On Being Revolutionary

Linton Choosing Terrror coverPerovic The Calendar coverTaws Politics Provisional coverWhat does it mean to be revolutionary? That is, what does it mean to exist, to live, to have a real state or existence for a longer or shorter time under a revolutionary regime? Such existential questions run through the exciting new books pictured here in the fields of History (Marisa Linton), French Literature (Sanja Perovic), and Art History (Richard Taws). Perovic tackles the question of being in time quite literally in her study of the schemes invented to tabulate the days, weeks, and months of the period 1788-1805, some of which included astronomical or symbolic information. Taws embraces the conundrum of existence more philosophically by studying transient forms of art (objects such as passports, paper money, playing cards, and prints) that circulated widely during the tumult but have left few traces to our day. As for Linton, the issue of being and non-being comes across viscerally in her biographical portraits of the men who destroyed each other and themselves in the name of the Republic.
– from a forthcoming review essay placed in issue 47.4 of Eighteenth-Century Studies

What do women want? Invisibililty

Riding coat RedingoteSophie Hicks wears Celine 16womens-well-philo-slide-H2S5-slideThe latest version of women’s styles en travesti, exemplified by yesterday’s dour black and white portrait of London architect Sophie Hicks looking stern in Céline, brings to mind the fashion’s most outspoken proponent during the 1780s and 1790s: Marie-Antoinette. While Caroline Weber championed the queen’s “heroic” adoption of equestrian styles in her 2006 book, suggesting that dressing as a man was proof of her strong character and visionary fashion sense, Marisa Linton in her 2013 book reminds us of another reason for dressing like a man: invisibility. As the New York Times article states, “Invisible. That is what Phoebe Philo’s clothes for Céline make you feel. … Simply invisible. A woman in a perfectly cut shirt and a pair of pants. And, oh, what a relief!” What better reason to dress like a man, especially if one needed to sneak out of the castle at night to attend meetings of the Austrian Committee.

Re-invigorating Teaching the French Revolution: the role of Lego? by Kate Astbury

devise for Astbury

Kate Astbury has been working with school pupils aged 9 and 10 as part of a scheme to teach them research skills. The pupils had a day at the University of Warwick where they learned how to evaluate historical sources and where they were introduced to the collection of Revolutionary prints held at Waddesdon Manor (see http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/french/research/previousprojects/revolutionaryprints)
The pupils particularly enjoyed hunting for the hidden images of the royal family in prints from the post-Terror period.
They then returned to school to undertake their own research projects. They were asked to
- Work in pairs to take one event or theme of the Revolution and examine how the prints can be used to reflect what people felt at the time
- Present their findings as a story board or a newspaper front page or a news bulletin or an essay.
Pupils from Allesley Primary School, Coventry, produced the stop animation video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xM9en0m87pU ) using Lego figures.
You can see more about the Revolutionary prints in a video made by Dr Astbury: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/knowledge/culture/revolutionprints

More reviews of ‘The Frankenstein of 1790 and other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France’

In preparation for the roundtable at the MLA annual convention, readers may be interested to consult the following reviews of my book which have appeared in the past few months:

- Laura Mason, in The American Historical Review (2013) 118 (5): 1612-1613.

- Jean-Louis Trudel, in >ReS Futurae</ 3 (2013)

- Sanja Perovic, in French Studies 67, 4 (October 2013): 565-566.

- Nanette LeCoat, on H-France Review Vol. 13 (July 2013), No. 103

- James P. Gilroy, in Histoire sociale/Social history 46, Number 91 (May 2013): 231-233.

- Kelsey Rubin-Detlev, in Journal of European Studies 43 (June 2013): 175-77.

In addition, there are the first reviews, posted on May 13, 2013:
- David Coward, in The Times Literary Supplement (London), May 10, 2013.
- Daniel Sullivan, in The Ernest Becker Foundation Newsletter (April 10, 2013).
- Allan Pasco, in Choice (February 2013).

Battle of the books at MLA

Douthwaite_J_Frankenstein_Astbury book cover

Friday, 10 January, at the Mayfair room in the Sheraton Chicago
Session 237. Revolutionary Afterlives: Why Do We Continue to Care about the French Revolution?
10:15–11:30 a.m.
A special session
Presiding: Margaret Anne Cohen, Stanford Univ.
Speakers: Katherine Astbury, Univ. of Warwick; Julia V. Douthwaite, Univ. of Notre Dame; Mary McAlpin, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville;
Biliana Kassabov, Stanford Univ.

The literature of the French Revolution generated later developments in fiction and politics, yet it remains unknown. Two new books fill that gap in radically different ways: The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France and Narrative Responses to the Trauma of the French Revolution. This “creative conversation” invites the audience to join speakers in debating the relative benefits to be gained by Douthwaite’s new positivism as opposed to Astbury’s trauma theory.

keywords: Revolution, Fiction, Terror, Trauma, Romanticism

Universalism under Attack: Thanksgiving Reflections inspired by the French

Coq d'indeIt is breath-taking to realize just how different philosophical and political debate is in France as compared to the USA. The contrast rarely emerges with such clarity as in the debate over universalism that is currently shaking the French intelligentsia.

As explained in an admirable article by CNRS historian Sophie Wahnich*, France is currently polarized by two rival views on universalism. On the one hand, there are the proponents of post-colonial studies, often the same people who are held guilty of foisting identity politics in the Hexagon, who charge the nation with hypocrisy. They hold up the 1789 Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen as proof, since its writers promoted universalism without eradicating the injustices and crimes that they were party to, as participants (more or less direct) in an economy built on the slave trade.

On the other hand, there are the die-hard républicains who argue that such anathema is misplaced, because the Revolution’s Declaration of Rights was the watershed moment when the hierarchical, class-bound order of court society was finally revealed for what it was: morally untenable. Universal equality, the Declaration states implicitly, applies to people of color as well as to people born in all socio-economic classes.

Although the French attitude towards the “others” amongst them is complex (and potentially at its nadir at present), the Declaration should not be held up as the enemy, because it has had concrete, positive effects on the creation of national solidarity. Consider the debates inflamed by the persecution of Lt. Colonel Alfred Dreyfus in 1892, and the way statesman Jean Jaurès used the Declaration to defend French Jews such as Dreyfus. Wahnich explains: “Souvenons-nous que Jaurès lorsqu’il doit faire face à l’antisémitisme, rappelle que la Révolution française avait déracialisé l’humanité. Ainsi dans La dépêche du midi du 2 juin 1892 : «Je n’ai aucun préjugé contre les Juifs. […] Je n’aime pas les querelles de race, et je me tiens à l’idée de la Révolution Française, si démodée et si prudhommesque qu’elle semble aujourd’hui : c’est qu’au fond, il n’y a qu’une race, l’humanité.»
True, this solidarity is daily put to test in a country more diverse than ever. But the founding principles are not the enemy.

Wahnich is scheduled to join a public debate about these issues today; we will watch the results with interest.

This debate seems a prime example of how the French maintain a high level of public discussion on important issues of principle. Such abstract, historical discourse strikes most Americans as high-falutin’ talk, less for public consumption than for ivory tower intellectualism. But we eschew such debate at our own risk. Perhaps a bit more talk of principles could curb the alarming rise of hate-speech and hate-crimes amongst us…

Although our nation was also founded on universal principles of equality, special interests have significantly altered the original spirit of the USA.
Consider that most ordinary gesture, repeated by every schoolchild coast to coast, the pledge of allegiance. In July 1942, when the pledge was first approved by the American Congress as a means to bolster national spirit, it went like this: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

That version remained true to the universalistic spirit of the French Declaration of Rights and the US Bill of Rights.

But a mere 12 years later, our pledge departed from its original purpose and became a tool of special interest. Under pressure from groups such as the Knights of Columbus and the Presbyterian Church, and in the hands of a president recently converted to Presbyterianism, the words “Under God” were added. Moreover, they were inserted before “with liberty and justice for all,” thereby suggesting that there exists an order—a moral order, sanctioned by monotheism—superior to universal, legal rights of the American citizen.

As we reflect upon our national identity this week on Thanksgiving, we Americans would do well to look to the French for a bracing reminder of what “for all” is supposed to mean.

* Sophie Wahnich, “Un soupçon sur l’universel,” Libération [section Société] (22 novembre 2013).
Thanks to Olivier Morel from bringing this article to my attention.

Call for proposals, ‘Teaching Representations of the French Revolution’ (MLA book)

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Call for proposals, Teaching Representations of the French Revolution

Essay proposals are invited for a volume in the MLA’s Options for Teaching series entitled Teaching Representations of the French Revolution, to be edited by Julia Douthwaite (University of Notre Dame), Catriona Seth (Université de Lorraine), and Antoinette Sol (University of Texas Arlington).

This goal of this collection of essays is to make this field more accessible to non-specialists and to teachers in different settings, from the Humanities class at a community college to the research seminar in a graduate program. The collection of essays will complement traditional sources and include the arts, ephemera, realia, archival material and once popular but now forgotten texts in the classroom. Accordingly, we intend to highlight through a number of settings how the revolutionary heritage lives on in our own vulnerable times. As a glance at any newspaper will reveal, we still live in a world of propaganda, advertisement, political violence, terrorism, revolution, and reaction. The essays in this proposed volume will speak to ways current students will be helped in understanding these things as well as learning about more narrowly focused topics.

The volume is divided into four sections: 1) How to Represent the Revolution: Classic Debates; 2) What Are the Musts of the Revolution (and Why Should Anyone Care)?; 3) Global Reverberations: The Impact of Emigration and Radicalism; and 4) Teaching the Revolution for Diverse Audiences.

We welcome proposals for essays that draw parallels to current events, on the idea of revolution itself, on global reverberations of the French Revolution (Haiti, Russia, Cuba, China, South America and even the recent ‘Arab spring’), on how these later revolutions intersect with literary representations of the earlier one, and essays on the French Revolution in literatures other than French, American and English such as German, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Haitian, or Italian. In short, essays dealing with European, transnational and the global impact of the French Revolution will round out the French and English traditions.

We are particularly interested in pedagogically-oriented essays on ways to integrate the French Revolution into diverse courses, including European Literature, Humanities, language and writing courses for community colleges and liberal arts colleges, along with ways to present difficult material, how to engage students, and how to help students acquire the necessary contexts to understand the volume’s topic. In addition, essays dealing with teaching with translations, finding source materials (written, visual, or musical), and suggestions for ways to use these in the classroom are welcome.

If you are interested in contributing an essay (3,000-3,500 words) to one of these sections, please submit an abstract of approximately 500 words in which you describe your approach or topic and explain its potential benefit for students and instructors alike. The focus of proposed essays should be pedagogical.

Note that if you plan to quote from student writing in your essay, you must obtain written permission from your students to do so. Proposed essays should not be previously published.

Abstracts and CVs should be sent to the volume editors by 1 June 2014. Please send e-mail submissions to Professor Julia Douthwaite (jdouthwa@nd.edu), Professor Catriona Seth (Catriona.Seth@univ-lorraine.fr), and Professor Antoinette Sol (amsol@uta.edu) with the subject line “Approaches to Teaching the Fr Rev.” Surface-mail submissions can be sent to Professor Douthwaite at the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

Creating Relevance: What Jeff Bezos, Jeff Daniels, and the Journal de Paris national have in common

All the news published over the past two weeks about Amazon giant Jeff Bezos and his purchase of the Washington Post generated an interesting swirl of speculation about what he might do to innovate print journalism. Long gone are the days when, as Ezra Pound once wrote, the man who believes what he reads in the papers could be considered the foundation of a modern democracy. Other media, with unregulated and informal attitudes toward objective reality, have usurped that role. I personally have taken heart from Bezos’s move, as well as the fine show, The Newsroom starring Jeff Daniels, which is airing these days. I have high hopes for a return of news with integrity, and a heightened awareness of the creative and vital relationship between journalism and the other arts. My next book project, “The Creation of Relevance,” will tap into that deep and vibrant current at key moments in French history.

Consider the role played by the news in the months following the Terror (an excerpt from chapter 4 of The Frankenstein of 1790, p. 178):
One reader pleaded for respite in the Journal de Paris national in January 1795 and in so doing announced a new literary market on the horizon. In an unsigned letter printed on 9 nivôse, the author thanks the editors of the paper for political news: “in presenting to our eyes the long script of counterrevolutionary atrocities committed by Carrier and his confederates, you have well served the Republic: publishing crimes prevents their return.” But he admits that a certain compassion fatigue has set in, noting that “our souls are weary of so many horrors and we need softer emotions for relief. Nothing refreshes the blood of a decent man [un honnête home] . . . like the tale of a good deed.” The letter ends by producing “that happy effect on your readers” with the example of a generous shopkeeper in a lower-class neighborhood known for its left-wing militantism. His shop is located on la rue de la Chanvrerie (first arrondissement), future setting of the barricade and the battle that took so many lives in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862). This valorization of the worthy workingman would launch a major publishing industry in mid-nineteenth-century France.

Today’s events suggest another paradigm change may be on the horizon, and attest to the necessary bond between writers of every age.

Hugo and the Convention : Thermidorian Thoughts

The Convention is usually represented as a heartless government that, incapable of steering the new nation to peace, ushered in the Terror and committed unspeakable acts of evil against legions of hapless, innocent people. Victor Hugo’s novels—Les Misérables and Quatrevingt-treize—hover anxiously around the Terror and the Convention and seek to understand what went wrong in 1793. In an essay under way, I aim to show how a forgotten episode of Les Misérables (Msgr Bienvenu and the Conventionnel) holds the key to the redemption story not only of Jean Valjean, but also of the French people. This chapter is virtually invisible today, due to its omission from the stage play, the cinematic adaptations, and all abridged versions in French and English that are used for teaching. Yet it is crucial to understanding Hugo’s project. By showing Bishop Bienvenu embracing the Conventionalist G— and asking for his blessing, Hugo reveals the bishop’s respect for his erstwhile enemy and underscores their shared humanity and sense of awe in front of the Infinite. Does Bishop Bienvenu receive the conventionalist’s blessing in the split second before G— dies ? Can Hugo’s writing help heal the wounds of the Terror ?

On this day, 219 years after Thermidor,* let us consider the quotes below as food for thought.

« Si, la Révolution finie, nous avons encore des malheureux parmi nous, nos travaux révolutionnaires auront été vains. »
If, when the Revolution ends, there are still miserable people amongst us, our revolutionary efforts will have been in vain.
– Barère, 23 messidor An II (July 1794)

« Tant qu’il y aura sur la terre ignorance et misère, des livres de la nature de celui-ci pourront ne pas être inutiles. »
So long as ignorance and wretchedness exist on the earth, books like this cannot be useless.
–Hugo, 1862. Preface to Les Misérables

*Thermidor designates the two days—July 27 and 28, 1794—when the reign of Terror came to an end with the execution of Robespierre and 200 or so of his « confederates ».

Bastille Day quiz 2013

Feu-d'artifice-du-14-juillet-paris-2012

1. The “Rive Gauche” of Paris only took on that name during the Revolution, in 1789. Before 1789, the neighborhood to the South of the Seine was called:
a. Là-bas, or “over there”
b. La Rive du Sud, or the “South side”
c. Le Méridional
d. L’Outre-Petit-Pont or the “other side of the Petit-Pont.”

2. What Danish-born author revered Robespierre as a young person and wrote about France as the “holy land” of freedom?
a. Søren Kierkegaard, author of Fear and Trembling and The Concept of Irony
b. Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa and “Babette’s Feast”
c. Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Little Mermaid and Thumbelina
d. Niels Bohr, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his understanding of atomic structure and quantum mechanics

3. This event of 1870-71 is widely considered the last gasp of the French revolutionary tradition.
a. The Algerian War
b. The slow assassination, by poison, of Émile Zola
c. The Civil war known as “La Fronde”
d. The Commune

4. What novel published in 2013 features a ventriloquist’s dummy made in the image of Madame Defarge, the malevolent tricoteuse of Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities?
a. We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler
b. Bad Monkey, by Karl Hiaasen
c. The Powers, by Valerie Sayers
d. 1q84, by Haruki Murakami

5. Where can the aficionado of the French Revolution find a treasure trove of dolls, manga, T-shirts, cheese wrappers, and other icons of the spirit of ’89 from global popular culture right now?
a. At Georgetown University in Washington, DC
b. At the Farragut, TN, Folklife Museum
c. At the Louvre in Paris, France
d. At the Musée de la Révolution française in Vizille, France

6. Which rock song features lyrics that sound like an account of Louis XVI’s last days?
a. The Rolling Stones, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”
b. Hall and Oates, “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)”
c. Coldplay, “I Used to Rule the World”
d. Gilbert O’Sullivan, “Alone Again, Naturally”

7. According to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), one of the most demeaning affronts dealt to King Louis XVI and the royal family in October 1789 was that they were brought back to Paris and forced to live in a royal mansion that was converted into a ….
a. Pig sty
b. Bastille
c. Meeting hall
d. Brothel
.
8. What company was raked over the coals as “Marie-Antoinette’s Favorite Airline” in a January 2013 article by the Wall Street Journal?
a. American Airlines
b. Delta
c. Air France
d. United Airlines

9. A New York Times article of March 2013 (“You May Now Kiss the Computer Screen”) mentioned Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette as precursors of a trend that is rising in the USA. What trend is that?
a. The habit of kissing a computer screen (or, in the 18th-century, a life-size human replica) instead of a real person.
b. Unconsummated unions (le mariage blanc)
c. Proxy marriages via the Internet
d. All of the above

10. Which one of these revolutionary-era child icons has been turned into a verb?
a. Gavroche, hero of Hugo’s Les Misérables
b. Louis-Charles, aka le Dauphin, pretender to the Bourbon throne
c. Joseph Bara, the boy hero immortalized in Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Bara
d. Kung Fu Panda, hero of Kung Fu Panda’s French Revolution by Kaylee Mcgrew

Answers

1. d. L’Outre-Petit-Pont. The South of the Seine was called « the other side of the Petit-Pont » because the Petit-Pont was for many years the only bridge that led from the Ile de la Cité to the area lying to the South of the Seine. The Rive Droite was called L’Outre-Grand-Pont (since the Grand-Pont—what is today called le pont Notre-Dame—was the only bridge that led from the Ile de la Cité towards the Northern neighborhoods).
2. b. Isak Dinesen was a life-long Francophile, as seen in “Babette’s Feast” and Letters from Africa: 1914-1931.
3. d. The Commune. Although the Commune of spring 1871 was relatively short-lived (73 days), the brutal suppression of the rebel communards had long-term ramifications. From the successful Russian Revolution of 1917 to the failed 1989 revolution on Tianenmen Square, those who have sought political change have looked to the Commune for inspiration.
4. a. Karen Joy Fowler, We are All Completely Beside Ourselves.
5. d. The exhibit called “Popular Cultures of the French Revolution, 20-21st century” is on display from June 2013 to April 2014 at the Musée de la Révolution française in Vizille (near Grenoble). The show will likely travel to the US and Canada afterwards, so stand by for more news on that!
6. Any of the above. But today’s audience would probably choose c., the British rock band, Coldplay, “I Used to Rule the World” track from their 2011 album Vida la Vida. Lyrics include: “I used to rule the world / Seas would rise when I gave the word / Now in the morning I sleep alone / Sweep the streets I used to own /People couldn’t believe what I’d become / Revolutionaries wait / For my head on a silver plate / Just a puppet on a lonely string / Oh…who would ever wanna be king.”
7. b. Bastille. Burke describes the royal family’s trek from Versailles to Paris as a funeral march: “After they had been made to taste, drop by drop, more than the bitterness of death, in the slow torture of a journey of twelve miles, protracted to six hours, they were, under a guard, composed of those very soldiers who had thus conducted them through this famous triumph, lodged in one of the old palaces of Paris, now converted into a bastille for kings.” (Reflections on the Revolution in France, Paragraphs 100-124).
8. a. American Airlines was criticized in the Wall Street Journal for declaring bankruptcy all the while holding onto a luxury home for the use of its executives on one of London’s wealthiest streets. (It apparently sold for a cool $23 million.) It is interesting to see how feudal privilege has translated into shorthand for capitalist excess…
9. c. Proxy marriages. The article reads, “These are called proxy marriages, a legal arrangement that allows a couple to wed even in the absence of one or both spouses. They date back centuries: one of the most famous examples was between Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were first married in her native Austria in his absence, before she was shipped to meet him in France.” See Sarah Maslin Nir’s article of March 6, 2013.
10. a. Gavroche, the brave street urchin of Les Misérables. The verb is found in the couplet, “Paris sous cloche / ça me gavroche” in the 2007 song by Thomas Dutronc, “J’aime plus Paris.” He is describing what Paris has become: a city for well-off people cut off from lower classes. “Gavrocher” means to “make mad” or “infuriate.” Check it out!

Julia Douthwaite is Professor of French at the University of Notre Dame and author of The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France (University of Chicago Press, 2012). The Bastille Day quiz is a regular feature of “A Revolution in Fiction” since 2011.

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