The formation of a revolutionary journalist: Jean-Paul Marat

Nigel Ritchie is last year’s recipient of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Travelling Award. Please note that the deadline for 2017 is 17 Jan. 2017.

My thesis aims to link the experiences, influences and ideas gained from Jean-Paul Marat’s pre-revolutionary career as a doctor, scientist and political theorist to an analysis of the content, strategy and reception of his journalism during the first year of the French Revolution. This was a time when Marat reinvented himself, first as a pamphleteer reaching out to ‘advise’ the new parliamentary elite, and then, when that failed, as a popular journalist reaching out to ‘educate’ a much broader audience with the benefit of observations, conclusions and experiences accrued from earlier political and legal publications and his 10-year stay in England from 1765 to 1776.

Limbering up on the steps of the book-shaped TGB (“Trés Grande Bibliotheque”) before a long session underground

Limbering up on the steps of the book-shaped TGB (“Très Grande Bibliothèque”) before a long session underground

I am very grateful to the Voltaire Foundation and BSECS for a generous research grant that allowed me to complete vital research Paris during July and August 2016, including accessing reports of legal actions and denunciations in the national, judicial and police archives. These included not only seizures of Marat’s manuscripts and correspondance – the only traces that survive of his personal papers and working methods – but also a unique collection of hand-corrected copies of his Ami du peuple newspaper intended for a later collected edition, and a comprehensive collection of contemporary pamphlets revealing early signs of engagement, often hostile, from other pamphleteers. The correspondance in particular, although a mere snapshot, is invaluable for attempting to trace the extent, and social standing, of his network of subscribers across France.

The Fuksas-designed Pierrefitte Archives currently houses around 180 km of records for the French state since 1789

The Fuksas-designed Pierrefitte Archives currently houses around 180 km of records for the French state since 1789

There is an ongoing problem in the French Revolutionary historiography in understanding the extent of Marat’s contribution to the formation of public opinion in his role as a radical journalist. There is much disagreement between historians over his consistency, his strategy, his style, and even his sanity. However, a closer reading of his work reveals a far more coherent social and political vision, stretching back over twenty years, than previously credited, which allowed Marat to rapidly play an important role during the first year of the Revolution. In particular, the thesis will emphasize how, after switching his focus to journalism in September 1789, Marat’s subsequent persecution by the revolutionary authorities for his relentless critiques of leading figures and institutions – especially former ancien regime legal ones – helped to crystallize his transformation into the ‘Ami du peuple’ persona, a powerful symbol of freedom of expression and resistance to oppression. It will argue that this was largely the result of Marat’s strategy of continually pushing at the boundaries of press freedom and publicizing the consequences, a lesson inspired by the examples of the notorious polemicist Junius and raucous popular support for the politician-journalist John Wilkes, which he had witnessed during his earlier stay in England.

Sustained immersion in the Paris libraries and archives over a seven-week period helped me to build a much richer, composite picture of the nascent revolutionary environment in which Marat was operating, than would otherwise have been possible. As did the extended opportunity to visit and explore many of the places where Marat and his colleagues lived, worked and, occasionally were put on trial, adding spatial awareness and visual texture to an otherwise two-dimensional textual dimension.

– Nigel Ritchie, Queen Mary University of London

Voltaire and Sade, with a dash of Casanova

I have spent a lot of time with Voltaire and Sade recently, editing La Prude for the Complete Works and translating The 120 Days of Sodom for Penguin Classics (this was a collaboration with Will McMorran, and our blog is here). The two works could not be more different.

Manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome

Manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome

Voltaire began work on his comedy in a writing frenzy in winter 1739-40 (‘Je n’ai jamais été si inspiré de mes dieux, ou si possédé de mes démons’, January 1740) but then tinkered with it for seven and a half years; Sade, on the contrary, carefully planned his novel for two and a half years, before writing it up in thirty-seven days in late 1785. Voltaire struggled to bring his comedy, which is based on William Wycherley’s often obscene The Plain Dealer (1676), into line with French taste and decorum, whereas Sade brazenly increases the abject sexual violence from page to page, even throwing in a couple of ‘supplices en supplément’ for good measure. A sense as to how these works differ might be gleaned from looking at a point of overlap, namely the presence of cross-dressing characters. And if Adam Phillips is right to suggest that ‘Two’s company, but three’s a couple’, then let’s bring in Casanova who joins our two friends in being recognized as an Enlightenment philosopher.

Adine dressed as a Greek boy in La Prude, in Collection complète des œuvres de M. de Voltaire, 1768.

Adine dressed as a Greek boy in La Prude, in Collection complète des œuvres de M. de Voltaire, 1768.

There is plenty of pleasure in La Prude – unfortunately most of it happens off stage. The epicurean Madame Burlet is forever zipping from dinners to plays, eating, drinking and singing, and she appears to be a shopaholic (‘Amas nouveaux de boîtes, de rubans, / Magots de Saxe, et riches bagatelles’), but we never see any of this. The on-stage presence of Adine, dressed as Greek boy – apparently it’s the best way to keep lecherous Turkish pashas and sailors at bay – does stimulate desire in the eponymous prude Dorfise, but that desire is portrayed as ridiculous. Adine is a non-threatening, rather wimpy ephebe, and Dorfise is not only mocked for falling for her, but is also dehumanised in her final utterance, the nonsensical cry ‘Ah!’ Part of the audience’s satisfaction derives from seeing a character humiliated when the transvestite’s true identity is exposed.

Not so with Sade. On day 18 of the 120 Days, Madame Duclos tells of a man who ‘ne voulait du féminin que l’habit, mais, dans le fait, il fallait que ce fût un homme, et, pour m’expliquer mieux, c’était par un homme habillé en femme que le paillard voulait être fessé.’ There is no doubt as to the youth’s real identity, and his obvious drag is central to the scenario: it’s precisely in the old lecher’s transgression of having sex with this ‘masculine fouetteuse’, and in exposing that transgression to the employees of the brothel, that he finds his pleasure. The reader’s satisfaction comes from the narrator keeping both masculine and feminine elements of the youth’s persona visible, and with the older man shrugging off all judgment of his idiosyncratic behaviour: ‘Je voulus travailler à sa conversion, je l’assurai que j’avais des filles charmantes qui le fouetteraient tout aussi bien: il ne voulut seulement pas les regarder.’

Giacomo Casanova, by his brother Francisco Giuseppe Casanova, 1750-1755

Giacomo Casanova, by his brother Francisco Giuseppe Casanova, 1750-1755

Casanova tells of an encounter in an auberge in Cesena. Disturbed by a ruckus, he goes to the adjoining room where he sees poking out from under the bedclothes ‘une tête échevelée riante, fraîche, et séduisante qui ne me laisse pas douter de son sexe, malgré que sa coiffure fût d’homme’. This is Henriette, and the adventurer mentions no frisson deriving from her cross-dressing – his desire is provoked solely by the girl’s femininity. Her drag does, however, stimulate pleasure of another kind: ‘Cette fille n’avait que l’habit d’homme qui la couvrait, pas la moindre nippe de femme; pas seulement une chemise. Elle en changeait avec celles qui appartenaient à son ami. Cela me semblait nouveau et énigmatique.’ If exposure is central to cross-dressing in Voltaire and Sade, in Casanova the initial exposure gives way to mystery and reflection. Voltaire and Sade want to solve problems, Casanova revels in them.

– Thomas Wynn, Durham University

OCV update: Focus on Louis XIV

Bonne rentrée! This September marks a milestone for the OCV team as we publish the final chapters of our critical edition of Voltaire’s Siècle de Louis XIV (OCV, vol.13D), in which Voltaire explores the cultural history of the reign, including chapters on religious conflict and sectarianism as well as on achievements in the scientific, artistic and literary spheres. This volume completes the critical edition of the narrative of this monumental work, representing over 1500 pages of Voltaire’s text and editorial notes. The general editor, Diego Venturino, has meticulously pieced together Voltaire’s sources and analysed the context in which he worked and the way he sifted evidence to provide a revealing and comprehensive account of Voltaire’s historical method. We’re very happy with how handsome they look on our shelf, as well as proud of the diligence and hard work that has gone into making them just as magnificent on the inside.

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We were also really pleased this summer to launch an update to our explorer’s guide to Louis XIV. We wanted to provide a resource which would enable the scholarly research in the books to reach a wider audience, as well as giving some of the background to one of the most remarkable monarchs in European history. When the BBC series Versailles hit our screens earlier in the summer, we thought it would be interesting to explore some of the characters and events featured in the series from the viewpoint, not so much of ‘were they really like that?’ but ‘what did Voltaire have to say about them?’. It’s striking how many of the eye-catching incidents can be traced back to him, and we’ve enjoyed exploring how much further some of the hints provided by Voltaire and other historians have been stretched by the mischievous programme-makers.

As joint ‘secretaries’ of the edition, both working part-time and fitting in family commitments around our work on Voltaire, Pippa Faucheux and I have been particularly pleased that we’ve been able to keep the continuity over the summer, working closely with our valued collaborators, including general editor Professor Venturino and our partners at the Palace of Versailles, as well as our indexer, typesetters and printers in the UK. We’re now excited about moving on to get to grips with the fascinating ‘Catalogue des écrivains’, the Who’s Who of Louis XIV’s world that launches the reader into the narrative of the Siècle, for publication in spring 2017 (OCV, vol.12).

– Alison Oliver

The Future of ruins past: Syria and Italy

At the beginning of his 1791 Les Ruines, Constantin-François de Volney describes himself sitting amidst the ruins of Palmyra, on the edge of the Syrian desert. As his gaze shifts back and forth between the ancient monuments and the open horizon, he sinks into a profound reverie. It is the beginning of a long meditation on the principles that govern the rise and fall of civilizations.

Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra

Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, before its destruction. (Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

A thriving cosmopolitan city in which the Persian and Greco-Roman worlds merged in complex ways, Palmyra was at its height between the first and second centuries AD. Its ruins, a destination for countless European travellers from the seventeenth century onward, bore witness to its greatness. Volney, like many others before him, was fascinated and at the same time dismayed by the sight. For him the ruins of Palmyra evoked not only the glorious past of an ancient Empire, but also a possible future for the great Western civilizations. They echoed the fragility itself of human society, and their shattered architecture was the material embodiment of the incessant cycles of history. By observing the rubble of the past, visitors were also stimulated to reflect on the causes that led a people to ruination. The knowledge of ruins past – for Volney – could help nations avert the eventual collapse of civilization.

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Figure 5: Giovanni Battista Piranesi, View of the subterranean foundations of the Mausoleum built by the Emperor Hadrian, Le Antichità romane (1756), vol.4, pl.9. High Def image also available to view on line.

The ruins of Palmyra are today under attack. As the ancient city has become a battlefield in the war between the Syrian regime and ISIS, we have seen its architectural heritage disappear – razed to the ground with explosives. The latest to fall, after the temples of Baalshamin and of Bel, was the 2000-year-old Arch of Triumph. The eighteenth-century etcher Giovanni Battista Piranesi, whose depictions of ruined landscapes are still so eloquent, was convinced that ruins had a voice and that they would continue to speak to our imaginations over the centuries. The ruins of Palmyra are powerful, stirring symbols and the fighters of ISIS must fear their collective voice if they are now trying to silence it once and for all. There is a sense of both disbelief and horror that seizes us at the thought of a piece of our collective history being ruthlessly destroyed.

In my book Ruins past: modernity in Italy, 1744-1836 I discuss the layered symbolism of ruins in Italy during its transition to modernity between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I explore how the multiple meanings assumed by ruins are inextricable from the way we think about history, the relationship between past, present, and future, and categories such as progress and change. Ruins are never neutral symbols. If their destruction is an act of war, it is one aimed at rewriting history.

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Figure 6: Giovanni Battista Piranesi, View showing a part of the foundations of the Theater of Marcellus, Le Antichità romane (1756), vol.4, pl.32. HD image.

As George Orwell suggested, far more terrible than the power that desires to control the future is one that attempts to dominate the past as well [1]. By erasing ruins, historical memory is destroyed. There is no more effective way of delegitimizing the present in order to lay the ground for a new regime and its new historical narrative. While the preservation (and reinvention) of its ancient ruins was both a poetic and a political act in Italy during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in Syria today it is an imperative of salvation.

There is some hope on the horizon. In October 2015, a group of activists started #NEWPALMYRA, an online archive of 3-D models that reproduce Palmyra’s monuments with the aim of “rebuilding” the city. The Oxford Institute of Digital Archaeology has also launched the Million Image Database project, whose goal is to construct a 3-D photographic record of objects from endangered sites across the Middle East and North Africa, including Palmyra. To save the ruins of the past is an act of resistance crucial to saving the future.

– Sabrina Ferri

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Sabrina Ferri, Ruins past: modernity in Italy, 1744-1836. Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, December 2015. ISBN 978-0-7294-1171-4.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See George Orwell, ‘Looking Back on the Spanish War’ (1943), in Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays. See also Orwell, 1984 (1949).

L’Europe des Lumières: un recours face au désenchantement présent?

Le désenchantement face à la construction européenne n’est pas neuf. L’âge d’or qui présida, après la seconde guerre mondiale, à la renaissance du projet européen, fut de courte durée. Aussi depuis trente ans la désillusion ne cesse-t-elle de s’approfondir et de prendre des formes nouvelles.

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David Rumsey Map Collection, www.davidrumsey.com

Ce désenchantement tient, nous dit-on, au ‘déficit démocratique’ dont la construction européenne serait victime. Dans cet esprit, les projets politiques pour l’Europe, vaste palette allant des Etats-Unis d’Europe à la fédération des peuples, semblent plus ou moins relégués aux oubliettes de l’histoire. A mesure que ses critiques dénoncent la froide vérité de la construction européenne, les espoirs de ceux qui, depuis la Résistance et l’antifascisme, ont considéré l’Europe comme le remède aux barbaries nationales, sont sans cesse déçus. L’Europe ne fait plus rêver: depuis 2005 et le non français et néerlandais au référendum sur le Traité Constitutionnel Européen, elle fait surtout parler d’elle pour des raisons techniques plus ou moins obscures. En 2012, la crise des dettes souveraines, menaçant ce qui semblait jusqu’alors intangible (l’union monétaire voire l’union elle-même) n’a fait qu’accentuer la désillusion.

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Non-sensunique, Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Pourtant, l’Europe n’a pas vocation à être l’objet de ce regard désenchanté. Encore faut-il savoir ce qu’est l’Europe et de quelle histoire elle hérite. Le volume collectif Penser l’Europe au XVIIIe siècle: commerce, civilisation, empire se propose donc, non de définir l’Europe par son passé, mais de retrouver les origines d’une pensée de l’Europe. Il se pourrait en effet que l’Europe souffre moins d’un déficit démocratique que d’un déficit théorique, d’une difficulté à concevoir cette entité étrange qui n’est ni une nation, ni un empire, qui ne se laisse réduire ni à sa géographie ni à son histoire.

Cette pensée de l’Europe plonge ses racines au cœur du XVIIIe siècle, dans la période privilégiée de l’histoire européenne qui se situe entre la fin des guerres de religion et la montée en puissance des nationalismes. Le détour par les Lumières s’impose donc pour explorer l’histoire de l’idée d’Europe, antérieurement à la simplification dualiste aujourd’hui dominante (fédération ou marché). L’hypothèse de ce recueil est en effet la suivante: si l’Europe a une longue histoire, c’est bien au XVIIIe siècle que se sont forgées les premières théories de l’Europe – théories qui furent largement occultées au siècle suivant.

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L’Europe fut alors conçue comme une fédération, mais aussi, à la suite de la découverte du Nouveau Monde, comme une forme de ‘marché’ en pleine expansion, au moment où l’économie politique commençait à prétendre au titre de science et où la traite en plein développement trouvait ses premiers critiques. Tendue entre la réalité naissante du marché mondial associé à l’expansion coloniale et soumis aux rivalités impériales, et l’utopie de l’association d’Etats désireux de garantir une coexistence pacifique, l’Europe fut aussi théorisée de manière plus profonde, plus féconde et plus dangereuse à la fois: elle fut conçue, pour la première fois sans doute, comme une ‘civilisation’. C’est alors une autre généalogie, complexe et polémique, dont il faut comprendre les enjeux: celle des théories de la civilisation européenne, avant le développement de l’impérialisme triomphant au XIXe siècle.

– Antoine Lilti et Céline Spector

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Bibliographie

Penser l’Europe au XVIIIe siècle: commerce, civilisation, empire

Edité par Antoine Lilti et Céline Spector

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, octobre 2014, ISBN 978-0-7294-1148-6, 280 p.

Voir aussi:

https://voltairefoundation.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/besterman-lecture-2013-civilisation-et-empire-au-siecle-des-lumieres/

http://www.celinespector.com/

David Bien: the ancien régime in a new light

Satirical print from 1789 depicting the Third Estate carrying the clergy and nobility on its back. The caption reads: ‘A faut esperer qu’eus jeu la finira bentot’ – ‘Here’s hoping this game’s over soon’. SOURCE: Bibliothèque nationale de France

Satirical print from 1789 depicting the Third Estate carrying the clergy and nobility on its back. The caption reads: ‘A faut esperer qu’eus jeu la finira bentot’ – ‘Here’s hoping this game’s over soon’.
(Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Say the words ‘ancien régime’ and what might spring to mind is an image of Marie Antoinette nibbling on rosewater macaroons and declaring ‘let them eat cake’ while the starving poor of France sharpen their pitchforks at the gates of Versailles.

In our cultural psyche, France’s ancien régime is the age of the Three Estates: the nobility, the clergy, and everyone else. It is the age when wigs, powder and mouches covered up baldness and smallpox scars, when the sprightly minuets of Louis XVI’s court attempted to drown out the cries of the hordes – and when an outward semblance of elegant refinement masked corruption, cruelty and inequality.

It is a period which David Bien, Professor of History at the University of Michigan from 1967-1996, made his own. A quiet radical, he devoted his scholarly career to unravelling its paradoxes and nuances, constructing a multi-faceted portrait of a historical period far more complex than this collection of cultural clichés might lead us to suppose.

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Interpreting the ‘ancien régime’: David Bien brings together for the first time in one accessible volume his essays on religious tolerance, policies of ennoblement, and military reform. It offers access to his cogent and sensitive analyses, but also represents an opportunity to re-evaluate questions about the ways in which we read, write and think about history.

David Bien relished the opportunity to let the past speak for itself. His highly original readings of events were hewn from hours of research in the archives. He heard in the rustle of parchment the whisper of the past, and found innovation where one would least expect it, in centuries-old documents. In 1960, his daring new reading of the notorious Calas affair brought him firmly onto the historical scene. In 1761, the scandalous death of Marc-Antoine and the condemnation and torture of his father, Protestant Jean Calas, accused of murdering his son because he intended to convert to Catholicism, appeared to pit the religious establishment in the form of the judges of Toulouse’s Capitoul against Enlightenment thinkers promoting tolerance and religious freedom.

The frontispiece of a late 18th or early 19th century English chapbook, depicting ‘The cruel death of Calas, who was broke on the wheel at Toulouse, March 9th, 1762’

The frontispiece of a late 18th or early 19th century English chapbook, depicting ‘The cruel death of Calas, who was broke on the wheel at Toulouse, March 9th, 1762’

David Bien’s reading ran counter to the accepted narrative, which was largely based on Voltaire’s presentation of the case in his Traité sur la tolérance. Rather than viewing ideas as absolute schools, Bien placed them back into their specific historical context in order to re-evaluate this version of events. He demonstrated that the events in Toulouse were the exception rather than the rule, using judicial records to suggest that many Catholic French judges of the time were actually embracing the ideal of religious tolerance, often presented as the sole preserve of Enlightenment thinkers, in their attitude towards Protestants. Bien invites us to reconsider the writings of thinkers like Voltaire on the Calas affair as carefully crafted pieces of polemic which are indissociable from a wider intellectual project of secularization.

Detail from a portrait of Voltaire, after Maurice Quentin de La Tour c.1736 (Château de Ferney)

Detail from a portrait of Voltaire, after Maurice Quentin de La Tour c.1736 (Château de Ferney)

David Bien’s early work on tolerance in the eighteenth century is perhaps a hallmark of his attitude as a historian. Open-minded and sensitive to the inconsistencies of the past, David Bien refused to be drawn into the polemical clash of theories and schools which wracked the French establishment in the 1970s and 1980s, as Marxist historians grappled with the new revisionist school spearheaded by Bien’s close friend, François Furet. For Bien, scholarly nuance and intellectual rigour came before adherence to a particular school.

When he retired from teaching in 1996, David Bien therefore left behind not a theory but an ethos, which proved inspirational to the next generation of US academics. David Bien’s approach reminds us that, while it may all be in the past, history refuses to play dead.

– Madeleine Chalmers

Bibliography:

Interpreting the ancién régime. David Bien.

Edited by Rafe Blaufarb, Michael S. Christofferson and Darrin M. McMahon

Preface by Keith Baker

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, September 2014

ISBN 9780729411448, 320 pages