10 Thermidor

Wednesday, 28 July 2010 16:25
montagnarde1793: (maximebust)

Requiescant in pace les Robespierristes. Not just the famous ones, and not just those who died 216 years ago today, but to all the victims of the Thermidorian reaction.

In related news, I decided that, since everyone is always citing it, it might be a good idea for me to take a break from the six books I'm currently reading to read Françoise Brunel's Thermidor. You know, in commemoration. I don't know if anyone else on my f-list has read it (I seem to remember [livejournal.com profile] maelicia saying she had, but I could be misremembering) but if anyone has, were you at all disappointed with it? Because I was.
First with the conclusion - obviously, all the really reactionary after-effects happened in Year III, but that doesn't really make Thermidor a  non-event. I've always seen Thermidor as the turning-point that allowed those later events to take place, and after reading Brunel, for lack of a better explanation, I still think that. It's not a new observation that the Revolutionary government wasn't dismantled the second Robespierre was executed, nor that dismantling the Revolutionary government was not the intention of really any of the Thermidorians. That doesn't on its own make Thermidor insignificant. Unless I'm missing something (which is always quite possible)...

Second, with Brunel's assertion that there was no conspiracy. I can see where she's coming from in terms of the seemingly improvised character of the whole thing, but her proofs aren't really that convincing to me. She's at her best with her explanation of why someone like Billaud-Varenne (who shared most of Robespierre's core beliefs) would become a Thermidorian, but that explanation alone doesn't suffice. Let's say for a moment that there was no conspiracy - an idea that the concerted shouts of "à bas le tyran" alone would seem to invalidate, and one that is certainly not disproven by the absence of someone like Fouché from the list of speakers on 9 Thermidor, open contestation not being Fouché's modus operandi (and this is assuming the procès-verbaux, which we know were fabricated after the fact, to be accurate) - in the absence of a conspiracy, the feelings of alienation of a couple of Billaud-Varennes, even coupled with the tensions between the two Committees over the police bureau are not enough in themselves to make Thermidor happen...

Unless, as Brunel's account leaves us to infer, Robespierre just enjoyed randomly sabotaging himself for no reason. And this is probably the single biggest problem I have with this book: I've never seen an account in which Robespierre is simultaneously so absent from, and yet responsible for, his own fall. Yes, I get that Brunel was probably trying to avoid the approach which sees Thermidor as nothing but the last chapter in a biography of Robespierre, to look at its larger implications, but if Robespierre's point of view isn't examined at all, his actions make no sense. So the explanation becomes: Thermidor happened because Robespierre alienated his colleagues. Which may well have been, at least in part, the case. But then, it seems to me, you need to pose certain questions: Why did he do this? Did he realize he was doing it? What is his justification for his conduct? Do what extent do we believe his justification? And so on. I realize she's writing a short work of only a little over a hundred pages, but Brunel poses none of these questions, questions which are, however, fundamental not just to understanding why Robespierre acted as he did, but also, at least potentially, to understanding the role of certain Thermidorians as well. I mean, if the latter's post-Thermidorian justifications, dubious as they are, can be used as a historical source, surely the former's can as well...?

And we get that, briefly. Too briefly: if all you get out of Robespierre's last speech is a vague feeling that he was suicidal, you've nailed one angle of it and missed a hundred others, it seems to me. With no other explanation offered, one is left to infer that Robespierre, feeling suicidal, deliberately alienated his colleagues, thus backing them into a corner where they had no choice but to turn on him. Mind, though I disagree with it, this might be a valid argument if it were actually ever made. In fact, however, it's not made, just implied, which means that it never has to be defended - and why should I, the reader, believe in an implied argument that even its own author doesn't bother to defend? Am I missing something?

No, seriously: am I missing something? Because it seems to make sense enough to everyone cites it. Is it just assumed that people are already familiar enough with Robespierre's point of view that they can fill that part in for themselves? Am I just not sophisticated enough to grasp Brunel's argument? (Yes, that's a genuine question, because to be honest, at the moment I feel rather more like an idiot than "ah-ha! I have spotted the holes in your argument!" *so confused*)

montagnarde1793: (sans-culottes)

...But better late than never. (On the other hand, perhaps they're not; another 70 Robespierristes were executed 215 years ago today... Requiescant in pace.)

10 Thermidor

Tuesday, 28 July 2009 17:16
montagnarde1793: (maximebust)

Today marks the 215th anniversary of the deaths of Maximilien and Augustin Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon, Dumas, Fleuriot-Lescot, Hanriot, Lavalette, Payan, Jean-Claude Bernard, Charles-Jacques-Mathieu Bougon, Christophe Cochefer, Jean-Barnabé Dhazard, Jean-Étienne Forestier, Antoine Gency, Adrien-Nicolas Gobeau, Nicolas Guérin, Denis-Étienne Laurent, Jean-Marie Quenet, Antoine Simon, Nicolas-Joseph Vivier, and Jacques-Louis-Frédéric Wouarmé on the scaffold, and of Le Bas, by his own hand. Requiescant in pace.

With them died the Republic of the Rights of Man and Citizen, of justice and democracy, but not the dream behind it, as the song I am posting today in their honor, dating to the Directoire, attests:

Le Dix Thermidor

10 Thermidor


Ah ! pauvre peuple, adieu le siècle d’or,

N’attends plus que peine et misère :

Il est passé dès le dix thermidor,

Jour qu’on immola Robespierre.


Ah! Poor people, farewell golden age!

No longer expect anything but pain and poverty:

It has happened since 10 Thermidor,

The day they immolated Robespierre.


Quand il vivait, il allégeait nos maux,

Il avait toute notre estime :

Les décemvirs, pour perdre ce héros,

L’accusent de leur propre crime.

Ah ! pauvre peuple, adieu le siècle d’or…


While he lived, he lessened our ills,

He had all our esteem:

To destroy this hero, the decemvirs

Accuse him of their own crime.

Ah! Poor people, farewell golden age!


Commune, aussi, tu fus de leur complot,

Avec eux tu brisas le trône ;

Pour t’en punir, tu meurs sur l’échafaud,

Et c’est le Sénat qui l’ordonne.

Il nous ravit cet heureux siècle d’or

Et nous plonge dans la misère,

En égorgeant, aux jours de thermidor,

Nos magistrats et Robespierre.


Commune, you too were part of their plot,

With them you smashed the throne;

To punish you for it, you died on the scaffold,

And on the Senate’s orders!

It takes that happy golden age from us

And plunges us into poverty,

By cutting the throats of our magistrates

And Robespierre in the days of Thermidor.


Républicains qui, dans ces jours d’horreur,

Sûtes échapper au carnage,

Rallions-nous et, d’une même ardeur,

Jurons de venger tant d’outrages.

Reconquérons notre heureux siècle d’or,

Exécrons celui de misère ;

Vengeons la France, et du dix thermidor,

Et de la mort de Robespierre.


Republicans who, in those days of horror,

Were able to escape the carnage,

Let us rally, and with equal ardor,

Let us swear to avenge so many outrages.

Let us win back our happy golden age,

Let us execrate that of poverty;

Let us avenge France, and 10 Thermidor,

And the death of Robespierre.

montagnarde1793: (maximebust)

Margerit's series on the Revolution gets so much right, especially through the trial and execution of the Dantonistes - and even after that, in places. So the portrayal of pretty much everything involving Robespierre from that point on is extremely disappointing, to say the least. I finally finished the third book, which is the last one that takes place during the Revolution proper. I had thought, several chapters back, that as Margerit had done elsewhere, he was simply going to have his protagonist be mistaken on Robespierre's account. But apparently not.

And thus the last phrase this protagonist - Claude Mounier-Dupré - pronounces on his subject, is one of the most unfair and unjustified opinions I've heard on the subject (even the Thermidorians didn't actually believe this kind of thing, you'll notice):

"Vois-tu, dit-il, c'est son esprit obstinément et despotiquement religieux, c'est son caractère de prêtre manqué qui ont tué Maximilien. C'est ce caractère qui lui a fait détester des hommes comme Tallien, Barras, Fouché, Fréron, Collot, Billaud et leurs pareils. C'est son intolérance de prêtre sûr de son Dieu, c'est son acharnement de Grand Inquisiteur à remplacer les bûchers par la guillotine qui l'ont fait haïr et nous ont contraints à l'abattre. Il est mort parce que tout en désirant, comme certains entre nous, rénover la condition des hommes, établir l'égalité, la fraternité, la justice, il n'avait aucun sentiment de la liberté, il a voulu perpétuer l'antique esclavage des âmes. La Révolution ne pouvait s'achever avec lui. Mais, hélas, je crains qu'elle ne s'achève pas sans lui."

In translation: "You see," he said, "it's his obstinately and despotically religious spirit [or mind], it's his character of a priest manqué that killed Maximilien. It is this character that made men like Tallien, Barras, Fouché, Fréron, Collot, Billaud, and those like them, detest him. It's his priest-sure-of-his-God's intolerance, his Grand Inquisitor's determination to replace the stake by the guillotine that made him hated and forced us to bring him down. He died because, while he desired, like some of us, the renewal of the condition of men, the establishment of equality, fraternity, justice, he had no sentiment of liberty; he wanted to perpetuate the old enslavement of souls. The Revolution could not be completed with him. But, alas, I fear that it will not be completed without him."

The only full sentence that's accurate in all of that is the last one.

But I just don't know what to think; for the vast majority of the series Margerit seemed so reasonable where Robespierre was concerned - as he did in his diary from when he was writing the books, which I read in his entirety - and yet, in the last third of the third book, he has all his sympathetic characters express such sentiments as I quote above. I just don't understand... It's true he was incredibily rushed to finish this book and was researching as he went along (at a rather manic pace, to get the book done in time); he also confessed to trusting memoirists much more than historians, which accounts for many of the odd accounts throughout the books... Could it be he simply placed too much trust in Thermidorian accounts?


I have a headache.

montagnarde1793: (maximebust)

For 9-10 Thermidor I figured it would be better not only to grieve - though I did plenty of that, and wore black - but to do something productive. So I worked on proofreading my translation of Gallo's Open Letter, and finished translating the chapters on Thermidor from That Book About Le Bas (which you'll get in order; I still need to post earlier chapters first). 

I will, however, post the chant funèbre from that same Book About Le Bas, just because it's suitably depressing.

Also, this isn't really related to anything, but I got contact lenses today. They are very annoying and tedious to put in and take out, so I really hope having them will be worth it in the long run...
montagnarde1793: (maximebust)

I just finished reading Paule Becquaert's Le Jugement Secret, and I really don't know what to think of it. Naturally, it was incredibly depressing, but I knew that it would be just from the premise--it takes place during Thermidor, after all. There were some parts of it that were very moving, certainly, but it was more upsetting than I could have imagined. Here's why: the play is divided into three acts, one in which Robespierre is judged by the Ancient Greeks, one by the Romans, and one by the early Christians.

The first group, the Greeks, are made up of (as described in the character list):
Solon, Athenian politician
Agis, king of Sparta
Socrates, philosopher
Homer and Aristophanes, poets
Themistocles, Athenian statesman
Ariane, a young girl (this last doesn't get to give an official judgment, for obvious reasons)
Now, you might think, because this is a play written by a Robespierriste, that they would find Robespierre innocent. Not at all; only Homer and Agis find him not guilty; all the rest condemn him. 

The Romans (Brutus, politician; Fabricius Luscinus, consul; Sylla, dictator; Antonia, a young girl--who also doesn't get a judgment) also condemn him, this time unanimously.

The Christians break the pattern, because they don't really give an official judgment; the "old man" of the first scene of the third act doesn't give one at all, and "Juses, a young man" (who, I think, is supposed to represent Jesus, even if his name is a bit different) and "Blandine, a young girl" are both favorably disposed to him.

Now, perhaps it's just me, but it seems a bit unlikely that ancient Greeks and Romans, knowing only the basic facts of Robespierre's life and having listened to his defense rather than the calumnies of the Thermidorians, would all condemn him (Homer and Agis aside--and also Ariane, Antonia, and Blandine, who all find him both sincere in his defense and attractive). I was, admittedly, a bit upset when I read that. But I considered that the author must have had a reason for having them condemn him.

I think it may be that the play can be read on several levels. First of all, Becquaert leaves it somewhat ambiguous whether this judgment is really happening or whether it's a dream Robespierre is having when he's lying wounded on the table of the CSP. In the latter case, the reproaches of the figures from Antiquity might be meant to represent those that Robespierre might make to himself: especially given that many of them are rather unfair and we often judge ourselves more harshly than we deserve. Another version of that would be to say that they represent what he thinks (on a subconscious level, at least) those Greeks and Romans would think about him.

In the former case, Becquaert could be saying one of several things. The first is perhaps that the men of Antiquity were just human too, and thus they have their own prejudices and imperfections--maybe subtly implying by this that the Revolutionaries who used them as examples may have thought too highly of them. (Because whether they say Robespierre is guilty or not guilty, they all seem to measure him against themselves. For example, Agis judges him not guilty because he says he knows what it's like to be a reformer and have to deal with people who don't want whatever the present way of doing things is to be changed, whereas Socrates judges him guilty because according to him he did not do enough to educate the people--that is, he didn't go out among them, as Socrates is said to have done, and ask them uncomfortable and thought-provoking questions.)

She could also be commenting more generally on how it's impossible for a person to rightly judge another person, and whether that other person happens to be Robespierre or not is irrelevant. Or it's possible she's condemning the idea that 18th century people and events can be judged by Greek or Roman standards. From which I would assume a more general critique of trying to judge the 18th century by any standards but its own. And then there's the point of view of literary value: no one, as sad as this is, would think it plausible if they all, or even a majority of them, acquitted him. And it would remove most of the drama. Besides, Becquaert does seem to imply--and rather strongly, at that--that it is Robespierre's destiny to be misunderstood. And certainly, it's happened enough historically that it would feel like too much of an easy way out if his "judges" had acquitted him...

Still, I can't help but feel that some of the judgments either are some kind of misunderstanding or reflect the difference between the circumstances of Rome especially and of late 18th century France. I'll admit I was rather upset by the Romans' judgments especially (probably in part because, unlike the Greeks, they condemned Robespierre unanimously):

"BRUTUS: We have deliberated. Here is our judgment. Fabricius, your verdict.

FABRICIUS, to Robespierre: Virtue was only the instrument of your power over your fellow men. You made them your slaves. I vote for death.

SYLLA, advancing: Me too, for you did not find a way to stop the brutal course of your revolution, nor to retire forthrightly when you still had time.

BRUTUS: Death, because you deserve it.

ROBESPIERRE: You? But that's insane! How can a republican want the death of another republican?

BRUTUS: You were not a sincere republican and the republic, on your lips, was but a vain ornament with which you seasoned your speeches. You used it only to establish your authority."

Now, obviously, I don't think Becquaert is saying that these Romans have accurately characterized him, but the possibility that she finds those judgments inevitable on the surface is rather troubling. :/

I can't say I really understood the last act, with the early Christians, but perhaps if I reflect on it more it will come to me.

Other than that, the play did have a couple of moments I found amusing, though I'm not sure this was entirely intentional on Becquaert's part. For example, Robespierre mistakes both Ariane and Blandine for Éléonore (and doubtless, if he had found Antonia alone first, as he did with the other two, he would have thought the same of her XD). But that was about the only "light" part of the play, and I might even be the only one who finds it amusing.

All in all I found Le Jugement Secret to be upsetting and depressing, but also thought-provoking. I'm not sure I could claim to like it, per se, but it was interesting...

And Fifteen

Friday, 31 March 2006 22:32
montagnarde1793: (Default)
Part Fifteen. )

Also, [livejournal.com profile] daughtermestizo, I was actually wrong about La Vie Privée de Robespierre not having anything about Saint-Just (I hadn't actually read the whole thing at the time)... I can type that up too if you're interested...


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