each, while also often putting themselves into the background, with their male relatives (whose defence is often the putative aim of making a record). But mostly she simply lets the women tell their stories, while providing enough context to explain and amplify them.
The aristocratic women are here. There's the Duchesse de Tourzel, the famously level-headed and sober figure from the mad court of Versailles who was on the fateful flight to Varennes that sealed the fate of the royal family. She was an acute observer; as Yalom records, she noted that as the family was returned to Paris: "Following the order of Monsieur de La Fayette, everyone had his head covered, he had also enjoined them to remain absolutely silent to show the King, he said, the feelings his trip had inspired. His orders were so strictly observed that several scullery-boys without hats covered their heads with their dirty, filthy handkerchiefs.
And almost at the other end of the social scale, yet a servant too at the very end to Marie-Antoinette, was Rosalie Lamorliere, a humble maid who told her story to one of the queen's early biographers. Yalom notes that here is a simple but seemingly honest witness who "spares us nothing - neither the queen's last bowl of soup nor the vaginal hemorrhaging to which she was subject".