From Prairial to Pop Culture: Day Seventeen. A link between Notre Dame and what revolutionary-era writer?


This summer I am spending my days in the Department of Special Collections at Notre Dame’s library, systematically making my way through 60-some of the most controversial-sounding titles of French books published during the French Revolution (of the 266 total). I am looking for clues about who read these books, what they liked, and when, as based on underlinings, marginalia, and any clues I can find on provenance; it is also interesting to learn about historical facets of book binding and illustration. The closest thing to being in a European library is being in a Rare Books room in the USA.
I am doing so in anticipation of the Vizille colloquium on Collecting the French Revolution in late September. It will be fun to show how the collection of such materials ended up here, in the hinterlands of north-central Indiana!
So far, I have found clues suggesting that some folks here at Notre Dame held one particularly controversial writer of the revolutionary age in great esteem. What writer might that be?
1. Thomas Paine
2. Général Lafayette
3. Abbé Barruel
4. Abbé Grégoire

From Prairial to Pop Culture. Day Twelve. Who was the Prophet of Revolution?


Although it was written well before the Revolution took fire, this passage, which cites Latin poet Lucan’s violent epic poem Pharsalia (On The Civil War), seems to foresee the rise of events of 1789-94 and Napoleon’s repressive backlash: 

On verrait naître les défenseurs de la patrie en devenir tôt ou tard les ennemis, tenir sans cesse le poignard levé sur leurs concitoyens, et il viendrait un temps où l’on les entendrait dire à l’oppresseur de leur pays:

Pectore si fratris gladium juguloque parentis

Condere me jubeas, gravidæ que in viscera partu

Conjugis, invitâ peragam tamen omnia destrâ.*

(“If you command me to sink my sword into my brother’s breast, or in my father’s throat, or even into the womb of my pregnant wife, I shall do it all, despite my repugnance, with my own right hand.”)  […]

C’est du sein de ce désordre et de ces révolutions que le despotisme, élevant par degrés sa tête hideuse et dévorant tout ce qu’il aurait aperçu de bon et de sain dans toutes les parties de l’Etat, parviendrait enfin à fouler aux pieds les lois et le peuple, et à s’établir sur les ruines de la république. Les temps qui précéderaient ce dernier changement seraient des temps de troubles et de calamités, mais à la fin tout serait englouti par le monstre et les peuples n’auraient plus de chefs ni de lois, mais seulement des tyrans.

*Lucan, Pharsalia (61-65 AD)

This shocking prose was penned by what writer in what text?


1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes (1755)

2. Voltaire, Les Lettres philosophiques (1734)

3. Montesquieu, De l’esprit des lois (1748)

4. D’Holbach, Le Système de la nature (1770)

From Prairial to Pop Culture. Day Ten: A Literary quiz


Ending the revolution, even in fiction, has challenged many a writer over the ages.  Will you be up to the challenge?  Match the endings with the authors and titles.


  1.  “He turns then, and sees me, and his whole face breaks into a smile. For me. And my heart feels so full that it hurts. Full of love for this man I’ve found.  And for the brother I lost. For the mother who came back.  And the father who didn’t. Full of love for a girl I never knew and will always remember. A girl who gave me the key.  It goes on, this world, stupid and brutal. But I do not. I do not.”
  2. “When the late reconciliation took place, between Robespierre and Danton, we remarked that it proceeded rather from the fear which these two famous revolutionists entertained of each other, than from mutual affection; we added, that it should last only until the more dexterous of the two should find an opportunity to destroy his rival. The time, fatal to Danton, is at last arrived. …. We do not comprehend why Camille Desmoulins, who was so openly protected by Robespierre, is crushed in the triumph of this dictator.”
  3.  “Five and thirty years have now passed, since Chapeau was talking, and the Vendeans triumphed in the restoration of Louis XVIII to the throne of his ancestors. That throne has been again overturned; and, yet another dynasty having intervened, France is again a Republic. How long will it be before some second La Vendée shall successfully, but bloodlessly, struggle for another re-establishment of the monarchy? Surely, before the expiration of half a century, since the return of Louis, France will congratulate herself on another restoration.”
  4. “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

Authors and titles

1. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

2. Anthony Trollope, La Vendée (1850)

3. Jennifer Donnelly, Revolution (2011)

4. Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety (1993)

From Prairial to Pop Culture. Day Two, on “those minorities” who will ignite the next Revolution

La Revolution versus ces minorites 2015

While walking near the Sorbonne a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a flyer on the sidewalk that announced an imminent revolution in France, a “Revolution of Life!” that will bring “Justice, Peace, and Life.”

Intrigued, I took a closer look and immediately felt a chill on seeing a text that astutely mobilizes people’s fear of ridicule to upset us and make us want to retaliate.

“Ces minorités se moquent de nous!” it declares.  “Those minorities are making a mockery of us!”

Now, this could connote ridicule—those minorities are making fun of us–or it could connote indifference—those minorities could give a fig about us; such is the ambiguity of the verb se moquer de.  But anger is clearly the goal of this flyer, as one realizes in the rest of the text: “Those minorities consider us incapable of rebellion [… ] That is the ultimate insult.”

Who are “those minorities”?

  1. Arabs, North Africans, Southeast Asians and other “people of color” who now live and work in France
  2. Members of the government, teachers, intellectuals, and journalists
  3. Hedge fund managers, loan sharks, and the other unscrupulous kingpins of today’s financial universe
  4. Professors employed at the Sorbonne, notorious for their parsimony in judging students’ work at its rightful value

p.s.  The entire flyer will be posted in the answers to this quiz series, “From Prairial to Pop Culture: The French Revolution in 2015,” on July 14, 2015.

What a revelation! the King’s College workshop on the French Revolution effect

Kings College London

The King’s College workshop on the French Revolution Effect was a revelation. I feel like I discovered a friendly parallel-universe in London, of people whose work and attitude toward academia is–or could be–leading the avant-garde in its combination of theory and genuine practice.

The movement of ideas around Europe was not just rhetoric here. These were true experts providing in-depth yet entertaining forays into the specifics of political thought and action, in art and literature, from all across Europe. Originating in Paul Hamilton’s comments on the period in English and German philosophy, speakers then presented representative examples of revolutionary aspirations coming alive in Greece, Germany England, Spain, Italy, and France. I don’t know about the other participants, but I have never quite so enjoyed a conference as this one.  I felt as if I were part of something, an electric current of politically-engaged scholarship wrapping around the Continent. This is not a feeling I’ve had before in the English-speaking world.

Not only did our various contributions put pieces of the geopolitical map back together, we also restored the intellectual network beyond conservative truisms, to consider minorities such as freemasons, Jews, and émigrés, as presented in my lecture and in that of Adam Sutcliffe.  The trip to the London Freemasonry Museum and Library was a truly bizarre experience and I can hardly wait to go back.

The conference brought many surprises for me, and it was so much more enjoyable to go learn about it in person, rather than reading about it laboriously in a book.  Each of the speakers possessed an excellent style, if I do say so, and the discourse moved along not only rapidly but also in deep detail. That is what keeps all these papers so close to mind: the engaging and surprising stories they told.

It was a complete surprise to hear about the Inquisition, for example, as it was discussed by Daniel Muñoz Sempere, who explained that many Spaniards supported the Inquisition in the eighteenth century as a sort of court system!  Also interesting was Roderick Beaton’s disquisition on the Greek example—all beautifully explicated via poetry and imagery on Rigas, Korais, and Byron.

Germany was well represented in J.H. Campe’s Briefe aus Paris and the protean pastorals discussed by Elystan Griffiths. I really enjoyed the discussion of radical politics and politicians by Maike Oergel. She totally sold me on Karl Follen!  For those of you who don’t yet know him: he was first a fervently radical, black-cloak and white beret wearing student in Germany, inspired by the French example. Later he left Germany to become the first professor of German at Harvard and a Unitarian. Follen was finally fired for his abolitionist views.

Jon Mee’s colorful portrayal of Thelwall’s pyrotechnics and courageous views, as discovered in a rare and unknown letter found in an archive, was a delight. Also entrancing was Richard Taws’s by now classic style of elegant, imaginative, and probing art and media critique, this time winding together the history of the pencil and drawing technologies during the period. Kate Astbury’s use of an elegant music video to show us what a revolutionary dialogue, as between a heart-broken father and son in a play by Pixerécourt, would look and sound like, was most effective and memorable; it would be great to put a link to it here!

However, the most empowering part of the French Revolution workshop for me was discovering real-live people who approve of anti-clerical wrting today (and don’t mind saying so). Thus it was that the work of Erica Mannucci blew my mind. She presented a lucid analysis, engaging and not lacking in humor, about materialist philosophy as it moved across French-Italian borders in the revolutionary years. What was most powerful to me was the tone of respect and appreciation Mannucci showed for the work of translators who brought to Italy thinkers such as D’Holbach and Sylvain Maréchal. Dissenting Protestants were well represented in the heartfelt and convincing foray into the work and motivations of Anna Barbauld, by Emma Major. Adam Sutcliffe’s animated presentation on the Jewish Enlightenment—which had some intriguing links to mine on the notions of cosmopolitanism and freemasonry, was also eye-opening.

Toiling in the groves of American Catholic academe, as I have for the past 24 years, it was most refreshing to hear people speak with respect and approval for atheists, agnostics, Protestants, Unitarians, Anglicans, and all Dissenters. I finally felt like I was hearing the “other” side of the story—my people’s side. Not only do I come from a long line of anti-papists (the Douthwaites were Unitarian and Quaker), but the colleagues gathered at King’s College also share an enduring commitment to revolutionary ideals, as do I.

The combination of word and act was patent not only in the lectures but also in the proof of people’s involvement in the local scene. It felt authentic. Paul Hamilton’s comments on distinguishing Jacobins from the Terror should be a reminder to us all, of the work left undone. Will this kind of “practice what you preach” attitude take hold in academia? or remain a war in words?

In short, the entire event was an absolute smash. Thank you to Sanja Perovic and Rosa Mucingat for bringing us all together.

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.

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.


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