Thermidor Fun Facts Day Eight: La Nuit de Varennes

The 1982 film by Ettore Scole, La Nuit de Varennes, describes the events of June 20-21, 1791, when the royal family fled Paris and was arrested in the eastern city of Varennes. The originality of Scole’s film is that he never shows the king directly, but rather portrays events from the perspective of other travelers on that same road that same night. Which one of the following people is not a character in Scole’s film?
a. The American patriot Thomas Paine, played by Harvey Keitel
b. The noted seducer Casanova, played by Marcello Mastroianni
c. The novelist Restif de la Bretonne, played by Jean-Louis Barrault
d. The orator Georges-Jacques Danton, played by Gérard Depardieu

Revolutionary comfort. The Jacobins must be spinning in their graves…

Air France Revolutionary ComfortThe new campaign that is being launched by Air France to American consumers juxtaposes two incongruous terms: “revolutionary” and “comfort.” This marketing ploy would have been inoffensive, if the artist had not coiffed the model with a revolutionary bonnet rouge complete with cockade, placed her in an gilt chaise, and set the whole scene in the most famous symbol of wealth and privilege: the Versailles gardens. The French revolutionary tradition has sold out in the name of comfort, this ad seems to suggest. Vive le capitalisme?

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.

Revolution beer, an intriguing newcomer to the market

Revolution beer clenched fists for saleA visit to the website of Revolution beer, brewed in Chicago, makes for an interesting foray into the ambiguities of revolutionary popular culture as it is understood today in the USA. The brewery’s icons, which draw heavily on Soviet propaganda and Maoist imagery (brawny hunks and clenched fists feature prominently), promote the drink primarily as a working man’s brew. The few women included such as on the “Bottom Up Wit T-Shirt,” available through its gift shop, are also defined by their hard bodies and toughness, as her slogan declares: “This working woman don’t drink no girly beer.” But what makes Revolution beer revolutionary? The website tries to make capitalism sound compassionate by stressing the founder’s ties to the neighborhood: “He worked to promote local businesses and manage the Logan Square Farmers Market. While working at the Chamber, he found a cool, old building on Milwaukee Avenue with a nice tin ceiling.” As fellow admirers of the revolutionary spirit, we wish the folks at Revolution Brewing well. But we hope that in the future they might do something really revolutionary with their clout, instead of becoming yet one more trendy product vying for the beer-drinker’s cash. How about it, CEO Cibak?

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

Two Thumbs down for Maureen Dowd

ImageJust in case this does not make it into the New York Times, I reprint it here for the readers of “A Revolution in Fiction.”

Letter to the editor, Sunday Review, New York Times

July 7, 2013

Dear Editor,

Can you spell trite?  I am very disappointed that the NYT would stoop to print the essay by Maureen Dowd (“Goodbye Old World, Bonjour Tristesse”).  A journalist with any moxie would have sought out the French people who are pushing beyond these old clichés and fueling the intellectual marketplace with events that put a novel spin on the past and embrace all kinds of people into a multi-cultural present-day France.  Consider Martial Poirson whose new exhibit at the Musée de la Révolution française joins together popular culture from around the world to show how people have repurposed the past to harness present-day hopes for democratic change.  Or Laurent Loty, the mastermind behind the big banners wrapping the walls of the Université Paris-Diderot, which reproduce quotes of the 18th-c. philosopher Diderot in order to prompt enlightenment of a non-sectarian sort, quotes such as “Élargissons Dieu” (which can mean either “Let’s release God” [as in, from prison], or “Let’s give more space to God” or “Let’s make God bigger”).

Get real, Maureen Dowd.  France is vibrant, exciting, and full of talented active people.  It just takes a more talented reporter to find them.

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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