montagnarde1793: (la douce melancolie)

Well, I'm back from my long hiatus. It's not really that I had nothing to post about, or even that I was technically too busy to post, but that I was too tired. I can't quite figure out why this might be; after all, I've had my reading to do, and I've been trying to re-learn Latin to match it up with my French vocabulary in place of my English, and working on getting my visa so I can be in France all next year. But really, I haven't been doing all that much, so go figure. At all events, after so long an absence, I've collected quite a few things to share with you all (though you'll forgive me if I don't post on them all at once.)

The first is: go back in time two days and have a(nother) happy 14 juillet.

The second is, as I've long suspected, in terms of understanding of the French Revolution, the divide between the francophone and anglophone worlds counts even more than the divide between left and right. What I mean by this is not, of course, that the right-wing has ever understood or will ever understand the Revolution in any language, but rather that even the most left-wing elements of the English-speaking world haven't got a clue. Granted, they understand what's wrong with someone like Schama, but that doesn't stop them from finding Ruth Scurr and even Carlyle laudable historians - if ones that seem to have missed their cherished central point that

"[The Jacobins] attempted to create a society founded on reason, liberty, equality and fraternity on the basis of private property and of social relations that presupposed the exploitation of one class by another. It was an inevitably utopian project that ultimately could be sustained only on the basis of the Terror, and then only on a temporary and tenuous basis."

 Which, as we know, is an oversimplication at best. I mean, it's good of them to acknowledge the existence of the counterrevolution, as they do elsewhere, but you'd think while they were at it they might realize the role played by said counterrevolution in the Terror, instead of blaming it entirely on the Revolutionaries' supposed easy acceptance of exploitation - as if they could have foreseen the growth of capitalism in the 19th century. And anyway, I fail to see in what way this is any different or any better than the revisionist argument that the Revolutionaries' failure to create "new men" was inevitable due to human nature. Replace "human nature" with "nascent capitalism" and you have the same argument. In fact, you don't even really have to do any replacing, since the revisionist definition of "human nature" *is* capitalism. Either way, I fail to see how any of this contributes to our understanding of the Revolution. Probably because it doesn't. Any more than Scurr, with her recycled arguments, or Carlyle with his flowery romanticizing, do.

...In other news, [ profile] maelicia's post on a couple of relatively recent (you can tell you spend too much time studying historiography when a movie that came out when you were five and a musical that was produced two years later seem recent to you, but I digress) adaptations of Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris reminded me that, while I knew enough about the novel to realize that the Disney movie had eviscerated it, I had, due to school-related interruptions, never gotten past about page 50, and that I really should read it. I did, and it is amazing in all the ways only good old VH can be amazing - I swear, he's the only author that can make me drop whatever I'm doing for days at a time to read and obsess over one of his novels - and thus makes a close third for me after Les misérables (because nothing can beat that) and Quatrevingt-Treize (because no novel set in the Middle Ages, no matter how good, can ever beat a good novel about the Revolution).

I must admit a couple of flaws: 

First, some of the digressions - which are remarkably few, I might add - make a bit less sense than those in his later novels. I mean, in what way could anyone possibly think that Phoenician architecture is heir to Hindu architecture? Much as I love you, VH, please stick to Europe - I'm afraid when you venture outside it, your logic tends to fail.

Second, I think there may have been just a few coincidences too many in the story of the Sachette (no wonder she's left out of almost all adaptations).

Third, as in the other two Victor Hugo novels that I've read (I'm afraid I can't compare with those I haven't) there seems to be a decided lack of intelligent and rational female characters. Now, I can forgive Victor Hugo, as a man of the 19th century, for this in a way that I wouldn't forgive a modern author; in the same sense as I don't expect medieval characters to rail against the monarchy. But it is a flaw, even if it's an understandable flaw. Because really, there has to be something wrong with a novel where the stupidity of the victim of the principle character (and I maintain, though I realize that this point is subject to discussion, that Claude Frollo is the protagonist, in an tragic/anti-hero kind of way) means I can't feel that sorry for her.

Even given all that though, the book is amazing. An intricate, moving, and thought-provoking goat-song. ;)

I also finished the most depressing trilogy I have ever read: Paule Becquaert's Troubles series. Seriously, it starts with Thermidor and just goes downhill from there. Needless to say, it ends tragically. Though there is a certain beauty to the ending as well. You don't really realize it until the very end, but the antagonist has certain similarities to Claude Frollo. Except that he's much less sympathetic, a) because there's no evidence that he started out as a good person, or a particularly learned one, before beginning his descent, and b) because his victims are far more likeable than La Esmeralda.

Now, Troubles is not without its flaws either. There are a few plot threads that get resolved far too neatly and quickly for my taste, and the protagonist annoys me by being far more Christian than deist - the implication, I think, being that Robespierre was too, an implication for which I see no evidence. All in all though, the series is very well written. Just be prepared to be more depressed than you would ever believe a novel had the capacity to make you if you take it on.

There are, doubtless, I few more things I could say, but I'll leave it here for now. Hopefully, I'll be able to make myself update again in a few days. Perhaps even tomorrow...

21 janvier

Thursday, 21 January 2010 18:21
montagnarde1793: (couthon)
Well, I'm getting more or less back to normal here... Thank you, [ profile] maelicia and [ profile] trf_chan for your words of comfort and sympathy.

I have just a couple of items. The first is something I wanted to share earlier but was prevented from doing so by circumstances. I started reading Martine Braconnier's biography of Couthon this month and I came across a puzzling and disturbing fact. In this biography there is Couthon's family tree and on this tree it states that his wife, Marie Brunel, was born in 1774, which would make her only twelve or thirteen at the time of her marriage to Couthon (then 31) in 1787. This seemed rather unlikely to me. I thought, this must be a typo. So I looked around on-line and saw the same story recounted in the first footnote here, that essentially Couthon had known Marie Brunel since his youth, which would obviously not be possible if she were born in 1774.

However, perhaps the date is not a simple typo. This article, the only other source I can find that agrees with the 1774 date has this to say:

En 1787, il épousa une très jeune fille dont une tradition erronée fait une « amie d’enfance » longuement courtisée, ce qui est impossible. Agée de douze ans, Marie Brunel avait dix-neuf ans de moins que lui. Elle était la fille du lieutenant du baillage d’Orcet.

("In 1787, he married a very young girl whom an erroneous tradition claims was a childhood friend, long courted, which is impossible. At twelve years old, Marie Brunel was nineteen years younger than him. She was the daughter of the lieutenant of the bailiwick of Orcet.")

Then again, it lists Braconnier's biography as a source, so it's possible it just copied the date from there. (In any case, if the date is a typo, I think it must come from Braconnier's source-article because she does mention later that Couthon's wife would have been twenty when her husband was executed.)

I can't help but find this date implausible. My weakest reason in terms of evidence, but certainly the one that caused me to investigate this int he first place: Couthon just doesn't seem like the type to marry a 12 year-old girl. But moving on to some perhaps more convincing evidence.

First, while aristos sometimes married their daughters off at 12, it doesn't exactly fit the demographics of Couthon's milieu.

Second, Couthon and Marie Brunel had their first child the year of their marriage. Given that this is a period in which maturation happened later on average than it does now, I'm guessing most 12-13 year-olds would be physically incapable of conceiving and bearing a child.

Third, and perhaps most important, it's just inconceivable that not one of his contemporaries, not one of the Thermidorian propagandists, and no one in the historiography would have anything to say about this. Look at everything that's been written about Danton's "child bride"--if a 16 year-old is a child bride, then surely a twelve year-old must be. I know Couthon has often been ignored by the historiography, but I can't believe that such detractors has Couthon has had wouldn't have leapt on this.

Strangely, the only other source that seems to have considered this and agrees with me that I can find is Wikipedia:

Malgré sa maladie, il se marie, le 16 janvier 1787 avec Marie Brunel, fille du notaire-greffier et lieutenant du bailliage d'Orcet Antoine Brunel âgée de 22 ans[10],[11]

  1. L'Ami de la religion, tome 118, n° 3807, 26 septembre 1843, p. 606 Lire en ligne [archive].
  2. Il semble que Marie Brunel soit née le 11 janvier 1765, même si certains avis la font naître le 18 avril 1774. Voir le Bulletin historique et scientifique de l'Auvergne, Académie des sciences, belles-lettres et arts de Clermont-Ferrand, n° 700-703, 1989, p. 340.
("Despite his illness, he marries Marie Brunel, aged 22 years, daughter of the notary-clerk and lieutenant of the bailiwick of Orcet Antoine Brunel, on 16 January 1787 (10) (11).

"(10) L'Ami de la religion, tome 118, n° 3807, 26 September 1843, p. 606.
"(11) It seems that Marie Brunel was born on 11 January 1765, even if some consider that she was born on 18 April 1774. See the Bulletin historique et scientifique de l'Auvergne, Académie des sciences, belles-lettres et arts de Clermont-Ferrand, n° 700-703, 1989, p. 340.")

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get a hold of this article, but it seems likely that it confirms my suspicions... And it's probably just another instance of incorrect birthdates floating around, which can happen for a number of reasons. (It's a bit like the--less potentially disturbing--case of sources that claim Éléonore was born in 1771, would would be impossible for someone with three younger sisters, the youngest of whom was born in 1773.)


In other news, I know I'm more than half a year late to complain about this, but why did this have to exist? And why did they actually have to use music I know and like? D:


And, saving the most immediately relevant for last, do have a happy 21 January. Tête de veau, anyone? XD (Oh, and: Joyeux anniversaire, Augustin ! I probably should have posted something about you. Oh well, next year. >.>)
montagnarde1793: (OMSBWTF?)
I repeat: Why does this exist?

I don't mean the blog, though I haven't yet read anything I thought was particularly insightful, despite the linkage from

First of all, why does the novel exist in the first place? (Don't answer that. There are probably several decent historical explanations for the phenomenon that is this book, but that would require a good deal more thought and research than a livejournal post has a right to demand.)  ...Stupid royalists.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, why on earth does the author of the post on it seem to find nothing wrong with or even internalize the book's discourse? If you think the best definition for Robespierre is "the infamous terrorist," you should really have a better explanation than, Royalists circa 1800 thought he was demonic! I mean, am I the only one who thinks that analyzing this book as historical evidence for what royalists either believed or wanted others to believe or somesuch c. 1800 about the Revolution and Robespierre might be slightly more useful than uncritically accepting the book's premise while patting oneself on the back for noticing a demonic face (not-so-)hidden in one of the illustrations?

...Any overreaction, real or perceived, is probably due to sleep deprivation.

And some advice: Never buy cookie dough if you are not planning on actually baking the cookies. It's just a very bad idea, trust me.
montagnarde1793: (OMSBWTF?)

I've never actually seen the whole film, but judging by these youtube clips, I think Sacha Guitry must have been on crack.

Exhibit A:

I do not approve of the pear-headed king's taste in art. >:(

Exhibit B:

...Because I'm sure that Robespierre hung out with the royals, Lavoisier, and André Chénier all the time. Because that would make logical sense. And Robespierre is probably the only one at this gathering who actually supported the abolition of the death penalty, so WTF, really. Also, the actor playing him looks nothing like him.

Still, I kind of want to see it now....
montagnarde1793: (Maxime enfant)

Sorry for the semi-absence. I've been a bit on the busy side. Still, I'm back at school now and have not forgotten my obligations. :D Which is to say, article-translating is still on, though it will probably take longer than it would have over the summer.

And I am still working on your (now unfortunately rather late) birthday fic, . I'm just trying to work out the political context - you and I will both be happier with it if it has some political context - which means at this point that I'm trying to work in a short discussion of the federalist revolts, since they are referenced in That Song. I'm thinking the time-frame should be sometime in August-September 1793. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Among the other things I did not forget are Saint-Just's 242nd birthday on the 25th and David's 261st on the 30th. Let it be recorded that I wish both of their memories as well as ever.

So. Classes. I'm taking Roman History, History of Ancient India, Latin 201: The Aeneid, and French Lit from the Middle Ages to the Revolution (or more precisely from la Chanson de Roland to le Mariage de Figaro, which means we don't really make it to the Revolution).

Having been to one of each (they're all on the same days), here are my notes:

I'm really not sure what to make of my Roman History prof. This was her first day teaching here and she seemed like she was on the verge of tears several times during the lecture. Which I can relate to. What I can't relate to is what seems to be her strange affinity for dictators. She spent the introductory lecture fawning over Octavianus (I refuse to call him Augustus), which, while far from laudable, is also far from uncommon among classicists of a certain stripe. It was when she started speaking of Mussolini in rather similar terms that I began to get freaked out. I really hope I'm imagining things, or this could turn out to be an, er, interesting semester.

On the other hand, I have no complaints about the Indian History prof. The class was highly recommended to me and it seems not without reason. The prof's first lecture was informative and interesting and he let us know from the first things like where the emphasis of the course is going to be (he's more a historian of culture/religion/philosophy than economics). And once I've taken this course, my non-Western history requirement will be out of the way.

My Latin class is definitely going to be my hardest this year. I know already I'm going to have problems with the meter... And well, let's just leave it at that for now. No complaints about this professor either. So far, anyway.

The French lit class was and will likely continue to be pretty basic. But I promised the professor I would take it and I haven't read all the books on the syllabus, so I might as well. One potentially good point: When the prof asked us what periods/historical figures/currents/etc. we liked most in the period 800-1800, another girl said the Revolution. I must try to find out her perspective... Oddly, the class was all girls. Which is especially bizarre when you consider our gender ratio is supposed to be perfectly even. Oh well. Another unfortunate point is that several people expressed fondness for the monarchy. What is that?

Anyway, off to eat tarts with the rest of the Maison francophone. I'm sure Maxime would approve.


Wednesday, 31 January 2007 20:25
montagnarde1793: (colored bust)

While randomly googling something or other, I found a book which intrigued me: Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler. The premise of this book, is that after being decapitated one--according to Butler's calculations--would have time to think about 240 words; thus this book is nothing less than the author's collection of those last thoughts of just about anyone he could think of who has has his head removed, whether by execution, murder, or mere accident. (And apparently it's not only people--somewhere I think he writes a decapitated chicken's last thoughts.) 

As one would expect, several entries are devoted to those guillotined during the Revolution. Disappointingly, they are all royalist (Capet, Antoinette, Lavoisier, André Chénier, du Barry, etc), except Maxime. (Of course.) I'm not quite sure what to make of the entry on Maxime, except that I still don't understand the tendency to assume that his childhood traumas--common enough in that era--would have influenced his adult life and politics quite so much. I just don't see any evidence for it. But I'll reproduce it here and let you decide for yourselves.

... )


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