The Law System led to the Revolution, and condemning its failure leads to … redemption? Antoine Rault’s gamble

Le Systeme poster Theatre Antoine Parisjohn_law_guizot

Tonight I attended Antoine Rault’s play, Le Système: an account of the first credit bubble and crash in French history (an event initiated by the Scottish economist John Law, and which transpired during the Regency in 1719-21). It brings to mind two items of interest: 1) the economic causes of the French Revolution, and 2) the political gamble of the writers’s own bio in the program notes.

To make a long story very, very short: it appears that Rault, like Niall Ferguson in The Ascent of Money, agrees that “John Law was not only responsible for the first true boom and bust in asset prices, he also may be said to have caused, indirectly, the French Revolution” (Ferguson 126).  This comes out in allusions to the workers, farmers, and artisans who made money during Law’s System, and who are held up to ridicule by the rich noble villains who foiled the System in order to return things to the (unfair, privilege-bound) status quo at the end.  But where Ferguson blames Law for “comprehensively blowing the best chance that the ancien régime monarchy had to reform its finances,” Rault blames the political chicanery of Law’s rivals at the Regency court. He casts particular opprobrium on a cleric and a financier, and ends the drama with Law—played with fine, tight-lipped integrity by Loránt Deutsch—down on his knees in despair, wailing, “I am honest, I am honest!” (“Je suis honnête, je suis honnête!”).

Which leads to the author’s clever sleight of hand in the program notes, where he connects his own experience in politics to his reinvention as an honest writer. As Rault writes:  “I put what I know about politics, and what I learned in the years I spent stalking the corridors of power, into this play” (“J’ai mis dans cette pièce ce que je sais de la politique et ce que j’ai appris en fréquentant durant quelques années les anti-chambres du pouvoir”). His on-line bio suggests that this bitterness may have something to do with the work he once did as a “communications expert” for political heavy-weights Jérôme Monod and Christian Jacob.

What a clever way to wreak revenge on your former bosses.  And what a fabulous gamble on art as redemption!

p.s.  Isn’t it funny that the French pronounce John Law as John “Loss”?!

Julia Roberts, existentialist?!

when Julia Roberts became a French major

I had to laugh when I saw this ad for Givenchy in a recent copy of the New York Times’s T magazine. We are more accustomed to the super-smiley actress, as seen in a publicity campaign for her film, Eat, Pray, Love

TOKYO - AUGUST 18:  Actress Julia Roberts attends the 'Eat Pray Love' press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo on August 18, 2010 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

TOKYO – AUGUST 18: Actress Julia Roberts attends the ‘Eat Pray Love’ press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo on August 18, 2010 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

julia-roberts_416x416 forbes

(based on the equally frothy memoirs by Elizabeth Gilbert), or in a head shot for Forbes magazine.

What happened, Julia?

Did you suddenly discover the wonderful French habit of gloom? been reading too much Sartre?!

More essays sought for MLA book! Haiti, Charlie Hebdo, Drama & the French Revolution


Call for proposals, Teaching Representations of the French Revolution

NEW:  More essays sought!

Revolution in Haiti

Politics & Charlie Hebdo: Contemporary French Context

Literature: Drama

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.

We are particularly interested in pedagogically-oriented essays on ways to integrate the French Revolution into diverse courses, 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.

The volume is shaping up nicely but we still seek essays on the following three new topics:  1) Revolution in Haiti; 2) Politics & Charlie Hebdo: Contemporary French Context; 3) Literature: Drama.

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 July 2015. Please send e-mail submissions to Professor Julia Douthwaite (, Professor Catriona Seth (, and Professor Antoinette Sol ( 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.

For information on the CFP for Ibero-American echoes of the French Revolution, see our posting of 2/28/15. Proposals due June 1, 2015 for Ibero-American. July 1 for the three new topics.

‘The French Revolution Effect’ Workshop, King’s College London, June 4-5, 2015

Kings College London

I am delighted to put in a plug here for the ‘French Revolution Effect’ Workshop to be held this summer in London, with admiration for Rosa Mucignat and Sanja Perovic who’ve organized it. You’ll note that speakers touch on many hot topics in the air, such as the circulation of ideas among sister republics of France, as well as Ireland, Spain, Switzerland and Germany. Also of interest are papers on émigré literature and the politics of memory. On that note of circulating, there is also much talk of movement–of troops, of transnational charity, or of pencils, which “draw distance” after the Terror–by one of my favorite art historians, Richard Taws.

I’ve pasted the program below.  Hope to see you there!

‘The French Revolution Effect’ Workshop, King’s College London


Thursday 4 June

 14:00-14:15     Welcome and introductory remarks

14:15-15:45    Panel 1: Temporalities of Revolution

Paul Hamilton (QMUL), Revisionism: Contemporary Refigurings of Revolution

Roderick Beaton (King’s), Imagining a Hellenic Republic, 1797-1812: Rigas, Korais, Byron

Maike Oergel (Nottingham), The ‘nation’ and ‘freedom’ as politically radical concepts in the

context of post-Napoleonic political agitation in Germany: the case of Burschenschaftler Karl and August Follen 1815-24

15:45 -16:00    Coffee break

16:00-17:30    Panel 2: Radical Memory

Jon Mee (York), Universal Liberty and Radical Memory: The Case of John Thelwall in the 1790s

Catriona Kennedy (York), Republican Relicts: Gender, Mourning, and the Memory of the 1798 Irish Rebellion

Daniel Muñoz Sempere (King’s), The Spanish Bastille: The Inquisition and the Rise of Liberalism in Spain

 18:00-19:30    Guided tour of Freemasonry Museum and Library

Friday 5 June

 9:30-11:00      Panel 3: Transnational Politics of Religion and Dissent

Adam Sutcliffe (King’s), Jewish Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Time of the Jewish Left

Emma Major (York), Sins of the Nation: Anna Laetitia Barbauld and God’s Citizens

Erica Mannucci (Milan – Bicocca), The Democratization of Anti-Religious Thought in Revolutionary Times: A Transnational Perspective

  11:00-11:15    Coffee break

11:30-13:00    Panel 4: Mapping Revolution at Home and Abroad

Julia Douthwaite (Notre Dame), Mapping Concepts in Movement, ca. 1790, 1798, and 1830: The Evidence of La Boussole nationale, Pauliska, and Le Rouge et le Noir

Francesco Manzini (Oxford), Stendhal’s Franco-Italian Revolution

Jasper Heinzen (York), Paying Interest on the Wages of War: German Veterans of the British Army and the Transnational Politics of Charity in (Post-)Napoleonic Europe 

13:00-14:30    Lunch

14:00-15:30    Panel 5: Feelings in Motion and at a Distance

Richard Taws,  (UCL) Inventions of the Pencil: Drawing Distance after the Terror

Elystan Griffiths (Birmingham), Space and the Revolution in German Writing after 1789

Kate Astbury (Warwick), The Melodramatic Effect

15:30-16:00    Coffee break

16:00 -17:30   Roundtable discussion: Keywords of the Revolution in Europe

King’s College London Chapel, 18:00:  Performance of Sylvain Maréchal’s Le Jugement dernier des rois (1793) by the students of the French Department.

Thoughts on Pavel’s notion of ontological landscaping and planning: a tool for émigré literature

caspardavidfriedrich_thewandererabovethemistsOn this sunny spring day, I am really enjoying reading Thomas Pavel, Fictional Worlds.
Some thoughts on Pavel
Great quote and intriguing definition of fiction:
Nelson Goodman once suggested that we should replace the question, “What is art?” by “When is art?” and offer a pragmatic answer. “Fiction is when world versions find secondary users.”
But that would not cover all cases. Seems to make the distinction between “nonreligious fictional activities, such as the ‘laughing stories’ of the Cherokees, animal stories, anecdotes, folktales and so on.”
He says that, “to derive these from older unused or degraded myths is not always easy. On the contrary, a considerable number of folktales that are based on nonmythical material may have originated in the observation of current social life. … independently of other discarded world models.
Says we should not define fiction in historical terms only as “the result of decayed myth,” and instead characterize it as “ontological landscaping and planning.” Taking the division of the ontological space into central and peripheral modes as a very general formal organization of the beliefs of a community, we may localize fiction as a peripheral region used for ludic and instructional purposes.
I love this paradigm for émigré literature!
ontological landscaping and planning!
Pauliska runs from country to country, through mountain passes and torrential rivers. Seems like a good way to try and figure out what that might mean. Why does she range over such a lot of land, from Poland to Hungary, Austria, and Italy, ending in Lausanne, Switzerland? (Well the end in Switzerland is not rocket science).
Delves into the earth (chez d’Olnitz, in the glacier, and the subterranean cell of the counterfeitors). A new direction to follow for the “French Revolution Effect” workshop at King’s College London in June 2015.

*Thomas G. Pavel, Fictional Worlds (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986), 143.

In hommage to La Commune de Paris: March 18


This day, March 18, marks the 144th anniversary of the beginning of the end for the Paris Communards.  In honor of their vision of a just and equal workers’ society, we publish the beautiful song, “Le Temps des Cerises,” by Jean-Baptiste Clément.  According to legend, it is dedicated to a heroic ambulancière or paramedic who refused to leave the side of the fighters and who was never seen again when the smoke lifted from the streets of Paris in March–May 1871.

Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises,
Et gai rossignol, et merle moqueur
Seront tous en fête !
Les belles auront la folie en tête
Et les amoureux du soleil au cœur !
Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises
Sifflera bien mieux le merle moqueur !

Mais il est bien court, le temps des cerises
Où l’on s’en va deux cueillir en rêvant
Des pendants d’oreilles…
Cerises d’amour aux robes pareilles,
Tombant sous la feuille en gouttes de sang…
Mais il est bien court, le temps des cerises,
Pendants de corail qu’on cueille en rêvant !

Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises,
Si vous avez peur des chagrins d’amour,
Evitez les belles !
Moi qui ne crains pas les peines cruelles
Je ne vivrai pas sans souffrir un jour…
Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises
Vous aurez aussi des chagrins d’amour !

J’aimerai toujours le temps des cerises,

C’est de ce temps-là que je garde au cœur
Une plaie ouverte !

Et dame Fortune, en m’étant offerte
Ne saurait jamais calmer ma douleur…

J’aimerai toujours le temps des cerises
Et le souvenir que je garde au cœur !

Jean-Baptiste Clément (1866)

The Frankenstein of 1790: 20% discount until May 1! and other topical news

Douthwaite_J_Frankenstein_This just in: the University of Chicago Press has allowed my book, The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France, to be sold at a 20% discount until May 1!  Coupon Douthwaite_Flyer-US-150310 (1).

Perhaps I’ll see some of you readers in Los Angeles next week, at the annual meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies? That is always a super fun conference–there is always such a broad variety of interests present, in art, film, literature, history, philosophy, and music. It is a pleasure to attend, especially if you can refrain from assiduously taking notes and just enjoy taking in the beautiful words and strange artifacts from long ago.

fyi, my two events at ASECS are:

Thursday March 19, 9:45–11:15am

Panel no. 33: “The Directoire (1795-99): A Forgotten Milestone in European Immigration.” I am proud to chair this session featuring the excellent new work of Ourida Mostefai, Kelly Summers, and Christopher Tozzi.

Friday March 20, 4:15–5:45pm

Panel no. 153: “Gothic Fiction, Gothic Events: An 18th-Century Myopoesis of the Present?” (New Lights Forum: Cont. Perspectives on the Enlightenment).

I’m presenting: “The Revenge of the Hot Baroque: or How the French Revolution Was Remembered in the 1800s and Lives on Today, in Style”

This paper is inspired in part by Chris White’s fabulous article posted here, and reflections on film, fashion advertising. Very fun!


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