A paradox confronts the scholar of revolutionary literature. One is initially drawn to this material because of its immense energy, optimism for democratic principles, and verifiable, powerful engagement in politics. Also attractive are the voices of rarely heard members of society: the poissarde (fish-seller of les Halles) and the peasant, policemen and prostitutes. And yet, over time, one realizes that most of the best texts published in 1789-1804, judged in terms of literary quality–style, characterization, imagery, plot–argue against the principles of 1789 and are in fact counter-revolutionary. A new project seeks to gather some of these texts–from both sides of the political divide–to make them available for teaching in a bilingual edition with critical background and notes.
So far, the texts under consideration include: Le Falot du peuple (a lively dialogue on the king’s trial, as seen by two poissardes and a public writer), J’attends (a sensationally horrid little account of the guillotine waiting for the Queen), short stories by Condorcet, Sade, and possibly the whole text of Pauliska, which is arguably the best novel of the post-revolutionary period.
Pauliska never fails to appeal with its bizarre plots of secret societies, vampirish scientific practices, and incredible gender bending. But it also imparts a poignant sense of emigration, exile, and trauma.
Stay tuned for more on this project, launched by Julia Douthwaite and Catriona Seth, Université de Nancy, and feel free to send us your ideas too!