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The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution
 140941163X, 9781409411635

Table of contents :
List of Figures
List of Abbreviations
1 The Bestsellers of the French Revolution, or, Why Sentimentality Dominated the Revolutionary Stage: Four Case Studies (La Mère coupable, Le Déserteur, Fénelon, and Les Deux petits savoyards)
2 Revolutionary Tableaux: Diderot, David, and the Sentimental Frame of Politics
3 Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract: National and Private Theatricals in Collot d’Herbois’s La Famille Patriote (1790)
4 Virtue’s Proofs: Paméla on Stage and on Trial during the Terror
5 Virtuous Citizen, Suffering Father: Voltaire’s Brutus and the Sentimentalization of Political Tragedy
6 Acting Revolution: Talma and the Sentimental Body

Citation preview

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

Cecilia Feilla


Performance in the Long Eighteenth Century: Studies in Theatre, Music, Dance Series Editors: Jane Milling, University of Exeter, UK Kathryn Lowerre, Michigan State University, USA Focusing on performance culture during the long eighteenth century, this series offers studies of individuals, institutions, forms and trends in all types of cultural performance including theatre, opera, dance, musical performance, and diverse popular entertainments. It is a forum for interdisciplinary work, drawing the debates of historians, musicologists, literary scholars, dance, theatre and opera scholars into a creative symbiosis. The editors welcome studies which are concerned with British, European, and early American cultural history. Studies that concern themselves with theoretical questions surrounding acts of performance during this period are also welcome.

Also in this series Moral Reform in Comedy and Culture, 1696–1747 Aparna Gollapudi Music and Musicians on the London Stage, 1695–1705 Kathryn Lowerre Women Writing Music in Late Eighteenth-Century England Social Harmony in Literature and Performance Leslie Ritchie The Incomparable Hester Santlow A Dancer-Actress on the Georgian Stage Moira Goff The Dramatic Works of Catherine the Great Theatre and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Russia Lurana Donnels O’Malley

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

CECILIA FEILLA Marymount Manhattan College, USA

First published 2013 by Ashgate Publishing Published 2016 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business Copyright © 2013 Cecilia Feilla Cecilia Feilla has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Feilla, Cecilia. The sentimental theater of the French Revolution – (Performance in the long eighteenth century) 1. French drama – 18th century – History and criticism. 2. Theater and society – France – History – 18th century. 3. France – History – Revolution, 1789–1799 – Theater and the revolution. I. Title II. Series 842.6’09-dc23 The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows Feilla, Cecilia. The sentimental theater of the French Revolution / by Cecilia Feilla. p. cm. — (Performance in the long eighteenth century: studies in theatre, music, dance) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-4094-1163-5 (hardcover: alk. paper) 1. Theater—FH century. 2. Books and reading—FH18th century. 3. Theater—Moral and ethical aspects—France. 4. Politics and literature—France—History—18th century. 5. France—History—Revolution, 1789–1799—Influence. I. Title. PQ538.F45 2013 842’.509—dc23 2012033176 ISBN 9781409411635 (hbk) ISBN9781315552996 (ebk)

To M.P.H.

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Contents List of Figures   Preface   List of Abbreviations   Introduction  

ix xi xv 1

1 The Bestsellers of the French Revolution, or, Why Sentimentality Dominated the Revolutionary Stage: Four Case Studies (La Mère coupable, Le Déserteur, Fénelon, and Les Deux petits savoyards)  


2 Revolutionary Tableaux: Diderot, David, and the Sentimental Frame of Politics  


3 Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract: National and Private Theatricals in Collot d’Herbois’s La Famille Patriote (1790)  


4 Virtue’s Proofs: Paméla on Stage and on Trial during the Terror  


5 Virtuous Citizen, Suffering Father: Voltaire’s Brutus and the Sentimentalization of Political Tragedy  


6 Acting Revolution: Talma and the Sentimental Body  


Bibliography   Index  

225 251

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List of Figures 1.1 The Marquis watches Michel and Joset perform a chanson savoyarde (scene iv). Les Petits savoyards: “Eh! Comment, d’Jannetto, tu n’douvines pas?” A Mesdames St Aubin & Renaud. Engraving by Augustin Claude Simon Legrand after the illustration by Jean Frédéric Schall. Paris: chez Augustin Legrand, 1789. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Collection Michel Hennin.


3.1 Anonymous cartoon depicting a scene from the pantomime Paris in an Uproar; or, the Destruction of the Bastille performed at Astley’s Amphitheatre (17 August 1789). Attic Miscellany. 1 November 1789. Vol. 1, p. 41. Douce M1. The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.


Fédération générale des Français au Champ-de-Mars le 14 juillet 1790. Engraving by Helman after Charles Monnet. Musée Carnavelet / Roger Viollet.



3.3 Medallion of Louis XVI swearing his oath over the altar of the fatherland. La Royauté et la Nation – 14 juillet 1790. Musée Carnavelet / Roger-Viollet.


3.4 Jean-Baptiste Lesueur, Serment des enfants. Gouaches de Jean-Baptiste Lesueur de 1789 à 1806. Paris: Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet.



Jacques-Louis David, Le Serment des Horaces, ca. 1784. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo: G. Blot / C. Jean. Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY.



L’Innocence présumée est Marie Françoise Victoire Salmon. n.d. [Paris, 1786] Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Collection de Vinck.



Jacques-Louis David, Les Licteurs rapportent à Brutus les corps de ses fils, 1789. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo: G. Blot / C. Jean. Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY.



The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


Print of the the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen flanked by busts of Lucius Junius Brutus (left) and Mucius Scaevola (right). Engraving by Jacques Le Roy. Paris: chez Fillion, 1793. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Collection Michel Hennin.



Ah le Bonhomme tout le Monde l’aime! Par un ami intime de Mr. G. Paris, s.n., c. 1765. (ART 256917). By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Preface This book concerns the sentimental theater in Paris during the French Revolution and its role in the creation of a popular revolutionary culture. My aim has been to offer a more representative portrait of Revolutionary theater than currently exists by providing analysis of works that, although important or beloved in their day, have gone largely unread for over two hundred years. My goal has not been to produce a summary of Revolutionary plays and playwrights, nor to claim for (or, in some cases, restore to) these works a prominent position in the canon of French literature. Nor do I wish simply to fill a gap in our understanding of French literary history. Rather, my aim has been to elucidate the sentimental assumptions informing literary, critical, social, affective, and political relations and representations during the Revolutionary years of 1789 to 1799 and, as a result, to redefine the literary corpus of the Revolution in ways that resist the aesthetic and political ideologies that have determined the dominant approaches to and interpretations of the theater of the French Revolution for the past two centuries. For too long the plays of the French Revolution have been treated as historical artifacts rather than aesthetic objects, and judged according to criteria that would have been alien to a theatergoer in 1789—criteria which in many ways were a product of the Revolutionary crises and innovations that shook the foundations of French theater at the end of the eighteenth century. As Béatrice Didier writes, we have to read works produced during the Revolution “selon des critères qui ne sont pas exactement les nôtres.”1 The Revolution was a transitional period in the history of the French theater that gave birth to modern drama and the very criteria of dramatic value that have cast the majority of Revolutionary plays into oblivion.2 Sentimental plays have suffered particular critical neglect due to modern associations with the “sentimental” (much as melodramas had before Peter Brooks’s pioneering 1984 study, The Melodramatic Imagination).3 In the eighteenth century, however, leading thinkers perceived the rehabilitation of feeling and the passions as an effective means of social change. Sentimental aesthetics were consequently championed by many philosophes as a progressive and democratic mode and were employed by diverse writers seeking to overturn inherited authority in order to rebuild society on the new foundations of liberty, equality, Béatrice Didier, Écrire la Révolution, 1789–1799 (Paris: PUF, 1989), p. 158. See for instance Matthew S. Buckley, Tragedy Walks the Streets: The French Revolution in the Making of Modern Drama (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Whereas Buckley focuses on the development of tragedy, this study turns to the new popular genres that emerged with the Revolution and their role in the development of modern drama. 3 Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995). 1 2


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

and fraternity. Sentimental novels brought new psychological realism and new notions of individual rights to fiction and the sentimental stage sought (if naïvely) no less than a complete transformation of society through the new dynamic of sympathy it fostered between viewer and spectacle. In writing this book, therefore, my aim has been to let the plays of the Revolution speak in their own voice and on their own terms, providing readers with the historical and critical frames necessary to understand their idiom and their influence during the socially and politically turbulent years of the Revolution. What has drawn me to this body of forgotten literature is that these plays seem to have taken on all of the cultural, aesthetic, social, political, and philosophical burdens of the Revolutionary era itself, and thus they engage many of the pressing issues and concerns that continue to inform scholarship of the Revolution today. In recent years, scholarly interest has been returning to the forms and functions of sentimentality in the culture of the French Revolution, drawing upon a variety of fields from sociology, popular culture, and dance studies, to art history, musicology, medicine, cognitive science, and religious studies, among others. This scholarship offers an alternative to teleological and strictly political interpretations of the Enlightenment and Revolution (and their relationship), and sheds important new light on the ways in which those who lived through the Revolution experienced and understood their relationship to their compatriots and to the new order being formed. The current book contributes to this growing area of research by providing a reconstruction of the popular sentimental theater in the historical moment of its apotheosis in the culture of the late eighteenth century. Drawing upon performance studies, affect theory, and theories of performativity, I have attempted to identify the sentimental strategies and forms through which many of the moral, theatrical, social, and political reforms of the French Revolution were conceived, disseminated, and instituted. I argue that rather than a lost decade for literature, as it has been largely considered to date, the Revolutionary decade in France was a time of vital literary engagement and provided an important bridge between Enlightenment and nineteenth-century paradigms. By mapping the ways in which continuities and innovations in the theater from the 1760s to 1799 set the stage for the nineteenth century, this book seeks to revitalize and enrich our understanding of the significance of sentimental drama, showing that it was central to the way that theater both shaped and was shaped by political culture of the late eighteenth century. This book has been a labor of love and I am deeply grateful to the people and institutions whose support has made it possible. A danger one risks in writing a book about sentimental literature is adopting the hyperbolically emotional style of the objects it studies. But in acknowledging here the many debts I owe— intellectual, financial, emotional—it is a risk I gladly take. I wish first to thank Margaret Cohen, whose guidance and feedback have shaped my work from the beginning and informed my thinking about literature in ways that go beyond the confines of a single project or book. I also want to thank Emily Apter, Henriette Goldwyn, Mary Poovey, and Tim Reiss for reading



the work in its earliest stages and offering suggestions and critiques that have in one form or another made their way into the final book. My deepest gratitude to Burkhard Tuschling and Burghard Dedner who took a chance on me and whose generous support and hospitality provided the community, means, and that greatest gift for a scholar, time, to complete the first draft. I am also grateful to Ann Donahue, Seth F. Hibbert, Whitney Feininger, the anonymous reader, and the copyeditor at Ashgate for their invaluable comments on various drafts. Any errors of form or content that remain are mine alone. I could not have finished the research and writing of the book without the generous support—through grants, scholarships, and other resources—of the following institutions: the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the Faculty Resource Network at New York University, the Folger Shakespeare Library, Marymount Manhattan College, the Northeast Modern Language Association, and the Collegium Philosophiae Transatlanticum at the Philipps UniversitätMarburg. I am also grateful for the help given to me by librarians and curators at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Bobst Library, the archives of the ComédieFrançaise, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and New York Public Library, as well as the various museums and collections whose material is reprinted here. Parts of Chapter 4 appeared in The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 43:3 and are published here by permission of Texas Tech University Press. An early version of Chapter 3 was presented at the French-American Colloquium on New Paradigms for French Revolutionary Studies in 2009; my thanks to the organizers, Julia Douthwaite and Lesley Walker, and to the participants of the colloquium for their questions and insights that have helped me think more deeply about a number of issues in my research, and are acknowledged throughout. Special thanks are due to my parents whose ebullient love of French history and theater I happily inherited; to my colleagues at Marymount for their matchless collegiality, particularly in supporting my research leave, though it meant more work for them; to my students for always challenging and inspiring me; and to Courtney Zehnder for her meticulous work in helping prepare the typescript. Finally, I thank my husband for giving me everything I thought I never wanted but which I now cannot imagine life without. His refrain of “encore un effort, citoyenne” has brought me to this point, and for so much more, I humbly dedicate this book to him.

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List of Abbreviations AP

Archives parlementaires de 1787–1860. Series 1. Jérôme Madival and Emile Larent, eds. Paris: Librairie administrative de Paul Dupont, 1879–.

CESAR Calendrier eléctronique des spectacles sous l’ancien régime et sous la révolution. Correspondance littéraire Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique par Grimm, Diderot, Raynal, Meister, etc. Maurice Tourneux, ed. 16 vols. Paris: Garnier frères, 1877–1882. ECCO Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. Gale-Cengage. EFN

Denis Diderot. Paradoxe sur le comédien, précédé des Entretiens sur le Fils naturel. Raymond Laubreaux, ed. Paris: Flammarion, 1981.


Répertoire du théâtre républicain, Recueil de pièces imprimées avant, pendant et après la République Française. Antoine-Marin Lemierre et al., eds. 15 vols. Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1986. Reprint of the Lunel collection, 1773–1822. This collection contains facsimiles of 212 republican plays performed during the Revolutionary decade.

SVEC Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. Voltaire Foundation. University of Oxford. TCFD Three Centuries of French Drama (1600–1899). Lawrence Sidney, ed. Needham Heights, Mass.: Omnisys Corp, 1997–. TRE

Le Théâtre de la Révolution et de l’Empire: 132 pièces de théâtre. Marc Régaldo, ed. Paris: Microéditions Hachette, 1975.

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Introduction When revolution broke out in France in summer 1789, the hopes for a moral and political regeneration of France brought with them hopes for a regenerated theater as well. Playwrights, actors, critics, and politicians in the early years of the French Revolution called for the reorganization and reform of the nation’s stages and the creation of a new repertory worthy of a free people. As the playwright MarieJoseph Chénier boldly proclaimed in the epistle dedicatory to his tragedy, Charles IX, ou L’Ecole des rois (1788): “Un théâtre de femmelettes et d’esclaves n’est plus fait pour des hommes et pour des citoyens. Une chose manquait à vos excellents poètes dramatiques: ce n’est pas du génie certainement; ce ne sont point des sujets; c’est un auditoire.”1 Theater would not only supply new subject matter appropriate to a nation of “men and citizens” rather than “fops and slaves”—a reference to the recently-passed Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen—it also would serve to inculcate the virtues necessary for a republic and thereby produce the virtuous “auditoire” such patriotic and heroic works presumed. Chénier offers the “tragédie patriotique” as the new genre for the new France and, in rhetoric borrowed from pulpit and bar, he entreats his compatriots to forge a free and democratic national theater: “Vous avez anéanti l’autorité arbitraire, vous aurez des lois et des mœurs. Votre scène doit changer avec tout le reste.”2 Change it did. Audiences demanded that their voices be heard in the playhouses just as they were now being heard in the political assemblies, and they successfully fought to have Chénier’s Charles IX performed at the Comédie-Française despite the fact that the play had been censured for depicting a king of France as a villain. Spectators in the theater thus enacted a model of direct democracy of which Jean-Jacques Rousseau had only dreamed.3 Actors successfully lobbied for civil status (denied them under the Old Regime), and playwrights sued for copyright protection so they could live by their pens. Treatises calling for the end of royal censorship and monopoly in the theaters were published in rapid succession.4 Victory came Théâtre de la Révolution; ou, choix de pièces de théâtre qui ont fait sensation pendant la période révolutionnaire, ed. Louis Moland (Paris: Garnier frères, 1877), p. 3. 2 Théâtre de la Révolution, ed. Moland, p. 3. 3 Susan Maslan, Revolutionary Acts: Theater, Democracy, and the French Revolution (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), focuses on the role of theater in the creation of modern French democratic culture (“the democracy that I explore here is the direct popular democracy that burst forth in 1789 and was soon overwhelmed and replaced by the more practical, manageable system of political representation” [p. 1]). 4 These include Discours et motions sur les spectacles (1789); Jean-François de La Harpe, Discours sur la liberté des théâtres (1790); A.L. Millin de Grandmaison, Sur la liberté du théâtre (1790); and Quatremère de Quincy, Discours prononcé à l’assemblée de la Commune sur la liberté des théâtres (1790), among others. 1

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on 13 January 1791, when the freedom of the theaters was officially decreed (Le Chapelier Law), opening the classical repertory to all playhouses and bringing the number of stages in Paris from twelve official theaters on the eve of the Revolution to fifty at the decade’s close. The number of plays written over the course of the 1790s would reach more than one thousand, the number of plays performed well over three thousand, and the total number of performances more than ninety thousand—more than double the production in France over the preceding half century.5 While scenes of patriotism and civic virtue were applauded and cheered, the specters of aristocracy and privilege were jeered and booed and, in 1793, banned entirely from the stage. Politicians meanwhile embraced dramatic modes of self-representation in the performance of their new roles as citizens on the public stage, a number of them having come from the theater or studied the art of oratory with leading actors of the day.6 The basic structures of the theater (stage-audience, actor-spectator) came to inform both aesthetic and political divisions during the Revolution, while the Revolution itself was seen by those in France and abroad as a great drama of liberty unfolding before the eyes of the world.7 The young deputy Thibodeau, for example, wrote that in the vast assembly hall at Paris he felt like an “acteur moi-même sur un grand théâtre, en présence d’une grande nation, de l’Europe entière.”8 Theater also became the privileged instrument of the state for disseminating civic virtues. According to an official report from spring 1799, playhouses were considered “des écoles nationales de patriotisme et de vertus civiles” and thus played a key role in the creation of a new political culture.9 “C’est surtout à la scène, image perfectionnée de la société, à donner ces salutaires impressions,” wrote the playwright and guardsman, Pierre Vaqué, in the preface to his play Les Citoyens français, ou le Triomphe de la Révolution (1791): “Qu’elle présente sans cesse à notre émulation toutes les vertus, embellies, s’il est possible, par les couleurs poétiques.”10 Tragedy in particular “doit enseigner les grandes Emmet Kennedy, Marie-Laurence Netter, James P. McGregor, and Mark V. Olsen, Theatre, Opera, and Audiences in Revolutionary Paris: Analysis and Repertory (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 379. 6 See Marie-Hélène Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution: The Staging of Marat’s Death, 1793–1797, trans. Robert Hurley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); and Paul Friedland, Political Actors: Representative Bodies and Theatricality in the Age of the French (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002). 7 Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution; Friedland, Political Actors; and Ronald Paulson, Representations of Revolution, 1789–1793 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982). 8 From Mémoires sur la convention (Paris, 1824), p. 10, qtd. in Patrick Brasart, Paroles de la Révolution: les Assemblées parlementaires 1789–1794 (Paris: Minerve, 1988), p. 174. 9 Qtd. in François Alphonse Aulard, Paris pendant la Réaction Thermidorienne et sous le Directoire, vol. 5 (Paris : Léopold Cerf, Noblet, Maison Quantin, 1902), p. 424. 10 Pierre Vaqué, preface to Les Citoyens français, ou le Triomphe de la Révolution, drame en 5 actes et en prose (Paris: chez l’auteur, 1791) in RTR, vol. 5 (Geneva: Slatkine, 1986), n.p. 5



vérités politiques, et les vertus publiques” and therefore was believed to play an indispensible role in creating the virtuous “auditoire” Marie-Joseph Chénier imagined.11 In August 1793, the National Convention mandated that “trois fois la semaine, sur les théâtres de Paris qui seront désignés par la municipalité, les tragédies de Brutus, Guillaume Tell, Caïus Gracchus et autres pièces dramatiques retraçant les glorieux événements de la Révolution et les vertus des défenseurs de la liberté” be performed at no cost to viewers.12 These republican tragedies, by Voltaire, Lemierre, and Chénier respectively, celebrated the heroic overthrow of corruption and tyranny by virtuous citizens, and the subsequent birth of a new era of law, liberty, and equality. “Nous sommes fortement persuadés que, dans une République, le plus sûr moyen d’entretenir et de conserver ce feu sacré qui épurait les actions des Scévola, des Fabricius, et des Aristide, c’est de présenter souvent sur la scène les vertus mâles et républicaines,” explains a popular author of military plays.13 Theater thus offered didactic lessons of civic virtue and political truth to inspire the nation and incite citizens to like heroic actions. Upon closer examination, however, this rousing vision of the convergence of theater and politics during the French Revolution does not hold. A patriotic and republican curriculum of theater was certainly the dream of a coterie of elite politicians and playwrights, but, according to new empirical data collected by a generation of theater historians, the dream did not match the reality.14 The meticulous work of reconstructing the Paris repertories from 1789 to 1799 has provided scholars with a more accurate picture of what audiences during the Revolution actually saw, and this picture tells a story directly counter to the vision of a regenerated theater that Chénier foretold (and which has dominated Revolutionary studies for more than a century). A “théâtre de femmelettes et d’esclaves” not only continued after 1789 but thrived. Molière and Marivaux were two of the era’s most popularly performed playwrights (second and thirtythird respectively).15 The only play by Voltaire to enter the list of top fifty mostperformed plays of the decade was his sentimental drama Nanine, ou le préjugé vaincu (1749), which garnered nearly double the performances of Brutus (1730) and La Mort de César (1735) combined, despite the government decree ordering regular performances of the latter two. Patriotic and national tragedies were vastly Aubin Louis Millin de Grandmaison, Sur la liberté du théâtre (Paris: Lagrange, 1790), p. 5. 12 AP 1, vol. 73, p. 360. 13 Guillaume Saulnier, preface to Le Siège de Thionville, drame lyrique en deux actes (first performed 2 June 1793). [TCFD] 14 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences; André Tissier, Les Spectacles à Paris pendant la Révolution: Répertoire analytique, chronologique et bibliographique, de la réunion des Etats Généraux à la chute de la royauté, 1789–1792, 2 vols. (Geneva: Droz, 1992); and Beatrice F. Hyslop, “The Theater during a Crisis: The Parisian Theater during the Reign of Terror,” The Journal of Modern History 17.4 (Dec. 1945): 332–55. 15 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 383. All data in this paragraph are drawn from Chapter 16, Statistical Overview and Tables, pp. 379–91. 11


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outperformed by sentimental dramas and comedies.16 The runaway bestseller of the decade was not Marie-Joseph Chénier’s Charles IX (with sixty-two performances) or Caïus Gracchus (twenty-nine performances) but a 1790 comedy, Le Sourd, ou l’Auberge pleine, about a crafty officer who tricks his way into a room at an inn, and into marriage, by pretending he is deaf (463 performances). The second? A farcical love intrigue from 1763 based upon two La Fontaine fables and featuring an appearance by a bear (355 performances).17 Chénier’s greatest dramatic success, meanwhile, was not one of his political tragedies but a drame historique in which an enlightened and benevolent archbishop brings about the happy reunion of a cruelly persecuted mother, incarcerated in a convent recess for fifteen years, with her long-lost daughter and husband as monastic corruption is brought low.18 And while Denis Diderot’s ground-breaking bourgeois drama, Le Père de famille (1758) had only a moderate success in performance during the Ancien Régime, it proved a resounding success with Revolutionary audiences, garnering 139 performances at no fewer than forty different theaters between 1789 and 1799.19 Pierre Beaumarchais meanwhile turned from classic comedy to sentimental drama with L’Autre Tartuffe, ou la Mère coupable (1792), the third installment in his Figaro trilogy. Various sentimental historical dramas and drames sombres that had been suppressed during the Ancien Régime were performed in Revolutionary Paris to enthusiastic crowds.20 When prominent politicians tried their hands at playwriting, the results were sentimental and dramatic rather than political or tragic (Camille Desmoulins wrote Emilie, ou l’Innocence vengée; Vergniaud coauthored La Belle fermière; and Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote).21 The list of the fifty most-performed plays of the Revolutionary decade is rounded out by such sentimental fare as L’Amour filial, ou Les Deux suisses (1792); Les Deux petits savoyards (1789); La Dot (1785); Le Petit poucet, ou L’Orphelin de la forêt (1798); La Fausse Agnès, ou Le Poète campagnard (1736); La Forêt noire, ou Le Fils naturel (1791); Robert, chef de brigands (1792), and Rousseau’s pastoral intermède, Le Devin du village (1753). In other words, Revolutionary theater was remarkably and undeniably sentimental. 16 Tragedies make up only 3% of the entire repertory of plays and performances between 1789 and 1799. 17 Louis Anseaume, Les Deux chasseurs et la laitière: comédie en un acte, mêlée d’ariettes, music by Egidio Duni (Paris: Duchesne, 1763). [TCFD] 18 Marie-Joseph Chénier, Fénelon, ou Les Religieuses de Cambrai (Paris: Chez Moutard, 1793) in RTR, vol. 6, play 8. 19 Pascale Pellerin has counted 191 performances of the Père de famille during the Revolution, which would make it the twenty-sixth most performed play of the Revolution (“La Place du théâtre de Diderot sous la Révolution,” Recherches sur Diderot et sur l’Encyclopédie 27 [Oct. 1999]: 92). The play was also parodied at the boulevard theaters under the name L’Embarras du ménage. See Dossier du Fils Naturel et du Père de Famille, SVEC 208 (1982). 20 For example, Fenouillot de Falbaire’s L’Honnête Criminel (1767), DuboisFontanelle’s Ericie, ou la Vestale (1768) and Mercier’s two plays Jenneval, ou le Barnevelt français (1769) and Jean Hennuyer, évêque de Lisieux (1772). 21 Friedland, Political Actors, p. 179.



How did we miss this? Before the vast new statistical data on the Paris repertories was published, scholars did not have such a precise and comprehensive view of the Revolutionary theater for the whole decade from 1789 to 1799. Studies of single plays or individual theaters supplied useful but isolated information regarding performance history. Despite the new wealth of data about the Paris repertories, however, interpretations and assumptions about Revolutionary drama have remained largely unchanged. A survey of the existing scholarship on the theater of the Revolution reveals a continued privileging of political and tragic plays over other forms and subjects.22 On the one hand, scholars of the French Revolution continue to take as their primary focus the creation of a new political culture at the end of the eighteenth century, and they thus have often overlooked all but the overtly political or politicized plays, dismissing the majority of dramatic fare during the 1790s as “trivial amusement,” mere “entertainment,” or “distraction” from the main event.23 On the other hand, the traditional denigration of the dramatic literature produced during the Revolution by historians and critics throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—of sentimental literature in particular—has left the vast dramatic corpus of the Revolution largely unread and unanalyzed. Until recently the assumption has been that one can disregard the greater share of Revolutionary plays either because they have no political value or because they have no aesthetic or moral value. Each of these interpretations has contributed significantly to the dominant narrative regarding Revolutionary theater and will be discussed in brief before a new account of the dramatic corpus of the Revolution, and a new approach appropriate to it, is offered. Aesthetic and moral interpretations of Revolutionary drama Theater scholars throughout the nineteenth century categorically rejected theater of the Revolution as the unequivocal sign of the moral and aesthetic degradation of the French stage in the closing decade of the eighteenth century. For Etienne and Martainville (1802), for example, the Revolutionary theater marked the nadir and end of France’s illustrious dramatic heritage. “Ce fut sans doute pour nous une tâche pénible à remplir que celle de rappeler au souvenir des ouvrages atroces et immoraux qui, pendant une désastreuse époque, souillèrent la scène

22 Recent exceptions include the new work collected in Philippe Bourdin, Gérard Loubinoux, and Olivier Bara, eds, Les Arts de la scène et la Révolution française (ClermontFerrand: Presses universitaires Blaise-Pascal; Vizille: Musée de la Révolution française, 2004); and Martial Poirson, ed., Le théâtre sous la Révolution: politique du répertoire (1789–1799) (Paris: Éditions Desjonquères, 2008). 23 Respectively, Marvin Carlson, The Theatre of the French Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1966), p. 168; Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 21; and Tissier, Les Spectacles à Paris, vol. 2, p. 35.

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française.”24 Eugène Jauffret (1869) also questioned the aesthetic value of the Revolutionary theater: “Ce n’est donc pas le goût, l’observation, les nuances dans les passions, l’art, en un mot, que nous devons chercher. Rien de cela n’existe pendant la période révolutionnaire.”25 For Jauffret, instead of the high dramatic art for which France had been so revered, during the Revolution “ce qui domine presque toujours, c’est la pensée politique.”26 The Revolution had turned theater into propaganda, producing works that did not evoke the universal and eternal truths of “art” but rather pandered to the particular and temporary concerns of the political moment. The plays thus had no lasting aesthetic value, but they could be studied, according to Jauffret, as useful indicators of fluctuations in the political and social climate of the period. Their value, in other words, was documentary. Henri Welschinger (1886) meanwhile acknowledged the pervasive ethos of sensibility in the Revolutionary repertory but like his contemporaries claimed that these works failed aesthetically because they “poussa cette sensibilité jusqu’à produire un agacement, un énervement indicibles,” and that they failed morally because they rendered sensitive audiences frighteningly capable of tears and violence in equal measure (“Ils étaient sensibles, ils en étaient fous [...] même en condamnant, même en frappant, même en exécutant”).27 In the twentieth century, Marvin Carlson’s monumental study, The Theatre of the French Revolution (1966), was the first to treat the Revolutionary stage seriously, chronicling the theaters, actors, and plays of the decade. Carlson effectively captures the profound impact of politics and legislation on the fate of dramatic production, institutions, and performance during the era. However, relying primarily on secondary sources, he repeats in many instances the opinions and prejudices of his predecessors, brushing aside tracts of plays and, like Welschinger, highlighting the sensational juxtaposition of sensibility and violence.28 More recently, André Tissier, one of the several historians to provide invaluable information on the Paris repertories of the Revolutionary years, similarly dismisses the majority of dramatic works of the era as “pièces outrancières, et qui aujourd’hui à la lecture nous semblent si plates d’expression [ ... ] Toutes les passions brutales du jour sont justifiées et applaudies.”29 Tissier associates the extreme style of the plays Charles Guillaume Etienne and Alphonse Martainville, Histoire du théâtre Français depuis le commencement jusqu’à la réunion générale (Paris: Barba, 1802); qtd. in Réné Tarin, Le théâtre de la Constituante, ou, L’école du people (Paris: Champion, 1998), p. 10. 25 Eugène Jauffret, Le théâtre révolutionnaire (1788–1799) (Paris, 1869; Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1970), p. vi. 26 Jauffret, Le théâtre revolutionnaire, p. vii. 27 Henri Welschinger, Le théâtre de la Révolution, 1789–1799: Avec documents inédits (Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1968 [1880]), pp. 354 and 359. Welschinger further comments that whereas theater audiences were moved to tears by sentimental fare during the Revolution “cela ferait rire aujourd’hui”; p. 259. 28 “[A]mid such horror, these trivial amusements often seem somehow even more ghastly”; Carlson, Theatre of the French Revolution, p. 168. 29 Tissier, Les spectacles à Paris, vol. 2, p. 35. 24



with the extreme politics and passions of the time, and he views these excesses as a failure of aesthetic and moral judgment. He notes in particular the way in which plays which stirred audiences to emotion and action in the 1790s appear “si plates d’expression” to readers today, their idiom and tastes far removed from our own. For him, as for Jauffret and Welschinger a hundred years earlier, the plays “ne valent donc que comme témoignages d’un temps.”30 In other words, their value is historical and documentary rather than aesthetic. But, like Carlson, Tissier relies heavily on comptes-rendus of the plays from the daily newspapers rather than the scripts themselves, and consequently considers them as texts that appear flat “à la lecture.” However, if we are to understand the meaning of these plays for contemporary audiences, we must take into account the full spectacle they offered. Theatrical productions of the 1790s—particularly the popular comedies, pantomimes, and melodramas of the era—placed a premium on the visual elements of performance and were designed first and foremost to be seen as well as heard. As Béatrice Didier rightly observes, reading the texts of the Revolutionary plays provides only half the story: “il vaudrait mieux les entendre, les voir représenter.”31 Treated as historical artifacts reflecting emergent political discourse rather than as scripts for performance, the majority of Revolutionary plays have been either underexplored or misunderstood. Theorists today have furthermore illuminated the importance of performance as a set of embodied practices that convey meaning and transmit knowledge in ways that go beyond the printed page.32 By analyzing select plays of the Revolution in relation to their performance and reception, as well as to the complex literary, critical, social, affective, and political relations within which they were produced and gained meaning, I wish to place sentimental drama not only in its rightful position among the important productions of the Revolutionary decade but also in dialogue with the larger question of how modern political ideologies have shaped the way scholars over the past two centuries have approached and defined the French Revolutionary stage. Political interpretations of the theater of the French Revolution The “political turn” (or “linguistic turn”) inaugurated by François Furet in his watershed work, Penser la Révolution Française (1972), has exerted a lasting influence on Revolutionary studies. Offering a counterpoint to the social Tissier, Les spectacles à Paris, vol. 2, p. 35. Béatrice Didier, Écrire la Révolution, 1789–1799 (Paris: PUF, 1989), p. 158.

30 31

Several plays from the Revolution have been revived in France recently; for details see Pierre Frantz and Sophie Marchand, eds, Le théâtre français du XVIIIe siècle: histoire, textes choisis, mises en scène (Paris: L’avant-scène théâtre, 2009). 32 For example, in The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), Diana Taylor argues that performance entails a “repertoire” of practices that cuts across the limits imposed by class or other structures of oppression and provides a form of “knowledge transmission” that exceeds print (“the archive”) and thus is available to all (p. xvii).

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interpretation elaborated by the previous generation of Marxist historians, Furet’s political interpretation primarily concerns the creation of a new political discourse during the Revolution.33 His approach privileges texts over events and has led scholars of theater to subordinate issues and practices of performance to a primary concern with politics and political language. Other dominant approaches in the field of Revolutionary studies—such as the Foucauldian analysis of discursive practices and institutional power, and the Habermasian model of the emergence of the public sphere and public opinion—have similarly brought critical attention primarily to political language, discourse, and institutions.34 With the “cultural turn” of the 1970s and 1980s, scholars such as Mona Ozouf and Lynn Hunt, inspired by Furet’s political turn, drew upon the parallels between spectacle and politics to examine in particular the political uses of the Revolutionary festivals as a new detheatricalized form of spectacle fashioned in large part on the civic model Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed in his Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles (1758). Literary critic Marie-Hélène Huet brought focus back to theater in her influential study Rehearsing the Revolution (1982), in which she elucidates the relationship between performers and their audiences as a means to understand the political upheavals in France in 1789 and after. However, her account of the imbrication of theater in politics and politics in theater is less interested in theater per se (i.e., plays and institutions) than in the theatricality of Revolutionary politics. For her, theater serves as an organizing metaphor for a primary discussion of political performance. The various studies of Revolutionary theater to appear in the wake of her important work have similarly approached the era through the lens of theatricality and politics, and as a result have either ignored the dramatic works themselves or focused on a handful of oft-treated political causes célèbres (by Chénier, Laya, and Maréchal) and well-known authors (Beaumarchais, Voltaire, Molière).35 As Emmet Kennedy points out, the predominance of political concerns in scholarship of the Revolutionary theater has resulted in an enormous discrepancy between the era’s most popular plays “and the repertory analyzed in the dozen published accounts of Parisian Revolutionary theater.”36 Such politically François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, trans. Elborg Forster (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press; Paris: Editions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 1981). 34 Michel Foucault’s various works on power, knowledge, and discourse offer a critique of modern institutions; Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989). 35 Most recently, Paul Friedland’s Political Actors (2003) argues for the essential theatricality of the political events of the French Revolution, identifying the convergences between political and theatrical notions of representation. Susan Maslan’s Revolutionary Acts (2003) counters Friedland in arguing that an essential anti-theatricality characterized the Revolutionary stage and Revolutionary politics, and that the theater presented a model of direct democracy rather than representative government. Her work offers a number of close and insightful readings of under-treated plays from the Revolution. 36 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 1. 33



focused accounts, he writes, assume incorrectly “that this theater was essentially revolutionary; that it became a political club, a school of good citizenship and republican mores, a tribune, a mirror of the assemblies and popular societies, an organ of ‘pure propaganda,’ or a reflection of the class struggle.”37 Such a focus on the ideological content and controversies of Revolutionary drama has shed disproportionate light on select political plays while relegating the majority of theater to the shadows. Yet Kennedy does not offer an alternative approach or recommend study of a broader sampling of plays; rather, he concludes that “a good, up-to-date political history of theater remains to be written.”38 Literary historians have answered the call, providing excellent overviews in recent years of the theatrical trends of the Revolution as a function of political allegiances, institutions, and legislation in France after 1789.39 Yet, for these scholars, the popular theater of the era remains mere “backdrop against which the more inflammatory plays were staged.”40 This means not only that French Revolutionary theater continues to be defined by its exceptional and highly politicized cases but also that what constitutes “political” theater remains surprisingly narrow. In fact, political meaning and nuance were often attributed by audiences to otherwise neutral and anodyne plays, and several of the most “inflammatory” works of the Revolution—such as Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée (1788/1793) and La Chaste Suzanne (1793)—were sentimental rather than political in content and, as a result, have been overlooked and ignored by anthologists and critics of Revolutionary theater until recently.41 Moreover, a number of the pointedly political and politicized plays of the era, such as JeanLouis Laya’s L’Ami des lois (1792) staged during the trial of Louis XVI, were deeply sentimental in form, style, and purpose.42 Naturally, the historic and cataclysmic events of the Revolution must loom large in any account of the Revolutionary theater; but such accounts must also Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 1. Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 1. 39 See for example Réné Tarin, Le théâtre de la Constituante, 1789–91 (Paris: PUF, 37


2002); and George Taylor, The French Revolution and the London Stage, 1789–1805 (New York; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 40 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 21. 41 Maslan’s reading of La Chaste Suzanne in Revolutionary Acts and Martial Poirson’s recent work on Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée are notable exceptions. 42 As Graham E. Rodmell describes in French Drama of the Revolutionary Years (New York: Routledge, 1990): “It is in its emphasis on sensibility—not to say sentimentality— that L’Ami des lois reveals the other great literary influence which it has undergone (that of the drame)” (p. 142). Moreover, as Beatrice Hyslop points out, it is erroneous to dismiss the sentimental theater of the Revolution on the grounds of “escapism” since “[t]heatrical managers teamed an ‘escape’ play with a topical one. While one play might pull on the heartstrings and manifest sensibilité, at least one of the others would portray Revolutionary heroism and ideals” (“Theater during a Crisis,” p. 335). In other words, it is necessary to consider individual plays within the entire picture of what audiences experienced at theaters during the Revolution.

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recognize that the function of theater was more multifarious and complex than a simple mirroring of the social and political reality. One of the most striking facts to emerge from Kennedy and Tissier’s research is that the most popularly performed and viewed plays of the years 1789 to 1799 were not the political action pieces most treated by literary scholars and historians but were, instead, sentimental dramas and comedies, many of which had populated the Old Regime stage. Not only does this suggest greater continuity between the theater of the Enlightenment and the Revolution than previously thought, but, as Kennedy and Netter acknowledge in their conclusion, it also reveals that the majority of the plays of the era were “sweet and sentimental.”43 In other words, drama during the Revolution was more likely to speak the tender language of the heart and praise the gentle virtues of familial affection, benevolence, compassion, and sincerity than it was to express the “brutal passions” of political propaganda and polemic. But this does not mean that “sweet and sentimental” works were not also “political.” Even typical Revolutionary pièces de circonstances were predominantly sentimental in form and tone, as George Taylor describes: “Though the rhetoric is radical, the plot line is traditionally sentimental.”44 The Revolution was certainly an event made possible by the transformation in political life and language, but the dramatic works of the period reveal that this transformation was often conceived of and represented in sentimental terms and sentimental forms that placed a premium on the affective moral and social dimensions of life in the new order. In other words, sentimentality cannot be neatly separated from the political theater as mere backdrop to the political mainstage; rather, it was the very cloth from which Revolutionary theater, and Revolutionary culture more generally, was cut. So where do we go from here? Toward a new interpretive paradigm The new statistical data regarding Parisian repertories from 1789 to 1799 open exciting territory for literary scholars, especially in the area of sentimental theater. The task of this book is to begin to identify new approaches and paradigms adequate to understanding and explaining the findings, and consequently to offer a new definition of the dramatic corpus of the Revolutionary years in France. Turning from the historians’ focus on which plays were viewed where, the current study addresses questions of why certain sentimental plays proved so popular, who viewed them, and how they were viewed and received. It thus seeks to reconstruct what critics and audiences then and now understand “traditionally sentimental” theater to be—to borrow Taylor’s term—in order to draw a portrait of the French Kennedy acknowledges in the conclusion that “[t]he new theatrical ethos was comedy—sweet and sentimental”; Kennedy et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 90. 44 George Taylor, The French Revolution and the London Stage, p. 70, describing Louis-François Archambault Dorvigny’s popular political comedy, Le Retour des fédérés, ou, Ça ira (1791). 43



Revolutionary stage from the primary vantage point of the plays themselves and their performances rather than politics. That is to say, rather than concentrate on a small cadre of cultural and political elites, on a handful of political plays, or on traditionally “high culture” genres alone, I turn my attention to the hundred or so most popularly performed plays in Paris during the Revolution in order to elucidate the shared assumptions and common plots, themes, and modes that characterize plays of the era across political, social, generic, institutional, and other barriers.45 In other words, what might we learn about the theater and the era if we approach the dramatic corpus of the Revolution from a primary lens of sentimentality rather than politics? Scholars have frequently acknowledged the pervasive sentimental idiom and vocabulary of the Revolutionary repertory. Welschinger, for example, devoted an entire chapter of his 1880 study, Le théâtre de la Révolution, to “Sensibilité,” arguing that “[o]n était sensible au temps de la Révolution [...] La Révolution fit donc un réel abus des mots ‘sensible’ et ‘sensibilité.’”46 Pierre Trahard in La Sensibilité révolutionnaire (1936) and Daniel Mornet in Les Origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française (1933) also recognized the essential sensibility of the Revolutionary generation, who were inspired equally by Rousseau’s Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse as Plutarch’s Lives.47 “Feeling hearts (cœurs sensibles)—there is the great phrase of the period. On the eve of the Revolution one spoke only of sensibility.”48 As Kennedy notes in regard to the popular theater of the Revolution, “Sensibilité, it is clear, did not exclude patriotism, as Pierre Trahard showed more than half a century ago. It could even be one of its lubricants.”49 However, here 45 Several recent works have brought attention to popular culture during the Revolution rather than the traditional top-down notion of culture centering on cultural and political elites. See, for example, Laura Mason, Singing the French Revolution: Popular Culture and Politics, 1787–1799 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996); and Suzanne Desan, Reclaiming the Sacred: Lay Religion and Popular Politics in Revolutionary France (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990). 46 Welschinger, Le théâtre de la Révolution française, pp. 259 and 352. 47 Pierre Trahard, La sensibilité révolutionnaire, 1789–1799 (Paris: Boivin, 1936); Daniel Mornet, Les origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française, 1715–1787 (Paris, 1933); Alphonse Aulard quotes an observer of Robespierre who writes: “Il écrit, le plus souvent, ayant près de lui, à demi ouvert, le roman où respirent en langage enchanteur les passions les plus tendres du cœur et les tableaux les plus doux de la nature, la Nouvelle Héloïse” (Les grands orateurs de la Révolution: Mirabeau, Vergniaud, Danton, Robespierre. [repr. Paris, 1914; Genève: Mégariotis, 1980], p. 289). 48 Mme Isabelle Kraft-Bucaille, Causeries sur la langue française (Paris, 1890), p. 246; qtd. in R.F. Brissenden, Virtue in Distress: Studies in the Novel of Sentiment from Richardson to Sade (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1974), p. 53. 49 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 77. Also see, for instance, Brissenden, Virtue in Distress, pp. 54–81; Margaret Cohen, The Sentimental Education of the Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), pp. 71–6; David Denby, Sentimental Narrative and the and the Social Order in France, 1760 1820 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 139–65; Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (New York: Knopf, 1989), pp. 147–55.


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we must distinguish between sensibility, on the one hand, and sentimentality, on the other. Welschinger offers a useful definition of the former when he writes that “nous sommes absolument de l’avis de M.H. Taine qui attribute à Jean-Jacques Rousseau la paternité de ces mots [sensible and sensibilité], dans le sens précis de facilité à concevoir des sentiments d’humanité, de pitié, de tendresse.”50 Sensibility was the intuitive capacity for immediate moral and aesthetic responsiveness to others, and particularly to the suffering of others. Humanity, pity, and tenderness were among its privileged terms, and to possess un cœur sensible was believed to be the precondition for morality.51 The cult of sensibility thus assigned a privileged role to feeling in morality and sociability, and generated a new literary vocabulary of emotion and sentiment. “Sentimental” and “sentimentality,” by contrast, refer to a set of aesthetic conventions and practices aimed at eliciting and directing sensibility. Lynn Festa’s recent definition of these terms and their relationship to each other is useful here. “Sentimentality,” she writes, is a rhetorical practice that monitors and seeks to master the sympathetic movement of emotion between individuals and groups of people. Whereas sympathy alludes to the mobility of emotion between different individuals, and sensibility describes individuals’ susceptibility to particular kinds and degrees of feeling, sentimentality as a crafted literary form moves to locate that emotion, to assign it to particular persons, thereby designating who possesses affect and who elicits it.52

It is clear that Taine, Mornet, Trahard, Welschinger, and Kennedy are all concerned with the sensibility of the revolutionaries and, thus with their responsiveness to particular kinds and degrees of feeling. The works of these scholars thus attend to the emotional and psychological sensitivity and expressiveness of the revolutionaries rather than to the formal and aesthetic modes through which their sentiments were organized and expressed. My interest here, by contrast, is with the sentimental as a “crafted literary form” that flourished on the Revolutionary stage. Historians have begun to explore elements of sentimentality in Revolutionary culture, turning to eighteenth-century literature for insights into the era and its politics as understood through and by symbolic, literary, and other cultural 50 Welschinger, Le théâtre de la Révolution française, p. 352. Welschinger is refering to Hippolyte Taine, Origines de la France contemporaine (Paris: Hachette, 1885) vol. 1, pp. 208–10. 51 As Diderot wrote in the Encyclopédie article on “sensibilité (morale)”: “La réflexion peut faire l’homme de probité, mais la sensibilité fait l’homme vertueux” (Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers [1765 ed.), vol. 14, p. 52). 52 Lynn Festa, Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), p. 3. See also Markman Ellis, The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender, and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Erik Erämetsa, A Study of the Word “Sentimental” and of Other Linguistic Characteristics of Eighteenth Century Sentimentalism in England (Helsinki: Helsingin Liikekirjapaino, 1951); and Janet Todd, Sensibility: An Introduction (London; New York: Methuen, 1986).



practices. Lynn Hunt, for example, has shown how the Revolution was infused with new ideas about family and patriarchal authority produced by the cult of sensibility. This wave of sentiment, as she claims, was given momentum by a number of novels, plays, paintings, political pamphlets, and pornographic libels in the decades before the Revolution.53 Sarah Maza and Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink meanwhile have emphasized the importance of sentimentality in the rhetorical modes and social realignments that emerged on the eve of the Revolution. Emmet Kennedy has traced sensibility’s transformation from its consoling forms before 1789 into the more extreme emotional terror and horror associated with the roman noir and libertine fiction of Sade that emerged in tandem with the spread of a politics of Terror through France.54 Recent scholarship in the area of affect and the history of emotions—sometimes referred to as the “affective turn”—has also opened new perspectives and new readings of the French Revolution. William Reddy’s pioneering study, The Navigation of Feeling (2001), in particular, has brought new focus to the essential sentimentality of Revolutionary discourse and politics.55 “The existence of an unspoken set of sentimentalist assumptions, a different emotional common sense from our own, is the missing link that can draw together all the recent efforts to make sense of the Revolution,” he writes.56 I agree with many of Particularly in Lynn Avery Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992). 54 Sarah Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of PreRevolutionary (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, “L’Innocence persécutée et ses avocats: Rhétorique et impact public du discours ‘sensible’ dans la France du XVIIIe siècle,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 40.1 (janviermars 1993): 86–101; Emmet Kennedy, A Cultural History of the French Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). David Andress has also begun exploring this area in “Le peuple, c’est moi: From sentimentalism to melodramatic identification in the radical politics of the French Revolution,” talk at Notre Dame University (6 October 2008) and “Living the Revolutionary Melodrama: Robespierre’s Sensibility and the Construction of Political Commitment in the French Revolution.” Representations 114.1 (Spring 2011): 103–28. 55 William Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Also see, for example, Luc Boltanski, La Souffrance à distance: Morale humanitaire, médias et politique (Paris: Métailié, 1999); Anne Vincent-Buffault, Histoire des larmes: XVIIIe-XIXe siècles (Paris: Rivages, 1986); and Sophie Wahnich, Les émotions, la Révolution française et le présent: exercices pratiques de conscience historique (Paris: CNRS, 2009). 56 Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling, p. 182. Reddy draws on cognitive science, anthropology, and the social sciences to argue for a re-conceptualization of the relationship between the individual and the collective in modern states as one of “emotional liberty” (the management of this relationship is termed “emotional navigation,” p. 130). Moving away from the social constructionist view of the emotions as linguistically, culturally, and socially formed and determined, Reddy argues for the political dimension of emotions. In the first half of his book he develops a theory of feeling and identifies a new category of performative speech-act called “emotives”; in the second half of the book he applies this theory to the case of France from 1700 to 1850, with the French Revolution as the pivotal center in the narrative of emotional liberty that he articulates. 53

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Reddy’s insights regarding the role of emotions and what he calls “sentimentalism” (or sensibility) in Revolutionary culture and politics; however, whereas his examples are primarily drawn from forms of intimate discourse that proliferated throughout the period from 1760 to 1850—namely, correspondence, journals, diaries, memoirs, and novels—my focus is instead on the public and communal realm of performance. I examine theater, festivals, and such non-linguistic forms of communication as gesture and facial expressions, which lie outside the scope of Reddy’s study and the particular category of speech-acts called “emotives” he elaborates. My investigation thus centers more narrowly on the aesthetic ordering and mobilizing of emotion in theater during the Revolution and seeks to integrate performativity and performance with Revolutionary literature and politics. In literary studies, David Denby, Lynn Festa, Claudia Johnson, Nicola Watson, and others have brought to light numerous examples of sentimental beliefs, concepts, forms, and expressions in the culture of the Revolutionary years in France and England, with particular focus on the mutually dependent discourses of feeling and politics.57 Scholarly interest has thus been returning to the forms and functions of sensibility and sentimentality in the culture of the French Revolution, drawing upon a variety of fields from sociology, literature, and dance studies, to history, art history, musicology, cognitive science, and religious studies. However, despite the recent flowering of interest in sentimental studies and the history of emotions, most of this work centers on discursive rather than performative practices (the novel is the privileged genre of scholarship on sentimentality) leaving the sentimental theater of the French Revolution largely unexplored. Drawing on their work, this study provides a reexamination and reconstruction of the popular sentimental theater in the historical moment of its apotheosis and transformation in the culture of the Revolution. My aim is to recover the sentimentalist assumptions that inform much of theatrical production of the 1790s—as well as challenges to these assumptions over the course of the decade—in order to argue that, far from mere divertissement, the popular sentimental theater served a vital function in revolutionary culture and provides invaluable insight into the ways in which people who lived through the Revolution experienced, expressed, and made sense of the profound transformations taking place in the social and political reality of France. With the immediate press of events demanding new modes for imagining the self and the self’s relation to others, the sentimental stage’s investment in the affective and psychological experience of spectators helped define in emotional terms the changed relationships of individuals to their compatriots and to the Michael Bell, Sentimentalism, Ethics, and the Culture of Feeling (New York: Palgrave, 2000); Denby, Sentimental Narrative and the Social Order in France; Festa, Sentimental Figures of Empire; Claudia L. Johnson, Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s: Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); Brigitte Louichon, Romancières sentimentales: 1789–1825 (SaintDenis: Presses universitaires de Vincennes, 2009); Philip Stewart, L’invention du sentiment: roman et économie affective au XVIIIe siècle (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2010); and Nicola Watson Revolution and the Form of the English Novel, 1790–1825: Intercepted Letters, Interrupted Seductions (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). 57



new government and institutions being formed. Sentimentality, as Festa explains, “seeks to define what is proper to the self and what can be shared by or exchanged with others: it polices the division of self from world.”58 As a mode and form, sentimentality negotiates between the individual and the collective, private interest and public welfare, and as such proved to be a crucial tool in the negotiation of new relationships and new identities in the changed circumstances after 1789.59 Sentimental theater offered the public a visible and continuously-performed ideal community (as Vaqué wrote, an “image perfectionnée de la société”) in a world where social, political, and religious attachments were being dissolved. Feeling increasingly became a matter of public as well as private consequence, and thus of political not just psychological interest. Claudia Johnson’s description of England during the decade of the French Revolution equally applies to Revolutionary France: “During the 1790s, in short sentimentality is politics made intimate.”60 Study of the sentimental purposes and modes of “politics made intimate” furthermore allows us to move beyond the “theatricality” paradigm that has dominated the discussion of Revolutionary theater and political culture in recent decades. Whereas theatricality assumes the internalization of a theatrical metaphor as the basis of selfhood and socio-political relations, this study posits the reverse: that Revolutionary theater and culture reflect the appropriation of a private notion of the self and social relations—formed through habits of sentimental sociability in the private sphere—into the public sphere of politics and performance. In other words, the Revolutionary decade is characterized less by the infiltration of the political into all areas of public and private life, as has been the common wisdom, than by the externalization of private affective forms and conventions into public discourse and performance. In turning from a primary focus on politics and theatricality to a focus on emotion and sentimentality, it is not my intention to suggest that theater of the Revolution can be extricated from the historic political events of the revolutionary years in France. On the contrary, this book aims to uncover the intimate relationship between sentimental theater and the political and social order. Theater played an important role in fostering, negotiating, and representing the new foundations of socio-political relations and identities, as well as voicing resistance and reactions to them. As theorists during the Revolution recognized, Festa, Sentimental Figures of Empire, p. 3. Sentimentality has a long and complex history in the culture of Enlightenment

58 59

Europe tied to war, theological debates, and evolving medical discourses about the nervous system, among other areas of knowledge. Only recently have scholars begun to recognize the larger political import of sentimentality. Patricia Spacks, for example, maintains that, “[s]entimentalism implies a set of ethical principles” but also notes that “[p] olitical implications [...] are always latent in sentimentalism” (Desire and Truth [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990], pp. 130, 131). See also Bell, Sentimentalism, Ethics, and the Culture of Feeling; Margaret Cohen, “Sentimental Communities,” in The Literary Channel, Margaret Cohen and Carolyn Dever, eds (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), pp. 106–32; Denby, Sentimental Narrative; and Todd, Sensibility. 60 Claudia Johnson, Equivocal Beings, p. 2.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

theater’s peculiar power lay in its ability to move audiences’ emotions and thereby to create a sense of commonly shared feeling. Marie-Joseph Chénier explains in the “Discours préliminaire” to Charles IX: “Un livre, quelque bon qu’il soit, ne saurait agir sur l’esprit public d’une manière aussi prompte, aussi vigoureuse qu’une belle pièce de théâtre [...] L’homme isolé n’est ému que médiocrement: les hommes rassemblés reçoivent des impressions fortes et durables.”61 Acting more “promptly” and “vigorously” on public spirit than print, theater played an important role in facilitating the transfer from private emotion to the expression of public sentiment. With feeling considered a matter of national import during the Revolution, its regulation and mobilization became one of the theater’s (and government’s) main concerns. The central focus on strong emotions and moral amelioration brought sentimental forms to prominence during the Revolutionary years. Based on my reading of hundreds of plays written and performed between 1789 and 1799, as well as reviews and reports regarding their performances, I am able to demonstrate in particular the way sentimental and civic notions of virtue blended on stage, presenting not just complementary but sometimes competing and contradictory prescriptions for virtuous citizenship and virtuous government. Already the “cardinal term” of the eighteenth century, virtue gained in importance during the Revolution as not only the principle of revolutionary government but also its goal (in 1793 Maximilien Robespierre infamously declared virtue and terror the “order of the day”). However, virtue was not merely a condition of democratic government and a free people, based on a clear set of duties and actions; it was also understood as a universal sentiment “engraved in the hearts of man” uniting all humanity. Such a focus on virtue’s representations and controversies in the theater at this time allows me to reveal the tension between the new political goals of the Revolution and the sentimental forms through which they were most commonly expressed, as well as the formalistic changes that took place in theater as a result of the Revolutionary nexus of politics, sentimentality, and performance. The first chapter (“The Bestsellers of the French Revolution”) outlines the main conventions of sentimental theater through analysis of four of the “bestsellers” of the Paris stage during the Revolution—Beaumarchais’s La Mère coupable (1792), Sedaine’s Le Déserteur (1769), Chénier’s Fénelon (1793), and Marsollier des Vivetières’s Les Deux petits savoyards (1789). Looking beyond the dismissal of sentimental drama as trivial and irrelevant, this chapter shows how the theater of the 1790s was a commanding and imaginative response to a world riven with crisis. It argues that sentimental plays of the Revolution provided an important medium allowing diverse groups who were excluded from direct political participation— such as women, the poor, children, the elderly, and foreigners, among others— the possibility of imagining a new social and political order that included them. Representing a variety of genres and political allegiances, sentimental theater made visible the ideal order toward which the Revolution was striving and which, in 61 Théâtre de la Révolution, ed. Moland, pp. 14–15. See Maslan, Revolutionary Acts, pp. 30-39 for an excellent overview of the Revolutionary debate regarding plays verus print.



many ways was only achievable in the theater; that is, in the collective experience of sentimental aesthetics. From this general discussion of sentimental theater, Chapter 2 (“Revolutionary Tableaux”) turns to the quintessential sentimental form, the tableau, and its deployment in popular theater, festivals, letters, and paintings of the Revolutionary decade. By focusing on the form of the static, visual tableau, this chapter offers a challenge to literary and historical approaches which have viewed the French Revolution primarily as a discursive and linguistic event in which the explosion of writing—in journalism, legislation, literature, political pamphlets, among many other forms—had a dispersive effect that impeded the possibility for unified action and lasting documents. Even as attention has turned to popular culture and women writers in recent years, the approaches to and assumptions regarding the French Revolution have remained largely the same and have led to diminished consideration of collective experience and action, performance, and visual culture. At once an aesthetic composition and a particular understanding of specular ethics at the basis of eighteenth-century notions of social morality, the sentimental tableau was deployed during the Revolution to foster affective identification with revolutionary ideals and to direct emotion to revolutionary goals. Through analysis of various written, visual, and performed tableaux, this chapter addresses the ways in which political participation was framed within the aesthetic conventions of sentimentality and its goal of fostering virtue through sympathy. Chapter 3 (“Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract”) explores the way current events of the Revolution were popularly staged in dramatic reenactments throughout the 1790s. Combining fact with fiction, historical personages with standard comic types, and solemn ceremony with musical interlude, these productions complicated the relationship between event and representation, as well as between performative and performance, by privileging the affective responses and experiences of the audience over historical accuracy. Through close readings of plays that dramatized the great Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790—by Olympe de Gouges and Collot d’Herbois in particular—this chapter demonstrates the ways in which these plays explicitly united the federative oath with marriage vows, thus joining private and collective emotion. Drawing upon current theories of performativity by J.L. Austin, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, and Marshall Sahlins, among others, I use theater as both a contextual and a theoretical framework in order to shed new light on the revolutionary festival movement and to elucidate the role affect played in the formation of the state and political identity. Continuing the focus on issues of performance and performativity, Chapter 4 (“Virtue’s Proofs: Paméla on Stage and on Trial during the Terror”) examines the controversy ignited in Paris in 1793 by a sentimental comedy of domestic virtue entitled Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée (1788) based on Samuel Richardson’s watershed 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. One of the most influential sentimental novels of the century, Pamela was pivotal in the revaluation of virtue along sentimental lines in the mid-eighteenth century. However, during the Terror, its performance on stage in Nicolas François de Neufchâteau’s stage


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

adaptation led to the historic closing of the Comédie-Française and the arrests of the playwright and actors on charges of counter-revolutionary sympathies. This chapter examines the play and its trial in light of larger changes in the legal milieu of pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary France, as well as the issues it raises regarding national identity, gendered notions of virtue, and the different standards governing fiction and drama. The transcripts, memoirs, and newspaper reports surrounding the arrests and hearing of the comédiens provide compelling evidence of the fierce contest over virtue’s “correct” performance during the Terror. Turning from the domestic and feminine virtues of the private sphere, Chapter 5 (“Voltaire’s Brutus and the Sentimentalization of Political Tragedy”) investigates the leading icon of heroic male virtue during the Revolution: Lucius Junius Brutus, the Roman consul who sacrificed his own sons for the sake of the Republic. Examining the various representations of Brutus in theater (Voltaire, Alfieri), political speeches (Robespierre, Saint-Just, Desmoulins), and painting (David), as well as in the political factionalism of the decade, this chapter offers an alternative reading of the figure of Brutus during the years of the Revolution that goes against traditional interpretations which view him as the virtuous republican father to replace the soft and ineffective father of monarchy. I argue instead that the pervasive emphasis on Brutus’s extreme suffering rather than on his severity—particularly in Revolutionary performances of Voltaire’s tragedy, Brutus (1730)—conceives of and expresses republican virtue within a sentimental paradigm. As the boundaries between theatrical and political stages blurred, this sentimentalization of stoicism had profound effects on the conceptualization of political leadership and was key to directing sympathies away from the king during his trial toward those who, like Brutus, had to make painful sacrifices in order to uphold the state—a move that successfully denied Louis XVI the role of tragic hero and martyr. The final chapter (“Acting Revolution”) investigates the sentimental body as the privileged site of a new revolutionary rhetoric of virtue. Scholarship on the body and the French Revolution has largely focused on the neoclassical, medical, and religious models that influenced Revolutionary depictions of the body. Exploring the role of sentimental models instead, this chapter maps the changes in acting style inaugurated by the legendary actor Talma and the changes in oratorical style ushered in by such political figures as Mirabeau, Danton, and Hérault de Séchelles. In particular, Talma’s essay Réflexions sur Lekain et sur l’art théâtral (1825) and Hérault’s essay on oratory, Réflexions sur la declamation (1795), serve to elucidate the ways in which the new emphasis on “naturalness” and sentiment came to define bodily eloquence on both the political and dramatic stages—in direct contrast to the perceived artificiality of royal and aristocratic display—and paved the way for the extreme form of embodied virtue that emerged with the new hybrid genre of melodrama at the century’s close. By ending this work in 1799 with the birth of melodrama, my aim is to signal both the continuities and the shifts in theater that attended the dawn of the Napoleonic era and the nineteenth-century Romantic stage.

Chapter 1

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution, or, Why Sentimentality Dominated the Revolutionary Stage: Four Case Studies (La Mère coupable, Le Déserteur, Fénelon, and Les Deux petits savoyards) A typical scene of revolutionary drama unfolds at the end of Les Deux petits savoyards (1789), Marsollier des Vivetières’s wildly successful comedy about two rustic brothers who, while trying to gain entrance into a country fair, are refused entry, thrown in jail, and wrongly accused of theft, only to be vindicated in the end when it is revealed that they are the nephews of the local seigneur, the Marquis de Verseuil.1 In a moving recognition scene, the Marquis breaks down in tears and says: “Aurai’je la force de cacher l’émotion que je sens? mes amis, mes enfans ... Vous êtes justifiés; pardon, pardon ... Je vous le demande les larmes aux yeux.”2 Innocence and virtue are rewarded, the family is made whole again around the memory of an absent member, and tears are shed copiously to seal the bonds (and voix) du sang. Even in a folksy comedy such as this, peppered with physical humor and song, the emphasis in its closing scenes on familial affections, benevolence, honesty, and justice speaks to the larger moral rather than comic purposes of the play. Describing it in the Correspondance littéraire, Jean-François de La Harpe—an inveterate critic of sentimental theater—notes its stock elements as follows: “De la Vertu arrangée, de la Sensibilité et de l’Humanité en phrases qui en dégoûteraient.”3 Far from repelled by the sentimental style and moral platitudes La Harpe decries, however, Parisian audiences flocked to performances of Les Deux petits savoyards, making it one of the top twenty most performed plays of the Benoît-Joseph de Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards: comédie en un acte, mêlée d’ariettes, with music by Nicolas-Marie Dalayrac (formerly d’Alayrac), first performed at the Comédie-Italienne on 14 January 1789 (Paris: Brunet, 1789) [TCFD]. Marsollier wrote twenty-two plays in total, many with music by Dalayrac, including the popular sentimental dramas Adèle et Dorsan (1795) and Camille, ou le souterrain (1791), and a fait historique about Joseph Cange (1794). 2 Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards, p. 38. 3 Cited in Barry Daniels and Jacqueline Razgonnikoff, Patriotes en scène: le Théâtre de la République, 1790–1799: Un épisode méconnu de l’histoire de la Comédie-Française (Versailles: Artlys; Vizille: Musée de la révolution française, 2007), p. 186. 1


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

decade.4 As the Affiches, annonces et avis divers enthused, “Les deux Savoyards ont été applaudis jusqu’à l’enthousiasme; cette piéce le mérite!”5 Scenes from the play adorned women’s fans and were sold as estampes, while at least two sequels appeared on its heels.6 The play fared even better in the provinces: in Bordeaux, for example, it ranked consistently in the top five most-performed plays every year between 1789 and 1796.7 Comedy, as we know today, was the leading genre of the Revolutionary stage. The statistical data on the repertories of the performing arts in Paris collected by Emmet Kennedy, Marie-Laurence Netter, André Tissier, Beatrice Hyslop, and others have shown unequivocally that comedies account for more than three times the number of works as other genres, and nearly half of all performances between 1789 and 1799.8 Tragedies, by comparison, make up only three percent of all plays and performances for the same period. The new picture of Revolutionary theater that emerges from these figures, the preponderance of comedies in particular, has led Kennedy to conclude “that Revolutionary audiences were seeking entertainment rather than edification.”9 However, as the example of the Deux petits savoyards illustrates, entertainment and edification were not so neatly opposed during the years of the French Revolution. Indeed, by 1789 “comedies” were just as likely to preach virtue and tackle serious social, and even political, issues as the drame or tragedy. As Félix Gaiffe writes in his influential study, Le Drame en France au XVIIIe siècle (1910), “la Comédie garde de son contact avec le Drame un penchant décidé à traiter des sujets sérieux, d’une réelle portée sociale, et à les traiter sérieusement, avec des intentions édifiantes et moralisatrices.”10 The evolution of comedy toward moral and social seriousness is one of the key developments of theater in the second half of the eighteenth century, and its effects are immediately apparent in the pronounced didacticism of the Revolutionary stage. Yet the definition of comedy that Kennedy and Netter offer, and on which they base their 4 It ranks nineteenth in Emmet Kennedy and Marie-Laurence Netter’s “Top 50 Plays of the French Revolution,” with 218 performances total at the Comédie-Italien (OpéraComique) and other theaters. Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 382. 5 Affiches, annonces et avis divers, ou Journal de la Basse-Normandie, supplément au no. 12 (22 mars 1789). CESAR. 6 Encore des Savoyards, ou l’École des parvenus by Jean-Baptiste Pujoulx and François Devienne, opened on 25 September 1789 and L’Ecole des parvenus, ou la Suite des deux petits Savoyards on 10 November 1789, at the Comédie-Italien. 7 Marc Régaldo, “La Période révolutionnaire,” in La vie théâtrale à Bordeaux: des origines à 1799, by Henri Lagrave, Marc Régaldo, and Philippe Rouyer (Paris: Editions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1985), pp. 384–6. The records for the main theater at Bordeaux are only complete and reliable through 1796. 8 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences (their data are now incorporated into CESAR); André Tissier, Les spectacles à Paris; and Beatrice F. Hyslop, “The Theater during a Crisis.” 9 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 21. 10 Félix Gaiffe, Le Drame en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Colin, 1971), p. 549.

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


conclusions, refers exclusively to traditional classical forms (comedy of character, comedy of manners, and comedy of intrigue). “During the Revolution,” writes Netter, “comedy is always assigned to denounce the ridiculous in characters and to make one laugh at them.”11 Netter paints here a uniform picture of Revolutionary comedy based solely upon criteria of satire and ridicule. However, these criteria do not apply to Les Deux petits savoyards or the countless other Revolutionary comedies that sought to elicit sympathy as well as laughter in their dual aim to edify and entertain. In fact, a number of critics and playwrights during the Revolution openly rejected ridicule as a dangerous vestige of Ancien Régime prejudice. A 1793 review of two patriotic plays in Le Journal de Paris, for example, denounces the use of ridicule in theater as follows: Rousseau avait raison d’attaquer le but moral de la Comédie, lorsque sous l’Ancien Régime [...] elle épargnoit le vice pour flétrir la vertu sous l’écorce du ridicule, & multiplier les préjugés du despotisme; mais la révolution a détruit ce défaut étranger à la bonne comédie, et cet art agréable devient de plus en plus précieux dans les circonstances actuelles, par le but auquel il doit prétendre, & qu’il peut atteindre avec succès; celui de former l’esprit public, en présentant les exemples louables de la vertu et du patriotisme.12

The reviewer emphasizes the moral and patriotic purpose of theater during the Revolution with particular reference to Rousseau’s famous critique of ridicule as morally suspect in the Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles.13 Whereas Ancien Régime theater “épargnoit le vice pour flétrir la vertu sous l’écorce du ridicule” and thereby reinforced “les préjugés du despotisme,” Revolutionary theater promoted public spirit by fostering sympathy for “les exemples louables” of virtue and patriotism. In similar terms, one of the leading comic playwrights of the era, Fabre d’Eglantine, criticized his rival Collin d’Harleville for having amused audiences with ridicule and empty displays of sensibility in his comedy L’Optimiste, ou l’homme content de tout (1788) rather than seeking to move the stronger emotions that lead to sympathy and benevolent action. For Fabre, Collin “semble s’être appliqué à affaiblir toutes les sensations fortes [...] dont la nature se sert pour émouvoir la pitié.” 14 Fabre’s emphasis on pity as the focal emotion (not derision or Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 61. In a review of Barré and Radet’s L’Heureuse décade and Desfontaines and Radet’s



Au retour at the Théâtre de la République, in Le Journal de Paris, no. 310 (6 nov. 1793), p. 1248. CESAR. 13 Rousseau, Letter to d’Alembert on the Theatre, pp. 34–47. 14 P.-F.-N. Fabre d’Eglantine, Le Philinte de Molière, ed. Judith K. Proud (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1995), p. 543. Fabre was equally critical of ridicule as of the false sensibility he believed had taken over theater—what he called an “affectation de douceur et de sensibilité” that obscured truth and debilitated sympathy. As Louis-Sébastien Mercier explained in Paris pendant la Révolution (1789–1798), ou le Nouveau Paris, nouvelle édition, annotée avec une introduction, 2 vols. (Paris: Poulet-Malassis, 1862):


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

laughter) reflects his belief that for theater and audiences to be regenerated, plays needed to move spectators with heartbreaking scenes of pathos.15 Here Fabre forwards a deeply sentimentalist and didactic definition of comedy founded on moral feeling, that links his understanding of comedy’s form and purpose more closely with the sentimental aesthetics of Denis Diderot and his followers than with the classic comedies of Molière (on which his own play Le Philinte de Molière is based). In other words, moral seriousness is not opposed to comedy; on the contrary, the very definition of “true comedy” he elaborates is erected upon conventions of sensibility and sentimental form that had been worked out over the course of the latter half of the eighteenth century.16 Revolutionary notions of comedy were therefore more varied and polemical than the definition assumed by Kennedy and Netter suggests. A cursory look into the 1790 volume of the Correspondance littéraire, in which Fabre’s Philinte de Molière was reviewed, reveals an abundance of comic forms that undermine any easy notion of uniformity or adherence to traditional categories. Particularly noteworthy is the wealth of sentimental subjects, themes, and styles that were performed in Paris at the time. For example, a review of Florian’s comedy Le Bon père (1783) at the Théâtre Italien, describes the way the play’s central character Arlequin—the most popular stock comic figure of the eighteenth century, imported into France from the Italian commedia dell’arte—was being newly interpreted in sentimental terms by the actor who brought to the title role “toute la petite sensibilité de son âme [...] et des mœurs d’un style plus élevé.”17 The comedy L’Epoux généreux, ou le Pouvoir des Procédés (1790) meanwhile is described as

“Quelque temps avant la révolution, les gens du bon ton avaient adopté une certaine philosophie sentimentale, qui était l’art de se dispenser d’être vertueux. Cette philosophie avait son jargon, sa sensibilité, son accent, ses gestes même. Le zèle simulé, les modulations tendres, les expressions affectueuses qui composaient l’extérieur des personnes de la bonne compagnie, au récit d’une action immorale ou des disgrâces de la vertu, ont fait donner à cette sensibilité feinte et stérile le nom de sensiblerie” (vol. 1, p. 269). 15 Fabre’s play Le Philinte de Molière, ou La suite du Misanthrope (1790) is a rewriting of Molière’s Le Misanthrope (1766) along the lines elaborated by Rousseau in the Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles. Susan Maslan’s discussion of Le Philinte de Molière in Revolutionary Acts demonstrates the way Fabre reverses the flow of emotion in the play so that Philinte becomes the object of pity rather than derisive laughter (pp. 74–124). As Maslan argues, “Fabre’s great alteration to Rousseau’s plan for a revised Misanthrope was to place sympathy at the center of the play” (Revolutionary Acts, p. 109). 16 The focus on pity over laughter also had political implications for Fabre: when he critiques Collin’s L’Optimiste for breaking the ties of society by extinguishing pity, for example, he objects in particular to the way it “attaque les droits de l’homme” and continues abuses that “dégradent ma patrie” (Le Philinte de Molière, p. xxii). See Maslan’s analysis in Revolutionary Acts, p. 106. 17 Correspondance littéraire (1790), vol. 15, p. 32. Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian, Le Bon père, ou la suite du bon ménage (1783) comedy in one act.

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


“moins une comédie qu’un proverbe, mais c’est un proverbe très-moral.”18 Louise et Volsan, a comedy by Dejaure, is said to be “pris du Père de famille, drame en cinq actes” with scenes by turns “vraiment pathétique” and “touchante.”19 Fabre’s Le Philinte de Molière meanwhile is not only praised for its “point de vue plus important et plus moral” than the original play by Molière, as noted above but also is referred to throughout as a “drame.”20 Although reviews from a single volume are not in themselves conclusive, these examples attest to the way that traditional distinctions were shifting as “comedy” came to encompass a heterogeneity of forms during the Revolution, including here proverbs, harlequinades, drames bourgeois, and comedies of character, among many other forms. The reviews also elucidate the way Ancien Régime plays and characters were being performed in new ways after 1789 (e.g., the sentimentalizing of well-known characters such as Arlequin and Philinte), thus further complicating traditional generic distinctions. The works of Molière and Marivaux certainly feature prominently in the comic repertory from 1789 to 1799 (as they still do today); however, these classic comedies are matched in number by the various sentimental and mixed comic genres, particularly after 1793 when new comedies eclipse the old in number of performances. Moreover, when we consider, for instance, that Michel-Jean Sedaine’s bourgeois drama Le Philosophe sans le savoir (1765) is included as a comedy alongside the political satire Le Jugement dernier des rois (1794), and that these plays share the same generic label with Favières and Kreutzer’s lachrymose “comedy” Paul et Virginie—a 1791 adaptation of Bernardin de Saint Pierre’s popular sentimental novel of the same name, only now given a happy ending—it becomes clear that the category is far from homogeneous. As Pierre Frantz points out, the designation “comédie” appears to have been a catch-all term for various emerging genres during the late eighteenth century, thus contributing to the high percentage of comedies reported in the data. For example, melodramas were categorized as “comédies en quatre actes” in Geneva and as “comédie” in the Vosges, much as drames and opérascomiques were often identified as comedies in the last decades of the Ancien Régime.21 In contrast, the proliferation of terms used to designate different genres Correspondance littéraire (1790), vol. 15, pp. 154–5. Comedy in 3 acts (1790). Correspondance littéraire (1790), vol. 15, p.  33. Jean-E. Bédéno Dejaure and

18 19

Rodolpho Kreutzer (comp.) (1790) comedy in one-act. According to Pierre Frantz, a proverb is a “[g]enre dramatique appartenant au théâtre de société, qui consiste à illustrer par une courte fable un proverbe que les spectateurs doivent deviner” (Pierre Frantz and Sophie Marchand, eds, Le théâtre français: histoire, textes choisis, mises en scène [Paris: L’avant-scène théâtre, 2009], p. 582). 20 Correspondance littéraire (1790), vol. 15, pp.  35–7. The French word “drame” can mean a particular genre or can refer more generally to any dramatic work (much as the English word “drama” does). 21 Pierre Frantz, “Pas d’entracte pour la Révolution,” in La Carmagnole des Muses: l’homme de lettres et l’artiste dans la Révolution, ed. Lise Andriès and Jean-Claude Bonnet (Paris: Colin, 1988), p. 393.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


extended from the neutral “pièce” to such verbose forms as the “pantomime féerie en trois Actes à grande spectacle, mêlée de divertissements, combats, etc.”22 Frantz counts fifty-eight different generic designations in the repertory of the Théâtre de la Cité-Variétés alone during the 1790s.23 Kennedy and Netter use fifteen categories to classify the approximately two thousand works performed between 1789 and 1799.24 Although they are the first to acknowledge the limitations of their data—for example, that nearly a quarter of the dramatic works of the Revolution are of unknown genre—they do not explain the categories themselves, how they were composed, or how plays were placed into them.25 One wonders, for example, in which categories plays listed as proverbe/ allegorique, féérie, and mélodrame—mixed genres which do not figure among their fifteen—are counted. Generalizations by genre are, of course, necessary and useful for organizing vast amounts of data as Kennedy and Netter do for the thousands of works performed in Paris during the Revolution, and their research—particularly the global picture it provides—has been invaluable to this study and to the revival of interest in the Revolutionary theater more generally in recent years. However, as we have seen, genre was a vexed issue during the Revolutionary decade. Not only was comedy far from a self-evident and homogeneous category but further, the Revolution represents a transitional period in the history of genres, when inherited notions of the hierarchy and distinctness of dramatic forms were under attack, when the organization of dramatic institutions was being radically redrawn, and when various new genres were emerging (the fait historique, tableau-patriotique, vaudeville, and melodrama, to name only a few). Traditional categories can thus be misleading when applied to Revolutionary repertories, not only because they gloss over differences but also because they cannot accommodate the peculiar mixing of L’Enfant du malheur, ou les amants muets by Cuvelier de Trie (1797), which was the number one hit of 1797 and, incidentally, is categorized as a drame. 23 Frantz, “Pas d’entracte pour la Révolution,” p. 392. 24 Based on listings from two Parisian journals and reference to several standard bibliographic sources, their categories in order of popularity are: 1. comédie, 2. unknown, 3. pantomime, 4. opéra, 5. opéra-comique, 6. tragédie, 7. vaudeville, 8. drame, 9. fait historique, 10. ballet, 11. tableau-patriotique, 12. opéra-bouffe, 13. pièce, 14. divertissement/parade, and 15. comédie mêlée d’ariettes. 25 As Kennedy and Netter note, the high percentages for comedy (49% of performances and 37% of the repertory) can be attributed to several factors that made it financially and politically interesting for theaters to privilege comedies and advertise plays as comedies: the new laws regarding copyright led theater managers to turn to out-of-copyright material and the fact that comedies by Molière and Marivaux were sure bets and less likely to garner the disapprobation of the authorities or audiences. Also, the fact that one- and two-act works are weighted equally with traditional three- and five-act plays adds to the high percentages (theaters such as the Gaîté and the Ambigu-Comique showed six or seven skits per night, mainly one-act comedies, while the Théâtre de la République and the Opéra presented only one or two traditional three- or five-act pieces). Kennedy and Netter draw their data from the affiches which are often different from the title pages of the printed editions of plays. 22

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


genres that characterized the era. With genres themselves in the process of being transformed, and as new genres and subgenres were being invented, the task of defining the dramatic corpus of the Revolution proves problematic at best. Critics have questioned Kennedy and Netter’s assumptions both that comedies were not political and that quantity and popularity correspond to influence or importance.26 These points are good and do not bear further investigation here. My own concern lies rather with the issue of genre. Comedy was undoubtedly the most abundant single form at the time, and the most popular with audiences; however, as I have been suggesting above, the broad label conceals both the multiplicity of forms that fell under its aegis and the essential sentimentality—in tone, form, idiom, and purpose—of much theatrical production of the era. Closer examination of genre thus reveals a picture of Revolutionary theater far different from the one suggested by the statistics alone. I dwell on the issue of genre here for three reasons. The first is because genre has been central to the two reigning views of the theater of the French Revolution. One of these views, sketched briefly in the introduction above, holds that the Revolutionary theater was too politicized to have made any significant contribution to literature. These critics base their conclusions on a handful of political tragedies that became the causes célèbres of the decade but have since fallen out of the dramatic repertory. The second view, recently forwarded by Kennedy and Netter (but also shared by other twentieth-century theater historians), argues that theater was, on the contrary, too light-hearted and “Rabelasian” to have had any real political impact and is based upon popularity: the bestsellers of the era were comedies (some of which are still performed today), and therefore the Revolutionary theater provided entertainment and escape, not political edification.27 However, these two positions represent only the extreme poles of a much broader spectrum of theatrical production during the 1790s. Their bifurcation of the repertory into political and comic plays—tragedy and comedy respectively—artificially imposes generic and ideological clarity and separation where it did not always exist in reality during the Revolution. The popular playwright, Pierre Barré, for example, contends that even “le genre du Vaudeville peut servir autant que tout autre à propager les principes républicains, et à maintenir l’esprit public.”28 Addressing a wider range of works, genres, and political positions than current approaches admit, my aim here is to sketch a more inclusive and representative portrait of the dramatic corpus of the Revolution in order to argue that it was the middle genres of the era—the hybrid forms of comic opera, melodrama, bourgeois tragedy, fait historique, and comédie The number of performances of a play, for example, is not a reliable indicator of the number of people who attended them. For instance, receipts at the Comédie Française show that the government-mandated tragedies were often poorly attended by comparison with the theater’s other offerings. 27 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 90. 28 Barré, preface to Barré and Radet, L’Heureuse Décade, 2nd ed. (1790) in RTR, vol. 2, p. 31. Barré was the fourth most successful playwright of the decade. 26

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


sérieuse, among many others—that ruled the Revolutionary stage and radically transformed the classical genres of tragedy and comedy into the modern drama we know today. More specifically, by investigating the repertory data more closely and looking beyond classical categories of genre to the plays themselves, we find that much if not most of Revolutionary theater was deeply sentimentalist in tone, form, and purpose. In other words, it was both political and entertaining, edifying and diverting, tragic and comic. In short, it was sentimental. Secondly, the abandonment of traditional genre distinctions and hierarchies is one of the significant developments of Revolutionary drama, and reflects the way in which the highly-articulated social, institutional, and philosophical structures upon which traditional generic categories were founded were shifting during the Revolution. Genre had supplied the dominant discourse in the production and reception of dramatic works throughout the Ancien Régime. At the time of the Revolution, the monarchy recognized only three theaters in Paris, which had enjoyed a monopoly on the classical repertory and the “high genres” for over a century.29 This system of privilege came to an abrupt end in January 1791 when the National Assembly passed the historic Loi Le Chapelier.30 According to this new law, all theaters were free to perform works and genres formerly off limits to all but the three licensed houses. As a result, the boulevard theaters began performing the serious genres of high tragedy and classic comedy, while traditional venues such as the Comédie Française added such mixed genres as the fait-historique to their program, much to the chagrin of La Harpe and others who had spearheaded the movement for the liberty of the repertory but now found that it was leading to generic “monsters” and “anarchy” instead of the hoped-for amelioration of the French stage.31 Although many in the theater were inspired by the new freedom of the stage and sought, as with other areas of French life being transformed, to define the new and develop an order and mode by which to represent and organize it, those like La Harpe, who were troubled by the effects the democratization of theater was having, sought more forcefully to preserve the inherited generic hierarchies. The Opéra (Académie de Musique), the Comédie Française, and the Comédie Italienne (also known as the Théâtre Italien and later the Théâtre de l’Opéra-Comique). See, for example, Nicolas-Etienne Framery, De l’organisation des spectacles de Paris, ou Essai sur leur forme actuelle sur les moyens de l’améliorer, par rapport au public and aux acteurs (Paris: Buisson, 1790). The relationship of the unofficial venues to the official theaters at the end of the eighteenth century is comprehensively treated by Michèle Root-Bernstein in Boulevard Theatre and Revolution in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1984). 30 Isaac-René-Guy Le Chapelier, Rapport fait par M. Le Chapelier au nom du Comité de constitution, sur la petition des auteurs dramatiques dans la séance du Jeudi, 13 janvier 1791 avec le décret rendu dans cette séance (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, [1791]). 31 La Harpe apparently called these examples of mixed genre “monstres sans noms”; cited in Martine de Rougemont, La Vie théâtrale en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Champion, 1988), p. 212. Jean-Baptiste-Augustin Hapdé, De l’anarchie théâtrale, ou de la Nécessité de remettre en vigueur les lois et règlements relatifs aux différents genres des spectacles de Paris (Paris: J-G Dentu, 1814). 29

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


Within months of the passing of the Loi Le Chapelier, newspapers were declaring the new law a failure. A writer for L’Esprit des journaux, for example, expressed concern that the popular tastes and predilections of Revolutionary audiences were determining the repertory, making sentimental comedies like Les Deux petits savoyards into the bestsellers of the day: Nous demandons à nos concitoyens comment il est possible qu’on court à des drames pleureurs, ou à des farces dénuées de bon comique [...] Nous avons quitté le naturel pour le factice, le vrai pour le vraisemblable, le pathétique pour l’horreur, et la sensibilité pour les convulsions. Les auteurs dramaturges ou superficiels ont dégradé la scène, & le faux esprit, le persiflage & le drame ont pris la place de la bonne comédie. (emphasis in original)32

The degradation of “la bonne comédie” and “bon comique” by low farce and weepy dramas is seen here as the fault not only of the playwrights who write them but also of “nos concitoyens” who flock to see them. Popular preferences, it was feared, were trumping poetic and academic standards and leading to untrammeled excesses of all kinds. Opponents of sentimentality and the drame in particular saw in its excessive emotionalism and blending of genres a threat to aesthetic integrity. Numerous prefaces to plays, theatrical reviews, and treatises on theater produced during the Revolution exhibit a recurrent preoccupation with defining and preserving inherited generic hierarchies and distinctions. Fabre d’Eglantine again provides a useful example when he describes his comedy, Le Philinte de Molière, as follows: [I]l ne s’agit ni d’amour proprement dit, ni d’amour paternel ou filial ou fraternal ou conjugal, ni d’amitié, ni de belles-lettres, ni de sciences, ni de religion, ni de politique, ni de philosophie, ni de ridicules anciens ou moderne, ni de modes, ni d’etiquette, ni de préjugés; ce n’est rien moins qu’un drame, c’est une vraie comédie de caractère, et en ma conscience, j’en crois l’intérêt véhément.33

Fabre’s keen desire to distinguish his “true” comedy of character from the myriad forms of false and mixed comedies proliferating at the time—from the pastoral and domestic to the topical and satirical—echoes the anxiety of the age that the freedom of the theaters was leading to a debasement in the quality and stature of the French stage, and that the sentimental drame in particular was attaining a troubling prevalence. The challenge to traditional genre conventions had in fact already begun in the mid-eighteenth century with the philosophes’ attack on received ideas and authority. Enlightenment writers on theater sought to break out of the hierarchical and ossified academic system of genres that placed pantomime, farce, and drama L’Esprit des journaux (May 1791), pp. 67–8. Fabre d’Eglantine, Le Philinte de Molière, p. xxii. Anne Ubersfeld notes that as a

32 33

genre the comédie de caractère is “plus sentimentale que satirique” (Le drame romantique [Paris: Belin, 1993], p. 9).

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


below comedy, and comedy below the exalted tragedy.34 Denis Diderot’s pioneering dramatic theory, first elaborated in the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel (1757), posed an especially powerful challenge to traditional dramatic taxonomy. His innovative theories of the genre sérieux, or bourgeois drama, as a new form in between comedy and tragedy (“placé entre les deux autres”) rejected the rigid adherence to Aristotelian principles and classical forms that characterized criticism of the eighteenth century.35 Diderot imagines a range of intermediary genres in between comedy and tragedy which he delineates as follows: La comédie gaie, qui a pour objet le ridicule et le vice, la comédie sérieuse, qui a pour objet la vertu et les devoirs de l’homme. La tragédie, qui aurait pour objet nos malheurs domestiques; la tragédie qui a pour objet les catastrophes publiques et les malheurs des grands.36

Just as Diderot distinguishes two forms of tragedy, so he identifies two forms of comedy: the comédie gaie and comédie sérieuse. The latter, similar to the tearful comédies larmoyantes of Nivelle de La Chaussée, aimed to move audiences to virtue through tears moreso than laughter. As the dramatist and critic Cailhava observed in De l’Art de la comédie (1772): “Autrefois un auteur comique n’osait qu’en tremblant risquer une situation larmoyante sur la scène comique; à présent les larmes en font tout l’ornement.”37 The nineteenth-century theater historian Charles Félix Lenient similarly lamented that, with the appearance of La Chaussée’s plays, “nous entrons dans l’interminable série des comédies où l’on pleure.”38 The taste for pathetic and sentimental scenes thus broke with inherited conventions and pushed the traditional definition of comedy, and the system of genre more generally, in new directions. These changes had a significant impact on other genres as well. As James Frederick Mason notes, popular pantomime turned for its models from farce to the comédie sérieuse in the latter half of the eighteenth

As La Harpe writes in “Réflexions sur le drame” (Œuvres de la Harpe, 16 vols. [Paris: Verdière, 1820]): “Ce genre [...] est nécessairement inférieur, comme on l’a dit plus d’une fois, à la comédie de caractère, et sur-tout à la tragédie-heroïque [...] [S]’il y a au monde quelque chose d’aisé à faire, c’est un mauvais drame en prose” (vol. 2, pp. 17–21). 35 Denis Diderot, Paradoxe sur le comédien, précédé des Entretiens sur le Fils naturel, ed. Raymond Laubreaux (Paris: Flammarion, 1981), p. 81 (will be abbreviated as EFN). 36 Denis Diderot, De la poésie dramatique; qtd in Alain Ménil, Diderot et le drame: Théâtre et politique (Paris: PUF, 1995), p. 163 37 Jean-François Cailhava de L’Estandou, De l’Art de la comédie (1772), p. 285; qtd in Sophie Marchand, Théâtre et pathétique au XVIIIe siècle: pour une esthétique de l’effet dramatique (Paris: Champion, 2009), p. 64. 38 Lenient, La Comédie en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1888), qtd in Marchand, Théâtre et pathétique, p. 64. 34

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


century (“tragedies with a happy ending,” as Mason calls them), thus bringing the naive morality and sanguine optimism of sentimentality to the boulevards.39 These eighteenth-century innovations in theater brought greater attention to the emotional responses of spectators and led critics to articulate new affective grounds upon which to classify the genres. In 1763, for example, Marmontel wrote: C’est faire injure au cœur humain et méconnaître la nature que de croire qu’elle ait besoin de titres pour nous émouvoir et nous attendrir [...]. C’est un préjugé puéril et faux que de faire dépendre la qualité du Poeme de la qualité des personnages. Ce sont les effets qui distinguent les causes, et le sceau du tragique est l’impression de la terreur et de la pitié.40

Marmontel argues that what truly distinguishes the dramatic genres from each other is not their formal qualities, such as the rank of the characters, but their effect on viewers.41 Such a move from formal to affective criteria for determining genre would have far-reaching implications, not least of which being that aesthetic judgment and standards were now subject to the opinions of the paying public rather than the academies. The quality and value of a given play were no longer judged according to formal poetic criteria (i.e., the text) but according to how successfully the work elicited the desired response in viewers (e.g., laughter for comedy, sympathetic tears for drama, and pity and terror for tragedy). As we saw Fabre d’Eglantine argue above, the socially and politically edifying dimension of theater lay less in the subject matter of a given play than in the emotional effect of pity it aroused in spectators. This notion of politics based on feeling partially explains how the sentimental forms associated with the intermediary genres and with bourgeois values were not only established in the repertories by 1789 but also flourished. As Pierre Frantz observes: “Le vœu de Diderot de créer des genres intermédiaires paraît plus que réalisé” during the Revolution.42 James Frederick Mason, The Melodrama in France from the Revolution to the Beginning of Romantic Drama, 1791–1830 (Baltimore: J.H. Furst, 1911). Mason writes, for example, that with Arnould’s Dorothée in 1782, “the sentimental entered pantomime” (p. 10). 40 Jean-François Marmontel, Poétique française (1763) vol. 2, p. 146; qtd in Frantz, “Pas d’entracte pour la Révolution,” p. 393. 41 It must be noted that Marmontel’s 1782 essay “Drame” for the Encyclopédie méthodique reflects a change in his thinking in this regard that shows him moving away from Diderot’s ideas and the privileging of affect over form (much as Diderot also did in his later writings). In it, Marmontel argues instead for reason over feeling in theater, and an adherence to the standards of genre hierarchy. See Michael Cardy, The Literary Doctrines of Jean-François Marmontel, SVEC (1982), pp. 118–22. 42 Pierre Frantz, “Pas d’entracte pour la Révolution,” in La Carmagnole des Muses: l’homme de lettres et l’artiste dans la Révolution, ed. Lise Andries and Jean-Claude Bonnet (Paris: Colin, 1988), p. 392 39

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


Emmet Kennedy acknowledges that the philosophes’ vision of theater “to moralize the domestic, to dignify the quotidian, and not to worry about the classical genres or unities” was realized during the Revolution. Still, when he and Netter discuss comedy as the most performed genre of the decade, the definition of comedy they assume—“to denounce the ridiculous in characters”—is based solely on the comédie gaie to the exclusion of the moralizing and tearful comédie sérieuse.43 The popularity of classical comedies during the Revolution is undeniable; but the omission of sentimental forms from the “Rabelasian” picture they draw of the Revolutionary stage obscures not only the political potential of comedy but also the fact that theater’s role to edify was not in opposition to comedy’s reign but was precisely what made comedy so appealing to audiences in the 1790s. In the new circumstances of the Revolution, the moral ambiguity of tragedy ceded its place to the moral certainty and progressive ideals of sentimental comedy.44 When Mercier imagined the theater’s potential to be “l’école des vertus et des devoirs du citoyen,” for example, he specifically excluded traditional comedies and tragedies, which he associated with the artificiality, inequality, and corruption of the monarchy.45 For him, the middle genres were best suited for a republic and were the only ones capable of regenerating the moral, social, and even political life of France. This association of the sentimental genres with democratic politics was shared by Diderot and Beaumarchais as well, and even led the great melodramatist Guilbert de Pixerécourt to claim in 1795 that the drame had been censured by the public powers of the Ancien Régime because of its subversive potential.46 Thirdly and finally, the issue of genre is important because developments in the comic genres outlined above help explain how it is that, although Revolutionary theater was largely “sweet and sentimental,” the drame—the sentimental genre par excellence—made up only three percent of the Parisian repertories between 1789 and 1799. Critics have long seen the Revolution as sounding the death knell of the bourgeois drama’s short and troubled life. Martine de Rougemont, for example, writes: “Une donnée de base: le drame a existé au XVIIIe siècle et il a disparu avec la Révolution.”47 Gaiffe similarly comments that the drame faced too much resistance from censors, critics, actors, and the public ever to have gained a firm foothold in the eighteenth-century repertory and that “dès le début

Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 87. As Germaine de Staël observed in De la Littérature (1800), with society in the

43 44

process of being remade on the basis of reason and nature during the Revolution, comedy became more “philosophical” after 1789 and, consequently, less funny; qtd. in Maslan, Revolutionary Acts, pp. 84–5. 45 Louis-Sébastien Mercier, L’An 2440: Rêve s’il en fut jamais, Preface by Alain Pons (Bordeaux: Ducros, 1971), p. 224. 46 In his Observations sur les théâtres et la Révolution (1795). 47 Rougemont, La Vie théâtrale en France au XVIIIe siècle, p. 29.

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


de la Révolution, en effet, le Drame littéraire est bien compromis.”48 For him, the interest of playwrights shifted with the press of events after 1789, and “quand la Tragédie qui ‘court les rues’ cède la place à celle qui se joue sur les planches, le Drame ne retrouve plus la même faveur qu’auparavant.”49 More recently, however, some scholars have come to see the Revolutionary decade as a time of great flourishing of the drame. Marc Régaldo, for example, observes that the proliferation of drames “est le fait le plus marquant de l’époque.”50 Countering common wisdom, he asserts, “le drame n’a point périclité: son esprit s’accordait avec celui du temps.”51 Réné Tarin similarly views the Revolution as providing the necessary conditions for the drame to thrive: Le théâtre de la période révolutionnaire peut apparaître comme le résultat des écrits théoriques antérieurs, une application des thèses de Diderot, de Sébastien Mercier et de Restif de la Bretonne. Il propose à un mouvement qui se développe dans la second moitié du siècle une conjoncture particulièrement favorable [...] Au fil de cette évolution les valeurs morales des théoriciens du drame bourgeois vont devenir des valeurs officielles sous la Révolution et c’est notamment au théâtre dès 1789 qu’en incombera la diffusion.52

Even Gaiffe notes that the drame fared well in the first years of the Revolution (“son crédit est loin d’avoir baissé”): in 1789, dramas were advertised sixty-four times in the affiches, and eighty-four times in 1790.53 “En y joignant les comédies 48 Gaiffe, Le drame, p.  548. Several drames were in fact quite successful with the public. Diderot’s Le Père de famille, for instance, came to be warmly received after an initial poor response. In a letter to Voltaire, Diderot explained that the actors did not know how to adapt their acting to the exigencies of the new form. “J’ai réussi à la première autant qu’il était possible quand presqu’aucun des acteurs n’est et ne convient à son rôle. [...] Ce genre d’ouvrage leur était si étranger que la plupart m’ont avoué qu’ils tremblaient en entrant sur la scène comme s’ils avaient été à la première fois” (26 February 1761) in Œuvres complètes, ed. R. Lewinter (Paris, 1969–73), vol. 5, p. 605. 49 Gaiffe, Le drame, p.  548. For him, a few isolated exceptions at the end of the century—the revival of La Mère coupable (1792) in 1797, Falkland (1798), and Misanthropie et Repentir (1799)—attest to the fact that “le genre n’est pas tout à fait mort” at the century’s end, but its last breaths would be taken shortly thereafter (p. 549). 50 Régaldo, “La période révolutionnaire,” p. 423. 51 Régaldo, “La période révolutionnaire,” p.  424. In his essay, “Mélodrame et Révolution française,” Régaldo further affirms that “c’était en grande partie l’esprit du drame qui triomphait avec la Révolution” (Europe [Nov-Dec. 1987], p. 8). 52 Tarin, Le théâtre de la Constituante, ou, L’école du peuple, p. 158. Paul Friedland similarly states: “The political culture that emerged with the convention of the Estates General in May of 1789, reflected, consciously or unconsciously [...] a theatrical aesthetic— that of the bourgeois drame” (Political Actors, p. 27). Pascale Pellerin states more bluntly: “Les théories dramatiques de Diderot annonçaient celles de la Révolution” (“La Place du théâtre de Diderot sous la Révolution,” p. 90). 53 Gaiffe, Le drame, p. 243.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


larmoyantes telles que la Gouvernante, Nanine, le Séducteur, etc., on arrive à constater que le genre sérieux paraissait plus de cent fois par an.”54 As Gaiffe suggests, the tearful comedies of La Chaussée, Voltaire, and Bièvre respectively could just as easily be classified as drames. Even if the overall number of drames is lower than comedies during the Revolution, proportionately the drame’s numbers increased dramatically over the course of the decade, particularly in the provinces and under the Directory.55 As Béatrice Didier observes, the drame “subit une espèce d’inflation” after 1789.56 Diderot provides a compelling example of this trend. Although many of his prose works were reviled by revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries alike during the 1790s, his sentimental dramas were widely performed and warmly received across the political spectrum.57 But the drame’s principle importance to the Revolution was the mark it left on the other genres, both old and new. Much like the early novel, the drame responded to market forces once the liberty of the theaters was declared, and it adapted to the demands and tastes of a changing and growing theater public by appropriating its competition, blending with other genres, and expanding into new sectors. Drama also successfully incorporated the sister arts. As Marc Régaldo declares: “Production déjà hybride, le drame sous forme d’opéra-comique peut se compliquer encore, nous l’avons vu, par l’adjonction de ballets ‘intégrés,’ ou d’un quelconque tournoi. Au lieu, comme autrefois, de séparer soigneusement les genres, on semblait se complaire à les mêler tous.”58 Merging with existing forms and giving birth to new ones, the drame permeated Revolutionary theater. As Martine de Rougemont writes, for example, “le domaine du drame contemporaine, bourgeois ou sombre, est repris en charge par le haut comique d’une part, le mélodrame de l’autre part.”59 Gaiffe similarly reminds us: “N’oublions pas, non plus, que du Drame historique sort la Comédie historique, et du Drame à ariettes Gaiffe, Le drame, pp. 243–4. The drame was even more popular in the provinces during the Revolution where,

54 55

as Gaiffe notes, “[p]artout le Drame occupe dans le répertoire une place prépondérante” (Le drame, p. 245). The number of drames played in Bordeaux from 1789 to 1796, for example, doubled that of the previous three decades (Régaldo, “La période révolutionnaire,” p. 429). 56 Didier, La Littérature de la Révolution française (Paris: PUF, 1988), p. 79. 57 Pascale Pellerin suggests in her study of Diderot’s plays during the Revolution that his sentimental drama, Le Père de famille, performed particularly well between 1789 and 1799 because of the adaptability of its domestic themes and anti-clericalism to particular revolutionary moments: as a justification of constitutional monarchy during the Constituante, as an exaltation of the humble virtues during the Terror, and as a politically neutral play during the Directory (when his other drama, Le Fils naturel, was also revived). “La Place du théâtre de Diderot sous la Révolution,” Recherches sur Diderot et sur l’Encyclopédie 27 (Oct. 1999): 89–103. Also see Madelyn Gutwirth’s reading of the play in Twilight of the Goddesses: Women and the Representation in the French Revolutionary Era (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992), pp. 33–40. 58 Régaldo, “La période révolutionnaire,” p. 429. 59 Rougemont, La Vie théâtrale en France, p. 30.

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du XVIIIe siècle, l’Opéra-comique du XIXe.”60 As a result of its influence on other genres, the drame became an object of fierce criticism and anxiety during the 1790s, as seen in several of the comments cited above, much the way it had in the last decade of the Ancien Régime. Thus, although the statistical data would suggest that the sentimental drama had little to no impact or influence during the Revolution, we can see that in terms of percentage growth, its numbers increased substantially from pre-1789 levels and that from the drame were born not only a number of the innovations and mixed genres of the Revolution but many of the popular dramatic forms that came to define the nineteenth-century stage as well. Thus when critics say that the drame prevailed in the comic opera or that it integrated with ballet or gave birth to melodrama or the historical comedy, what they are indicating is less a particular genre than a set of aesthetic conventions, ideological assumptions, and emotional effects that constitute the aesthetics of sentimentality developed and articulated by several practitioners and theorists of the drame in the eighteenth century. As Marc Régaldo affirms, “c’était en grande partie l’esprit du drame qui triomphait avec la Révolution,” if not its form.61 In order fully to understand the ways in which the spirit of the drame, and of sentimentality more generally, operated in the theater of the decade, what its conventions were, and why it was so popular with audiences, it will be necessary to turn to the plays themselves. Revolutionary theater and the sentimental genres: Four case studies I offer below discussion of four dramatic works—La Mère coupable (1792), Le Déserteur (1769/1786), Fénelon (1793), and Les Deux petits savoyards (1789)— representing some of the most popular plays and playwrights of the Revolution in four different genres (bourgeois drama, comic opera, tragedy, and comedy respectively). Two of these plays were written during the Revolution, two before. The selection of texts is informed by my desire to present paradigmatic plays that illustrate, in sometimes surprising and unexpected ways, the pervasive sentimentality of the Revolutionary stage as well as the productive contamination among genres. The choice of texts is therefore not meant to be comprehensive or definitive, or merely idiosyncratic, but to offer, through the focal point of these four plays, an inclusive portrait of the main trends and purposes of Revolutionary theater. In focusing on popular plays, I am also in no way arguing that number of performances is an indicator of the relative merit, importance, or influence of a given work. Rather, my aim is to reconstruct through select examples what the majority of the theater was for the majority of theatergoers during the Revolution, and thereby to understand the popular sentimental theater’s meaning and function in Revolutionary culture more generally. What relationship inhered between the Gaiffe, Le Drame, p. 550. Régaldo, “Mélodrame et Révolution française,” p. 8.

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sentimental theater and the new social and political order being created? What connections were forged between the popular plays and individuals’ experience of Revolution? Why, in other words, was there such an “apparent demand for the comic and sentimental” during the Revolution? What was the nature of this demand and of the relationship between the comic and the sentimental?62 The “genre dramatique sérieux”: La Mère coupable (1792) Pierre-Augustin Caron Beaumarchais is perhaps the most admired and celebrated comic playwright associated with the Revolution. His two comic masterpieces, La Précaution inutile, ou le Barbier de Séville (1775) and La Folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (1784), caused a sensation in the decades before the Revolution, eliciting Danton’s alleged remark that Le Mariage de Figaro “a tué la noblesse.”63 However, with the third installment of the Figaro trilogy, entitled L’Autre Tartuffe, ou La Mère coupable (1792), Beaumarchais returned not to the comic brilliance of the first two comedies but to the lachrymose genre dramatique sérieux of his earliest plays, Eugénie (1767) and Les Deux Amis (1770).64 Completed in 1791 and first performed in 1792, La Mère coupable is a complex family drama remarkable for its romanesque plot and extreme heights of pathos. Beaumarchais’s stated goal in writing it was to present “un des sujets les plus moraux du théâtre” that would “faire verser des larmes à toutes les femmes sensibles.”65 In a letter Beaumarchais wrote to the Countess Alfieri accepting her invitation to read his new play at her salon, he writes: Admettez qui vous voudrez à la lecture de mardi, mais écartez les cœurs usés, les âmes déssechées qui prennent en pitié ces douleurs que nous trouvons si délicieuses. Ces gens-là ne sont bons qu’à parler révolution. Ayez quelques femmes sensibles, des hommes pour qui le cœur n’est pas une chimère et puis pleurons à plein canal. Je vous promets ce douloureux plaisir.66

The author imagines here his ideal auditors: a community of sensitive hearts with whom he will share the “sorrowful pleasure” of shedding copious tears over the misfortunes of virtue. La Mère coupable thus marks a significant departure in Kennedy , et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 75. Qtd. in Welschinger, Le Théâtre de la Révolution, p. 197. 64 La Mère coupable was first performed at the Théâtre du Marais on 26 June 1792, 62 63

and had 84 performances from 1792 to 1799. It was particularly during its revival in 1797 at the Feydeau Theater that the play “a joui d’une grande célébrité” (Le Censeur dramatique, 2 [6 September 1797], p. 111). It was performed frequently from 1797 until 1850. 65 Beaumarchais, “Un Mot sur la Mère coupable,” in Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Œuvres, ed. Pierre Henri Larthomas and Jacqueline Larthomas (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), p. 368. The preface and Beaumarchais’s authorized edition of the play, used here, are from 1797. 66 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 1482.

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subject, tone, and purpose from the “gaieté légère” of Le Mariage de Figaro and the Barbier de Seville. Beaumarchais insists in the preface to the play, however, that an “intimate connection” exists between the darker scenes and sorrowful emotions of the final chapter of the “roman de la famille Almaviva” and the sparkling humor of the first two:67 [L]es deux premières époques ne semblent pas, dans leur gaieté légère, offrir de rapport bien sensible avec la profonde et touchante moralité de la dernière; mais elles ont, dans le plan de l’auteur, une connéxion intime, propre à verser le plus vif intérêt sur les représentations de la Mère coupable.68

For Beaumarchais, the “gaieté” of comedy was not incompatible with the “profonde et touchante moralité” of the drame. On the contrary, the genres fit together into the broader plan and trajectory he envisioned for his characters in which the first two plays serve to increase the “intérêt” of the last.69 The comedies, in other words, were designed from the beginning with the moralizing and affecting endpoint in mind, and with the intention that they would contribute to the greater emotional appeal of the final chapter of the Almaviva story.70 This is less surprising when viewed in the context of Beaumarchais’s œuvre as a whole. As Béatrice Didier has recently demonstrated, the sentimental drame occupies a central place in Beaumarchais’s thought and work.71 In his important Essai sur le genre dramatique sérieux (1767), for example, he privileges the drame over comedy because of its ability to foster the spectator’s identification with the Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 599. Beaumarchais, “Un mot sur La Mère coupable,” Œuvres, p. 599. 69 There is evidence that Beaumarchais had conceived La Mère coupable as early 67


as 1771, before Le Barbier, and that he had begun writing it by the time he finished Le Mariage de Figaro. See David Edney, “Introduction,” p. 373. Beaumarchais also had plans for a fourth installment entitled La Vengeance de Bégearss, ou le Mariage de Léon (Lettre à Martineau, Œuvres, p. 1176). 70 This conception of the larger trajectory of the characters’ lives over time—not of a single day as dictated by the unities of the stage, but of a lifetime—reflects a conception of history, time, and characterization that has led several critics to draw comparisons to the novel. The drame, from its inception in the plays and dramatic theory of Diderot, had a special relationship with the novel. In his Essai sur le genre dramatique sérieux (1767), Beaumarchais writes: “Il faut lui lire les romans de Richardson, qui sont de vrais drames, de même que le drame est la conclusion et l’instant le plus intéressant d’un roman quelconque” (Œuvres, p. 123). He revisits these ideas in “Un mot sur La Mère coupable”: “Diderot, comparant les ouvrages de Richardson avec tous ces romans que nous nommons histoire, s’écrie: ‘Peintre du cœur humain! C’est toi seul qui ne mens jamais!’ [...] Et moi aussi, j’essaye encore d’être peintre du cœur humain!” (Œuvres, pp. 602–3). La Harpe savaged La Mère coupable for this very reason, noting in particular the way the Countess’s pathetic praying in Act IV, “qui peut être à sa place dans un roman tel Clarisse, est insupportable au théâtre” (cited in Béatrice Didier, Beaumarchais, ou, La passion du drame [Paris: PUF, 1994], p. 206). See also Frédéric Vitoux, Le Roman de Figaro (2005); Jacques Seebacher, Europe (April 1973); and Pierre Frantz, L’esthétique du tableau, pp. 222–5. 71 Didier, Beaumarchais, ou, La passion du drame.


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characters and situations on stage—what Beaumarchais, as Diderot and others before him, refers to as “intérêt”—which allows for a depth of feeling that makes reflection, and therefore moral improvement, possible.72 “On est meilleur quand on se sent pleurer,” he writes in “Un mot sur La Mère coupable.”73 Laughter by contrast impedes reflection and therefore had no lasting or improving effect: Si le rire bruyant est ennemi de la réflexion, l’attendrissement, au contraire, est silencieux; il nous recueille, il nous isole de tout. Celui qui pleure au spectacle est seul; et plus il le sent, plus il pleure avec délices, et surtout dans les pièces du genre honnête et sérieux, qui remuent le Cœur par des moyens si vrais, si naturels. L’attrendrissement a de plus cet avantage moral sur le rire.74

Beaumarchais thus maintains, as Rousseau had in the Lettre à d’Alembert, that laughter’s effect ends when the spectator leaves the theater. “Le rire meurt absolument sur sa victime, sans jamais réfléchir jusqu’à notre cœur,” he writes in the Essai.75 The “lightheartedness” of comedy thus does not foster the same moral reflection on the part of spectators as did the interest generated by the sentimental drame. In subject matter, La Mère coupable is a classic example of the eighteenthcentury drame. It portrays the everyday dilemmas and virtues of domestic life presented realistically, with an emotional revelation of identity and an affirmation in the end of family loyalty, marital fidelity, and community spirit.76 In form, however, Beaumarchais explains that he combined the pathétique of the drame bourgeois and the intrigue of comedy into a new genre he calls the “comédie d’intrigue.”77 The dual purposes of the form are immediately apparent in the title itself: the first half, L’Autre Tartuffe, announces its inspiration in the comedy of Molière (Tartuffe, ou l’Imposteur [1664]), while the second half, La Mère coupable, reflects its domestic subject.78 The intrigue in the play, however, is less comic in 72 Beaumarchais defines “intérêt” as the “sentiment qui nous met en la place de celui qui souffre, au milieu de sa situation” (Œuvres, p. 126). 73 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 600. 74 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 127. 75 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p.  126. According to Beaumarchas, the drame was also superior to tragedy because it represents our own dilemmas and situations rather than those of heroes and kings, and therefore engages us more directly. The more someone “est d’un état qui se rapproche du mien,” Beaumarchais writes, “plus son malheur a de prise sur mon âme”; Œuvres, p. 125. 76 As Félix Gaiffe writes: “Il est infiniment rare qu’au lever du Rideau chaque personnage sache exactemement de qui il est fils, ou frère ou père; un mystère d’état civil plane sur toutes ces familles [...] Ce système dramatique a l’inappréciable avantage d’amener au dénouement une de ces reconnaissances émouvantes où un fils retrouve son père, un frère retrouve sa sœur, une mère, sa fille, ou dans un élan de commune tendresse, tous les acteurs se précipitant dans les bras les uns des autres” (Le drame, pp. 305–6. 77 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 602. 78 At least seven Tartuffe plays appeared during the Revolution; see Mechele Léon, Molière, the French Revolution, and the Theatrical Afterlife (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2009).

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nature than it is dramatic, involving the nefarious machinations of the malevolent “Tartuffe” of the play, Bégearss, rather than the comic plotting of Figaro in the comedies.79 The unadulterated villainy of Bégearss has led several critics to view La Mère coupable as an early example of melodrama.80 La Mère coupable follows the actions of a single day in the life of the Almaviva family twenty years after the end of Le Mariage de Figaro. In contrast to Le Mariage and Le Barbier, which take place in Spain in an ambiguous time during the Ancien Régime (in order to safely distance the satire from a direct critique of France), La Mère coupable is set in Paris on a specific day: 10 November 1790, Saint Léon’s Day. Not only is the setting nearly contemporaneous with the immediate world of the first spectators but the characters also regularly allude to recent political events and the changes in customs and habits ushered in with the Revolution. For example, the character Léon is first seen returning from a political club, and much is made in the opening scenes of the fact that the Count and Countess are adapting to local revolutionary customs: Almaviva insists on being called “Monsieur” rather than “Monseigneur” and the Countess has changed her style of dress to conform with Revolutionary fashions (as Suzanne laments, “madame sort sans livrée! Nous n’avons l’air de tout le monde!”).81 Even the name of the villain, Bégearss, points to recent events known by the audience: an acronym of an enemy of Beaumarchais, a lawyer from the Kornmann affair.82 Although conceived in advance of 1789, the play’s form took shape in conjunction with the events of the Revolution and weaves together inter-, intra-, and extra-textual references and devices in order to increase the interest of the action for audience members and to persuade them of the play’s historical truth.83 The drama centers around the revelation of the past infidelities of the Count and Countess Almaviva, which have resulted in an illegitimate child on each side. 79 In the changed circumstances of the Revolution, Figaro is no longer the intriguer, but has become the defender of order against the opportunistic forces represented by Bégearss. When Napoleon expressed interest in meeting Beaumarchais in 1798, he referred to him only as “l’auteur de la Mère coupable,” pointedly excluding any mention or association with the subversive Figaro. See Janette C. Gatty, Beaumarchais sous la révolution: l’affaire des fusils de Hollande (Leiden: Brill, 1976), p. 324. 80 See, for example, Béatrice Didier, “Beaumarchais aux origines du mélodrame,” in Mélodrames et romans noirs: 1750–1890, ed. Simone Bernard-Griffiths and Jean Sgard (Toulouse: Presses universitaires du Mirail, 2000), pp. 115–26. 81 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 281 (Act I, scene ii). 82 Nicolas Bergasse. See Maza, Private Lives, Public Scandals, pp. 263–311. 83 Charles Péguy saw Le Mariage, Le Barbier, and La Mère coupable as indicative of “ce que c’était que 1775, 1784, 1792”; cited in Christie McDonald, “The Anxieties of Change: Reconfiguring Family Relations in Beaumarchais’s Trilogy,” MLQ 55.1 (1994): 47–8. Michel Delon also discusses the play as evidence of the way the sudden collapse of the Ancien Régime demanded new norms and forms, in “La Mère coupable ou la fête impossible – 1792,” in Les Fêtes de la Révolution, ed. Jean Ehrard and Pierre Viallanex (Paris: Société des études robespierristes, 1977), p. 377.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


When the play begins, the Countess is holding a personal vigil for Saint Leon’s Day in honor of Chérubin, the true father and namesake of her son Léon, the fruit of a one-time indiscretion. The family is also in mourning for the death of the Count and Countess’s legitimate oldest son and heir, a profligate libertine and gambler who was killed in a duel two years earlier. The Count has a natural antipathy toward Léon and is scheming to deny him his inheritance by forcing him to take religious vows in the order of Malta and then settling the family fortune on his beautiful young “ward” (in fact his illegitimate daughter) Florestine, with whom Léon is madly in love. The Count is abetted in his plans by Bégearss, the Tartuffe of the play’s title, an Irish major in the Spanish army who has made himself welcome in the family as the confidant of both the Count and Countess. A former friend of the deceased Chérubin, Bégearss is privy to the secret surrounding Léon’s true paternity. He ruthlessly manipulates the trust of the family members in hopes of gaining the Count’s money and title by marrying Florestine himself. To this end, he has convinced Almaviva to liquidate his estate and move the family to France in order to take advantage of the new laws on inheritance and divorce. Once settled there, Bégearss orchestrates the Count’s discovery of Léon’s illegitimacy through a letter the Countess has kept secret for twenty years. Bégearss then reveals to the young lovers (Florestine and Léon) that Florestine is the Count’s daughter, knowing she will disavow her love for Léon, whom she now believes to be her brother. All of Bégearss’s intrigues are unmasked, however, in the final act when Léon, hidden in his mother’s chamber, overhears Almaviva accuse the Countess of infidelity and thus learns the truth of his birth. The scene reenacts the revelation scene from Molière’s Tartuffe, only now with a pathetic rather than ludic effect.84 Fortunately, Figaro saw through Bégearss’s disguise from the start and saves the day by repossessing the money the Count had signed over to him. The Tartuffe is arrested, the Almaviva family is restored to peace and prosperity, and Florestine and Léon are now free to marry with the consent of their parents. The vicissitudes of the Almaviva family—their vulnerability in the face of past sins and present intrigues—parallel in many ways the trajectory of contemporary events in Revolutionary France. As David Edney suggests, Léon and Bégearss can be read as embodying the two faces of the French Revolution.85 Léon, “passionant pour la liberté,” is the good son, the good brother, the good patriot, and thus a model of the bon citoyen. When the play opens, he has just returned from delivering a speech against monastic vows, and once he learns that he is not Almaviva’s son, he nobly comes to the defense of his mother and declares his intention to enlist in the Revolutionary army. Bégearss, by contrast, represents the forces of chaos and disorder that were also unleashed with the Revolution, and which Beaumarchais feared would undo the progress achieved thus far. This “Tartuffe,” ironically named Honoré, takes advantage of the newly won liberties in France to further his own personal avarice. He is a hypocrite not of religion but of “probity,” Tartuffe, Act 4, scene 7; Beaumarchais, Œuvres, pp. 655–8 (Act IV, scene xiii). Edney, “Introduction,” pp. 372–3.

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says Beaumarchais in the play’s preface.86 Beaumarchais’s ambivalence to the Revolution is made clear in the juxtaposition of these two characters: he agrees with its principles (Léon) but fears it potential to spin out of control (Bégearss).87 But it is with Almaviva, not Léon or Bégearss, that the fate of the family—and by extension, the Revolution—ultimately rests. Almaviva’s attempt at the beginning of the play to force Léon to enter religious orders and deny him an inheritance goes against the natural duty of parents to their children’s happiness, and thus against the principles of the Revolution as well. Almaviva conforms more with the role of the tyrannical aristocratic father in the play’s opening, in the way he serves his selfinterest by plotting malevolently against his own family members. It is the Count’s conversion in the play from tyrant to sympathetic citizen—that is, from complicity with Bégearss to accord with Léon—that provides the central action and lesson of Beaumarchais’s drame. The Count’s transformation is effected through two scenes of reading, each of which develops his capacity for sympathy, and leads him from sympathy to reflection and from reflection to moral improvement. The first scene occurs in the Count’s cabinet shortly after he “discovers” the incriminating letter hidden in his wife’s jewelry box. Once alone, he pores over her farewell words to Chérubin, written some twenty years earlier. Angry and vengeful, he expects to discover cause for reproof but finds himself moved to sympathy instead by the tender and noble emotions expressed in the Countess’s words. She voices only regret and horror for the incident, which is described as a near-rape. Upon finishing the letter, the Count remarks, “Ce n’est point là l’écrit d’une méchante femme.”88 Almaviva then reads Chérubin’s response, written in his own blood and with a portion of it “effacé par des larmes.”89 The letter conveys Chérubin’s nobility of heart and his tacit plans to die on the battlefield for his offense. The Count has the same reaction to this letter that he had to his wife’s: “Ce n’est point là non plus l’écrit d’un méchant homme!” He recognizes that their transgression was not the vicious crime of deceptive and disloyal minds but the result of “un malheureux égarement.” The swift change in him from anger to sympathy, and from jealousy to understanding in response to the pitiful sentiments he reads, leaves the Count with torn emotions. “Je me sens déchiré,” he declares at the end of the scene.90 The second key moment in his transformation occurs at the play’s climax in Act IV, after Almaviva has confronted his wife with her infidelity. The Countess is devestated by the sudden revelation of her shameful secret, and prays to God for forgiveness (“Accepte l’horreur que j’éprouve, en expiation de ma faute!”) before Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 600. Beaumarchais’s own experiences during the Revolution attest to the dangers

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of these forces: jailed in the summer of 1791 he only narrowly escaped the September massacres, and after 1792 was forced into exile, unable to return to France until 1795. See Gatty, Beaumarchais sous la Révolution. 88 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 620 (Act II, scene 1). 89 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 620 (Act II, scene 1). 90 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 620 (Act II, scene 1).

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falling into “convulsions de la douleur.”91 Faced with the pathetic spectacle of her great suffering—this time legible on her body (tears, frenzy, fainting) rather than in her words—the Count’s desire for revenge abates. Once again Almaviva is moved by his wife’s extreme emotion to a change of heart. “[V]otre douleur,” he says to her in the play’s final Act, “a déchiré mon âme.”92 This revival of tender emotion, and the pity it elicits from him in response to the scene of her distress (which serves as proof of her virtue), ultimately leads to the reconciliation of the spouses as each forgives the other’s transgression.93 Although illegitimacy in the play threatens the foundations of the aristocratic family—which is based on the succession of wealth and title according to pure bloodlines—the Almaviva family does not dissolve when the infidelities are revealed. Rather, the family comes to redefine itself over the course of the play according to new foundations and criteria—of forgiveness, transparency, and equality—that reflect a shift from an aristocratic and autocratic model of paternal authority to a bourgeois family model based upon mutual affection and duties among its members. Pierre Frantz has suggested to the contrary that the Mère coupable is a critique of the bourgeois family, revealing the lies upon which it is built: “La famille répare d’elle-même les dégâts du libertinage: Léon, le fils adultérin de la Comtesse et de Chérubin, et Florestine, la fille adultérine du Comte, se marient. Curieux triomphe de la famille bourgeoise!”94 For him, “la structure familiale, sur laquelle la société nouvelle se batît, n’est qu’une illusion hypocrite, alimentée par un pathos hystérique.”95 But this modern lens distorts the original purpose of the play and its meaning for contemporaries. It is the aristocratic family that was built on lies and libertinage, and which Bégearss tried to fabricate for himself through deception and intrigue. The family that emerges at the end of the play repairs the transgressions and privileges associated with the moral bankruptcy of the Ancien Régime through the legitimate marriage of the illegitimate children. As Christie McDonald writes, “The action concerns the recognition of kinship lines and the moral consequences of reconfiguring relations in this context.”96 The union of Léon and Florestine, and the re-union of the Count and Countess, thus represent the founding of a new sentimental familial order and a new society on the bases of truth, affection, and sincerity.

Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 657 (Act IV, scene xiii). Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 663 (Act V, scene iii). 93 Madelyn Gutwirth elucidates the double standard in the play’s treatment of the 91


Count and Countess’s infidelities in “Revolution and family values: Beaumarchais’s Trilogy” in SVEC 1 (2003): 221–41. 94 Frantz, Le théâtre français, p. 435. 95 Frantz, Le théâtre français, p. 436 96 McDonald, “The Anxieties of Change,” pp. 67. The Almavivas arrive at “a more democratic contract” based “on a feeling that extends the concept of mother and father beyond biology to social bonds” (pp. 71–3).

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


Such a reorganization of the power structure parallels the contemporary political struggles of France as the nation attempted to construct a new order from the corruption and ruins of the Ancien Régime past. For the new France to move forward happily, its members had to forgive the sins of the past—including their own—and build a future upon new foundations of virtue and transparency. Figaro sums up the play’s lesson of forgiveness in the closing lines: “Jeune, si j’ai failli souvent, que ce jour acquitte ma vie! Ô ma vieillesse! pardonne à ma jeunesse.”97 But Figaro adds that for the family to reconcile, it must also expel the wicked element from its midst (“on gagne assez dans les familles quand on en expulse un méchant”). This expulsion of the “méchant” Bégearss is enacted in the play through a remarkable scene in which the family members entrap Bégearss by pretending they have not yet discovered his evil plot. Figaro orchestrates the show, returning to his rightful role as the comic intriguer (though his antics are now aimed at manipulating the social usurper rather than the entitled aristocratic master): “vous m’écoutez et me secondez tous [...] Feignez de vouloir me chasser.”98 The scene again shows Beaumarchais taking a classic comic scenario and infusing it with moral and political seriousness. The family performs this last deception in order to secure its future and ultimately to shed the secrets, lies, and self-interest of the past once and for all.99 As if trapped in the intrigue of comedy but with serious and affecting consequences, the family is ultimately freed from the conventions of comedy to arrive at the reflective and moral potential of the drame. The Almavivas, and theater of the Revolution more generally, shed their former masks to emerge from the domestic crisis transformed. It is in this context that Beaumarchais’s letter in response to the Countess Alfieri can best be understood. As quoted above, Beaumarchais instructs her to admit only sensitive hearts to the reading and to keep away those “dried-up souls” and “worn out hearts” who do not know how to take pleasure in weeping over scenes of sorrow. The implication is that they will not know how to do the same in reality. As Beaumarchais writes in the Essai sur le genre dramatique sérieux: “Est-il permis d’essayer d’intéresser un peuple au théâtre, et de faire couler ses larmes sur un évènement tel qu’en le supposant véritable et passé sous ses yeux entre des citoyens, il ne manqueroit jamais de produire cet effet sur lui? Car tel est l’objet du genre honnête et sérieux.”100 He envisions spectators as “a people” Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p.  672 (Act V, scene viii). Like Almaviva and Figaro, Beaumarchais was also older in 1790 (though by five not twenty years), and he had suffered for his involvement in politics. 98 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 666 (Act V, scenes v–vi). 99 As Jeffrey Leichman has perceptively argued, the Almavivas in effect become actors (“La Précaution Utile: Jeux, Masques, et Révolution dans La Mère coupable de Beaumarchais,” ASECS Roundtable on “What you Must Know about the French Revolution,” Vancouver, 17 March 2011). The removal of Bégearss is thus associated not only with the removal of hypocrisy and corruption, but theatricality and politics as well, which are closely linked with Bégearss throughout the play. 100 Beaumarchais, Œuvres, p. 123. 97


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

witnessing an event that has the power to produce the same effect on them were it to occur among “citizens” in real life. Tears are the privileged sign of membership in this community and the basis of the sympathetic dynamic by which crying in the theater serves to expand and foster virtue in real life. For Beaumarchais, as for Diderot who inspired him, the sharing of tears was crucial to the functioning of sentimental aesthetics, and the source of its social benefit.101 Thus when he draws a clear distinction in his letter to the Countess Alfieri between those who are only good for “talking revolution” and those who know how to weep together over the misfortunes of others, Beaumarchais identifies a dichotomy between the Revolution of political discourse (“talk”) and the Revolution of sincere feeling and social communion. These, of course, are the duelling claims explored in the play as well. The retreat of the salon and the community of sensitive hearts it offers provides an alternative to the world of those who only “talk” Revolution; that is, of the plotters and intriguers who, like Bégearss, are motivated more by self-interest than love of country and compatriots. The rhetoric of his letter to the Countess thus not only forecasts the form and content of his drama but also expands it into the realm of real-world relations. The private sphere offered a retreat and refuge from the world of politics, but it also became a site of resistance and opposition, a model for the larger community, la nation sensible. La Mère coupable had a modest success when it was first performed at the Théâtre du Marais in June 1792, but it went on to overwhelming acclaim and popularity when it was reprised five years later. According to Le Censeur dramatique, performances of the play in 1797 “ont constamment attiré la foule” while the author “a joui d’une grande célébrité.”102 The play’s themes and subject resonated more strongly with post-thermidorian audiences who were increasingly drawn to the drames bourgeois of Iffland and Kotzebue and the sentimental comedies and melodramas of Pixerécourt in the last years of the decade.103 “De tous les auteurs dramatiques vivants,” wrote the Censeur dramatique, “M. de Beaumarchais est presque seul qui, sous plus d’un rapport, ait trouvé le secret de la pierre philosophale.”104 The play was evidence of Beaumarchais’s continued alchemical powers to garner an avid public by turning dramatic dross into theatrical gold, as the reviewer suggests. It was only at the end of the nineteenth century that 101 In his Eloge de Richardson (1762), Diderot wrote: “Venez, nous pleurerons ensemble sur les personnages malheureux de ces fictions, et nous disons: ‘si le sort nous accable, du moins les honnêtes gens pleureront aussi sur nous’” (Diderot, Œuvres esthétiques, p. 33). He imagines a community of sympathetic readers who shed tears, not only over the “unfortunates in [Richardson’s] fiction,” but over each other in their own misfortunes, when they become the spectacle of suffering to the others’ gaze. 102 Le Censeur dramatique, no. 2 (6 septembre 1797), pp. 111–21. 103 Jacqueline Razgonnikoff, “La comédie de mœurs: de la morale facile à la morale bourgeoise dans le répertoire des théâtres officiels,” in Le Théâtre sous la Révolution: politique du répertoire (1789–1799), ed. Martial Poirson (Paris: Desjonquères, 2008), pp. 125–39. 104 Le Censeur dramatique, N° 2 (6 septembre 1797), pp. 111–21. It was performed frequently until 1850.

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


the play began to lose favor with the public and with critics for its overwrought emotions and sentimental style. Most notable among these reactions was Charles Augustin Saint-Beuve’s comment in the Causeries du lundi (1851–1862): “L’œuvre dramatique de Beaumarchais se compose uniquement de deux pièces, Le Barbier et Le Mariage; le reste est si fort au-dessous de lui qu’il n’en faudrait même point parler pour son honneur.”105 Everything “below,” not incidentally, belongs to the sentimental drame. La Mère coupable may not be a masterpiece on par with Beaumarchais’s witty comedies according to modern aesthetic criteria, but it is precisely the play’s sentimentality that made it revolutionary. The inequalities and prejudices that produced the social tensions and ridicule of classic comedy were disappearing with the new order after 1789. Comedy as a result needed to be reborn in a more democratic, philosophical, and moral mode. Beaumarchais recuperated and rehabilitated the intrigue of comedy by combining it with the moral potential of the drame, and he thereby created with La Mère coupable a new hybrid form of “comédie d’intrigue.” Despite the disparaging assessment of later generations, for audiences during the Revolution and the half century that followed, Beaumarchais had spun gold again. Opéra-comique, drame-lyrique, and ballet: Le Déserteur (1769, 1786) [R]ien n’attendrit plus que les sons: toujours d’accord avec nos nerfs, quand ils sont eux-mêmes tendus à leur juste portion, il est impossible que tout ce qui a vie [...] se refuse au plaisir d’entendre une douce succession de sons; et, nous le savons, le plaisir autant que la peine fait couler nos larmes. —André Grétry, Mémoires, ou, Essai sur la musique106

A “musical revolution” had begun in the middle of the eighteenth century as audiences warmed to the new and emerging genre of the comic opera. Whereas classical opera remained wedded to mythological and tragic subjects, the comic opera—like the novel and the drame—turned to scenes of everyday life. Although comic operas drew upon all the comedic genres, from light comedy to the comédie larmoyante, after 1760 most were distinguished by their sensibilité. As Pierre Frantz asserts: “Les succès de l’opéra-comique sont avant tout des succès de sensibilité.”107 Capitalizing on the public’s appetite for sentiment and song, playwrights during the Revolution teamed with composers to create new musical works or to adapt existing works to popular musical form. For example, the 14 and 21 June; qtd. in Didier, Beaumarchais, ou, La passion du drame, p. 8. André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry, “Des larmes,” in Mémoires, ou, Essai sur la musique,

105 106

3 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie de la République, an V [1797]; repr. New York: Da Capo, 1971), vol 2, p. 273. 107 Pierre Frantz and Sophie Marchand, Le théâtre français du XVIIIe siècle: histoire, textes choisis, mises en scène (Paris: L’avant-scène théâtre, 2009), p.  406. According to Beatrice Hyslop, “all productions of that era combined music, song, and spoken parts” (“Theater during a Crisis,” p. 355). As Marc Régaldo maintains, the comic opera is where “le drame triomphe vraiment” during the Revolution (“La période révolutionnaire,” p. 423).


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

playwright Jean-Michel Sedaine, best known for his acclaimed bourgeois drama Le Philosophe sans le savoir (1765), worked with the composer Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny on a number of successful comic operas but he also adapted Antoine Lemierre’s patriotic tragedy, Guillaume Tell (1766), into an immensely popular drame lyrique. As Sedaine explains: “J’avois, en 1790, fait le drame de Guillaume Tell pour être accompagné de musique, ce genre ayant pris une faveur singulière.”108 Sedaine’s sentimental version of Guillaume Tell, with music by André Grétry, nearly tripled the original tragedy in number of performances during the Revolution (129 compared with 50) despite the fact that Lemierre’s republican play was one of the works required by government decree to be performed three times a week at select theaters. This vogue for turning successful dramas and tragedies into more successful comic operas, ballets, and drames-lyriques was spoofed in a scene from Victor Jouy’s comedy, Comment faire, ou les Epreuves de misanthropie et repentir (1798), itself a translation and adaptation of a popular bourgeois drama by August von Kotzebue, when one of the characters self-reflexively describes how the other theaters are “jaloux de la vogue que nous donne Misanthropie et Repentir [by Kotzebue]” and are planning to offer imitations of it: Déjà chaque auteur dramatique Veux nous emprunter ce sujet: L’un pour un opéra comique, L’autre pour en faire un ballet.109

The scene conveys the fierce competition for audiences that existed among playhouses, and the speed with which hits were transformed with song and dance and staged at rival theaters. Such examples also remind us that many of the bestselling playwrights of the Revolution, like Barré and Marsollier, were the writing half of a successful playwright-composer collaborative team (with Radet and Dalayrac respectively).110 Jacqueline Letzter has further shown recently that 108 Qtd. in David Charlton, “Sedaine’s Prefaces: Pretexts for a New Musical Drama,” in Michel-Jean Sedaine, p. 269. Guillaume Tell by Sedaine with music by André Grétry (1791). The tragedy, by Antoine Lemierre, had been revived in August 1790 in the patriotic afterglow of the Festival of Federation, and explains the timing of Sedaine’s adaptation which was published with a 52-line poem, “Hommage aux mânes de Lemierre.” 109 Michel Dieulafoye Jouy and Charles de Longchamps, Comment faire, ou les Epreuves de misanthropie et de repentir (Paris, 1798) (scene xiii, p. 31). [TCFD] 110 Barré and Marsollier were the fourth and thirteenth most successful playwrights of the decade respectively. New work on opera and songs of the era has brought greater attention to the role of music in theater of the Revolution. See, for example, James H. Johnson, Listening in Paris: A Cultural History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Victoria Johnson, Backstage at the Revolution: How the Royal Paris Opera Survived the End of the Old Regime (Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 2008); Jacqueline Letzter and Robert Adelson, Women Writing Opera: Creativity and Controversy in the Age of the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); and Laura Mason, Singing the French Revolution: Popular Culture and Politics, 1787–1799 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996).

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


several women writers were able to achieve popular success during the Revolution with musical dramas largely because the sentimental and domestic themes, considered appropriate to their sex, suited popular tastes and found a receptive audience.111 For example, Julie Candeille’s Catherine, ou la Belle fermière (for which she wrote the libretto and music) and Constance de Salm’s libretto for Sapho (music by J.P.E. Martini) were among the top ten most-performed works in 1793 and 1795 respectively. As Marc Régaldo points out, the comic opera is where “le drame triomphe vraiment” during the Revolution. “De proche en proche,” he states, “l’esprit du drame en vient à envahir les genres qui lui semblent le plus étrangers. Il s’inscrive même dans le ballet.”112 One of the notable examples of this “invasion” of the sentimental drame into a variety of genres during the Revolution is the comic opera, Le Déserteur (1769), by Sedaine and Monsigny, which was later adapted into a ballet d’action by Maximilien Gardel in 1786 that became one of the bestsellers of the Revolution. Sedaine was not only one of the most popular writers of comic operas during the Revolution but also had played a seminal role in the evolution of the drame into the opéra-comique in the latter half of the eighteenth century. After writing several successful comedies that contributed greatly to the genre’s development toward social and moral seriousness, he turned his talents in the last decade of the Ancien Régime to the comic opera, collaborating mainly with André Grétry on a number of exceedingly successful works adapted from his own and other playwrights’ dramas (Grétry in fact approached Beaumarchais with the proposal to turn La Mère coupable into a comic opera).113 Le Déserteur was one of Sedaine’s most successful plays both before and during the Revolution. This “drame lyrique avec dialogue en prose,” as it is labelled, tells the story of the young soldier Alexis and his fiancée Louise whose wedding plans are interrupted when Alexis is wrongly arrested for desertion from the king’s army after a harmless prank goes awry.114 As Alexis awaits execution in jail, Louise rushes to the king’s camp to beg a pardon for him. It is granted in the nick of time, and the play ends with a reconciliation of the young lovers. Audiences were strongly affected by the play when it was first performed, leading some to claim that Sedaine had heralded a 111 Jacqueline Letzter, “Making a Spectacle of Oneself: French Revolutionary Opera by Women,” Cambridge Opera Journal, vol. 11.3 (Nov. 1999), pp. 215–32. 112 Régaldo, “La période révolutionnaire,” pp. 418 and 426–7. 113 Sedaine was the twenty-first most performed author of the Revolution. Darius Milhaud composed an operatic adaptation of La Mère coupable in 1966, and John Corigliano (music) and William M. Hoffman (libretto) based their 1980 opera The Ghosts of Versailles on Beaumarchais’s drame. 114 The play opens on a country scene near the frontier. Louise’s father decides to play a practical joke on Alexis, a soldier in the king’s army, by pretending that Louise has married her cousin Bertrand instead. Believing it to be true, Alexis becomes so distraught that he drops his gear and in a state of utter distraction wanders in the direction of the frontier. He is captured by guards who charge him with desertion. Louise runs to tell him the truth but arrives too late, only to see Alexis taken away by the guards.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

new genre with his unique blend of music, pathos, and dramatic action.115 Mme du Deffand, for example, described the play’s effect on her in a letter to Voltaire: “ce Sedaine a un genre qui fait grand effet. Il a trouvé de nouvelles cordes pour exploiter la sensibilité: il va droit au cœur.”116 The young Mme de Genlis also saw Le Déserteur in 1769 and described her reactions in much the same terms. “Le drame est de l’invraisemblance la plus extravagante (ce qui est vrai pour la donnée première), mais il offre des détails touchants et des scènes du plus grand effet. J’allai à la première représentation et j’avoue que j’y versai des torrents de larmes.”117 Both spectators emphasize the great emotional effect Sedaine achieved with his innovations.118 Genlis in particular describes the way her heart and head were divided in reaction to the dramatic action: she recognized that the play’s premise was “extravagant[ly]” implausible, yet she wept “torrents of tears” just the same. The drame’s touching scenes move her emotionally and physically (to tears) in a way that is independent of, and even in contradiction to, her rational judgment. Mme du Deffand similarly notes the way Sedaine was able to cut “straight to the heart (il va droit au cœur)” and thus bypass the head altogether. Whereas comedy and tragedy appeal to our reason and judgment—we are moved to laughter or to pity and terror by the comic or tragic dilemmas the characters face—sentimental works circumvent reason to pull at the heartstrings directly. Diderot famously explored this phenomenon in his description of reading Samuel Richardson’s sentimental novels: “[A]faissé de douleur ou transporté de joie, vous n’aurez plus la force de retenir vos larmes prêtes à couler, et de vous dire à vous-même: Mais peut-être que cela n’est pas vrai.’”119 The sentimental text acts upon readers and spectators in a way that precludes the mind from questioning its truth. This is particularly true of the drame, which stimulates sensibility by placing the spectator and his or her emotional response at the center of the theatrical experience, an effect heightened 115 Le Déserteur not only blended the drame with music, it also broke decorum by mixing elements of humor and pathos, particularly in the second act when Alexis’s affecting dilemma is juxtaposed with the comical and boisterous antics of the drunk and illiterate dragoon, Montauciel. Sedaine held progressive views on genre that reflect his strong affiliation with the ideas of the philosophes (see Mark Ledbury, “Sedaine and the Question of Genre,” Michel-Jean Sedaine, p. 26). It thus comes as little surprise that Grimm championed Sedaine’s bold intercutting of comic and pathetic scenes by comparing him to Shakespeare in the Correspondance littéraire (April 1, 1769), vol. 8, pp. 314–21. 116 Marie Anne du Deffand, letter to Voltaire of July 16, 1768, cited in Raphaëlle Legrand, “Risquer un genre nouveau en musique: l’opéra-comique de Sedaine et Monsigny,” in Michel-Jean Sedaine, p. 119. 117 Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis, qtd. by Raphaëlle Legrand in “Risquer un genre nouveau en musique: L’opéra-comique de Sedaine et Monsigny,” Michel-Jean Sedaine, p. 119. 118 Grimm also notes Sedaine’s great talent for “effet”: “Je ne connais à personne, sur les effets au théâtre, une mesure aussi sur que celle de Sedaine” (Correspondance littéraire, vol. 8, p. 320). 119 Diderot, Œuvres esthétiques, p. 35.

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


by the addition of music and song. The intended “effect” is to reconnect the viewer with the natural virtue that lies in his or her heart and thereby to clear a path to truth and reason through feeling.120 As David Denby explains, the eighteenth century assumed that “rationality can be accessed experientially and affectively, just as the constitution of reason as a historical category uses textual procedures entirely consonant with sentimental narratives.”121 That is to say, reason and sentiment were not posited as contradictory polarities in eighteenth-century cultural formations; rather, sentimentality occupied a key place in the project of the philosophes, for whom Enlightenment could be in both rationalist and emotional terms. The great success Sedaine and Monsigny had with Le Déserteur led quickly to a number of imitations: Mercier’s harrowing drame larmoyant of the same title the next year (with a tragic rather than comic ending); four translations into English; and a ballet by the choreographer and dancer Maximilien Gardel.122 During the Revolution, the theme of desertion had a particular resonance for audiences and found expression in a number of new plays that portrayed deserters sympathetically, including Boutet de Monvel’s enormously popular one-act drame entitled Philippe et Georgette (1791), about a young deserter hiding out in Paris in an attempt to avoid a fate on the scaffold (“full of all the sentimental excesses of the age,” it was the fourteenth most successful play of the decade with 201 performances).123 As George Taylor argues, the popularity of the central predicament of desertion as a recurrent plotline during the late eighteenth century suggests that it was a “faultline” story that touched political sensibilities, since it dealt with the individual as victim of the state.124 The Chronique de Paris reported the way the audience at a 1790 performance of Sedaine and Monsigny’s Le Déserteur drew a parallel to the contemporary situation in France and expressed their approbation when they joined “leurs cris avec ceux du chanteur” during a song in the third act ending with the line “vive le roi,” just as the extreme pathos of the play’s final scenes turns to cheers for the clemency and justice of the king.125

As Robert Abirached explains in La crise du personnage dans le théâtre moderne, such theater employs “un pathétique, par définition irrationnel, pour assurer le triomphe de la raison” (Paris: Grasset, 1978), p. 116. 121 Denby, Sentimental Narrative in France, p. 240. 122 See Taylor, The French Revolution and the London Stage, for the play’s many incarnations in England during the Revolution including two canine versions, pp. 30–35. 123 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 32. Mercier’s Déserteur was revived during the Revolution and had a respectable 72 performances between 1789 and 1799, compared with only a handful in the two decades prior to 1789. 124 Taylor, The French Revolution and the London Stage, p. 31. 125 La Chronique de Paris 38 (February 7, 1790), p. 151: “On a entendu avec le même enthousiasme un couplet de M. Clairval, analogue à la démarche du roi à l’assemblée nationale.” [CESAR] 120


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

Despite the popularity of the comic opera, it was Gardel’s ballet that proved the most popular version of Le Déserteur during the Revolution.126 Although it follows the comic opera scene for scene, with only very minor cuts, a reviewer in the Mercure de France found the ballet to be even more affecting than the original drame-lyrique: [C]ette Pantomime est très-intéressante, et a beaucoup réussi. Quoiqu’elle ne soit autre chose que la Pièce si connue, suivie d’un bout à l’autre, elle semble produire plus d’effet que la Pièce même; soit parce que les événemens plus rapprochés donnent à l’air une secousse plus vive; soit parce que la Pantomime, obligée, à défaut de paroles, d’exagérer l’expression, a des moyens plus puissans de nous électrifier, que le simple discours.127

The ballet seemed to amplify the pathos of the action with its greater emphasis on pantomime and visual tableaux. These elements were already part of the formal innovations associated with the drame and were employed to full effect by Sedaine in the comic opera, making the adaptation to dance relatively simple. The most affecting scenes of both the ballet and the play occur in the climax in Act Three and follow each other in rapid succession as a series of silent and touching tableaux. Alexis receives the death sentence for desertion and then sits down to write a last letter to Louise as the drumroll outside announces the entrance of the firing squad. He gives the letter to Montauciel to deliver to Louise after his death. The scene changes to the army camp where Louise begs the king for a pardon and, upon receiving it, rushes to deliver it to Alexis. Back at the prison, Alexis is brought out of his cell into the parade ground as the soldiers march into line and the officer commands him to kneel. With only seconds to go, Louise arrives with the letter of pardon, but, overcome with emotion, she passes out before she can impart the good news. Alexis sings his final farewells to her as she lies unconscious in his arms in one of the ballet’s most moving scenes (it provoked Grimm’s enthusiastic response: “Quel tableau! Je n’en connais pas d’un 126 With 192 performances during the Revolution, the ballet places thirty-first among the most performed works of the decade and was one of the greatest successes for the Opéra. Unlike the theaters where topical plays could be staged quickly to respond to the passions and events of the moment, the Opéra was a slower-moving institution. Its greatest successes were exotic, fantastical, and sentimental productions. In general, it tended to attract a more conservative public, though this would change with the emigrations. See Ivor Guest, The Ballet of the Enlightenment (London: Dance Books, 1996), pp. 285–98. 127 Mercure de France, January 26, 1788, p.  177; qtd. in Susan Leigh Foster, Choreography & Narrative: Ballet’s Staging of Story and Desire (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), p.  119. Foster argues that the ballet d’action introduced an important new understanding of the self into dance that detached the citizen’s body from religious and courtly constraints (evident in traditional ballet) such that the “motivation and facility for communication originated within each body and not in a socially constructed and politically imposed codification of conduct” (pp. 121–2). Also see Guest, The Ballet of the Enlightenment, pp. 265–6.

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


effet plus profond, plus pathétique et plus sublime”).128 When at last she awakens, the pardon is read and the ballet ends with general rejoicing. Both the comic opera and ballet of Le Déserteur thus deploy a number of sentimental conventions to tell a story that weaves domestic and patriotic themes with music and dance. Ian Germani’s recent study of military plays of the Revolution demonstrates the way that war-themed works such as Le Déserteur only gained an avid public when they combined “à la fois la sentimentalité et le patriotisme.”129 Music and song served to heighten the emotional and patriotic appeal of such plays, as, for example, in Saulnier and Duthil’s drame-lyrique Le Siège de Thionville (1793) or the popular melodrama Alexis et Rosette (1786), which Germani writes “was a revolutionary ‘remake’ of a pre-revolutionary drama, in which revolutionary songs, symbols and sentiments were grafted onto an old regime plot.”130 Thus traditional sentimental plotlines, like that of Le Déserteur, acquired newfound relevance with the times and were embellished with new songs and symbols emphasizing egalitarianism and democratic patriotism. Instead of presenting models of military heroism, they staged the real-life dilemmas of everyday citizens affected by the new circumstances of war in stories that showed love and duty as mutually dependent complements. The sensitive hero of Le Déserteur, Alexis, for example, only forgets his duty as a soldier and “deserts” from the army when he thinks he has lost the love of Louise. The emphasis on male sensitivity rather than heroism reflects the way sensibility was increasingly valued during the 1790s in both the private and public realms and was associated not only with the bourgeoisie and higher but with the people as well. Good soldiers are portrayed throughout the era as sensitive husbands and lovers fighting to secure liberty and glory for the women they love. As Suzanne Desan has argued: “Revolutionaries depicted male strength, fortitude, and even love of nation as a ‘natural’ outgrowth and corollary to love of women.”131 Gardel’s ballet remained consistently popular throughout the Revolution, with its greatest number of performances coming in 1799. Although Kennedy’s data show the genres of opéra-comique and drame as comprising only four and three percent of the overall repertory of the Revolution respectively, in fact, as we have seen above, the influence of these genres extended far beyond what the data might suggest. Not only were drames and comic operas imitated widely and adapted into other genres and arts, but they also are frequently misclassified (Candeille’s La Belle fermière, for example, is classified as a “comédie” and Sedaine’s Le In his 1769 review of the comic opera in the Correspondance littéraire, vol. 8,


p. 317.

Ian Germani, “Staging Battles: Representations of War in the Theatre and Festivals of the French Revolution,” European Review of History—Revue européenne d’Histoire 13.2 (June 2006), p. 227. 130 Germani, “Staging Battles,” p. 220. 131 Suzanne Desan, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), p. 75. 129

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


Déserteur as a “drame”) such that their fundamental musical and sentimental core is obscured. Indeed, musical genres are among the least consistently classified genres of the Revolution. But as a number of scholars are beginning to reveal, the comic opera provided some of the most engaged, enduring, and popular works of the Revolutionary decade. They abandoned the refined taste, spirit, and repartee of classic comedy for a new dramatic art built upon natural dialogue, pantomime, touching situations, pathetic tableaux, and lyrical melodies that were aimed at stirring the greatest emotional effect. In 1797, for example, Grétry, the composer and frequent collaborator with Sedaine, lauded a playwright who “sans efforts et sans exagération sait nous attendrir: celui-ci fait couler nos larmes avec délices.”132 The comic opera, to repeat Régaldo’s claim, is where the sentimental drama “truly triumphs” during the Revolution.133 Tragedy, drame historique, and fait historique: Fénelon (1793) Marie-Joseph Blaise de Chénier is the emblematic figure of the engaged revolutionary playwright. Performances of his tragedies Charles IX (1788) and Caïus Gracchus (1792) were nothing short of political events during the Revolution and are among the most discussed and anthologized plays of the era. But Chénier’s greatest success by far during the Revolution came not with a tragedy but with a drame historique entitled Fénelon, ou les religieuses de Cambrai (1793), which outperformed his most famous tragedies Charles IX and Caius Gracchus by more than double and quadruple respectively.134 Chénier labeled Fénelon a tragedy, but theatergoers and critics debated the play’s classification from its first performance. As Chénier describes in the “Discours préliminaire” published with the play, there were certain “spectateurs qui, en versant des larmes à la réprésentation de Fénelon, n’ont pas laissé que de conserver quelques doutes sur le titre de Tragédie que j’ai cru devoir donner à cet ouvrage.”135 Audiences had come to associate shedding copious tears at the theater with the genre of the drame and, having wept profusely over Fénelon, rather than recoiling with pity and terror, questioned its status as tragedy. The play’s happy ending also aligned it more with the drame historique and comédie sérieuse than with classic tragedy. In defense of his play, Chénier claimed that the problem was not with the script but with the spectators who Grétry, “Des larmes,” Mémoires: ou essai sur la musique (Paris: Imprimerie de la République, an V [1797], vol. 2, p. 273. 133 Régaldo,  “La période révolutionnaire,” p. 418. 134 Fénelon had 141, Charles IX 62, and Caius Gracchus 29 total performances from 1789 to 1799. 135 Chénier, “Discours préliminaire” to Fénelon, ou Les Religieuses de Cambrai (Paris: Chez Moutard, 1793), p. vii [TCFD]. The play was first performed on 9 February 1793 at the Richelieu, only two weeks after the execution of the king. Régaldo remarks of the play’s genre: “Tout bien considéré, le Jean Calas de Laya, le Fénelon de Chénier, ou Blanche et Montacassin resortissent autant au drame historique qu’à la tragédie” (“La période révolutionnaire,” p. 418). 132

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misunderstood the nature of tragedy (“C’est, je pense, faute d’avoir bien conçu le naturel du poème tragique”), which he then proceeds to define in the following terms: “Quand le ton est pathétique, simple et majestueux, quand les mœurs des personnages ont de la dignité, quand le but de l’auteur est constamment d’exciter les larmes, l’ouvrage est une tragédie.”136 Chénier includes here both formal conventions and emotional effects; however, it is remarkable that he invokes tears and the “pathétique” as constitutive features of the genre rather than the classical tragic responses of pity and terror.137 Consequently, Chénier offers new definitions of the other genres as well: Quand les mœurs et le ton des personnages ont de la familiarité, quand l’auteur s’est attaché à peindre les ridicules, l’ouvrage est une comédie. Quand le but de la pièce est d’exciter tantôt le rire et tantôt les pleurs, elle participe des deux genres; c’est une tragi-comédie, ou, si l’on veut, c’est un drame, puisque cette dénomination a prévalu.138

Now that tears and the “pathetic” were defining features of tragedy, Chénier reserves for the drame the single trait of being a mixed genre combining both the laughter of comedy and the tears of tragedy.139 Although many of the popular drames of the era, such as Le Déserteur, did combine comic and tragic scenes, the most successful dramas written during the Revolution, such as La Martelière’s Robert, chef des brigands (1792) and Boutet de Monvel’s Les Rigueurs du cloître, ou les Victimes cloîtrées (1791), contained nothing of “les ridicules” or the comic. According to Chénier’s new system of classification, they and other drames historiques and sombres should rather be categorized as tragedies alongside his own “larmoyant Fénelon” (as one critic deemed it).140 Chénier’s new definition of tragedy was likely a reaction not only to the prevalence of drames but also to the return of censorship in 1793. His choice to replace the convention of the dignified “rank” of the tragic characters with their dignified “mœurs,” for example, steers around the governmental ban on aristocratic Chénier, “Discours préliminaire,” pp. vii-viii. Many tragedians were similarly adapting to contemporary tastes by incorporating

136 137

elements of the drame into their works. For example, the tragedian Gabriel Legouvé describes in the preface to his tragedy, La Mort d’Abel (1792), the way he incorporated a number of sentimental conventions in order to appeal to sensibilité rather than “astonish” with coups de théâtre (Œuvres complètes de G. Legouvé, ed. Jean Nicolas Bouilly [Paris, 1826–27], vol. 1, p. 8). 138 Chénier, “Discours préliminaire.” p. viii. 139 In defense of tragedy, Chénier would later complain that the drame during the Revolution had become “un roman dialogué, un amas d’événements bizarres, d’aventures incroyables”; Œuvres de J.F. Ducis: suivies des œuvres de M.J. de Chénier (Paris: Leentu, 1839), vol. 2, p. 533. 140 Jean-Charles Laveaux, Journal de la Montagne (6 séptembre 1793); qtd. in d’Estrée, Le Théâtre sous la Terreur, p. 450.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


subjects in Year II. Tragedy was an essentially aristocratic form and though it had already begun to lose ground starting in the 1760s as society and taste began to shift, the genre’s precipitous decline after 1789 is one of the more remarkable tendencies of the Revolutionary decade. Even the new genre of tragédie nationale et patriotique, which Chénier had championed in 1789, fell prey to the changing political climate and censorship in 1793. Although Charles IX and Henri VIII were unquestionably revolutionary in spirit, because they were based upon episodes from France’s monarchical past, they were barred from performance during the Jacobin reign and subsequently fell out of the repertory. Chénier adapted to the new legislation by culling subjects and inspiration from other sources, such as Roman history for Timoléon (1796) and Church history for Fénelon. Based on the terms of his new definition of tragedy, Chénier is able to argue that the moral stature of the protagonist in the latter, the seventeenth-century archbishop François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, qualifies his play as a tragedy. In choosing Fénelon as his subject, Chénier was also undoubtedly capitalizing on the wildly popular new genre of “convent drama” first introduced in Paris in 1790. Religious settings and anti-clericalism came to feature in many of the early ideological and political plays of the Revolution as the misuse of convents and enforced celibacy came to embody the complicity between royal justice, the Church, and the aristocratic family system of paternal authority which acted against individual happiness.141 While comedic pièces monacales depicted satirical, lewd, and enthusiastically pro-revolutionary views on religious issues, the convent dramas presented dark, gothic settings and lugubrious scenes to dramatize the struggle between corrupt and unnatural institutions (tyrannical monks and patriarchs) and the liberty and happiness of individuals (victimized lovers, separated parents and children, disenfranchised second sons). Inspired by British gothic novels, French romans noirs, and German Sturm und Drang theater, these drames sombres were extravagant proto-melodramas of extraordinary villainy and persecution set in dark cloisters and subterranean vaults, taking the drame into new territory beyond its original familiar and realistic domestic settings. The most famous of these was Monvel’s Les Victimes cloîtrées (1791), in which the “embastillées” inmates of a convent are liberated in the end by gendarmes enforcing the National Assembly’s A reformed curé in Olympe de Gouge’s 1790 drama, Le Couvent ou les vœux forcés, for example, declares “Songez que le droit de se choisir librement une place dans la société appartient, par la nature, à tout être pensant, et que le premier de tous les devoirs est d’être utile” (Act I, scene ii). She wrote another play, Le Prélat d’autrefois, on the theme coattributed to her and Pompigny (published and performed posthumously). A writer in the Mercure de France commented in 1791 on the irony that the taste for convent dramas appeared only after monasteries ceased to exist: “À peine la liberté de la presse et du théâtre, s’est-elle établie à côté de la liberté politique, que les moines et les religieuses ont été un des premiers objets dont s’est emparée la foule des écrivains [...] Tous les théâtres représentèrent des couvents dès que les vœux furent défendus, et nos poètes attaquèrent les grilles quand la loi les eut ouvertes”; Mercure de France (24 déc. 1791); qtd. in Edmond Estève, Études de littérature préromantique (Geneva: Slatkine, 1976), p. 86. 141

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newly-passed decree abolishing religious institutions, itself a joyful repetition of the liberation of the Bastille. Monvel’s drama inspired a multitude of imitators and has been widely edited and analyzed ever since.142 Like the convent dramas, Chénier’s play similarly concerns the tyranny and corruption of fathers and priests who lock away virtuous and sensitive girls, women, and disenfranchised sons in the dark recesses of the cloister. The plot of Fénelon follows the trials and tribulations of the young orphan Amélie, who is pressured to take religious vows in the convent in which she was raised. Her mother, Héloïse, whom all believe to be dead, has been imprisoned by her father in a subterranean vault of the convent for the last fifteen years after she secretly married the poor but virtuous d’Elmance and bore him a child, Amélie. D’Elmance meanwhile has returned to the area as a soldier, but believing both mother and child to be dead, does not make inquiries. However, once the good Fénelon learns of this injustice, he rescues Héloïse and reunites her with her daughter and husband. The family is made whole again and Héloïse reflects: “Dieu créa les mortels pour s’aimer, pour s’unir: / Ces cloîtres, ces cachots ne sont point son ouvrage; / Dieu fit la liberté, l’homme a fait l’esclavage.”143 Fénelon then ends the play with this injunction to parents: “Pères, de vos enfans ne forcez point les vœux: / Le ciel vous les donna; mais pour les rendre heureux.”144 Although virulently anti-clerical, Fénelon’s larger message is one of basic rights and humanity. As Chénier states in the preface, his aim was “faire entendre au théâtre cette voix de l’humanité qui rentit toujours dans le cœur des hommes rassemblés.”145 The play maintains a revolutionary message—anti-patriarchal, pro-liberty—but in a moralizing and tearful form, and with a happy rather than tragic ending that found a warmer reception with audiences than the stark lessons of national history or Roman virtues. Part of its greater popularity might lie in the fact that the romanesque subject matter and form had more appeal for female viewers. Many of the Roman plays written and performed during the Revolution included few if any female characters, while the convent dramas featured women prominently (Pierre Laujon boasted of his play, Le Couvent, ou les fruits du caractère et de l’éducation [1790], that it was the first in French theater to have a female-only cast).146 George Taylor has suggested that the play’s themes of incarceration and disempowerment by an

See Monvel, Les Victimes cloîtrées, ed. Sophie Marchand (London: MHRA, 2011); Louis Moland, Théâtre de la Révolution. 143 Chénier, Fénelon, p. 71 (Act 4, scene 3). [TCFD] 144 Chénier, Fénelon, p. 74 (Act 5, scene 1). [TCFD] 145 Chénier, “Discours préliminaire,” p. iv. 146 Le Couvent premiered on 16 April 1790 at the Théâtre de la Nation. The first play to present religious vestments, cloisters, confessionals, and the grills and galleries of convents on stage was the pantomime, Dorothée, by Arnauld; Le Couvent by Laujon was the second. 142

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


all-powerful patriarchy likely spoke to the lived experience of women in marriage and society of the time.147 Similar as Chénier’s play is to the popular convent dramas of the day, Fénelon also differs from them in significant ways. Whereas the former are set in contemporary France and make regular allusions to current political events, Fénelon takes place in the historical past of the reign of Louis XIV, thus placing it firmly in the category of the drame historique. The latter, a sentimental genre invented by Louis-Sébastien Mercier (La Maison de Molière [1787] and Montesquieu à Marseille [1784]), gained new relevance after 1789, also developing into the popular fait historique.148 The eponymous hero of Chénier’s drama is the historical figure, Fénelon, archbishop and preceptor to the grandson of the king whose progressive ideas had gotten him banished from the court and Church. Such punishment for his forward-thinking views made Fénelon a forefather of the philosophes, and it is on these grounds that Chénier defends his choice of Ancien Régime subject matter in the preface; there he calls Fénelon a “philosophe et patriote” and cites the latter’s pedagogical novel, Les Aventures de Télémaque (1699), as proof of “la haine que l’auteur portait aux tyrans et de son amour pour la liberté” (Fénelon’s novel inspired another of the most successful works performed during the Revolutionary years, Gardel’s ballet Télémaque dans l’île de Calypso [1790]).149 The ultra-revolutionary press, however, denounced Fénelon because it “présente le poison le plus subtil” in its depiction of an Ancien Régime prelate. “Fénelon pouvait avoir des vertus et en avait sans doute, mais Fénelon était un courtesan!” wrote Laveaux, the editor of the Journal de la Montagne.150 Accusations of moderatism in the press (especially since Chénier pointedly critiqued Marat in the “Discours préliminaire”) did not, however, stop audiences from attending the play. On the contrary, Fénelon proved to be the most Taylor, The French Revolution and the London Stage, p. 215. The freedoms the play proclaimed for individuals were also associated with the recently won liberties of the stage, which allowed the depiction of Church figures, settings, and subjects on stage for the first time. Several plays banned for their convent settings during the Ancien Régime were performed for the first time in Paris during the Revolution, among them DuboisFontanelle’s Éricie, ou la vestale (1768), La Harpe’s Mélanie, ou la religieuse (1772), and Baculard d’Arnaud’s Euphémie, ou la Triomphe de la religion (1768). 148 The fait historique is another new form in which sentimentality flourished, epitomized in the phenomenon of the Cange story and the eight plays it inspired. For a discussion, see 1789: French Art during the Revolution, ed. Alan Wintermute (New York: Colnaghi, 1989), pp. 251–7. Although usually a dramatization of current events, some faitshistorique also depicted events from the recent past. Examples include Mirabeau à son lit de mort (1791), Mirabeau aux Champs Elysées (1791), Jean-Jacques Rousseau à ses derniers moments (1790), Marat dans son souterrain (1793), La Mort de Marat (1794), and L’Apothéose de jeune Barra (1794). 149 Chénier, “Discours préliminaire,” pp. iv and vi. Grétry writes in his Mémoires, “tel qu’un autre Fénélon, [Voltaire] subit tranquillement l’arrêt qui l’exile pour avoir dit la vérité” (vol. 2, p. 327). 150 Cited in d’Estrée, Le Théâtre sous la Terreur, pp. 449–50. 147

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performed convent drama of the French Revolution, more popular even than Les Victimes cloîtrées, which it surpassed in performances by a third (141 to Monvel’s 109). Fénelon was hailed as the outstanding play of the year in 1793 and gained consistently in popularity until the end of the decade.151 In response to doubts voiced about the play’s genre, and perhaps anxious to secure his legacy as the tragedian of the Revolution, Chénier offered in the preface a new definition of tragedy that could accommodate his play by appropriating to the genre a number of the stock elements of the drame. However, Fénelon’s subject matter, intérêt, lachrymose effect, and happy ending have more in common with the historical dramas and proto-melodramas of the day than with his own earlier Roman and national tragedies. This is to say that the leading tragedian of the Revolution had his greatest success and reached his widest audience during the 1790s with a sentimental and weepy drame. Comédie gaie et sensible: Les Deux petits savoyards (1789) The Théâtre-Italien closed its doors from 13 to 20 July 1789, as events leading up to and after the fall of the Bastille shook all of Paris. When the theater reopened on the evening of 21 July, it offered two one-act comedies by Marsollier des Vivetières: Les Deux petits savoyards (1789) and Nina, ou la folle par amour (1786).152 Both works had been warmly received by the public when they premiered and were regularly performed by the Italiens. The appeal of Nina in particular, with its sentimental story from a fait divers about love so strong it drives the heroine insane (the play, based on a short story by the sentimental novelist, Baculard d’Arnaud, inspired three new volumes of stories on the theme the same year), led Grimm to predict that “le succès de Nina égalera peut-être celui du Mariage de Figaro.”153 Marvin Carlson, The Theatre of the French Revolution, p. 151. Nina, ou la folle par amour was first performed on 15 May 1786 at the Théâtre

151 152

Italien. The play is listed as a comedy by Kennedy and Netter, but because of the music by Dalayrac, is often considered an opera or comic opera. The Affiches advertised it as an “opéra” (no. 12, 22 mars 1789) and the Correspondance littéraire as a “drame [...] si touchant” (vol. 14, p. 403). The play was also adapted into an Italian opera by Giovanni Paisiello entitled Nina, osia la pazza d’amore (Nina or the Lovesick Girl) which premiered in Paris on 3 September 1791. For a discussion of the events surrounding the Paris premiere of the opera Nina, see Michael E. McClellan, “The Italian Menace: Opera Buffa in Revolutionary France,” Eighteenth-Century Music, vol. 1.2 (2004): 249–63. 153 Correspondance littéraire, vol. 14, p. 403. Grimm lauded the play for “les larmes qu’il fait répandre” and Mme Dugazon for her moving performance as Nina (“jamais on n’a déployé une sensibilité plus exquise et plus profonde”) (pp. 402–3). The volumes of short stories the play inspired were entitled Nouvelles Folies sentimentales and Les Folies sentimentales, ou les Égarements de l’esprit par le cœur (published by Royez, 1786). According to Grimm, “La peinture d’un sentiment exalté jusqu’à la folie est bien plus digne d’un siècle qui semble avoir mis sa gloire à être de tous les siècles le plus sensible” (vol. 14, pp. 381–2).

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


Grimm was almost right. Nina was a resounding hit during the Revolution, but it was Marsollier’s other play, Les Deux petits savoyards, that would prove the greatest success of the three: it not only equaled in number the performances of Le Mariage de Figaro during the Revolution, it surpassed them by nearly half and doubled the number of performances of Nina.154 The popularity of Les Deux petits savoyards is easy to understand given the play’s charming story and humor, as well as its thematic relevance to the new circumstances after July 1789. The plot, already described in brief above, is simple. Michel and Joset are poor brothers from Savoie who come to France to earn some money at a local fair by selling croquets, playing a triangle, and showing their pet marmot. The bailiff, however, is wary of foreigners and thieves and denies the boys entrance. Undaunted, Michel and Joset argue their way around the bailiff and pique the interest of the local seigneur, the Marquis de Verseuil, who is charmed by their tenacity and good humor. The Marquis, we learn, is also from Savoie and was not born noble but, rather, earned his wealth and title after working for his country in America. Upon returning to Europe he hoped to share his fortune with his brother, but sadly learns that his sibling has since died. Benevolent and sensitive, the Marquis is moved by the boys’ poverty and the fact they too have lost a family member (their father), and he orders his valet to prepare rooms for them at his chateau. “[T]ous les pauvres sont mes enfans,” he says, expressing his concern not just for the people of his village but for all the unfortunates he encounters.155 True to his words, he intends to share a portion of his estate with the Savoyard boys, but only after first putting them to a test: Verseuil offers each boy a fortune in money and property on the condition that he abandon his brother and mother. When both refuse, he tries a firmer tactic and has them locked up in separate cells in the castle. However, the resourceful brothers cannot be kept down, literally: they scramble up the chimney to communicate a plan of escape. Once free, however, they are caught by the bailiff who suspects them of stealing a portrait from the Marquis. Joset explains that the miniature found on him is a likeness of their father, the only item they have by which to remember him. The Marquis immediately recognizes his own brother in the image, and in a tearful reunion he embraces his nephews. Overjoyed to have found his family at last, the Marquis is happier still to find they are worthy of reward: “Vous êtes dignes de mes bienfaits, puisque vous les avez sacrifiés à la nature.”156 As the villagers gather According to Kennedy’s data, between 1789 and 1799 Nina had 112 performances, Figaro 150, and Savoyards 218. By 1793, an estimated 104,000 people had viewed the play (Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 34). Marsollier went on to be the thirteenth most successful playwright of the Revolution, Beaumarchais the twenty-fifth. Of course, the fact that Figaro was a five-act play and Savoyards only one act contributes to the higher number for the latter, which could accompany other offerings on a given night. I am not considering here the pre-Revolutionary performances. Le Barbier was the most popular of Beaumarchais’s plays from 1789 to 1799 with 313 performances. 155 Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards, p. 24. 156 Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards, p. 40. 154

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


to recognize the boys, the Marquis says to the brothers, “Vous avez ce qui les honore tous ... la vertu. Je vous formerai au monde, à la vie que vous aller mener”; their first lesson is “ne méprisez jamais vos pauvres parens.”157 In the final scene, the Marquis gives Michel the honor of meting out dowries to the young girls of the village, and the play ends with a general celebration. Much of the play’s enormous success must be attributed to the performances (“comme elle a été jouée!” enthused the Affiches).158 The glowing reviews all mention the “gaité” brought to the roles of Michel and Joset by the two actresses, Madame St Aubin and Mademoiselle Renaud, who played the parts. An illustration of scene iv, in which the boys perform a Savoyard song and dance, is dedicated to the actresses by the artist (Figure 1.1). But the timely subject matter and engaging form of the play also contributed significantly to its success. The Correspondance littéraire, for example, remarked on the novelty of Les Deux petits savoyards, which it described as, “ce petit drame d’un genre et d’un intérêt aussi neuf qu’attachant.”159 The Journal de Paris also mentioned the form and emotional appeal of the play, lauding the “gaité” of the brothers but adding that “la gaité qui l’assaisone ne nuit point à l’intérêt, à l’expression du sentiment.”160 The light humor of the comedy, in other words, did not detract from the play’s fundamental sentimentality; that is, its ability to engage the audience’s “interest” and tears for the characters and their dilemmas. This blending of comic and pathetic effects, of the comédie gaie and the comédie sensible, is further reflected in the action of the play itself through the dynamic of laughter and tears on stage. While the early scenes encourage a broadly comic response, particularly as the bailiff becomes the butt of ridicule, the audience becomes progressively aware, through the presence of the Marquis, of laughter’s moral limits. These two conflicting spectatorial modes, of comic laughter and sensitive tears, come to be embodied on stage in the characters of the bailiff and the Marquis respectively. This dynamic is particularly apparent in the engraving mentioned above in which the seated Marquis watches the boys’ impromptu performance of a chanson savoyarde. The standing figure (possibly the bailiff) looks on dispassionately, his body turned from the performers as if ready to leave. By contrast, the obvious interest the Marquis takes in the performance is a sympathetic one. He is touched by their song, which reminds him of the homeland and family he has left behind. Michel notices Verseuil’s great emotion after the song ends and asks him, “Vous avez été dans not’ pays, Monsieur?” to which Verseuil replies, “(avec emotion) Oui, oui, j’y ai été, je ne l’oublie point.”161 The song stirs his love of country and family, as well as his growing fondness for the simplicity and good nature of these two compatriots. He Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards, pp. 40–41. Affiches, annonces et avis divers ou Journal de la Basse-Normandie, Supplément

157 158

au no. 12 (22 mars 1789). 159 Correspondance littéraire, vol. 14, p. 259. 160 Le Journal de Paris, no. 15 (15 janvier 1789), p. 67. CESAR. 161 Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards, p. 12.


Fig. 1.1

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

The Marquis watches Michel and Joset perform a chanson savoyarde (scene iv). Les Petits savoyards: “Eh! Comment, d’Jannetto, tu n’douvines pas?” A Mesdames St Aubin & Renaud. Engraving by Augustin Claude Simon Legrand after the illustration by Jean Frédéric Schall. Paris: chez Augustin Legrand, 1789. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Collection Michel Hennin.

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


is a sympathetic and ideal spectator whose interest in the performance translates into interest for the children’s well-being. By contrast, the bailiff is suspicious and prejudiced. Convinced that the boys are there to steal, he excludes them from the fair. His lack of sympathy translates into lack of charity in the play when he questions the Marquis’s decision to provide Michel and Joset with shelter for the night, out of fear that they will steal from him. To this the Marquis replies: Mon cher Bailli, j’ai pu y être pris dix fois, vingt fois; je le serai peut-être encore, c’est un malheur; mais si un jour enfin, un seul jour, le Ciel me sert assez pour me faire rencontrer une famille honnête à secourir, un véritable pauvre à soulager, sera-ce à moi de me plaindre? Et n’aurai-je pas encore assez bien placé mon argent?162

Whereas the bailiff sees only thieves and “hypocrites,” the Marquis sees a poor and honest family in need (“honnêtes gens, laborieux, fidèles”) and embraces the opportunity to be charitable.163 He responds to the boys with pleasure and laughter, for their humor and cleverness are a large part of their charm. But he also responds with sympathy, and later with tears, marking the movement from sympathy for individual need and suffering toward the universal goal of humanitarian action and benevolence. Savoyards were a familiar sight in Paris as poor chimney sweeps and beggars and were popular stock characters in the theater. In the Tableau de Paris (1781–1788), Mercier describes their reputation for honesty, filial loyalty, and love of country.164 Emmet Kennedy notes the way that “[c]ommiseration for these poor tramps and delight in their good fortune were highly cherished emotions in this period of universal brotherhood” and contributed to the early popularity of Les Deux petits savoyards.165 In terms of the play’s political significance, Kennedy links it with other village comedies of the Revolution for the way it expresses mutual devotion between the seigneur and villagers: The seigneur is the villagers’ father, the representative of the king, and ultimately of God. Village conflicts, marriages, and money pass through him. In all of these plays we have a certain cult of helplessness on the part of the lowly, who receive benevolence from above. One is still speaking the language of grace and gifts rather than of rights and revolution.166

Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards, p. 13. Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards, p. 11. 164 Mercier, “Savoyards,” Tableau de Paris (Paris: La découverte, 1998), pp. 142–4. 162 163

“[I]ls se distinguent toujours par l’amour de leur patrie et de leurs parents” (p. 142). He also notes their strict code of ethics that if one of them was found to have committed a theft, the “conféderation” of chimney sweeps exacted swift justice according to their own laws (p. 141). 165 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 23. 166 Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 32.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


Undoubtedly, the play dramatizes the largesse of the Marquis, whose benevolence trickles down the social chain through a gift economy. At first blush, therefore, it would seem as though Marsollier’s play shares with pastoral comedies such as La Dot (1785) and Blaise et Babet (1783) the reinforcement of a deference culture in which all authority and power reside in the seigneur; or that, like such popular works as Le Réveil du charbonnier (1788) or Victor, ou l’enfant de la forêt (1798), it repeats the common family romance plot in which poor orphans are discovered to be noble by birth. However, the Deux petits savoyards breaks the mold on both counts. Firstly, although the seigneur, Verseuil, does figure in the conflict between the bailiff and the boys, and is the source of wealth in the play, these actions (and his status as seigneur) are mitigated by the fact that the Marquis was not born an aristocrat. He earned his wealth and rank through service to his country and therefore represents an eighteenth-century example of the self-made man rather than a landed aristocrat by inheritance. He is noble by virtue of merit, not birth, and continually praises the hard work, industry, and resourcefulness of the Savoyard boys, as well as their virtue and cheerfulness in the face of abject poverty. Thus the Marquis’s role as “grand seigneur” is complicated by his also being a commoner. The boys’ elevation to nobility offers a pleasurable wish fulfillment but does not reflect a conservative restoration of nobles to their rightful rank, or an affirmation of a feudal social order in which virtue and title are conjoined. Rather, the play— particularly in the new context of Revolution following July 1789—represented what all might achieve given equal opportunity and hard work. The distinctions of rank, upon which the comic and tragic genres are based, no longer apply in the new order represented by sentimental comedy. Secondly, money in the play only passes through the Marquis indirectly through the intermediary presence of the boys. In the last scenes, Verseuil has them enact their new roles through examples of largesse. However, this spectacle of benevolence is not between unequal groups (i.e., between seigneur and villagers) but between equals: between Michel and the townspeople. When he doles out dowries to the local girls, he uses the very loterie with which he and his brother formerly made their living at fairs. The flow of money through them is thus business as usual. As they tell the Marquis earlier in the play, all the money they earn from their loterie, croquets, and pet marmot goes to their mother. It is through them, and their modes, that money circulates in the play from the people to the people.167 Such a celebration of liberty, equality, and fraternity in Les Deux petits savoyards replicates the emotions and celebrations in the early years of the Revolution. Audiences could feel compassion for the boys’ poverty as well as rejoice with their good fortune, which was in effect their own good fortune in the new France in which not only the poor, children, and foreigners, but all the disenfranchised were Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards, scene II, p. 6. Netter notes that in most plays of the Revolution aristocrats are presented as generous, whereas intermediaries (“little bosses”) like the bailiff are shown to abuse authority and power; Kennedy, et al., Theatre, Opera, and Audiences, p. 39. 167

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


now demanding rights, and aristocrats were sacrificing privileges and titles to become citizens and equals with their compatriots. The Marquis shares his wealth with the community but also with the younger generation, which symbolizes a passing of the patrimoine to a new virtuous, rustic, young, laboring France. When the boys free themselves from their jail cells in scene twelve, they emerge into a world of justice, benevolence, and prosperity, as the French people believed they had on 14 July. In the poor tramps, the play presents an image of an independent, proud, and virtuous people; and in the village setting, an idyll of a new world, a regenerated France, in which justice, tolerance, familial affection, and friendship reign. The closing lines sung by the Marquis are: “souvenez-vous bien / Malgré votre métamorphoses/ Que le rang, le nom font rien / Que le cœur seul est quelque chose” (and this from the pens of two Chevaliers!).168 Given the fact that the play was first performed in the same month that saw the publication of the abbé Sieyès’s Qu’est-ce que le Tiers état? (January 1789), we can hear in the Marquis’ verses an echo of the famous opening lines of the treatise: Qu’est-ce que le tiers état? Tout. Qu’a-t-il été jusqu’à présent dans l’ordre politique? Rien. Que demande-t-il? À y devenir quelque chose.169

Marsollier reverses the terms of Sieyès’s diatribe to reflect the new rather than the old regime by having the Marquis express an ideal in which rank and title are now “rien,” while what counts as “quelquechose” is the heart. The people (represented in the play by Michel and Joset) are now something because of their natural virtue. The contrast of old and new orders in France in fact provides the play with its dualistic structure into opposed and matched pairs. Indeed, the accrual of doubles in the play is remarkable: there are the two brothers of the play’s title, the older pair of Savoyard brothers (Verseuil and the boys’ father), the two tests of virtue, two portraits, two chimneys, two revelations. There are opposing pairs as well: seigneur and villager, foreigner and Frenchman, and unknown and familiar. However, by the end of the play, these opposites are revealed to be equals, and are reconciled into a harmony of likenesses. Indeed, those who are presented as the outsiders in the play—the poor, the young, and the foreign Savoyards—are discovered to be the most familiar, in fact family, and integrated into the collectivity as members of the reconstituted and prosperous family of France. The dénouement thus enacts a dramatic reconciliation of the play’s binaries through a recognition of sameness and kinship that allows for a sharing of emotion that will supply the foundation of the new society.

Marsollier des Vivetières, Les Deux petits savoyards, p. 42. Marsollier (Chevalier du Nez) would be financially ruined by the Revolution, and came to live by his pen, though barely. 169 Abbé Sieyès, Qu’est-ce que le Tiers état? ed. Roberto Zapperi (Geneva: Droz, 1970), p. 1. 168

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


This reconciliation is also repeated on the level of the spectators’ dueling responses to the play between the comic and sympathetic: one laughs at the country ways of the boys and their comic pranks, particularly with regard to the bailiff, but ultimately one comes to sympathize with their predicament. Like the Marquis, the spectator recognizes the boys’ suffering as well as their principled and sensitive dutifulness, and is moved by their virtue more than their humor in the end. The young savoyards may run circles around those who oppose them, but they never forget to repay kindnesses shown to them. The comic, in other words, is in the service of the sentimental, as Marsollier ultimately paints a touching portrait of the latter’s moral superiority. The fact that the Savoyards are themselves performers, who make a living from a dog-and-pony style show (which became synonymous with the name “savoyards”), suggests that their good fortune is also theater’s good fortune. Moving from the silent pantomimes of the boulevard theaters and curiosities of the foires to the legitimate theater, the Savoyard boys’ equality on stage, not as the butt of ridicule but as the comic protagonists of a just and ideal order, announced a new popular theater fashioned by and for the people. Conclusion Comedy ruled the stage from 1789 to 1799, because it was entertaining, certainly, but also, as we have seen above, because it was edifying: it showed an ideal order in which justice, liberty, equality, patriotism, fraternity, and all the gentle virtues of charity, benevolence, temperance, sincerity, modesty, and industry—all those virtues which, as Adam Smith said in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), “can seldom be directed to any bad end”—were honored and celebrated.170 Each of the works discussed above, though different in genre and purpose, share a single focus on the ameliorative effect of pathos and tears through moving scenes of suffering, recognition, and reconciliation. All of them represent a blending of forms, a focus on family (the site par excellence of affection and devotion) and the tearful reunion of family members, the revelation of true identity, and the expression of fellow feeling, love of country, and sincere romantic love—of virtue tout court. The sentimentality of the Revolutionary stage, however, lies less in the subject matter or genre of a given play than in the belief that theater was capable of acting upon the audience, and through the tears shed, through the movements of the heart and soul, could produce the ideal and virtuous community represented on stage. Theater’s role as “l’école des vertus et des devoirs du citoyen”171 was thus not simply to impart a moral lesson through example, or to provide maxims to apply in real life; rather, sentimental theater functioned by expanding the spectators’ Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. Raphael and A.L. Macfie (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1984), pp. 241–2. 171 From Mercier’s preface to Jenneval (1769), an adaptation of George Lillo’s influential prose domestic tragedy, The London Merchant, or The History of George Barnwell (1731), in Théâtre complet (Amsterdam, 1778–84; repr. Geneva: Slatkine, 1970). 170

The Bestsellers of the French Revolution


capacity for sympathy, by pulling viewers into the scene through intérêt. The effects of this sympathy on the audience contributed to the formation of what Alain Ménil has identified as a unified sensibilité publique, a common bond of all through feeling and virtue.172 As Diderot described: “Les hommes sont tous amis au sortir du spectacle. Ils ont haï le vice, aimé la vertu, pleuré de concert, développé les uns à côté des autres ce qu’il y a de bon et de juste dans le cœur humain. Ils se sont trouvés bien meilleurs qu’ils ne croyaient.”173 Touching scenes of pathos thus had the power to move even the most hardened and corrupt spectators to virtuous sympathy, and to create in imagination a shared notion of virtue. As Fabre d’Eglantine describes: Je parle de ces tableaux frappants et douloureux que la vertu rappelle quelquefois à la mémoire de ceux qui l’abandonnent. S’il est une souvenance impérieuse, une émotion irresistible qui puissent attendrir une âme émoussée par les jouissances du monde et endurcie par le plaisir, c’est sans doute le tableau des misères et des douleurs de l’infortuné, que les maladies ont jeté dans un coin de sa chaumière, ou de son grenier.174

Moving sentimental tableaux were capable of uniting the virtuous and the vicious alike in a single collective vision of virtue and, therefore, of regenerating both society and theater. Sentimental theater created the possibility for a truly united social body where, in reality, such unity did not exist. As Ménil reminds us, it is only a momentary unity achievable in the theater, in the ideal moment of aesthetic experience. Yet this momentary experience provided an important step for imagining a new people and a new society, and thus the creation of a notion of moral order common to all spectators.175 Theater was not seen during the Revolution as merely mirroring society and repeating its vices, as Rousseau famously argued in the Lettre à d’Alembert. Rather, following the sentimental aesthetics developed in the latter half of the eighteenth century, Revolutionary drama offered the possibility of creating a moral community through the ritual emotion shared by spectators over scenes of virtue suffering and triumphant. Sentimental comedies and dramas in particular were seen as powerful means by which to foster the passage from private emotion to public virtue, and to enable disenfranchised groups, such as women, children, the elderly, the foreign, and the poor—who were excluded from direct political participation—to imagine a new social and political structure that included them. More than any other mode, sentimentality tied together the social, political, and affective life of the nation through sympathetic imagination. Public performances and spectatorship provided experiences that all of society could

Alain Ménil, Diderot et le drame: Théâtre et politique (Paris: PUF, 1995), p. 19. Correspondence littéraire, ed. Tourneux (Paris: Garnier-Frères, 1877–82), vol. 4,

172 173

p. 260; qtd. in Ménil, Diderot et le drame, p. 19. 174 Fabre d’Eglantine, preface to Le Philinte de Molière, p. 543. 175 Ménil, Diderot et le drame, p. 19.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


share in directly, and an occasion for the people to reflect upon and define itself, and dramatize its collective myths. The plays discussed above further remind us that the Revolution was as ideological as it was political. To focus only on pièces de circonstances or plays with direct allusions to contemporary events and the language “of rights and revolution” is to miss the larger emotional dimension of the theater and its role in the creation of a collective vision of the nation, an imagined community to use Benedict Anderson’s term, during the Revolutionary years.176 For the generation of 1789, sentiment had opened the door for the true expression of natural feelings directed toward the public good. Sentimental theater served to embody and reinforce the eighteenth-century belief—developed by the philosophes and well established by the Revolution—that natural sentiment was the wellspring of morals and social order and that virtue—best found among le peuple, the private, and the obscure—would, if the Revolution was to succeed, bring the liberty and happiness of all.

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Community: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983). In “Sentimental Communities” (The Literary Channel: The International Invention of the Novel, ed. Margaret Cohen and Carolyn Dever [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002]), Margaret Cohen draws on Anderson’s notion of the “imagined community” of the nation to argue that before the concept of “the nation” crystallized as such at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a notion of the imagined community was already put into place by the foundational cultural work of sentimental fiction (p. 106). 176

Chapter 2

Revolutionary Tableaux: Diderot, David, and the Sentimental Frame of Politics Exposons les tableaux de la vertu, et il se trouvera des copistes. L’espèce d’exhortation qui s’adresse à l’âme par l’entremise des sens, outre sa permanence, est plus à la portée du commun des hommes. Le peuple se sert mieux de ses yeux que de son entendement. Les images prêchent, prêchent sans cesse, et ne blessent point l’amour-propre. —Denis Diderot, Essai sur les règnes de Claude et de Néron (1782)1 [I]l faudrait que les productions de nos artistes eussent, comme celles des poëtes, un but moral. C’était l’opinion de Diderot. Il semble qu’il prévoyait déjà cette révolution qui devait, quelque temps après sa mort, changer les opinions, les goûts, le caractère des Français, leur donner un gouvernement qui, bien différent de la monarchie, s’appuie sur l’instruction, les vertus, l’amour de la vérité, enfin sur les bonnes mœurs. —La Décade philosophique (an IV [1796])

Denis Diderot’s name is rarely mentioned among the philosophes whose works influenced the French Revolution; Voltaire and Rousseau are the figures most frequently hailed as the “fathers of the Revolution” (opposed, though they were, both personally and intellectually). But scholars in recent years have begun to excavate Diderot’s presence in diverse areas of revolutionary thought, from the influence of his radical political views in the Histoire des deux Indes to the first publication in 1795 of his Salon de 1765.2 Still relatively unexplored, however, remains the impact of Diderot’s dramatic works and theory on theater during the

1 Denis Diderot, Essai sur les règnes de Claude et de Néron et sur les mœurs et les écrits de Séneque pour servir d’introduction à la lecture de ce philosophe, in Œuvres philosophiques, ed. Michel Delon and Barbara de Negroni (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), p. 897. 2 See in particular René Tarin, Diderot et la Révolution française: controverses et polémique autour d’un philosophe (Paris: Champion, 2001). Jonathan I. Israel also links Diderot and the Revolution in Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750–1790 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), declaring that he and his materialist allies were “deliberate, conscious revolutionaries [...] preparing the ground for revolution” (pp. 809–11). Whereas Israel focuses on Diderot’s later materialist thought, this chapter focuses on his earlier sentimentalist concepts embodied in his influential notion of the tableau.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

French Revolution.3 This chapter proposes to examine Diderot’s legacy in this area by focusing in particular on his notion of the tableau, which underpins not only his conceptualization of the système dramatique, as he calls it, but also his entire aesthetic vision.4 From the French word for painting, the tableau indicates a “disposition de ces personnages sur la scène, si naturelle et si vraie, que, rendue fidèlement par un peintre, elle me plairait sur la toile.”5 It thus presents spectators with a picture, a silent and static composition. This focus on the visual over the verbal reflects Diderot’s belief that visual scenes had the power to move spectators more effectively than words, and it inaugurates the shift in his thinking from a notion of the theater as text (language, rhetoric, reason) to a notion of theater as an embodied scene (visual, corporeal, emotional). Diderot elaborates his ideas about the tableau most notably in the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel (1757) in which the character Dorval proposes the use of tableaux to replace the “forced” and “displeasing” coup de théâtre of classical tragedy.6 Whereas the latter introduces “[u]n incident imprévu qui se passe en action, et qui change subitement l’état des personnages,” the tableau does not reveal surprising new information to the audience or offer a sudden intrusion that changes the characters’ circumstances; rather, it arises naturally from the action of the play to draw together its various strands into a harmonious composition. The tableau presents either an establishing image, such as the opening scene of Act Two of the Fils naturel (1757), which sets the scene and dramatic tensions for the viewers; or, more commonly, it captures a single highly charged action or emotion, a framed and frozen moment of pathos usually occurring at the climax of a scene, that momentarily halts the action so that the playwright can “conventionally intensify the emotion and the reader or spectator may have time physically to respond.”7 Thus the stage tableau frames the scene in such a way 3 A chapter on theater is conspicuously absent from Tarin’s study, Diderot et la Révolution française, and the wish to provide one was my inspiration for writing this chapter. See Pellerin, “La Place du théâtre de Diderot sous la Révolution,” pp.  89–103; Julie Candler Hayes, Identity and Ideology: Diderot, Sade, and the Serious Genre (Amsterdam; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1991); and Scott S. Bryson, The Chastised Stage: Bourgeois Drama and the Exercise of Power (Saratoga, Calif.: Anma Librie, 1991), pp. 112–20. 4 As described by Roland Barthes, “the whole of Diderot’s aesthetics rests on the identification of the theatrical scene and pictorial tableau”; Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1977), p. 70. 5 Denis Diderot, Paradoxe sur le comédien, précédé des Entretiens sur le Fils naturel, ed. Raymond Laubreaux (Paris: Flammarion, 1981), p. 37 (abbreviated in future as EFN). 6 “J’aimerais bien mieux des tableaux sur la scène [...] que ces coups de théâtre qu’on amène d’une manière si forcée, et qui sont fondés sur tant de suppositions singulières, que pour une de ces combinaisons d’événements qui soit heureuse et naturelle, il y en a mille qui doivent déplaire à un homme de goût” (EFN, p. 36). 7 Todd, Sensibility, p. 5. For a discussion of the two forms of tableau (tableau-stase and tableau-comble), see Pierre Frantz, L’esthétique du tableau dans le théâtre du XVIIIe siècle (Paris: PUF, 1998), pp. 153–96.

Revolutionary Tableaux


that the viewer is called upon to contemplate its meaning and feel its emotion. A hallmark of sentimental aesthetics, the tableau “epitomizes the character of the sentimental text,” writes David Denby; “its constant reaching for a more complete possession of the affective meaning of the action [...] declares the possibility of a common, communicable human experience.”8 The sentimental tableau’s ability to frame action and convey its meaning clearly and persuasively in emotional terms supplied citizens and politicians during the Revolution with a potent form through which to unify sentiments and define collective action in affective terms. As the writer in the Décade philosophique (1796) states in the epigraph cited above, the fundamental moral and aesthetic realignment Diderot’s notion of the tableau initiated provided a powerful model for thinking social, moral, and political reform in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Much work has been done on Diderot’s theory of the tableau in recent decades, especially in the fields of art history, by Michael Fried and Norman Bryson, and literature by Jay Caplan, Scott Bryson, and Pierre Frantz.9 Drawing on the invaluable insights of these studies, my aim in this chapter is to extend them into the historical moment of the French Revolution and to expand them based upon changes in the tableau’s form in the new context after 1789. For decades scholars have approached the Revolution primarily as a discursive event in which politics played out essentially as a linguistic struggle among revolutionary actors forced to compete for power in the arena of discourse rather than action.10 Lynn Hunt has argued that because power was located in language, and because authority as a result did not come to lie in a particular person or document, Revolutionary discourse had a dispersive effect that impeded the possibility for unified action and lasting documents.11 This approach to the Revolutionary decade, and its focus on a select group of political elites, has led to diminished consideration of individual experience and action, the role of affect, and visual culture. The tableau offers Denby, Sentimental Narrative and the Social Order in France, p. 79. Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of

8 9

Diderot (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980); Norman Bryson, Word and Image: French Painting of the Ancien Régime (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Frantz, L’esthétique du tableau; Jay Caplan, Framed Narratives: Diderot’s Genealogy of the Beholder (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985); and Bryson, The Chastised Stage. 10 See in particular François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, trans. Elborg Forster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Paris: Editions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 1981), p. 48. For him, revolutionaries attempted to make the Revolution conform to their rhetoric, to be ideological language (p. 178). 11 Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution. In a recent article, however, Hunt writes: “It is time for a new paradigm” (“The Experience of Revolution,” French Historical Studies 32.4 [Fall 2009]: 671). Based on new understandings of the self, she suggests that scholars “replace the textual or linguistic metaphor for the social, the cultural, and the historical” and bring new attention to “visual forms of communication” (p. 674).


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

a new object of inquiry and with it a new critical approach to the era and its variegated productions and purposes. The tableau is not discursive or dispersive; rather, it represents a disciplining and compositional organization of disparate and otherwise incongruous or unruly elements. Its goal is to be immediately legible, to convey a moral message, and to move spectators to virtue through sympathy and tears. As the politician and orator, Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, pronounced to his colleagues in the National Convention: [C]e sont ces tableaux, animés et touchants, qui laissent des impressions profondes, qui élèvent l’âme, qui agrandissent le génie, qui électrisent tour à tour le civisme et la sensibilité: le civisme, principe sublime de l’abnégation de soi-même! la sensibilité, source inépuisable de tous les penchants affectueux et sociables!12

Moving tableaux had the ability to make profound and lasting impressions and thereby, it was believed, to inspire political and moral virtue, civisme and sensibilité, in equal measure. This chapter asks in what ways the “affective and sociable tendencies” of sensibility, as Billaud-Varenne states, and the political tendencies and principles of civisme (civic virtue or the “sublime principle of selfabnegation” according to Billaud-Varenne) were not only allied but also altered and complicated by the sentimental forms through which they were most often expressed. How do sentimental representational modes, in other words, affect the way in which moral, aesthetic, and political categories are conceived and conflated during the French Revolution? What assumptions underlie the sentimental pedagogy of civic virtue? The prose tableaux of Helen Maria Williams, painted tableaux of JacquesLouis David, and dramatic tableaux of Fabre d’Olivet and others will provide key examples of the way feeling and politics were conjoined during the Revolution. I argue that the emotional participation of spectators in revolutionary tableaux came to serve as a means and model for political participation and contributed to the codification of political engagement in affective and sentimental terms. The eighteenth-century project of sensibility—in rejecting the authority of tradition and re-founding order in feeling—depended in its inception upon the rehabilitation of passion as the stimulus to action, particularly in terms of pursuing social change. With the new possibility of political change offered by the French Revolution, that action took on a new dimension. Virtue, which had featured in various Enlightenment discourses on moral sentiment, acquired a political urgency during the Revolution, governed as it now was by a new rhetoric and vocabulary of moral action. In this climate, the sentimental tableau came to the fore as an effective vehicle for facilitating the transfer from feeling to action, and from affective communities of sensibility to active political communities of the nation.

12 From a speech on 20 April 1794; qtd. in Pierre Trahard, La Sensibilité révolutionnaire, 1789–1799 (Paris: Boivin, 1936), p. 244.

Revolutionary Tableaux


The tableau as “procedure of knowledge” and “species of exhortation” The changing function of the tableau as an aesthetic form in the eighteenth century is immediately apparent from a comparison of dictionary and encyclopedia definitions from the era. While entries from the late seventeenth century mainly indicate the generic word for “painting”—in particular a framed and portable painting—or a document that makes up a table or list of names or terms, a more complex definition of tableau emerges by the mid-eighteenth century, suggesting a particular genre of painting or painterly perspective, a certain way in which one organizes and describes natural phenomena (e.g., the periodic table) and social systems and corporations, as well as an innovation in dramatic staging.13 From the domestic scenes of Greuze’s genre paintings or Diderot’s project of reform for the theater, to Quesnay’s Tableau économique (1758) or Mercier’s Tableau de Paris (1782–1789), the diverse uses of tableau reflect a shift in both representational and epistemological practices during the Enlightenment. Michel Foucault describes this shift in The Order of Things (Les Mots et les choses, 1966) as part of a larger transformation from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries in the modes by which large and complex bodies of knowledge were communicated. For him, the organizing models of human perception and knowledge developed between the Renaissance and modern era from a part-to-whole system of representation based on the mirroring logic of similitude to a semiotic approach characterized by a mutual systematic distinctness of words and their definition.14 Taking the fields of biology, economics, and linguistics as case studies, Foucault shows how the mind’s task during the Enlightenment was to bring independent representations together into systematic tableaux, as Linnaeus had done for plants, or into correctly formed grammatical sentences. Conventions of representation, he shows, determine what we are able to perceive and recognize as rational order at any given historical moment. Foucault’s bravura analysis of Velásquez’s painting Las Meninas (1656) in the opening chapter of The Order of Things, for example, demonstrates the complex visual mapping within which information becomes knowledge rather than merely a random assortment of facts and objects. Foucault expands on this role of the tableaux in Discipline and Punish (Surveiller et punir, 1975):

Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire historique et critique (Rotterdam, 1696); Dictionnaire de l’Académie française (Paris: Coignard, 1694, 1718, 1740; Paris: Brunet, 1762; Paris: Smits, 1798); Antoine Furetière, Dictionnaire universel (Rotterdam, 1690); Encyclopédie, vol. 4, p. 806; Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique (1764); Trévoux, Dictionnaire universel françois et latin vulgairement appellé Dictionnaire de Trévoux (six editions between 1704 and 1771); and J-F. Féraud, Dictionnaire critique de la langue française (Marseille: Mossy, 1787–88). 14 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1973), pp. 17–45. 13


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution The first of the great operations of discipline is, therefore, the constitution of ‘tableaux vivants,’ which transform the confused, useless, or dangerous multitudes into ordered multiplicities. The drawing up of ‘tables [tableaux]’ was one of the great problems of scientific, political and economic technology of the eighteenth century: how one was to arrange botanical and zoological gardens, and to construct at the same time rational classifications of living beings; how one was to observe, supervise, regularize the circulation of commodities and money. In the eighteenth century, the table [tableau] was both a technique of power and a procedure of knowledge.15

Tables thus offered a way of organizing the multiplicity of increasingly complex modern relations into legible, understandable wholes in the eighteenth century. Although Foucault only focuses on those tabular forms reserved for scientific, statistical, and technical information, tableaux encompassed diverse forms and functions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including not only diagrammatic tables but also figurative and allegorical tableaux representing religious, moral, and philosophical systems of knowledge.16 Scott Bryson, for example, has elucidated the way the dramatic tableau of bourgeois drama functions as a “technique of power” in the eighteenth century, articulating its disciplinary function through comparison of Diderot’s theories for reforming the French stage with Cesare Beccaria’s theories for reforming the penal system.17 My interest here is instead with Foucault’s notion that the tableau is also a “procedure of knowledge.” As Revolutionary France set for itself the project of remaking its entire social and political system, the tableau moved to the fore as an effective means for bringing independent representations together into systematic visual form, to make them legible and comprehensible to all. Revolutionary calendars, the engraved tablets of the Déclaration du droit de l’homme et du citoyen, the new table of the departments of France, and government-issued tables of assignats, for example, all communicate knowledge visually in a way that makes the inner organization of the political system perceptible at a glance. The aesthetic tableau, as originally conceived by Diderot, is different in kind from these nonfigural tables in that the knowledge it represents is moral rather 15 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979), p. 148. 16 See, for example, John B. Bender and Michael Marrinan, The Culture of Diagram (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010); Robert Darnton, “Philosophers Trim the Tree of Knowledge: The Epistemological Strategy of the Encyclopédie,” in his The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York: Vintage, 1985), pp. 191–214; and Stephen Ferguson, “System and Schema: Tabulae of the Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries,” Princeton University Library Chronicle 49.1 (Autumn 1987): 12–17. 17 In The Chastised Stage, Bryson identifies the tableau’s role in the self-censoring internalization of surveillance elaborated by Foucault in Discipline and Punish. The concluding chapter in particular, “The Drame Bourgeois and the Revolution,” draws parallels among law, representation, and the drame (pp. 110–117).

Revolutionary Tableaux


than empirical, and social rather than scientific. Its purpose is not informational so much as hortatory—an “espèce d’exhortation,” as Diderot writes. But what it shares with other tabulae of the eighteenth century is the function of graphing the system of relations.18 As Julie Candler Hayes has argued, Diderot’s poetics of the drama can be seen as an extension of his theory of rapports that informs all areas of his thought. “Diderot borrows the eighteenth-century interest in natural and aesthetic relationships to posit a reality that is comprehensible only insofar as it is perceived in terms of relational systems.”19 The tableau is the “visual correlate” of this notion of relatedness; through a particular composition of figures it allows the audience to glean the larger invisible correspondences that form the moral ties among members of a family and society. As Roland Barthes similarly claimed, the tableau is “propaedeutic,” providing the preliminary framework and rules for understanding a larger body of knowledge.20 The knowledge it conveys is moral and practical: the sentimental tableau appeals to the viewer’s senses, including his moral sense, and calls him to moral feeling and right action. It does so by allowing the viewer in the theater, the reader of a novel, or spectator before a painting to grasp the otherwise invisible order of things—the larger social system—within which individuals figure in relation to others.21 For Diderot, dramatizing the diverse positions of individuals in society and their relations, what Diderot calls conditions, is the best means to convey a moral lesson in theater. In the Entretiens, for example, he writes: In 1794, for example, the citizen Gelé presented to the National Convention a “Tableau révolutionnaire” by Jeurat that depicted the progress of the Revolution in allegorical form. Like the ancient Tabula Cebetis, which had been widely used in French moral and classical education, or the Carte [du Pays] de Tendre, inspired by Mlle Scudéry’s Clélie (1654–60) and representing the various stages of love, the pedagogical aim of the Tableau révolutionnaire was to offer a figural schema illuminating the complex relations, duties, affections, and events that lay the foundation for the new social and political order. 19 Julie C. Hayes, “Rewriting Bourgeois Drama: Beaumarchais’s Double plan,” in L’Age du Théâtre en France/The Age of Theatre in France, ed. Nicole Boursier, David Trott, and Anne Ubersfeld (Edmonton: Academic Printing, 1988), p. 41. See also Bender and Marrinan’s discussion of Diderot’s theory of rapports in the “Discours préliminaire” to the Encyclopédie and its relation to diagrammatic knowledge in The Culture of Diagram, pp. 12–15. Diderot saw theater as a système dramatique in which the coordination of all elements of the dramatic scene, from acting style and decor to costuming and script, was tantamount to conveying this vision of society and was epitomized in the tableau. 20 “The tableau is intellectual, it has something to say (something moral, social) but it also says that it knows how this must be done; it is simultaneously significant and propaedeutic, impressive and reflexive, moving and conscious of the channels of emotion” (Barthes, Image-Music-Text, p.  70). By linking Diderot with the revolutionary figures Brecht and Eisenstein, Barthes acknowledges the profoundly revolutionary potential of Diderot’s formal innovations. 21 Barthes refers to this most important aspect of Diderot’s formulation of the tableau as the “social gest,” by which he means “a gesture or set of gestures [...] in which a whole social situation can be read” (Image-Music-Text, pp. 73–4). 18

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


MOI. Ainsi, vous voudriez qu’on jouât l’homme de lettres, le philosophe, le commerçant, le juge, l’avocat, le politique, le citoyen, le magistrat, le financier, le grand seigneur, l’intendant. DORVAL. Ajoutez à cela, toutes les relations: le père de famille, l’époux, la sœur, les frères [...] Songez que rien, peut-être, ne nous est moins connu que les conditions, et ne doit nous intéresser davantage. Nous avons chacun notre état dans la société; mais nous avons affaire à des hommes de tous les états. Les conditions! Combien de détails importants, d’actions publiques et domestiques, de vérités inconnues!22

“Moi” names individual positions one might hold in society (judge, businessman, writer), and to these Dorval adds familial relations (father, spouse, sister, brother). Each individual has his or her place within the various subsystems—familial, professional, class-based—which make up society and which bring us into contact with people from other positions. According to Sarah Maza, Diderot’s emphasis on “conditions” reflects the Lockean belief that moral truths are not inscribed in the unchanging reality of a person’s “character” but arise instead from the dynamic relationships among members of a family or different groups in society.23 It is not individual, analyzable characters but their relationships, duties, dilemmas, and conduct that were to be depicted on stage if moral truths were to be conveyed and apprehended. As Sébastien Mercier expressed in Du théâtre: Il ne s’agit point dans la comédie de faire des portraits, mais des tableaux. Ce n’est pas tant l’individu qu’il faut s’attacher à peindre, que l’espèce. Il faut dessiner plusieurs figures, les grouper, les mettre en mouvement, leur donner à toutes également la parole et la vie. Une figure trop détachée paraîtra bientôt isolée: ce n’est point une statue sur un piédestal que je demande, c’est un tableau à divers personnages.24

Rather than the portrait of an isolated hero as in tragedy, theater ought to portray a “tableau de la vie bourgeoise en toutes ses situations, soit gaieté, soit douleur, soit sentiment, soit morale.”25 It is only in the dynamic relationship of the ensemble that truth can be known. Diderot and Mercier believed that by depicting scenes, dilemmas, and virtues drawn from everyday life, tableaux could involve readers so viscerally and passionately in the fate of the characters (and thus in virtue’s fate) that they came to feel, to experience, and finally to love virtue and recognize it in themselves. In the Eloge de Richardson (1761), for example, Diderot praises the domestic scenes of Richardson’s novels as follows: “Le monde où nous vivons est le lieu de la scène [...] Diderot, EFN, p. 97. Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs, p. 62. Diderot writes that “il n’y aura

22 23

point de condition dans la société, point d’actions importantes dans la vie, qu’on ne puisse rapporter à quelque partie du système dramatique” (EFN, p. 80). 24 Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Du théâtre: ou, Nouvel essai sur l’art dramatique (Amsterdam, 1773), p. 69. 25 Mercier, Du théâtre, p. 159.

Revolutionary Tableaux


il me montre le cours général des choses qui m’environnent. Sans cet art, mon âme se pliant avec peine à des biais chimériques, l’illusion ne serait que momentanée et l’impression faible et passagère” (emphasis in original).26 The realist illusion engages the spectator more deeply in the drama when it most closely approximates his lived experience, and thus had the ability to leave more lasting impressions of virtue than either the fantastical and fleeting illusions of Rococo emblems or the maxims and principles of philosophy.27 For Diderot, this illusion “is not only an optical or auditory effect upon the audience,” as Bender and Marrinan explain, “but also an affective power that arises when viewers sense that the dramatic action unfolds beyond their control with the inevitability of real life.”28 By stimulating the channels of emotion, the tableau’s aim is not to imitate nature so much as it is to allow the spectator to intuit it through the correlations elicited by the groupings on stage. Its purpose is not mimetic but hortatory; Diderot sought with the tableau not simply a means to mirror social reality but to act on it, correct it (“à nous toucher, à nous instruire, à nous corriger et à nous inviter à la vertu”), and thereby change human values to create a new and moral society.29 As Anthony Strugnell explains, the realism Diderot imagines is less a slice of life than it is a realist illusion in the service of an ideal of virtue. “Qu’est-ce donc que le vrai de la scène?” Diderot asks in the Paradoxe sur le comédien. “C’est la conformité des actions, des discours, de la figure, de la voix, du mouvement, du geste, avec un modèle idéal imaginé par le poète.”30 Dramatic art for Diderot, Strugnell explains, aims to transform the ideal model in the writer’s mind into a representation of reality.31 The representational shift from portrait to tableau in theater thus reflects changes in the way the complex questions of the self and society were understood during the Enlightenment.32 The eighteenth-century historian, Charles Duclos, for Denis Diderot, Œuvres esthétiques (Paris: Classiques Garniers, 1959), p. 33. In the Salon de 1767, Diderot writes: “je tourne le dos à un peintre qui me propose un

26 27

emblème, un logogriphe à déchiffrer. Si la scène est une, claire, simple, et liée, j’en saisirai l’ensemble d’un coup d’œil” (Œuvres esthétiques, p. 712). He favors an immediately legible and democratic art over the opacity and multiplicity of Rococo style: “Une composition, qui doit être exposée aux yeux d’une foule de toutes sortes de spectateurs, sera vicieuse, si elle n’est pas intelligible pour un homme de bons sens tout court” (p. 711). See Scott Bryson’s discussion in The Chastised Stage, pp. 29–32. 28 Bender and Marrinan, The Culture of Diagram, p. 99. As Bender and Marrinan note, this view that theatrical illusion emerges from complex, multisensory experiences is consonant with Diderot’s general theory of perception. 29 Diderot, Œuvres esthétiques, p. 524. 30 Diderot, EFN, p. 137. 31 Anthony Strugnell, “Diderot, Hogarth and the Ideal Model,” SVEC 304 (1992): 1242–45. In fact, as Strugnell points out, the ideal represented in the tableau imitates art (a painting or novel) more so than it does reality. 32 See, for example, Neil Flax’s excellent essay, “From Portrait to Tableau Vivant: The Pictures of Emilia Galotti,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 19.1 (Autumn 1985), pp. 39–55. For the shift from the portrait moral to tableau as the organizing metaphor of the novel, see Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 32–3.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


example, advocated the use of tableaux in his influential work Considérations sur les mœurs de ce siècle (1751) because, according to him, the study of manners and morals “doit se faire sur les mœurs générales, sur les différentes classes qui composent la société, et non pas sur les mœurs des particuliers: il faut des tableaux et non pas des portraits.”33 This interest in knowledge of the system of moral relations rather than individual exemplars of virtue sought a universal rather than particular understanding of moral truth. Thus Diderot drew upon innovations across the arts and sciences of the eighteenth century to develop in theory and in practice a new and progressive literary form to express what inherited categories no longer could. For him, the sentimental tableau allowed individuals to imagine a new social order based upon the virtuous foundations of feeling and imagination. For revolutionaries, the form seemed not only to “foresee the revolution” but to offer a vehicle capable of reforming society and remodeling the state on the new bases of virtue, equality, and nature. “We are so framed”: Feeling and the domestication of revolutionary politics “Monsieur, aimez-vous les tableaux?” Le Maître: “Oui, mais en récit [...] Raconte-moi ton tableau.” —Denis Diderot, Jacques le fataliste et son maître (1765–1780/1792)34

In this quip from the novel Jacques le fataliste, Diderot playfully gestures to the complex tension between the static visual tableau and the unfolding of narrative in time.35 Structurally the tableau represents a frozen moment—a snapshot—that halts narrative momentarily in order to allow the spectator or reader to understand its meaning and to be moved by its emotion.36 In the words of Roland Barthes, the tableau is “a pure cut-out segment with clearly defined edges, irreversible and incorruptible; everything that surrounds it is banished into nothingness, remains unnamed, while everything that it admits into its field is into essence, Charles Duclos, Considérations sur les mœurs de ce siècle (Amsterdam, 1751),


p. 11.

Diderot, Jacques le fataliste et son maître (Paris: Chez Buisson, 1796), p. 289. Jay Caplan claims in Framed Narratives that tableaux can only effectively exist

34 35

in prose: “the essentially imaginary character of the tableau makes it impossible to stage properly [...] its real mode of existence is in the dialogic relationship between a certain kind of spectacular narration and its reader” (p. 5). 36 The tableau has a special relationship to description. As part of the author’s stage direction, the tableau in theater “mimic[s] the structure of description itself” (Bender and Marrinan, The Culture of Diagram, p. 111). In classical rhetoric, the tableau is referred to by the term “hypotyposis,” which means to sketch or outline an event or scene as if it were before one’s eyes, from the Greek typos, meaning an impression, image, or stamp. See Philippe Hamon, “The Rhetorical Status of Description,” trans. Patricia Baudoin, Yale Journal of Criticism 61 (1981): 3.

Revolutionary Tableaux


into light, into view.”37 The frame for him radically delineates the visible from its surroundings, the image from the narrative. However, much of the work on the tableau in recent years, by Michael Fried, Pierre Frantz, and Jay Caplan in particular, has served to complicate this notion of the tableau’s sharply drawn borders of inside and outside, to demonstrate that all that “surrounds” the tableau is in fact structurally internal to its fiction. For example, Pierre Frantz notes that the tableau in theater represents a culmination of prior action and thus contains within it the reminders of the “surroundings” it names.38 The decor and other visual strategies of the stage, as well as the specificities of dialogue, serve further to suggest the “outside.” As Frantz writes: “Le visible se découpe sur un monde dont il assure l’existence, la consistance.”39 Thus the entire “field” of the tableau is not limited to the immediately visible but is suggested in the signs and relations represented in the composition. The audience is therefore able to gather from the tableau “knowledge of the other circumstances which one does not see (entraîne nécessairement la connoissance de celles qu’on ne voit pas).”40 Also exploring the relation of inside and outside, Jay Caplan focuses in Framed Narratives (1985) on the way in which the spectator-spectacle relationship is embodied on the level of both form and content in the sentimental tableau. Taking the written tableaux of the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel as his main examples, Caplan demonstrates the way, in form, the tableau “orients itself toward the discourse of an absent interlocutor,” and in subject matter it dramatizes an incomplete whole, typically a family unit in which a structural element is lacking and which “can only be made complete by the sacrifice of the beholder.”41 This sacrifice is symbolized by the tears the spectator sheds in sympathy with the action. “Tears relate a sacrifice, repeat it, and represent it,” he writes, and thus point to the fact that “the tableau is iterable: it makes an impression, and is repeated.”42 When spectators cry over the fate of characters in a novel, drama, or painting, they become partial to their cause, they play a part, and thereby complete the scene. Because the tableau is structured around an absence (of the beholder and, typically, of a family member in the scene), according to Caplan, its unity and wholeness can only be realized through the spectator’s participation in it. Finally, art historian Michael Fried identifies the way Diderot’s theory of the tableau is structured upon the necessary absence or negation of the spectator’s presence before the depicted scene. Rejecting the theatricality of court painting, 39 40 41

Barthes, Image-Music-Text, p. 70. Frantz, L’esthétique du tableau, p. 160. See Frantz, L’esthétique du tableau, p. 160. Diderot and d’Alembert, “Discours préliminaire,” Encyclopédie, vol. 1, p. xl. Caplan, Framed Narratives, p. 17. As Caplan concludes: “Virtue requires a sacrificial representation—it requires a tableau,” (p. 20). See Diderot’s Eloge de Richardson, in which he defines virtue as “un sacrifice de soi-même. Le sacrifice que l’on fait de soi-même en idée est une disposition préconçu à s’immoler en réalité” (Œuvres esthétiques, p. 33). 42 Caplan, Framed Narratives, p. 19. 37 38

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


the tableau in art represents instead the aesthetics of “absorption.” As Fried defines it, absorption is the “state or condition of rapt attention, of being completely occupied or engrossed or [...] absorbed in what he or she is doing, hearing, thinking, feeling.”43 The seeming naturalness and lack of artifice or selfconsciousness on the part of the absorbed subjects serves to draw spectators in with its greater realism and “interest.” The characters’ absorption in their action on stage or on the canvas effectively negates the presence of beholders through a fourth-wall realism. Only by establishing the “supreme fiction” of the absence of the viewer before the tableau—through a hidden mise-en-scène—can the viewer’s actual placement before and engagement with the painting be secured.44 Again we see that the viewer outside the frame is in fact a compositional and necessary element within it. The frame thus serves an important function of delineating inside from outside in its aim to create a clear and unified composition that is legible at a glance and will engage and secure the spectator’s emotional and imaginative participation. However, the dynamic model of sympathy upon which it is structured posits spectators outside the scene as also actors within it. In other words, the frame is not fixed but represents a dynamic and shifting relation of spectator and spectacle. Marie-Hélène Huet famously argues in Rehearsing the Revolution (1983) that, for Diderot, part of the pleasure of the spectacle lies not only in the sense that we leave the theater better than we entered it (i.e., morally improved) but also in the anticipation of another spectacle in which the spectator will become himself an actor.45 Diderot’s spectator is thus an actor “in waiting,” she argues, an incomplete figure who is preparing for a role he, too, will play and whose model he watches attentively on stage. As Huet explains, “to attend [assister à]” a performance also means in French “to prepare for.”46 For spectators to become actors/narrators in turn, the tableau’s frame in effect expands to include the spectator who was formerly outside it, like a camera lens zooming out beyond its initial frame. This ever-widening frame is made possible precisely because the spectator was in effect already an actor in it—necessarily so through his or her absence, which is a structural element of the tableau’s framed composition. The virtuous tears sacrificed by the spectator mark the moment when he or she becomes an actor “in waiting,” ready to play his or her part in life upon closing the book or leaving the playhouse or exhibition. As a reader of Rousseau’s novel, Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) expressed: “I must abandon the book, I must weep, I must write to

Fried, Absorption and Theatricality, p. 10. Fried, Absorption and Theatricality, pp. 92–105. 45 Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution, p. 32. Her argument proceeds from the following 43 44

quote from Diderot’s Jacques, le fataliste: “The people are mad for performance, and they rush to spectacles because they enjoy watching them, and enjoy still more the retelling they do upon their return” (cited on p. 34). 46 Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution, p. 34.

Revolutionary Tableaux


you that I am choking with emotion and weeping.”47 Tears spill into a discourse of tears; the reader of a moving scene becomes an actor in a new one. Diderot also elaborated on this sympathetic dynamic by which spectators become actors in the Éloge de Richardson (1762) in which he writes: “Venez, nous pleurerons ensemble sur les personnages malheureux de ces fictions, et nous disons: si le sort nous accable, du moins les honnêtes gens pleureront aussi sur nous.”48 Readers of sentimental novels shed tears not only over the “unfortunates in [Richardson’s] fiction” but also with the knowledge that, when they become the object of suffering to the gaze of others (that is, when spectator becomes actor in new scenes of suffering), others will shed tears over them in their misfortune. The consolation such an expansive frame of feeling brings is expressed by Madame Roland in her Mémoires (1794) when she pictures her readers sympathizing with her text: Peut-être un jour mes récits ingénus charmeront les instants de quelque infortunée captive, qui oubliera son sort en s’attendrissant sur le mien, peut-être les philosophes qui veulent reconnaître le cœur humain dans la suite d’un roman et l’action d’un drame trouveront-ils à l’étudier dans mon histoire.49

Roland imagines the sympathetic exchange of shared emotion over the scenes of virtue’s misfortunes, and thus constructs in imagination a sentimental community of readers, like the one Diderot described, that offers consolation for the injustices suffered. The comparison of her personal story to a novel or drama acknowledges the moral aesthetic effect she seeks to achieve: to move readers with both the particular details of her own distress and the revelation of the “human heart” in a way that leads readers to forget their own suffering in sympathizing with hers, just as she does in imagining the hardships of “quelque infortunée captive.” For Huet, the movement from spectator to actor implies that revolutionary action was merely the acting out of an already-written script, the performance of an order of things already secured by written documents and discourse. Thus for her, theatricality provides the governing metaphor structuring the ways that the self and socio-political relations and action were understood during the Revolution. However, the examples discussed here suggest a sentimental rather than theatrical basis for the transfer from spectator to actor.50 Although tableaux function according to a specular ethics involving reactions to scenes of suffering, it is nonetheless the affective dimension of spectatorship that facilitates the transformation of passive viewer into active participant. Tableaux seek to close From a letter qtd. in Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre, p. 242. Diderot, Œuvres esthétiques, p. 33. 49 Madame (Marie-Jeanne) Roland, Mémoires de Madame Roland, ed. Paul de Roux 47 48

(Paris: Mercure de France, 1986), p. 238. 50 Susan Maslan and others have similarly argued that the Revolution is characterized rather by anti-theatricality, positioned against the morally suspect theatricality of monarchical and aristocratic display.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

the gap between spectator and spectacle through sympathetic identification. Tears mark the moment of participation in the scene, i.e., the expanding of the frame to include the spectator outside it who both completes the scene and becomes an actor in a new one. This moment of “sacrifice” signals the projection of the self into a space of virtue as both moral and protective: a mutual duty. Unlike theatricality, the sentimental dynamic is not limited to those immediately present or visible; the tableau offers the possibility for an expansive field of sentiment beyond temporal and spatial bounds. The ability of the tableau to foster viewers’ moral faculties by developing their ability to respond sensitively to others in the world, and consequently to turn spectators into actors, carries a pronounced political dimension during the Revolution. The British novelist and translator Helen Maria Williams, for example, was an eyewitness in Paris in the early years of the Revolution, and her accounts of events unfolding in France, published in England in a series of letters, typify the way the tableau blended public and private emotion, politics and feeling, during the 1790s. Her Letters Written in France in the Summer of 1790 (1791) enthusiastically support the Revolution and seek to engage her readers emotionally in the scenes she paints for them. Describing the preparations in Paris for the great Festival of Federation of 1790, for example, she writes: You will not suspect that I was an indifferent witness of such a scene. Oh no! this was not a time in which the distinctions of country were remembered. It was the triumph of humankind; [...] and it required but the common feelings of humanity, to become in that moment a citizen of the world [...] my heart caught with enthusiasm the general sympathy; my eyes were filled with tears; and I shall never forget the sensations of that day.51

Williams stages her own feelings in reaction to the scenes she witnesses in France. She frames the telling of events in a way that positions herself as both spectator of the scene and actor within it, effectively dissolving the barriers between herself and her readers who can now join with the universal human sympathies represented. As Mary Favret has argued, the intimate relationship Williams establishes with her readers, addressing them directly throughout (“You will not suspect,” “You will rejoice with me, and “You, my dear friend”), serves to draw a connection from the ties of friendship to the larger ties of “humanity.”52 In this way, the affective identification of the spectator with the scene also serves to facilitate identification with the political sentiments expressed. Williams’s friend Anna Seward, for 51 Williams, Letters from France, ed. Janet Todd, vol. I, vol. 1, pp. 13–14. Williams published eight volumes of letters total between 1790 and 1796 (the first two are entitled Letters Written in France in the Summer of 1790, to a Friend in England). All eight volumes are included in Janet Todd’s two-volume edition, Letters from France. 52 Mary Favret, “Spectatrice as Spectacle: Helen Maria Williams at Home in the Revolution,” in Literate Women and the French Revolution of 1789, ed. Catherine MontfortHoward (Birmingham: Summa Publications, 1994), p. 158.

Revolutionary Tableaux


example, describes the way the Letters Written in France “do not seek to reason, they only paint.”53 In other words, they present visual tableaux whose purpose is to appeal to readers’ senses and move them with emotion, not convince them with argument. The intimate and public mode of these letters provided readers with a political éducation sensible, that represented and facilitated a new affective political relationship constituted in the experience and expression of sensibility. Williams even gives her readers a part to play in this education: “I am well aware how very imperfectly I shall be able to describe the images which press upon my mind. It is much easier to feel what is sublime than to paint it; and I shall be able to give you a faint sketch, to which your own imagination must add colouring and spirit.”54 The scenes she presents are thus only fully realized through the participation in imagination of the spectator.55 The reader completes the tableau she can only sketch. The tableau thus provides a powerful vehicle for creating a community of viewers united through sympathy and imagination in a common vision of liberty and virtue. This is further evidenced, for example, in a letter sent to Williams by the members of the Société des Amis de la Constitution à Rouen (1791) expressing their great emotion upon reading her letters: The French Revolution offers a sublime tableau [...] It was left to you, Mademoiselle, to your pure and sensitive heart, to your soul [...] to express with dignity the noble transports of a great people at the very moment they became free [...] If reading your first letters caused us to weep tears of admiration, then your last ones have made us cry all the more copiously. What sorrowful tableaux!56

Readers of her letters thus became actors in turn in their own consciously-framed emotional scenes. Like Williams, they employ the vocabulary of painting to stage their responses to the “sublime tableau” she has drawn for them, creating an everexpanding and ever-widening circle of fellow feeling. The emotional appeal of these scenes carries a clear political valence. As Williams writes elsewhere in her letters: “My love for the Revolution is the natural 53 Qtd. in Favret, “Spectatrice as Spectacle,” p. 158. Seward had recently read Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. 54 Williams, Letters from France, vol. I, vol. 1, p. 66. 55 The German playwright and theorist, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s notion of the tableau in Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry (trans. Edward Allen McCormick [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984]), shares Williams’s emphasis on the role of imagination. According to Lessing, a painter must choose one “pregnant” moment to portray that best frees the viewer’s imagination. It should not capture the height of emotion but should enable the viewer to imagine a higher level of intensity. With the political inflection Williams gives her tableau, according to Favret, such “private manifestations performed ‘in the minds of the audience’ accompany and give weight to the public display” (“Spectatrice as Spectacle,” p. 155). 56 Lionel D. Woodward, Une Anglaise amie de la révolution francaise, Hélène-Maria Williams, et ses amis (Paris: Champion, 1930), p. 43.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

result of [...] sympathy and therefore my political creed is entirely an affair of the heart.”57 Her political beliefs and allegiances are thus defined primarily in emotional terms. In her perceptive analysis of Williams’s letters, Favret illuminates the way the author blurs the line separating inside and outside, private and public, in a way that “helps to see the public sphere in terms of what [Williams] would call ‘domestic affections.’”58 Williams frequently “frames” the political in the domestic. In one letter, for example, she reflects on her experience in a Parisian crowd as follows: “we are so framed that [...] the tears of tenderness, the throbbings of sympathy, are reserved for that moment when, [...] amidst the loud acclamations of an innumerable multitude, we can distinguish the soothing sounds of domestic felicity.”59 Although amongst the throngs and cries of people on the street, it is the domestic scene indoors that elicits her sympathetic response. Her position outside allows for the apprehension of “domestic felicity” inside that prompts her tender feelings. Alternatively, Williams describes in another letter the way a patriotic dinner held in her home was interrupted by cries from a political demonstration on the street, and she uses the casement of the window to express the way political life “outside” is framed by the domestic “inside” for her. The movement between inside and outside, public and private, exemplifies the way politics is made intimate in her writings. The framed narrative of the tableau becomes a structural element of the events themselves, thematized within the recounting, and provides Williams with a vehicle for passing smoothly between public and private realms, as she becomes both spectator and actor in the scenes playing out on the streets and in the salons of Revolutionary France. Rather than politics infiltrating and governing the private sphere, Williams “transports the language of domesticity, family, and psychological interiority to national issues.”60 In this way, Williams’s emotional tableaux provided women, foreigners, and other “outsiders” like herself and her British guests with the means to feel part of (and partial to, through sympathy) the action taking place in Paris. Sentimental forms and the sentimental sociability developed in the private sphere thus came to shape the way politics were represented and understood in the minds and hearts of the public. The tableau’s affective and hortatory function was deployed not only to mobilize emotions toward revolutionary ideals and goals but also to mobilize bodies to revolutionary action. For example, a letter published in the weekly newspaper Les Révolutions de Paris shortly after the women’s march on Versailles on 6 October 1789, illustrates the way readers were enjoined to sympathize with a father whose son, an eighteen-year-old garde du corps, was allegedly killed when a part of the crowd entered the royal palace on the morning of the 6th: 57 Williams, Letters from France, vol. I, vol. 1, p. 66. This recalls Robespierre’s similar statement four years later, “le patriotisme n’est point une affaire de parti, mais une affaire de cœur” (Ecrits, p. 338). 58 Favret, “Spectatrice as Spectacle,” p. 162. 59 Favret, “Spectatrice as Spectacle,” p. 163. 60 Favret, “Spectatrice as Spectacle,” p. 162.

Revolutionary Tableaux


Ah, permets, père infortuné, que nous mêlions nos larmes aux tiennes, que le sang de ton fils ne soit point contre nous mais contre les auteurs de la conjuration, que le spectacle de ta douleur soit sans cesse présent à l’esprit, qu’il alimente éternellement leurs remords, qu’ils soient punis par leurs enfants, par tout ce qu’ils ont de cher et que la mort même ne leur présente pas un asile contre la douleur et le désespoir.61

The letter was written by the paper’s editor, Elysée Loustallot, who frames the father’s sorrow as a moving tableau of loss and grief straight out of the œuvre of Greuze. A père infortuné weeps over the loss of his son and is joined by Loustallot who weeps with him and invites the reader to blend his tears with theirs (“que nous mêlions nos larmes aux tiennes”). The father’s sorrow makes an impression, a graven image of sorrow, “présent sans cesse à l’esprit” of the sympathetic viewers. The beholder’s tears, as Jay Caplan argued, repeat the sacrifice of the characters in the scene (both the father’s sacrifice of his son and Loustallot’s “sacrifice” of tears in sympathy) and are proof of the beholder’s partiality. The framed scene of loss thus calls on the beholder to take part, to become, in effect, a character in the scene. The collective emotion, sealed by tears, joins citizens over the spilt blood of one of its sons sacrificed for the patrie. But Loustallot’s tableau seeks to elicit another effect as well: to punish the perpetrators who, faced with the spectacle of the father’s suffering, feel their guilt in the court of public opinion, expressed here as an open curse. Although the tableau joins the guilty and innocent together in a common sympathy for the loss and suffering of the father, the motif of blood articulates a turning from shared tears towards the direction of vengeance against the “auteurs de la conjuration.”62 The connection between tears and blood in the language of the curse draws a clear line separating revolutionaries from conspirators. The shed tear—proof of partiality— now becomes a sign of political allegiance as well as sympathetic sensibilité.63 Just as one’s response to Richardson’s novels could be a judgment of inclusion in 61 Les Révolutions de Paris (3–10 October 1789), cited in Anne Vincent-Buffault, Histoire des larmes: XVIIIe-XIXe siècles (Paris: Rivages, 1986), pp. 89–90. 62 As Anne Vincent-Buffault notes, the people’s “crime” against the king is absolved here, as guilt is deflected toward an unnamed (and as it turns out fictional) enemy (Histoire de larmes, p. 90). 63 It is curious that there is no mention of women in Loustallot’s tableau, although the larger event it narrates is the march of the women on Versailles. The civic affectivity here is clearly between men: fathers, brothers, sons. It makes for a marked contrast with the image that emerges from Burke’s account of the same event in his influential Reflections on the Revolution in France (1789). In his version, the besieged queen is the central figure portrayed as narrowly escaping from intruders into her royal bedchamber during the invasion of the palace in which Loustallot’s young garde du corps allegedly lost his life. As Claudia L. Johnson has shown, Burke attaches massive political import to the fact that civil society depends upon affective relations and secure gender roles (Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s: Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995], pp. 3–6).


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

or exclusion from the sympathetic community described by Diderot in the Éloge, so we see in Loustallot’s tableau that the reader’s response to the father’s sorrow will determine whether he is included or excluded from the political community.64 Tears unite the community, but that community also has to be guaranteed into the future through devotion of blood. Tears and blood blend as signs of virtuous sacrifice for the patrie.65 The prose tableaux discussed here illustrate the important participation of public discourse in sentimental modes and the creation of political communities, in imagination, through shared emotion.66 The tableau’s aim is didactic, to teach the viewer how to read it and—in staging the author’s (or another character’s) reaction to the scene presented—how to respond to it. Readers of sentimental scenes thus become witnesses to the codification of a reception aesthetics, as David Denby observes. This “logic of reception,” as he calls it, is one of the distinguishing features of sentimentality.67 Tableaux teach readers and viewers to see and to react to what they see by engaging them with a moral and emotional immediacy that will, it was believed, improve them. These sentimental strategies, and the sympathy they seek to foster on the part of viewers and readers, serve to “prepare” spectators to become actors in the political drama unfolding before them. The tableau thus not only reflects but also constructs the political community through sensibility. Its hortatory function calls readers to virtuous feeling (sympathy) for the suffering of others and this feeling leads in turn, it was believed, to virtuous action (both political and moral) such that political participation and inclusion in the collective body were felt and understood in sentimental terms.

64 Diderot describes the way “une femme de ma connaissance” ended her friendship with another woman because the latter laughed rather than cried over the fate of Richardson’s Clarissa: “Je vous dis que cette femme ne peut jamais être mon amie: je rougis qu’elle l’ait été” (Œuvres esthétiques, pp. 42–3). 65 For example, at the Festival of the Supreme Being in 1794, Maximilien Robespierre told the crowd: “J’aurais versé des larmes d’attendrissement au récit de tes combats et de tes vertus,” thus linking tears to the blood to be spilled in battle (Ecrits, ed. Claude Mazauric [Paris: Messidor, 1989], p. 308). 66 The tableaux by Williams and Loustallot are written and, therefore, different in kind from performed tableaux in theater. According to Caplan, prose tableaux cannot present a whole (since they unfold piece by piece in time), and thus they play on fragmentariness and gain intensity by appealing to the partiality of the beholder. As Caplan writes, “because they play on imaginary wholes, Diderot’s [prose] tableaux were bound to fail as theatrical devices, whereas their narrative summaries nearly always possess a disquieting intensity” (Framed Narratives, p. 19). My aim below is to recuperate the role of performed tableaux as a successful tool in theater of the Revolution and revolutionary culture more generally. 67 Denby, Sentimental Narrative, pp. 77–9.

Revolutionary Tableaux


Tableaux of virtue and the theater of sympathy Sa mère surprise, apperçoit son fils, et le presse dans ses bras avec l’expression de l’amour maternel. Floridor arrive avec Landry: il examine avec le plus vif intérêt, le tableau qui se présent à ses yeux. —Cuvelier de Trie’s L’Enfant du malheur (1797)68

The stage direction cited here from Cuvelier de Trie’s pantomime dialoguée exemplifies the “logic of reception” as it manifested on stage in numerous works of the era: the touching tableau of maternal love is itself framed within another tableau in which the father, Floridor, reacts to the scene “avec le plus vif intérêt.” It embodies the self-conscious codification of a didactive and affective sentimental aesthetics aimed at not only moving audiences, but improving them as well. Tableaux such as this abound in the theater of the 1790s, where Diderot’s theories were taken up in diverse and sometimes surprising ways, and where the beholding dynamic between spectator and spectacle often appears as a central theme and narrative. This highly self-reflexive character of theatrical tableaux follows from the theater’s renewed didactic function as a school of virtue during the Revolution, aimed at regenerating the morals and civic spirit of citizens. This instruction in visual and emotional literacy becomes part of the plays themselves. With illiteracy widespread in France, theater and the visual arts could reach the masses in a way that the newly-developing journalism could not.69 The proliferation of tableaux extended beyond traditional sentimental genres, such as the drame, pantomime dialoguée, ballet d’action, and opéra-comique explored above, to other genres, even tragedy.70 The emphasis on the visual frame and on spectacle also reflects the Revolutionary theater’s conscious engagement and dialogue with the broader visual culture of the Revolution, which was undergoing an even greater increase in production than theater. As René Tarin has described: “On parle de peinture dans les pièces de théâtre et la composition de certaines toiles est proche de la mise en scène où l’on multiplie les effets de ‘tableau.’”71 Indeed, well-known paintings were frequently performed on stage as tableaux vivants, and several plays of the era were inspired by specific paintings or estampes.72 Two examples can help illustrate more clearly both the overtly didactic Cuvelier de Trie, L’Enfant du malheur, ou les amans muets (Paris: Barba, 1817 [1797]), p. 9 (Act 1, scene 17). [TCFD]. 69 See for example, James Leith, Media and Revolution: Moulding a New Citizenry in France during the Terror (Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1968). 70 Gabriel Legouvé, for example, explains in the preface to his tragedy, La Mort d’Abel (1792), that he rejects the use of coups de théâtre in order to appeal to sensibility instead (in Œuvres complètes de G. Legouvé, ed. Jean Nicolas Bouilly, 3 vols [Paris, 1826–27], vol. 1, p. 8). 71 Tarin, Le théâtre de la Constituante, p. 170. 72 For example, in Fabre d’Eglantine’s L’intrigue épistolaire one finds the following stage direction: “Il figure de son bras le serment des Horaces du superbe tableau de M. David”  (Montpellier: Editions Espaces, 2001; p. 70). Examples of entire plays inspired 68


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

role of tableaux in revolutionary drama, and the thematization of the sentimental codification of reception on stage. The first is Antoine Fabre d’Olivet’s “pièce héroï-comique,” Le Génie de la nation, ou les moralités pittoresques (1789), in which various Old Regime types—a gambler, an old cuckold, a miser, a coquette, and so on—seek the help and advice of Genius.73 Genius listens to their woes and then offers each her wise response, not in the form of words but of a moral visual tableau which is enacted before their (and the audience’s) eyes. The play is thus structured as a series of tableaux enacted on stage like paintings at an exhibition. Most of these tableaux represent the humble virtues and values of le peuple, the “moralités pittoresques” of the play’s subtitle (often drawn from paintings or engravings known to the audience). In scene three, for example, a Coquette laments her inability to find happiness in the world and turns to Genius for advice: Dites-moi, puissant Enchanteur, Pour arriver au vrai bonheur, Comment faut-il donc faire? Le Génie fait paroitre le tableau suivant: Une jeune paysanne assise, entourée de trois petits enfants qui l’embrassent, donne à téter à un quatrième qu’elle tient sur ses genous. Son mari entre, qui contemple ce spectacle avec attendrissement. (Note de l’auteur: “Ce tableau est imaginé d’après l’estampe intitulée L’heureux Ménage.)74

Straight off the canvas of eighteenth-century genre painting, the scene depicts a favorite sentimental subject: maternal love.75 The tableau is stylized and selfconscious and allows for a clear apprehension of its form. The focus is not on the complexities of individual psychology (we have character types [“paysanne,” “son mari”] rather than individuals) but on the moral susceptibility of the husband to the loving scene he witnesses between his wife and children—a tableau audience members likely knew from the estampe by Gaultier and Sergent it reenacts but also from Greuze’s La Mère bien-aimée (1765) or Moreau le Jeune’s Les Délices de la maternité (1777). The focus is on the structure of seeing, which is multiplied to a surprising degree: not only is the mother viewed by her husband (as in the by paintings include Antoine-Vincent Arnaut’s tragedy, Marius à Minturnes (1791), after the painting of the same title by Drouais, and Jean Dauberval’s popular ballet, La Fille malgardée (1789), based upon Pierre Antoine Baudouin’s painting La Réprimande, ou une jeune fille querellée par sa mère. 73 Antoine Fabre d’Olivet, Le Génie de la nation, ou les moralités pittoresques, pièce héroï-comique (Paris: Cailleau, 1789), in RTR, vol. 2, play 5, p. 10. 74 Fabre d’Olivet, Le Génie de la nation, p. 14 (Act 1, scene 3). I have not been able to locate the estampe of L’heureux Ménage. 75 La mère bien-aimée was Diderot’s favorite in the series of sketches Greuze exhibited in the 1765 Salon, of which he wrote: “La véritable dignité, celle qui me frappe, qui me renverse, c’est le tableau de l’amour maternel; dans toute sa vérité” (EFN, p. 39).

Revolutionary Tableaux


example from Cuvelier de Trie) but also the family is viewed by the Coquette and Genius who respond with emotion as well. The entire scene is then viewed by the spectators in the audience who, like the characters on stage, are both touched and edified by its lesson (indeed, several of the tableaux in Le Génie de la nation end with an author’s note explicitly stating the “Leçon”). After viewing the tableau vivant, the Coquette “attendrie de ce spectacle sort, en promettant de renoncer à ses erreurs.”76 Thus, to respond to tableaux in the correct way is to recognize the natural moral truths they dramatize and to amend one’s behavior accordingly. Just as Greuze’s sentimental paintings of everyday life and virtue were in opposition to the aristocratic Rococo style and mores that predominated in France in the eighteenth century, the tableaux in Le Génie de la nation also provide the formal basis and vehicle for both a critique of aristocratic forms and morals, and an ideal model of social relations. The new moral order they reflect privileges the heart, emotions, nature, and innocence over the head, reason, convention, and wit. The audience for this moralizing theater saw in it a reflection of their values and social realities in stark contrast to the aristocratic decadence and hierarchies associated with the Ancien Régime. The moral truths of the tableaux recall the viewers to virtue, teach them to recognize it in themselves and others, and thus bring about the regeneration not only of aristocrats but of France toute entière. In the patriotic comedy L’Artiste patriote, ou la vente des biens (1791) by Amable-Joseph Dupuis, the “logic of reception” is woven into a more traditional plot featuring a young patriotic artist, Henri, who is inspired by the events and principles of the Revolution to serve the country with his art: Paris possède autant de chefs-d’œuvre que Rome, Faits pour former un Peintre et pour faire un grand homme. A Rome! On ne voit plus que d’antiques débris, Tandis que les beaux-arts fleurissent dans Paris.77

Henri acknowledges the flourishing of the visual arts in revolutionary Paris, as well as the way current events are the source of his inspiration. Act Two opens in his atelier where his canvases of the grandes journées of the Revolution fill the stage. One of the paintings depicts the fall of the Bastille, another the Festival of Federation, and one—in-progress—portrays the recent death of the Comte de Mirabeau.78 The virtuous characters of the play (Henry’s lover, Elise; her father, Clerville; and the servant, Louis) respond with emotion to all the paintings, but Fabre d’Olivet, Le Génie de la nation, p. 10. Amable-Joseph Dupuis, L’Artiste patriote, ou la vente des biens (1791), in RTR,

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vol. 4, play 12 (Act I, scene 2). 78 There were five plays about the death of Mirabeau during the Revolution, mainly sentimental tableaux-patriotiques and drames historiques: Apothéose de Mirabeau, Voltaire et Rousseau (n.d.); L’Arrivée et le couronnement de Mirabeau aux Champs Elisées (15 avril 1791); Mirabeau aux Champs Elysées (De Gouges, 15 avril 1791); Mirabeau à son lit de mort (Pujoulx, 24 mai 1791); and L’Ombre de Mirabeau (Dejaure, 7 mai 1791).

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


particularly to the tableau of Mirabeau, shedding tears together over the loss of this great leader of the Revolution (“le plus ferme soutien de notre liberté”): Clerville: Il meurt sans voir finir la Constitution. Henri: Achille est mort avant la prise d’Ilion. Il subit son destin, et la France en allarmes, Pleure encore son trepas. Elise: Je sens couler mes larmes. Louis: Ah! J’en verse de même.79

The collective emotion of the characters reflects their common support of the Revolution and the Constitution. Their tears serve as evidence of their sensitivity and civic virtue but also of the sacrifice they make, as Caplan argues, that completes the scene and indicates their readiness to make similar sacrifices in real life (and thus the iterability of the tableau and its logic of sacrifice). The two aristocrats of the play, the Bishop (L’Evêque) and Count Vermon, however, are unmoved by the paintings and express their anxiety over the power of images to promote political ends through emotion. After Clerville praises the “triomphe de la valeur, le civisme” and “le bonheur, les lois, l’égalité” depicted in Henri’s painting of the taking of the Bastille, the bishop remarks in an aside, “Moment cruel! J’enrage.” And when the Bishop and Count are asked their opinion of the portrait of Mirabeau, they realize the danger of expressing their counter-revolutionary opinions and remain silent, slinking out of the studio in fear that their plots will be exposed. Clerville mistakes their emotion for civic-mindedness, and says to them in a line dripping with dramatic irony: “Ah! je vous vois émus! quoi! vous quittez ces lieux!” (Act 2, scene 6). Once alone, the Bishop and Count observe, “Nous ne trouvons ici que de vils ennemis” (Act 3, scene 1).80 Clerville’s misinterpretation is not lost on the audience, however, who like Louis reads the responses of the aristocrats in the correct way. Emotional reactions to painted tableaux are thus depicted in the scene as revelatory of one’s political sympathies. Audiences learn to read and respond to patriotic tableaux at the theater, as well as how to read the responses of others to them. Thus the play dramatizes the way affective responses to tableaux reveal moral as well as political sympathies, such that patriotic devotion is first and foremost presented as a matter of affect. Jacques-Louis David is perhaps the figure who best exemplifies the interpenetration of visual, dramatic, and political culture during the years 1789 to 1799. In addition to being the official painter of the decade who brought the end of the Royal Academy in 1793, David also designed costumes and sets for the Comédie Française and served as “pageant master” of several of the major revolutionary festivals. Although he is most associated with the neoclassical style Dupuis, L’Artiste patriote, Act 2, scene v. In Collot d’Herbois’s patriotic drama, La Famille patriote (1790), the main

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character who marries his daughter to a young artist of patriotic scenes, reflects that there are many who “se sont ligués pour décourager les jeunes artistes patriotes” (Act 1, scene 6).

Revolutionary Tableaux


he championed in his pre-revolutionary paintings, scholars have increasingly viewed David’s contributions to late eighteenth-century art in light of Diderot’s sentimentalist aesthetics. As Roger Chartier observes in The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (1989), David’s monumental paintings from the era reflect “a conception of representation inspired by Diderot [...] put to the service of the celebration of civic virtue.”81 In other words, the formal strategies of Diderot’s sentimental aesthetics are deployed by David for a political message and end. Indeed, once the Revolution began and David’s message was one with the reigning regime, he abandoned the neo-classical and historical subjects of his pre-Revolutionary paintings in order to give himself over to the immediate and spectacular effects of sentiment. No longer ancient Romans in classical garb, it was now citizens of France who were models of virtuous action for others to emulate. While David’s festival orchestrations approximate painting, his monumental paintings reflect the dramaturgy of the stage. Le Serment du Jeu de paume (1790) was the first work he created during and about the Revolution and provides a telling example.82 Commissioned by the Jacobins to hang in the National Assembly, David’s largescale sketch of the oath is, in the words of Matthew Buckley, “composed with exacting tableau logic, offering not only a journalistic record of the event but a precise image of its culminating theatrical moment.”83 David chose to depict the event as a dynamic and affecting scene, sometimes forgoing historical accuracy to deliver a greater emotional impact. Contemporaries attest to the powerful effect the work had on viewers. “[On] se sent transporté en voyant ce dessin,” declared one reviewer.84 Mary Wollstonecraft noted the extreme emotion of the scene, describing it as “an overflow of sensibility that kindled into a blaze of patriotism Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, p. 172. See also Michael Fried, “David et l’antithéatralité,” in David contre David: actes du colloque organisé au musée du Louvre par le service culturel du 6 au 10 décembre 1989, ed. Régis Michel, 2 vols. (Paris: La Documentation française, 1993), vol. 2, pp. 199–227. Diderot’s influence can be discerned in the choice of subject and composition of a number of David’s canvases: The Death of Socrates, after Diderot’s recommendation for stage direction in Le discours de la poésie dramatique; the composition of the Oath of Horatii after Diderot’s praise of Poussin’s Le Testament d’Eudamidas. As Fried notes, David was probably acquainted with Diderot through the “lundis” of his godfather and benefactor, the playwright Sedaine (“David et l’antithéatralité,” p. 215). 82 The Tennis Court Oath was as decisive an act as the taking of the Bastille (which would follow it three weeks later). It enacted the first open challenge to the authority of the crown, as the deputies vowed not to disband until they had produced a constitution for France. The commision was a project David considered to be his most important, and it presented a huge task: not only did it entail the representation of 577 deputies in one vast hall, but since David had not been present at the event, he had to rely on interviews and portraits of the key figures. He never completed the final painting. 83 Matthew S. Buckley, Tragedy Walks the Streets: The French Revolution in the Making of Modern Drama (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), p. 40. 84 Qtd in Dowd, Pageant-Master of the Revolution, p. 44. 81

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


every social feeling,” while an anonymous reviewer at the 1791 Salon remarked, “on se sent entraîné avant d’avoir pu réflechir sur la nature de l’illusion qu’on éprouve.”85 The emphasis in each description is on the emotional effect of the sketch rather than on its rational persuasion or political content. David conveys the great emotion of the historical participants and effectively involves the viewers in its sentimental contagion.86 In turn, the deputies’ choice to imitate the gesture and stance of the Horatii from David’s Serment des Horaces when they swore the Tennis Court Oath in June 1789 reflects the fact that they understood themselves—and their new roles as acting citizens of the state—as participants in emotional tableaux. As such, the event provides a remarkable example of the conscious appropriation of art into political action, and of the extent to which David’s civic tableaux influenced the form and vocabulary of political action. In November 1790, for example, both Mirabeau and Brissot claimed that David’s Serment des Horaces “had foretold” the Tennis Court Oath. A writer in the Affiches claimed that “one cannot paint patriotic zeal and the civic oath without using the poses David gave them.”87 The tableau in part gave form to revolutionary impulses and action, providing a structure crystallizing in theatrical and painterly form the intensity of emotion experienced by its participants. As art historian Anita Brookner has argued, the oath-taking in the Tennis Court represents the endpoint in the development of eighteenth-century sensibility: “The most extreme outcome of sensibilité was the dynamic mysticism of Rousseau and the intensity of Julie de Lespinasse. Perhaps its final stage was the swearing of the Oath of the Jeu de paume in 1789.”88 We might call this final stage of sensibility, sensibilité in action. Art historian Philippe Bordes, however, has argued that David’s sketch of the oath does not fulfill the requirements of tableau because of the front-facing position of Bailly at the center of the composition.89 Bordes holds that such a direct facing composition goes against the ideas of Diderot’s art theory of absorption Wollstonecraft qtd. in Paulson, Representations of Revolution, 1989–1993, p. 104; a reviewer qtd. in Philippe Bordes, Le Serment du Jeu de paume de Jacques-Louis David: le peintre, son milieu et son temps, de 1789 à 1792 (Paris: Ministère de la culture, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1983), p. 163. 86 David’s primary concern in his art is with what he calls sentiment: communicating the feelings of the artist to the spectator. In a letter to one of his students, David wrote, “Ce que nous entendons ‘le sentiment’ [est] le principal [...] c’est lui qui donne le caractère maître à un ouvrage” (qtd. in Annie Becq, “Théories en perspective,” in David contre David: actes du colloque organisé au musée du Louvre par le service culturel du 6 au 10 décembre 1989, ed. Régis Michel, 2 vols [Paris, 1993], vol. 2, p. 682). By “sentiment” he means the ability to translate feelings from painter to viewer, to make a profound impression on the audience. 87 1 December 1790, qtd. in R.L. Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus” and the French Revolution: An Essay in Art and Politics (London: Penguin, 1972), p. 140. 88 Anita Brookner, Greuze: The Rise and Fall of an Eighteenth-Century Phenomenon (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1972), p. 18. 89 See Fried, “David et l’antithéatralité,” p. 217. 85

Revolutionary Tableaux


as articulated by Michael Fried. For him, the composition is theatrical and he cites David’s pupil, Délécluze, whose assessment he shares (Délécluze faulted the painting with being theatrical: “Dans le Jeu de paume de Versailles, tout le monde est en convulsion, et quelques uns même ont l’attitude de comédiens”).90 But as Fried notes in his response to Bordes, a theatrical interpretation of the painting misses the point of the changed circumstances in which David painted it.91 The President of the Third Estate, Bailly, is indeed facing forward and reading out loud from the text of the oath, which the deputies declared and signed. However, in the revolutionary context after 1790 the political mission of David redefined the problem of theatricality. The painting of the Tennis Court Oath absorbs the spectator morally and physically (through tears, shudders, sighs, etc.) in the action of the tableau, and this is no longer merely a possibility, as it was with the Horatii painting, but an imperative. Virtue is no longer a sacrifice of the self to an abstract ideal; rather, the ideal is now seen as a substantive political objective: the Republic of Virtue. Thus Fried identifies the way the absorption of spectators into the action—not merely as emotional participants in events through sympathy, but as actors themselves—cancels the seeming theatricality of the tableau. Thus we can see that the tableau was also altered by the new political circumstances after 1789. The hortatory function becomes a moral and political imperative to found the ideal community not merely as an ideal in imagination, but as the ideal made real. Reviewers from the 1791 Salon in which the Serment du jeu de paume was first exhibited remarked on the way the strong emotions the painting aroused made citizens active participants in the scene. For instance, one writes, “il faut attendre son tour pour avoir l’honneur de participer à la prestation de ce serment.”92 The aesthetic experience is not just one of pleasure and morality but is now also the exaltation of political participation. The painting involves the viewer in the intense emotional experience of the participants and thereby engages him in its goals and binds him to the same allegiance to the principles of the Revolution that the deputies proclaim. It is the realization of citizenship through virtuous sacrifice to the collective body. As described in the Supplément au Journal de Paris (10 June 1791), visitors at the Salon were waiting in line not merely to view the sketch but to take part in it: “on se sent entraîné [...] On croit assister et prendre part à cette scène immortelle.”93 Another reviewer implores his countrymen: “Français, accourez, volez, quittez tout, précipitez-vous pour assister au serment du jeu de paume, et si vous n’êtes pas brulés, consumés de feu patriotique à ce foyer ardent, assurez-vous bien que vous n’êtes pas digne de la liberté.”94 Sensibilité and civisme join as the emotional response to the painting Qtd. in Bordes, Le Serment du Jeu de paume de Jacques-Louis David, appendix. Fried, “David et l’antithéatralité,” p. 226. 92 Jean-Joseph Pithou de Loinville, Le Plaisir prolongé. Le retour du salon chez soi et 90


celui de l’Abeille dans sa ruche (Paris: chez l’auteur, 1791), pp. 28-9. 93 Qtd. in Bordes, Le Serment du Jeu de paume de Jacques-Louis David, p. 163. 94 Pithou, Le Plaisir prolongé, p. 28.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


leads spectators “to attend and prepare for (assister à)” the action depicted.95 David’s vision shares Diderot’s faith in the possibility of a collective moral rebirth through an aesthetic experience in which virtue and freedom would be mutually constructed and sustained. The emotional participation of revolutionary spectators in sentimental tableaux provided a means and model for political participation, and a codification of politics in affective terms. Conclusion: Turning the tableaux Peter Szondi ends his seminal essay “Tableau and Coup de Théâtre: On Social Psychology in Diderot’s Bourgeois Tragedy” with the pronouncement that “the revolt of the middle class spells the end of sentimentality.”96 For Szondi, the private realm embodied in the tableau represents the bourgeois desire for a “flight from the world”—from its wickedness and corruption—into the private refuge of emotion and domestic relations, and thus offers consolation or compensation for the lack of real public power.97 Whereas the coup de théâtre of tragedy embodies the instability and caprice of government by an absolute sovereign, the structural innovation of the static and emotional tableau reflects the rational and predictable realm of the domestic. Szondi’s assumption is that with the overthrow of monarchy and the empowerment of the bourgeoisie, the utility of sentimental forms effectively came to an end. However, as we have seen above, the French Revolution in fact brought sentimentality to center stage. Szondi’s Marxist notion of the tableau as a retreat from the world into emotion repeats the criticism commonly levelled against sentimentality that its indulgent emotionalism precludes the possibility for real moral or political instruction or action. For the Revolutionary generation, however, the tableau was perceived as a robustly revolutionary form. Restif de la Bretonne, for example, underscored the essential utility of sentimental modes: Le Drame [...] qui présente un tableau utile, fidèle, instructif, ordinaire, fréquent, tantôt plaisant, tantôt attendrissant des biens et des maux de la vie, est autant préférable à la Tragédie et à la Comédie, que le travail d’un Cordonnier, d’un

Describing the way Desmoulins depicted the emotional responses of deputies to a scene of pathos in the National Assembly in terms of tableau, David Andress writes: “the revolutionary auditors place themselves inside the tableau, and live it as reality” (“Living the Revolutionary Melodrama: Robespierre’s Sensibility and the Construction of Political Commitment in the French Revolution,”p. 111). Whereas Andress emphasizes the auditory, I would argue that the revolutionaries’ structuring of experience as emotional tableaux suggests a visual organization of information into moral knowledge. 96 Peter Szondi, On Textual Understanding, and Other Essays, trans. Harvey Mendelsohn (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 132. 97 Szondi, On Textual Understanding, p. 71. 95

Revolutionary Tableaux


Tailleur, d’un Masson, d’un Charpentier, d’un Menuisier, etc., l’est au jeu de paume ou de billard.98

The tableau of bourgeois drama was “utile”; it performed work that, like the mason, the tailor, and cobbler, supplied the foundations and the tools upon which a new society could be built. Its work was of a moral and physical kind: to foster the virtue necessary for a republic.99 Thus, more than just a compensatory aesthetic refuge offered to an economically powerful but politically disempowered bourgeoisie, the tableau supplied the medium for a radical rethinking of society through tactics and techniques designed to change people’s perception of reality. As Sarah Maza has argued, the sentimental model signified an ideal community that transcended distinctions of class.100 It was the Revolutionary decade that transformed the inclusive sentimental model of the philosophes into the exclusive model of the propertied bourgeois class by the end of the century. Revolt in 1789 thus did not spell the end of sentimentality, as Szondi claims; rather, it marked the flourishing of sentimental values and aesthetics that would only later be consolidated into a bourgeois ideology at the end of the decade. Revolutionary tableaux in theater, journalism, oratory, painting, and festivals prescribed a new sociability in which the beliefs and morals of the private and the natural were joined with the political and patriotic. Sentimental aesthetics thus played an important role in popularizing and spreading revolutionary sentiments and ideals, proving an effective vehicle for inspiring and imposing civic virtue through direct appeals to the emotions, and uniting the people in a universal heart and single cause. This is perhaps best illustrated in another example from Fabre d’Olivet’s play, Le Génie de la nation. In the thirteenth scene, a young Prince comes to Genius for instruction in how to govern: “Roi d’un peuple sensible, / Je cherche le bonheur.”101 The tableau she presents to him is a reversal of the earlier scene of maternal bliss discussed above: “Une femme & des enfants à demi nuds, couchés sur la paille. Un homme, enveloppé d’un manteau, leur donne une bourse. La Femme, à genoux, la reçoit d’une main, de l’autre, elle lui montre ses enfants.”102 Here we have a tableau of domestic poverty and misery calculated to move viewers to pity. The cloaked figure in the scene we learn is Henry IV; he is Nicolas Edmé Restif de la Bretonne, La Prévention nationale: action adaptée à la scène, avec deux variantes, et les faits qui lui servent de base, 3 vols. (La Haie: Regnault, 1784; repr. Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1988), vol. 3, p. 381. 99 Restif offered his own series of ten plays and thirteen “ombres” entitled, Le Drame de la vie (1793), as an example. 100 Sarah Maza, “The ‘Bourgeois’ Family Revisited: Sentimentalism and Social Class in Prerevolutionary French Culture” in Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century France, ed. Richard Rand (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 39–47. Also see her The Myth of the French Bourgeoisie: An Essay on the Social Imaginary, 1750–1850 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003). 101 Fabre d’Olivet, Le Génie de la nation, p. 22. 102 Fabre d’Olivet, Le Génie de la nation, p. 23. 98

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


moved to virtuous action by the spectacle of the family’s suffering and in effect replaces the absent father to complete the scene. The Prince is deeply touched by the king’s example of charity and states in response: “Je sens mon cœur, en sa présence, / Tresaillir de joie & d’amour.” At this point a boisterous poissarde enters the scene and, seeing the “painting,” cries: “Cest Louis, ce père sensible.”103 Past and present, Henry IV and Louis XVI, are conjoined in the image of “not’bon Roi” as the benevolent father of his people. After further lessons in governance, the Prince expresses a wish for the static composition to come to life. Genius grants his wish, the “tableau s’anime,” and the historical figures step onto the stage of the present, joining with the other characters of the play in a celebration of the new order as the two Bourbon kings, Henri IV and Louis XVI, are honored together.104 No longer merely the “modèle idéal” in the painter or playwright’s imagination, the Revolutionary tableau now depicts the new ideal reality of France. Portrait becomes tableau, past becomes present, ideal is made real as the frame now expands to include the spectators on stage, as well as those in the audience, creating a new tableau reflecting the natural morals of the true France. We might say, to revise the now-famous words of playwright Jean-François Ducis, that during the Revolution le tableau court les rues.

Fabre d’Olivet, Le Génie de la nation, pp. 23 and 24. Fabre d’Olivet, Le Génie de la nation, p. 30.

103 104

Chapter 3

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract: National and Private Theatricals in Collot d’Herbois’s La Famille Patriote (1790) It was common during the years of the French Revolution for major current events to be reenacted on stage in theaters throughout the country. The “Grandes Journées” (14 July, 10 August, the October Days, 9 Thermidor, etc.) and key military victories were performed for the public’s delight and edification in productions that commemorated the Revolution’s achievements and founding acts, and honored its heroes and martyrs. The storming of the Bastille, for example, provided the subject for at least nine different plays from 1789 to 1791.1 Such dramatic reenactments of contemporary events were popular across the Channel as well, particularly after the great success John Dent had at the Royal Circus in London with a sentimental burletta of the taking of the Bastille.2 Three new productions based on the actions of 14 July went into rehearsal in London shortly thereafter (Figure 3.1).3 Commenting on this phenomenon, the British dramatist Frederick Reynolds wrote in his memoir: “The loyalist saw the revolution in one light, the democrat in another; and even the theatrical manager had also his view of the subject. The Bastile [sic] must bring money; that’s the settled point; and a piece of that name must be written.”4 The commercial exploitation of contemporary developments in France thus brought a third perspective to the 1 L’Attaque et la prise de la Bastille (Ruggieri, 23 September 1789); La Bastille, ou Le régime intérieur (6 June 1791); La Fête du grenadier, ou le retour de la Bastille (3 September 1789); La Prise de la Bastille (Marc-Antoine Desaugiers, 13 July 1790); Prise de la Bastille (July 1789); La Prise de la Bastille (Loiseau de Persuis, 1 November 1789); La Prise de la Bastille (10 October 1789); La Prise de la Bastille (Pierre Legrand de Soissons Mathieu Parein, 25 August 1791); and La Prise de la Bastille, ou la liberté conquise by P. David (1790). 2 John Dent, The Triumph of Liberty; or the Bastille at the Royal Circus (5 August 1789). 3 The Bastille at Covent Garden; Gallic Freedom; or, Vive la Liberté at Sadler’s Wells; and Paris in an Uproar; or, the Destruction of the Bastille at Astley’s Amphitheater (17 August 1789). A fireworks show entitled La Prise de la Bastille also took place in July 1789. 4 The Life and Times of Frederick Reynolds, 2 vols. (London: H. Colburn, 1827), vol. 2, p. 54; qtd. in George Taylor, The French Revolution and the London Stage, 1789–1805 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 42.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

events of the Revolution, triangulating—as Reynolds suggests—the polarized political responses of royalists and republicans. Not only profit ventures, these theatrical spectacles also provided an important site for popular engagement with history-in-the-making, and a means to portray current events in a way that involved audiences more immediately in the political happenings in France. “While you observe from a distance the great drama which is acting in France,” wrote Helen Maria Williams to her readers in London, “I am a spectator of the representation.”5 Williams describes herself as a spectator at a performance rather than participant, but one who sees firsthand and up close, whereas they see “from a distance.” Reenactments of events did their part to bridge this distance, turning a profit by bringing contemporary history home to viewers unable to engage directly in the action and thereby allowing them to feel they too were witnesses to historical events, even participants in political change. Focusing on three plays that reproduced the great Fête de la Fédération of 14 July 1790 on stage—Olympe de Gouges’s plans for two comedies (Les Démocrates et les aristocrates, ou, les curieux du Champ de Mars and Le Temps et la liberté, ou la fédération française) and Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois’s tableau-patriotique, La Famille patriote, ou la fédération (1790)—this chapter explores the affective power that theatrical reenactments of the grandes journées exerted during the Revolution. The sense of immediacy these and the dozen or so other plays dramatizing the Festival conveyed offers insight into concerns raised by revolutionaries and their critics regarding the distinction between event and representation, ceremony and spectacle, performative and performance. Edmund Burke, for example, was critical of the Revolutionary festivals in France because the communal power of the ritual they embodied was, as he saw it, synthetically rather than organically created in order “to encourage emotional identification beyond the power of argument.”6 For Burke these were artificially fabricated events rather than time-honored traditions and practices. Rituals had the ability to appeal directly to the emotions, and thus to naturalize civic bonds, providing the revolutionary government with a means to foster affective ties between citizens and the state beyond reason. My aim in this chapter is to demonstrate the way in which theater played a mediating role in this process through its reenactment of key public events. Revolutionary oaths and oath-taking in particular supplied playwrights with a powerful means by which to join personal and public sentiments both on stage and in the audience. Collot d’Herbois’s play La Famille patriote provides an especially illuminating example of the manner by which the civic oath and marriage vows were blended in theater and in festivals into one ritual act of union. My discussion of the play focuses on the way in which sentimental modes and conventions served to reanimate the social and political bond of the people through emotion, creating a sense of immediacy between events and their representation, as well as between actors and spectators, that supplied an “effect” 5 Helen Maria Williams, Letters from France, Janet Todd, ed., vol. I (New York: Scholars Facsimiles, 1975), vol. 1, p. 32. 6 George Taylor, The French Revolution and the London Stage, p. 58.

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract

Fig. 3.1


Anonymous cartoon depicting a scene from the pantomime Paris in an Uproar; or, the Destruction of the Bastille performed at Astley’s Amphitheatre (17 August 1789). Attic Miscellany. 1 November 1789. Vol. 1, p. 41. Douce M1. The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

of direct participation that corresponded to the popular desire in the early years of the Revolution to join in the action.7 Much scholarship has appeared in recent decades on the Revolutionary festival movement and the Festival of Federation in particular.8 In turning to theatrical For Jean-Claude Bonnet, Revolutionary oaths represented what he calls “l’effet de direct,” a form invented by the revolutionaries to provide the experience and even the enactment of being present at the very process of historical and political change. My aim in this chapter is to demonstrate the way theater also played a role in this process; cited in Felicity Baker, “Rousseau’s Oath and Revolutionary Fraternity: 1789 and Today,” Romance Quarterly 38.3 (August 1991), p. 276. 8 Fêtes et Révolution, ed. Béatrice de Andia and Valérie Noëlle Jouffre (Dijon: Ville de Dijon 1989); François Alphonse Aulard, Le culte de la Raison et le culte de l’Être suprême, 1793–1794, 3rd ed. (Paris: Alcan, 1909); Felicity Baker, “Rousseau’s Oath and Revolutionary Fraternity,” pp. 273–87; Inge Baxman, ed., Die Feste der Französischen 7


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

representations of the Festival, however, my focus is on a different corpus of texts and thus has a different purpose: to argue that the reenactment of events in the theater was also crucial to the process of forging “emotional identification” between citizens and the state. Festivals and their reenactments offered a coherent and collective narrative of the Revolution as well as a ritual act—the oath—binding citizens to that narrative. The narrative code and the ideological code thus reinforced each other in the oath, crystallizing the meaning and values of society by engaging citizens in a predetermined path fostered and sustained through collective emotion. My secondary aim is to situate prior discussions of the Festival of Federation within a larger context of the crisis of performativity that emerged in the wake of the event. Not only does theater exemplify the divide between performance and performative but further, as I will show below, many of the plays of the Revolution take this divide, and the desire to bridge it, as their central subject. Drawing upon contemporary theory in the area of performativity, I use performance as both a contextual and a theoretical framework in order to elucidate the role affect played in forging the bonds of social contract, and thus the passage from private sentiment to the public expression of patriotic feeling. My discussion of Collot’s sentimental play La Famille patriote also draws upon Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideas regarding sovereignty and political formation in the Social Contract (1762) to argue that theater played a vital role in the way the political formation of the nation and the people as such were understood, at least in part, in affective terms during the Revolution. The Festival of Federation: National spectacle or national festival? One of the most spectacular and most dramatized events of the Revolution was the Festival of Federation on 14 July 1790, organized by the National Assembly and the municipality of Paris to commemorate the first anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. The festival combined formal religion, military pageantry, and celebratory entertainment, starting on the eve of the 14th with a “sacred drama” performed at Notre Dame (La Prise de la Bastille) and continuing the next morning, despite heavy rains, with a procession of national guardsmen and deputies from the Bastille to a stadium constructed especially for the occasion at the Champ de Mars, Revolution: Inszenierung von Gesellschaft als Natur (Weinheim: Beltz 1989); MarieLouise Biver, Fêtes révolutionnaires à Paris (Paris: PUF, 1979); David Lloyd Dowd, Pageant-master of the Republic: Jacques-Louis David and the French Revolution (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1948); Lynn Avery Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), and “The Sacred and the French Revolution,” in Durkheimian Sociology, ed. Jeffrey Alexander (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 25–43; Albert Mathiez, Les origines des cultes révolutionnaires, 1789–1792 (Geneva: Slatkine, 1977); Mona Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, trans. by Alan Sheridan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988); and Luigi Squarzina, Le Feste della Rivoluzione francese: da Rousseau al 1794 (Rome: Bulzoni editore, 1990).

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


where mass was celebrated by Bishop Talleyrand.9 The climax of the day’s events came with the collective oath-taking that followed the mass in which all those present joined together to swear the civic oath of loyalty to Nation, Law, and King (Figure 3.2). Not only were oaths sworn by the king, Bishop Talleyrand, General Lafayette (who presided over the ceremony), the representatives who traveled to Paris for the event (deputies, soldiers, national guardsmen, and delegates of France’s departments), and the approximately 300,000 spectators who gathered in the bleachers but also the official program had been distributed throughout the country so that the oath could be sworn, as stated in the script, “in concert and at the same moment by all the inhabitants and in every part of this empire.”10 This feat of organization meant that the federative oath was experienced simultaneously by all citizens of the nation regardless of location. For example, one eyewitness of the Federation in Rheims on that day wrote: At half-past eleven all the bells in the city began to ring, and some guns were fired, when the mayor pronounced the oath, to which they assented by holding up their hand, after which the Te Deum was sung [...] This ceremony was performed at precisely the same hour in every town in the Kingdom, and there is something very well conceived and magnificent in the idea of the bells all over the Kingdom ringing at the same instant of time, and the whole nation assembling to take the oath.11

The moment of oath-taking constituted an unprecedented and extraordinary moment of national unity and created, in imagination, the “nation” to which it swore.12 More than a civic festival along the lines prescribed by Jean9 The musical drame sacré was composed by Marc-Antoine Désaugiers, with lyrics by Marie-Joseph Chénier and choreography by Maximilien Gardel. 10 Qtd. in Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, p. 43. 11 In a letter from C.B. Wollaston, a British naval lieutenant, to his sister-in-law describing the events at Rheims on 14 July 1790, in J.M. Thompson, ed., English Witnesses of the French Revolution, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1938), p. 83. Helen Maria Williams similarly describes in a letter the “liberality of sentiment” she saw displayed by the citizens of Nègre-Pelisse in having a Catholic curé and a Protestant minister administer “the oath to their respective parishioners at the same moment” (English Witnesses of the French Revolution, pp. 85–6). 12 The oath created the nation as “an imagined political community” in the sense defined by Benedict Anderson: “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Imagined Community: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism [London: Verso 1983], p. 6). See also Jean Starobinski, “The Oath: David,” in his 1789: The Emblems of Reason, trans. Barbara Bray (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988), pp. 99–124; and Scott Magelssen’s discussion of the many prints made of the event which illustrate the sense of the nation extending in imagination beyond the immediately visible, in “Celebrating the Revolution While the King Is Still on the Throne: The Fall of the Bastille and the Festival of Federation (July 1790),” in Staging Nationalism: Essays on Theatre and National Identity, ed. Kiki Gounaridou (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005), pp. 32–47.


Fig. 3.2

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

Fédération générale des Français au Champ-de-Mars le 14 juillet 1790. Engraving by Helman after Charles Monnet. Musée Carnavelet / Roger Viollet.

Jacques Rousseau—in which the people merely become “an entertainment to themselves”—the federation was a rite of foundation and of integration into the public collectivity, allowing the multitude of citizens to unite in a single political body.13 Like the Tennis Court Oath that preceded and inspired it (20 June 1789), the event promoted a sense of the nation as a single entity separate from the king’s person and thus not embodied by one person, but existing in the imagination of each member who contracted together. The public could read about the event in the newspapers, in the letters and memoirs of eyewitnesses, or in pamphlets, poems, and other works published in 13 Rousseau, Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles [1757] (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1967), trans. and intro. Allan Bloom, Politics and the Arts: Letter to M. d’Alembert on the Theater (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991 [1960]): “Plant a stake crowned with flowers in the middle of a square; gather the people together there, and you will have a festival. Do better yet; let the spectators become an entertainment to themselves; make them actors themselves; do it so that each sees and loves himself in the others so that all will be better united” (p. 126).

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


its wake. Or they could experience events themselves (or relive them) through dramatic reenactments performed at various theaters. More than a dozen plays about the Festival of Federation appeared in Paris in the days and weeks before, during, and after the occasion, catering to the many deputies and fédérés in the capital eager for entertainment.14 Williams describes the way the Paris theaters were filled in the summer of 1790 with “comedies relative to the circumstances of the times, and, on that account, preferred [...] to all the wit of Molière.”15 Although such plays “might perhaps read coldly enough in your study,” she notes, they gained heat in performance from the “accompaniment of applause from some hundreds of the national guard, the real actors in the scenes represented.”16 Because they represented events with which audiences were not only familiar but also, in some cases, were the principal “actors” in them, theaters were required to pay new attention to the authenticity and accuracy of the action, costumes, and decor. But the primary concern of these plays was not with the correct reproduction of the event and the structures informing it but with the emotional and psychological experience of the participants. The plays readily combined fact with fiction, historical personages with standard comic types, and solemn ceremony with musical interlude, collapsing the distinction between stage and audience, event and reenactment, in order to emphasize the individual’s affective response. In some cases, the Federation plays were published quickly and performed as private theatricals in homes in the provinces, while in other cases, existing works, such as Beaumarchais’s opera Péronne sauvée, ou Tarare (1787), were revised in light of

Examples include Jean-Louis Gabiot de Salins’s La Confédération nationale (20 July 1789 at the Ambigu Comique); Boutet de Monvel’s Le Chêne patriotique, ou La Matinée du 14 juillet 1790 (music by Dalayrac, 10 July 1790 at the Italiens); La fête de la liberté ou le diner des patriotes (12 July 1790 at the Théâtre du Palais Royal); La Fête en petit at the Montansier (14 July 1790); and Collot d’Herbois’s La Famille patriote (17 July 1790 at the Théâtre du Feydeau [de Monsieur]). Other plays, such as Nicolas de Bonneville’s L’an MDCCLXXXIX and Joseph Aude’s Le Journaliste des ombres, were written for the event and performed starting on 14 July. In London, at least three plays about the Federation were staged: A Picture of Paris, Taken in the Year 1790 by Charles Bonner and Robert Merry, with music by Shield (Covent Garden, 20 December 1790); “The Paris Federation” a pantomime at the Royalty Theatre (1790); and Liberty; or, Two Sides of the Water by Colman at the Haymarket Bannister (13 August 1790). Supportive of the French Revolution to varying degrees, these plays were nonetheless always quick to praise England and the king. As George Taylor notes, “the ambiguity between praise of Britannia and the attack on despotism, was to become typical of all plays that touched on the struggle for liberty in France” (The French Revolution and the London Stage, p. 45). See also Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism, and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1780–1800 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001) and Jane Moody, Illegitimate Theatre in London, 1770–1840 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 15 Williams, Letters from France, vol. I, vol.1, p. 90. 16 Williams, Letters from France, vol. I, vol. 1, p. 91. 14


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

current events to include a festival scene at the end and were reopened to popular and critical acclaim.17 Inspired by the events at the Champ de Mars, the political activist and playwright Olympe de Gouges began drafting three plays about the Fête de la Fédération the same day it took place. Only one of these survives in full: a oneact comedy with vaudevilles entitled Les Démocrates et les aristocrates, ou, les curieux du Champ de Mars (1790). The action follows an officer of the guard on his way to the Festival and the various characters he encounters along the way—an old man, an aristocrat, a priest, a servant, a doctor, a tragic playwright, a genealogist, and a young bride-to-be, among others. De Gouges presents a broad cross-section of society and the different opinions each character has about the festival, ultimately showing that the prejudices, habits, and symbols of difference no longer hold in the new order. We know from de Gouges’s preface to the play that she planned two other spectacles about the Federation, one of which, entitled Le Temps et la liberté, ou la fédération française, would bring the entire festival and its oath on stage.18 De Gouges explains the title (Weather and Liberty) and her reason for writing the play as follows: Le public murmure aujourd’hui de ce que la cérémonie n’a point été exécutée selon son attente. Le temps a produit cet inconvénient et le Roi, en cela, n’a pas plus de tort que l’Assemblée nationale. C’est ce que le public doit reconnaître, au lieu d’inculper le meilleur des rois.19

The murmurs to which she refers began shortly after the king swore his oath. Unlike Bishop Talleyrand and General Lafayette, who pronounced their oaths over the altar of the fatherland built expressly for the ceremony, Louis XVI remained sheltered from the rain in the pavilion where the deputies of the National Assembly also took their oaths. As another eyewitness of the event, Helen Maria Williams, describes in her Letters Written in France in the Summer of 1790: The people had only one subject of regret; they murmured that the King had taken the national oath in the pavilion, instead of at the foot of the altar; and some of them, crowding around Mons. de la Fayette, conjured him to persuade 17 While Williams was in Rouen, for example, she and her sister performed in a private staging of Collot’s Famille patriote, which they had seen in Paris several months earlier (vol. I, vol. 1, pp. 203–07). Beaumarchais was a great supporter of the Festival of Federation and made a number of revisions to Tarare in June and July 1790 as preparations for the Festival were underway. See Béatrice Didier, Écrire la Révolution (Paris: Flammarion, 1989), p. 173. 18 In the “Avertissement,” de Gouges notes that, “J’ai promis deux pièces de comédie au public; je lui donne d’abord celle qui sera la plus facile à jouer dans les provinces et dans la capitale”; Théâtre politique, ed. Gisela Thiele-Knobloch (Paris: Côté-femmes, 1991), p. 143. The play is also mentioned in a brochure called, Bouquet National, in which she describes it as “Le temps et la liberté ou la Fédération française, pièce en deux actes, allégorique” and includes brief sketches of several scenes. 19 Gouges, Théâtre politique, p. 143.

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


the King to go to the altar and take the oath a second time. “Mes enfans,” said Mons. De la Fayette, “le serment n’est pas une ariette, on ne peut pas le jouer deux fois.”20

Lafayette’s response to the people makes the point that the oath was not a performance such that the people could demand an encore but was, rather, a performative speech-act, a binding utterance, in essence an action. To repeat the oath a second time would be mere performance. Lafayette’s comparison of the oath to an ariette, a type of song popular in the Paris playhouses, underscores his point that the people were witnesses to a solemn ceremony, not spectators at the theater. Witty though his remark may be, it dismisses the people’s main concern that the ritual requirements sanctifying the king’s oath had not been performed. For them, it was like swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth so-help-you-God without having one’s hand on the Bible.21 Lafayette instead tacitly upholds the king’s authority and thus the power of his word as deed, a power conferred on him by his God-given position as monarch. But whereas Lafayette points to the special category of language and performance to which the oath belongs (different in kind from the theatrical), and thus to the formal operations of language to argue for the success of the king’s oath, the spectators were concerned instead with the conventional circumstances within which the oath gains meaning and “acts,” what J.L. Austin calls the “total speech situation.”22 Louis XVI’s reluctance to approach the altar was interpreted by many in the crowd as reluctance to swear the oath, and this served to raise serious doubts about the sincerity with which he took it. Had it been just for show? Journalists and pamphleteers debated the king’s action in print, as for example in the pamphlet Pourquoi le roi n’a-t-il pas été prêté son serment à l’autel?: la 20 Letters from France, vol. I, vol.1, p. 16. The author’s note gives the translation as: “My friends, the oath is not an air which can be played twice over” (p. 16). 21 Barack Obama’s presidential oath sworn on 20 January 2009 offers an instructive comparison. Because the Chief Justice administering the oath transposed several of the words, which Obama repeated, questions about its validity were immediately voiced in the press (the U.S. Constitution mandates the exact language to be uttered). The new administration chose to hold a “do-over” the next day rather than “have someone challenge the legitimacy of his presidency” (New York Times, 21 January 2009). The second oath-taking before a room of reporters successfully quieted the murmurs but begs the (purely academic) question of which oath was the performative speech-act and which the performance. It is clear that the president’s authority and legitimacy stem from his democratic election by the people rather than the oath of office, which merely serves an auxiliary and ritual function in the U.S. In 1790 France, however, the Constitution was still being drafted. In fact, the deputies at the Festival of Federation promised in their oaths to draft a constitution for the country. In the absence of a founding document and single figure to embody political authority, the oath itself became the central act of foundation. See Cecilia Feilla, Performing Virtue: Politics, Sentimentality, and the Revolutionary Stage, 1789–1799 (Diss. New York University, 2003; Ann Arbor: UMI, 2003), pp. 196–249. 22 J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (London: Methuen, 1975), p. 8.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

demande et la réponse (1790). This question would figure centrally in the king’s trial two years later, when the accusation most raised against him was that he had broken his promises to the people and, worse, had sworn them falsely (perjury). After his execution, orators and journalists continued to cite his oath at the Federation as his first punishable crime against the people.23 In defense of the “best of kings,” Olympe de Gouges attempts in her play to recreate the oath the “correct” way. As she describes the staging: Tout ce qui s’est passé au Champ de Mars le jour de la Fédération se trouve dans cette pièce; on voit avancer le Roi avec le président de l’Assemblée nationale vers l’autel de la patrie et y prononcer le serment civique. Et ce serment, prononcé par le pouvoir exécutif en face du pouvoir législatif, produit au public une scène touchante; voilà comme j’avais pensé que ce serment serait prêté.24

De Gouges claims that “all that occurred at the Champ de Mars” is in her play, but she proceeds to describe precisely what had not occurred that day: namely, the king’s oath sworn over the “autel de la patrie.” She emphasizes that her play makes visible what she and others had anticipated would take place at the Federation that day. In effect, her staging reenacts the very spectacle for which the people had petitioned Lafayette. This amended performance of the king’s and the assembly’s oaths, she says, will offer a “touching scene” for the public and thus will allow them the emotional experience of seeing and celebrating the promise of constitutional monarchy in the balance of legislative and executive branches. De Gouges valorizes the imagined scene to the point that it displaces the actual one in her presentation of the event. Material truth, and the accuracy and authenticity attendant on its representation, cede to a greater moral and emotional truth: the will of the people. Her focus on the seen (“on voit”) and the scene (“scène touchante”) highlights the important role of the spectators as witnesses to, and emotional participants in, the performance. De Gouges thus destabilizes the notion of performance as less true than the event it represents. As the borders between reality and reenactment blur, theater emerges as the site not of the artificial but of the natural expression of the feelings and virtue of the people. 23 For example, the playwright and politician Boutet de Monvel inveighed against the specter of monarchy in his speech at the Festival of Reason at Notre Dame in 1793 by citing the king’s oath at the Festival of Federation: “au jour solennel où, devant la nation assemblée, environné de sa criminelle famille, le dernier des Louis prit à témoins le ciel et la terre du serment que son cœur parjurait en le prononçant, serment renouvelé de bouche et par écrit, serment trahi toujours aussitôt qu’articulé”; in Théâtre, discours politiques et réflexions diverses, ed. Roselyne Laplace (Paris: Champion, 2001), pp. 73–4. Similarly, an editorial in the radical newspaper Révolutions de Paris described the execution of the king as follows: “The striking act of justice [...] ought perhaps to have taken place on the same altar of federation that was polluted two times by the oaths of the perjuring monarch”; qtd. in Hunt, Family Romance, p. 10. 24 Gouges, Théâtre politique, p. 143.

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


Other examples of “corrected” scenes of the king’s oath proliferated among the diverse visual, dramatic, and textual representations of the day’s events, including memorabilia produced for and after the Festival of Federation (Figure 3.3).25 Among these items is a woman’s fan painted with the scene of oath-taking at the Champ de Mars on one side and the words of the oath on the other.26 The altar to the fatherland appears at the center of the fan’s semi-circle, with Bishop Talleyrand and General Lafayette flanking it on either side. The perspective is foreshortened in such a way that the king on his throne in the pavilion figures above all of them and appears therefore to be taking the oath over the altar. Fans were a popular luxury item for society ladies, and the flirtatious play of hiding and revealing they allow illustrates the equivocal nature of the oath as sign: does the owner of this fan advertise her allegiance to the oath with its painted scene, or hide behind the appearance of correct patriotism it portrays, as the king seemed to have done at the Champ de Mars? Like de Gouges, the nineteenth-century historian Jules Michelet also recognized the important affective function that witnessing the king’s oath held for the people. Describing the events of 14 July 1790 in his Histoire de la Révolution Française (1847–49), he writes: “Pourquoi donc le roi ne lui donne-t-il pas ce bonheur de le voir jurer à l’autel? Pourquoi jure-t-il à couvert, à l’ombre, à demi caché? Sire, de grâce, levez haut la main, que tout le monde la voie!”27 The happiness of the people depended upon seeing their king raise his hand and pronounce the oath. Michelet juxtaposes the visible display of the king’s devotion to the new order, as he imagines it should have been sworn, with its actual performance in “shadow,” “cover,” and obscurity. One of the driving forces behind the federation movement leading up to the great Federation of 14 July 1790 was the desire to abolish secrets and secrecy of all kinds. The epigraph to the Programme de la fête civique du 14 juillet 1790 (1790), for example, written by one of the Festival’s organizers, was: “La publicité est le sauve-garde du peuple.”28 The public nature of the 25 I am grateful to Julia Douthwaite for bringing this image to my attention. See her article, “On Candide, Catholics, and Freemasonry: How Fiction Disavowed the Loyalty Oaths of 1789–90,” in Eighteenth-Century Fiction 23.1 (Fall 2010): 81–117, which analyzes three novelistic responses to the Festival of Federation. 26 The fan is in the collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon and is reproduced in Fêtes et Révolution, ed. De Andia, p. 34. 27 Michelet, Histoire de la Révolution Française, ed. Claude Mettra (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1979), p. 334. “Lever la main” in French is synonymous with swearing an oath. The gesture is thus equivalent to the deed. According to the Encyclopédie, secular swearers put their hands in the air whereas religious oathtakers put their right hand on their heart (Denis Diderot and Jean de la Rond d’Alembert, Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, nouvelle impression en facsimilé de la première édition de 1751–1780, 20 vols. [Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Frommann, 1966], vol. 15, p. 100). 28 Charles-Emmanuel Gaulard de Saudray, Programme de la fête civique du 14 juillet 1790, pour la confédération générale du royaume, dressé par Ch. Em. G. de Saudray (Paris: Didot le Jeune, 1790), Bibliothèque nationale de France, 4-Lb39–3760. The quote is attributed to Jean-Sylvain Bailly, mayor of Paris at the time.


Fig. 3.3

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

Medallion of Louis XVI swearing the oath over the altar of the fatherland. La Royauté et la Nation – 14 juillet 1790. Musée Carnavelet / Roger-Viollet.

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


event, it was believed, would guarantee against secrecy and perjury.29 When the spectators requested that the king pronounce the oath a second time on the day of the Federation so that, in Michelet’s words, “all the world can see it,” they enacted their role as tacit guardians of its “felicity.” They were, in effect, asserting their right and duty to “speak now” rather than forever hold their peace. There is irony in the fact that the king, the deputies, and the soldiers had in fact all pronounced their oaths several months earlier in a ceremony at Notre Dame (February 1790). The Federation in July was designed precisely with the purpose of having the representatives swear them again, this time before the eyes of the people. The oaths pronounced at the Champ de Mars were thus already performance. The possibility for them to be actions not reenactments lay in the role of witnessing. In surveilling the utterances of the nation’s representatives, the people acted as protectors and arbiters of the truthfulness of their oaths. Witnessing during the Revolution both had the force of tacit consent and was an active element in the new right and duty of surveillance.30 Rather than the ancient distinction between witnesses (Greek, martyres) and audience (Greek, theatai, from the verb “to see”), during the Festival of Federation these roles blended into one and the same, as the festival came to function as both ceremony and spectacle. Again we see a complicating of the truth value of performance such that the traditional lines of demarcation between performative and mere performance no longer hold. Spectacle and display had long supplied the monarchy in France with the means of forging emotional bonds between the people and the state. As a result, critics and historians have paid great attention to the new forms and spaces of political display that emerged during the Revolution, with particular emphasis on the popular revolutionary festival movement. One area of continued debate has been the question of whether the federations were festival or theater and, thus, whether citizens were actors and participants or merely spectators at these events. Mona Ozouf has perhaps more thoroughly than anyone demonstrated the importance of festivals in revolutionary culture. Like Marie-Hélène Huet, Lynn Hunt, and others interested in the political culture of the French Revolution, Ozouf focuses As Lynn Hunt argues, “Transparency gave meaning to the civic oath and to the revolutionary festival, both of which depended on enthusiastic adherence, that is, on the abolition of the distance between citizen and citizen, and between individual and community” (Politics, Culture, and Class, p. 45). For Michel Vovelle, it dispersed fears by rendering everyone semblables (“Fête de la Fédération est l’anti-Grande Peur” in Frank A. Kafker and James Michael Laux, eds, The French Revolution [Malabar, Fla.: Krieger, 1989], p. 102). Also see Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press), pp. 193–8. 30 In the “Introduction” to Andrew Parker and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, eds, Performativity and Performance (New York: Routledge, 1995), Sedgwick and Parker discuss the role of witnesses in providing tacit consent inherent to speech-acts, as well as the dynamic of compulsory witnessing wherein witnesses can sometimes be implicated wrongly or against their will (pp. 7–8). Also see chapter 4 of Susan Maslan’s Revolutionary Acts for a discussion of surveillance during the French Revolution. 29


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

centrally on the transfer of sacrality from monarch to nation effectuated through the festival movement. The revolutionaries, she writes, imagined the “possibilité d’une fête complètement déthéâtralisée,” an ideal of virtuous spectacle embodying the “divorce de la fête et du théâtre.”31 Other critics, however, have not agreed with Ozouf’s Rousseauian interpretation. Jean Starobinski, for example, underscores the way Rousseau’s ideal of transparency and participation was not achieved in the revolutionary festivals: “Far from giving rise to an authentic presence, the festival fell into the old trap of a performance.”32 Béatrice Didier similarly holds that “la Fête elle-même était déjà théâtre,” while Antoine de Baecque, writing about the celebrations that took place around the 14 July 1790 commemoration, claims that the festivities transpiring on the days before and after the ceremony at the Champ de Mars were the true “fêtes” (particularly the celebration on 18 July at which the letters of the oath were spelled out in a fireworks display) while the Federation itself remained pure theater.33 Planners of the Great Federation of 1790 were themselves divided over the nature of the festival: some cited Rousseau’s idea for civic festivals as a model; others, such as Gaulard de Saudray, insisted that the Festival of Federation remain a strictly military spectacle, not a civic festival (the National Assembly in fact rejected the Paris Commune’s request to have a municipal festival the same day).34 Merlin de Thionville, a deputy of the National Assembly, meanwhile sought to clarify the distinction as follows: Il me semble que l’on a confondu jusqu’ici les fêtes nationales avec le spectacle national. Au spectacle, le peuple écoute ou regarde; dans une fête nationale, il doit être occupé [...] Il ne suffit pas pour jouir de quelque plaisir à une fête d’y

31 Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, p. 71. See Ozouf’s introduction (pp. 1–12) for an overview of the way festivals have been defined historically. 32 Didier, Écrire la Rêvolution, p. 173; and Starobinski, qtd. by Michel Vovelle in Kafker and Laux, eds, The French Revolution, p. 302. 33 “Les ris et les pleurs: Spectacle des affections” in Fêtes et Révolution, ed. de Andia, pp. 140–155. The term “spectacle” has more theatrical connotations in French than in English and is synonymous with theatrical production. In general, historians who are pro-Revolution tend to see the Festival of Federation as festival and Rousseauian ideal, while those who are critical of the Revolution underscore the theatrical interpretation of the Revolution wherein politics became theater (Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, pp. 1–12). My aim is to show that Revolutionary theater offers a third perspective between these polarized interpretations. 34 Gaulard de Saudray, Programme de la fête civique (Paris, 1790): “Cette fête est donc entièrement militaire” (p. 2). For examples of those who cited Rousseau as a model, see P.J.G. Cabanis’s Sur les fêtes publiques, civiles et militaires (Paris, 1791) and the pamphlet Confédération nationale du juillet 1790 (Paris, 1790), as well as Yves-Marie Bercé’s discussion in “Fête et Révolte,” in Les Fêtes de la révolution, ed. Jean Ehrard and Paul Viallaneix (Paris: Société des études robespierristes, 1977), p. 48.

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être spectateur, il faut y être acteur. [...] Le 14 Juillet ne fut qu’un spectacle, et quel spectacle!35

Merlin suggests here that no divorce between theater and festival occurred in the celebrations of 14 July 1790. The main “actors” of this and other festivals were the representatives of the people, not the people themselves (this would be the case with all festivals, as Bercé notes, until 1795); the latter remained spectators at a spectacle organized for them by the state institutions.36 However, as I have been suggesting above, the spectators were also actors in the event, participants in the ritual through their witnessing and consent (or in the case of the Festival of Federation, their non-consent) as well as through their oathtaking. The attempt to define the event as either spectacle or festival overlooks its central performative and affective functions that share qualities of both, allowing for a multiplicity of roles and performances that facilitated the transposition to the stage. As the passages above from Michelet, de Gouges, and Williams suggest, the importance of the revolutionary festival for the people of France rested squarely on the ritual meaning and emotional effect of the oath at its center. The Festival of Federation was in fact more commonly identified as a ceremony of oath-taking than as a festival. At Moulins, for example, the official record mentions nothing of a festival or federation but claims to be “an account of the solemn oaths taken at Moulins on July 14, 1790.”37 Moreover, in the controversy surrounding the king’s oath that day, it was not a question of whether the event was theater or festival but rather whether the oath was a binding performative speech-act or merely an empty performance of one. The people’s notion that the speech-act could be false while a do-over or reenactment could be true and binding destabilized any easy distinctions separating event from performance, and ritual from theater. Once we recognize that the principal issue was the illocutionary force of the oaths sworn, it becomes apparent that the larger stake of the Festival was over the question of authority and, consequently, the power by which language is able “to do things” as well as say things. The issues and debates that emerged over the felicity of the king’s oath are indicative of the enormous social and political changes that had occurred in France by the summer of 1790, and the theoretical and practical issues these changes raised regarding the relationship between speech-acts and political authority. The fact that the oath Louis XVI took that day was in doubt reflects the way his word no longer carried the force of action. Political authority now stemmed from the people and not from the divine right conferred on the king in the ceremony of the sacre performed at Rheims

35 Opinion ... sur les fêtes (An III), qtd. by Christian-Marc Bosseno in Fêtes et Révolution, ed. de Andia, p. 128. With Chabot and Basire, Merlin de Thionville was part of what was called “le trio Cordelier.” 36 Bercé, “Fête et Révolte,” p. 48. 37 Qtd. in Ozouf, Festivals of the French Revolution, p. 39.

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in 1775.38 With inherited institutions and powers (Church, monarchy, law) in the process of being reformulated or abolished, language lost its power to “act” unequivocally. Pierre Bourdieu demonstrates in Language and Symbolic Power (1991) that the force of performatives is the effect of social power derived from established contexts of authority and vested in the individual who utters it.39 The priest can successfully pronounce a couple “husband and wife” because of the delegated authority vested in him by the Church, just as the king’s word gains its peculiar force from the State which he embodies. As Marshall Sahlins articulates, cultures are made up of a series of such formulas for the successful carrying out of performatives that transform the social status of agents in relation to each other and the transcendent order.40 However, with the sudden arrival of a major event like the 1789 Revolution, the existing structure can be shaken such that historical circumstances prevent the successful performance of the cultural “script”; as a result, individuals are forced to innovate and improvise as they vie for authority.41 The years of the Revolution represent a moment of transition when the shifting site of authority led to uncertainty regarding the distinction between performance and performative speech-act—that is, between the bounded act of the individual theatrical performance (such as an ariette) and the cultural, non-theatrical iteration of the performative (such as an oath). With the old order swiftly falling, and no constitution yet instituted, revolutionaries seized upon the contractual power of the oath to secure liberty and affirm the new order. However, at the same that the oath came to the fore as a guaranteeing principle of the nation, events like the Festival of Federation exposed the way language had lost its institutionally conferred power to act. The Festival of Federation thus offers a rich site for exploring not only the crisis of performativity during the Revolution but also questions that continue to animate literary and philosophical debates in the area of performativity today: namely, from where does the speech-act derive its force? What (or who) determines the success or failure of a performative? When is an utterance performative and when is it mere performance? Dramatic reenactments of the Federation in the sentimental theater of the Revolution played a vital role in navigating the insecure terrain created by this crisis of oath-taking, and shed light on the gap that opened As Mirabeau wrote to the Comte de la Marck three days after the Federation: “Il est inutile de s’appesantir sur la fédération déjà passée, de montrer à quel point on a compromis le roi, sans profit pour son autorité”; Correspondances, ed. A. Daucourt (Paris, 1851), vol. 2, p. 103. 39 Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, trans. John B. Thompson. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 107–15. 40 Marshall David Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. vii–xv. 41 Sahlins’s view helps move the discussion of revolutionary culture beyond Huet’s notion in Rehearsing the Revolution, that revolutionaries were merely performing an already-written script, to recognize the innovations and re-scripting that also propelled historical change. 38

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


after 1789 between the performative power of the oath to found the state and bind citizens to it, on the one hand, and the impossibility of determining unequivocally the felicity of oaths, on the other. These plays offered spectators a framework through which to understand the large-scale social and political processes taking place on an emotional and personal level; they therefore contributed to forging the affective bonds guaranteeing the compact made. As Olympe de Gouges’s federation plays suggest, the re-presentation of events afforded audiences the possibility of witnessing and experiencing them the “right way,” as they ideally imagined, and thus to redress grievances. My purpose here is therefore not to differentiate festivals from spectacles or to address issues of sacrality or theatricality; rather, my aim is to understand the affective dimension of oath-taking during the Revolution through analysis of its performances in the sentimental theater of the 1790s.42 The federation on stage: Sentimental vows and civic oaths in La Famille patriote In the days and months following 14 July 1790, the Festival of Federation was widely praised for having united the people of France geographically (the capital and the provinces), politically (the three estates), socially (all classes, ages, sexes, religions), and strategically (the military and the legislative), and it was popularly represented as “le joyeux accord” in prints, verse, plays, and other cultural forms. For example, in the play Le Journaliste des ombres, ou Momus aux Champs Elysées by Joseph Aude (first performed on 14 July 1790), the title character visits the Elysian Fields in order to describe to the spirits there all that took place at the Great Federation. Addressing the shades of Rousseau, Voltaire, and other Enlightenment philosophes, Momus says: Dans cette vaste enceinte où des frères chéris Sont venus cimenter la gloire de la France, A l’ombrage sacre des Lys. 42 According to Ozouf (Festivals of the French Revolution, p. 21), the two main historical interpretations of the Revolutionary festivals, by Michelet and Aulard, present polarized views of the event’s meaning. For Michelet, the festival’s essential quality was that it unites (ritual of the community), whereas for Aulard, the Revolutionary festivals reflected the divisions in the political body caused by factionalism (the Festival of Federation, for example, was the work of “Fayettistes”). The first school thus focuses on the religious and sacred quality of the festival that creates and celebrates unity through a transfer of sacrality from King to State (Michelet, Durkheim, Hunt); the second focuses on a political interpretation of the festivals that underscores their essential factionalism and logic of exclusion (Aulard, Starobinski). These two opposing views were voiced in the immediate aftermath of the Festival of Federation (as we will see below). My claim is that dramatizations of the Federation in the sentimental theater played a triangulating role between the polarized interpretations—and thus between organizers and participants, politicians and the people, republicans and monarchists, actors and spectators, and so on.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution La justice, l’amour, confondant tous les rangs; Amis, frères, compagnons d’armes, Voilà le cri de ralliement. Louis, patrie et sentiment, Que ces noms ont pour eux de puissance et de charmes!43

He paints a scene of confraternity “joining all ranks” as cries of “amour” and “sentiment” are heard alongside “justice” and “patrie.” Written before the Festival of Federation took place, the play anticipates and prescribes the emotions the spectators will feel at the event. However, the happy accord that France was celebrating in July 1790 was not without its notes of discord, as sentiments regarding the event were sharply divided.44 Ozouf vividly describes the way rumors of violence spread throughout Paris in the days leading up to the festival. On one hand, “patriots” feared the festival was a trap laid for the people by the military; on the other, aristocrats dreaded the provincial crowds that had come to Paris and chose to flee the capital.45 Journalists such as Elysée Loustallot and Camille Desmoulins, meanwhile, protested the event by taking an alternative “pacte fédératif entre les écrivains.”46 Various plays, pamphlets, and engravings went a step further to represent the Festival as a sacrilege. Thus the Federation produced as much hope for the future as it did fears for the worst. We can see these extremes expressed clearly in the work of the playwright and composer Pierre-Antoine-Augustin Piis, who wrote a number of songs performed at the National Club of the Palais-Royal on 14 July 1790. One of these praised the national unity created that day in the following terms: “Trois ordres s’étoient assemblés,/ Un sage abbé les mêlés,/ C’est-ce qui nous console.” However, the tenor shifts as Piis sounds a more ominous tone in subsequent lines: On en a vu, qui, franchement, N’ont fait qu’épeler leur serment; C’est ce qui nous désole: 43 Joseph Aude, dit le Chevalier, Le Journaliste des ombres ou Momus aux Champs Elysées, pièce héroï-nationale, in one act, first performed at the Comédie-Française, 14 July 1790 in RTR, vol. 3, play 4. 44 As the country was celebrating its unity in July 1790, the Constituent Assembly passed into law one of the most divisive documents of the Revolution: the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, voted in on 12 July, only two days before the Fête de la Fédération took place. According to William Doyle, “the oath of the clergy was, if not the greatest [turning-point of the Revolution], unquestionably one of them” (The Oxford History of the French Revolution [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002], p. 144). Not only did it divide the religious into two camps—the oath-taking constitutionnels and the non-juring refractaires—the civil oath of the clergy divided the country regionally in a way that effectively undid the national unity achieved and celebrated on 14 July 1790. 45 Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, pp. 34–5. 46 Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, p. 35.

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


Qu’on répéte à haute voix, De bouche & de cœur à la fois; C’est ce qui nous console.47

The lyrics remind us that not all parties were content with the new pact celebrated at the Festival. Indeed, suspicion that certain groups had sworn the oath reluctantly or even falsely (“n’ont fait qu’épeler leur serment”), and thus weakened the social and political bonds it forged, was expressed in a number of anonymous satirical cartoons and engravings of the event as well as a variety of plays.48 La Prise de la Bastille (1790) by P. David, performed on 14 July 1790, for example, portrays a royalist captain who plots with the governor of Paris to foil the people’s efforts to liberate the Bastille.49 In order to veil their plans, the captain and governor swear an oath of solidarity with the other assembled citizens, since this was the surest means to avoid raising “suspicion de nos dessins secrets.”50 The nefarious governor gloats over the success of their plan: “voilà le peuple tranquillisé, trompé par nos serments qu’il croit sincères.”51 Thus popular plays and songs expressed the people’s fear that “bouche” and “cœur” were not always joined in the swearing of public oaths. The possibility of false oaths contradicted the visibility and publicity the revolutionary festivals were designed to promote and opened the possibility for factions and counter-revolution. Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois’s play La Famille patriote, ou la fédération reconciles these polarized views of the Federation of 1790 and the dilemma of sincerity they provoke by representing both the “happy accord” and the political factionalism of the event as an emotional family drama. Collot d’Herbois was an actor, dramatist, essayist, and politician made famous by his L’Almanach du Père Gérard (1791) and infamous by his service as a member of the Committee of Public Safety during the Terror.52 Like several prominent politicians of the Revolution, he started his career as an actor and playwright, with at least ten plays of varying success attributed to him. La Famille patriote was written before his politics radicalized, when he still supported a constitutional monarchy. The play opened on 17 July 1790, three days after the Festival of Federation, and proved to be the Théâtre de Monsieur’s most successful play to that point with a respectable seventeen performances. Of all the plays of the Federation, La Famille patriote develops the affective potential and meaning of the festival most fully. Whereas Olympe de Gouges had turned a satirical eye on the cast of characters who peopled Couplets chantés (Paris: Quai des Augustins, 1790). [TCFD] See for example, Magelssen’s discussion of engravings that foregrounded the

47 48

factionalism rather than unity of the event (“Celebrating the Revolution,” pp. 30–32). 49 P. David, La prise de la Bastille, ou La liberté conquise: Pièce nationale, en quatre actes, en prose (S. l: s.n., 1790). [TCFD]. 50 David, La prise de la Bastille, p. 18. 51 David, La prise de la Bastille, p. 19. 52 See Michel Biard, Collot d’Herbois: légendes noires et Révolution (Lyon: Presses universitaires de Lyon, 1995), and Friedland, Political Actors, pp. 172–6.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

and organized the Champ de Mars that day, and whereas Joseph Aude had presented the event in terms of an ideological utopia embodying in practice the ideals of the philosophes (written before the event took place), La Famille patriote imagined the day’s events as a domestic comedy, blending sentimental and patriotic themes around the play’s two central acts of oath-taking. The action of La Famille patriote follows the goings-on in two households on the day of the Federation: one family is headed by Monsieur Gaspard, a bourgeois factory owner and virtuous patriot, the other by the aristocrat Monticourt, Gaspard’s brother-in-law. The Gaspard family provides a microcosm of la France fédérée, reflecting the harmonious relations that result from equality and fraternity. Gaspard’s interactions with his children, servants, and employees are characterized by affection and mutual respect, immediately apparent in the way he greets his subordinates with “ami” and “tu.” By contrast, the Monticourt household is characterized by division and resentment as a result of the hierarchical attitudes and prejudices of the aristocrat at its head, an embodiment of Ancien Régime France. The servants are miserable; disorder and discontent reign. One young valet deserts Monticourt’s service in order to take a position working for Gaspard instead and encourages his old father to do the same. Monticourt, moreover, forbids his servants from attending the Festival of Federation, whereas Gaspard and his household look forward to the event with great excitement. The play opens in the early morning as the servants prepare for the day and as Gaspard paints for his daughter Honorine the “grand et beau spectacle” in store for them at the Champ de Mars. “Toute la Nation rassemblée, des millions de cœurs réunis, au nom de la patrie et de l’honneur, se jurant amitié, soutien et concorde.”53 Interestingly, Gaspard does not cite the actual terms of the civic oath—to Nation, Law, and King—but the emotional valences such political and legislative entities conjure in the hearts of patriots. In other words, his emphasis is on the sentiments of fellow-feeling and love of country that unite the hearts of the French people and is symbolized in their pledge of mutual fidelity. Honorine replies: “Mon père qui plus que moi doit être touchée de ces nobles sentimens, de cet amour du chef pour sa famille, de la famille pour son chef: je vois cela ici tous les jours ... et c’est vous qui nous en donnez l’exemple.”54 Honorine draws the parallel between the mutual affections of father and children and those of king and subjects, and thus between the chef de la patrie (the king) and the chef de la famille (the father). The private family and the national family are conjoined, not by patriarchal authority or inherited power but by the bonds of affection that undergird the duties family members owe each other. Gaspard’s servant Casimir later repeats this parallel in his description of the king at the Federation: “le Roi, ce bon Roi, au milieu des fédérés comme un père parmi ses enfants.”55 The image he creates is of a single family of France formed and supported by mutual love. As Lynn Hunt points out, 53 Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, ou la Fédération (Paris: Chez la veuve Duchesne, 1790), p.17. [TCFD] 54 Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 17. 55 Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 40.

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


the Festival of Federation effectively “brought the French family back together again,” marking a moment of reunion that mended the ties of the patrie first broken by the Tennis Court Oath of 1789.56 To further underscore the parallel between the affective bonds of family and of state, Gaspard has planned a surprise for Honorine: he has chosen this day for her marriage to Eugène, a young patriotic painter of the Revolution’s grandes journées. As Gaspard explains to his brother, a former priest: “Il faut marier ma fille dès aujourd’hui. Eugène, sortant de jurer sur l’autel de l’hymen, viendra heureux et fier du caractère d’époux, jurer ensuite sur l’autel de la patrie ... le serment qu’il prononcera en sera plus auguste.” 57 The two oaths—marriage and civic— will reinforce each other and will amplify the couple’s love for each other and for their country. Although the personal oath comes first, it is the public oath that is privileged here and that is strengthened by the private one. Gaspard’s remarks reflect the belief, expressed in various forms throughout the era, that the natural bonds of husband and wife will help forge the social unity of the republic, and ideally will transform marriage into a site of political and moral regeneration.58 According to Suzanne Desan, marriage was conceived of by the revolutionaries as the original social contract. At the nexus of affect and law, marriage was “important to constructing ties between the individual and the collectivity.”59 The bond of marriage thus provided the useful and virtuous bridge from the state of nature to civil society and from civil society to the state. This ethos was popularly expressed in numerous revolutionary plays such as, for example, the patriotic comedy, La Frontière (n.d.): “D’un bon et franc républicain, / Le mariage est la loi première; [...] / Pour savoir aimer son pays, / Faut être époux et père.”60 Marriage is the “first law” of citizens that provides the foundation upon which patriotism is built. Marriage thus took on particular political importance during the Revolution as officials sought to unite civil and natural man in the service of the nation. In this context, the aristocrat Monticourt is doubly suspect since he not only refuses to attend the Festival at the Champ de Mars (and thus refuses to pronounce the civic oath), but is not married and has neither wife nor children. When Eugène hears the good news that he will be married to Honorine that very day, he exclaims: “Ah! ma chère Honorine ... quelle journée ... je vais prononcer les Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class, p. 35. For a discussion of the family and patriarchal authority, see Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 15–72. 57 Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 15. 58 The family provides the model for society in Rousseau’s Le Contrat social (1762). There he calls the family, “[l]a plus ancienne de toutes les sociétés et la seule naturelle.” In Emile, ou de l’éducation (1762), Rousseau not only maintained that the well-being of society was contingent on the stability of the family, but equated family love with patriotic devotion. 59 Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 56. 60 Citoyen [L.] Réynier, La Frontière, scène patriotique en deux actes (n.d.) in RTR, vol. 7, play 1. 56

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


deux sermens les plus chers à mon Cœur.”61 Eugène doubles his happiness over the course of the play as he develops from man to spouse to sworn patriot through the oaths he takes. The etymological root of the word oath (serment in French), from the Latin verb, spondee, survives in the terminology of marriage, implicit in the term “spouse” (French “époux/épouse”), meaning one who has pledged himself or herself.62 Collot d’Herbois thus links the private and public in a common bond of love and duty, tied together by the oaths the characters swear, each making the other stronger. The private happiness is also a public one, and the French people one happy family celebrating unity and love as symbolized by the union in marriage of these young patriots, the future of France. We can see in this configuration of political allegiance in affective terms a reversal in the conceptualization of the state from what it had been earlier in the eighteenth century. Whereas formerly the political order had provided the model that justified the familial order, stemming from the order of God, now it was the private constellation of affectionate family relations that provided a model for the new political order. In his discussion of the festival movement leading up to the Festival of Federation of 1790, Michelet notes that marriages were frequently performed over the altar of the fatherland at provincial fédérations throughout the summer of 1789 (before marriage was brought under the purview of the state in 1792). For him, “l’image touchante” of these marital unions provides a symbol for the great Federation itself and the future unions it portends: “La Fédération elle-même, ce mariage de la France avec la France, semblait un symbole prophétique du futur mariage des peuples, de l’hymen général du monde.”63 The expanding circle of love emanates from the couple to the nation to humanity at large, encompassing the whole globe in its reach. Striking in this example is not only the central role of the oath in forging the social and political bond of the people, but the emphasis on affect as the basis of political transformation. This is discernible not only in Michelet’s Romantic interpretation of events but in the rhetoric that emerged during the Revolution as well. For example, a revolutionary pamphlet entitled Discours sur le serment (1790) states: “Jurer d’être fidèle à la Nation, c’est donc jurer de suivre le plus doux penchant de la Nature: c’est donc jurer d’abandonner son cœur à l’impulsion du plus pur amour.”64 Civic oaths are represented here as Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 22. Emile Benveniste, Indo-European Language and Society, trans. Elizabeth Palmer

61 62

(Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1973), pp. 474 and 481. The British poet William Wordsworth plays on these meanings in The Prelude, when he describes Festival-goers on 14 July “returning / from the great spousals newly solemnised” at the Champ de Mars (Book 6, ll. 388–9). 63 Michelet, Histoire de la Révolution française, p. 32. 64 François-Valentin Mulot, Discours sur le serment civique, prononcé le dimanche 14 février dans l’église de Notre-Dame, par M. Mulot (Paris, 1790), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Lb39–8443. The emphasis on love as the guiding force of politics and patriotism can be found throughout revolutionary literature. For example, a poem addressed to the National Assembly in July 1790 and printed in the Correspondance littéraire (pp. 111–12) calls l’Amour “le premier citoyen” (p. 112).

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


the purest expressions of love stemming from the most natural impulses of the heart. In this way, the ritual of union celebrated in the federation, like the ritual of marriage associated with it, was felt to be the natural and true expression of inner sentiments rather than a synthetic or artificial ritual imposed by the state. Collot’s play does not reproduce the mass oath-taking at the Champ de Mars on stage. Instead, Gaspard’s servant, Casimir, recounts the details of the event “avec enthusiasme” to Monticourt and several of the servants. He describes in particular the immense field “plein de spectateurs ... Pas une place vuide, pas une où il n’y ait une âme contente, joyeuse, transportée, car l’Autel de la liberté étoit sous les yeux, là au milieu.”65 Moved himself by the scene he paints in words, Casimir is able only to speak in half sentences and fragments: “Le serment prêté par un million d’homme ... Leurs mains étendues vers le ciel ... les acclamations ... les chapeau en l’air ... J’en perds la tête. Il n’est pas possible d’achever un tableau aussi beau que celui-là.”66 Casimir’s auditors also respond with deep emotion and complete the tableau through the sacrifice of their tears. The aristocrat, Monticourt, in particular says: “Je me sens ému, (il porte la main à ses yeux) malgré moi.” The maid then joins her tears with his (“Je pleure aussi,” she says).67 The tears they shed together, master and servant, in response to Casimir’s narrative will have profound implications for Monticourt’s regeneration by the end of the play, as it starts the process of emotional identification that will lead him to social and political identification with his semblables. As such, the scene as a whole enacts a model of the way the Great Federation was ideally to be commemorated.68 As the author of a revolutionary pamphlet entitled Confédération nationale du 14 juillet 1790 imagines, the Federation will be remembered by generations to come “car vos pères, vos frères, vos amis, vous raconteront ce qu’ils ont vu, ce qu’ils ont entendu.”69 He acknowledges those who took part in the festival (“dont les larmes coulé avec les miennes, dans ces moments délicieux”) as well as those who were not present but who can still share in the collective emotions through the retelling of events in personal narratives.70 The author entreats his readers to become Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 40. Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 40. 67 Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 41. “[E]n fondant une société ils fondent 65 66

en larmes,” is how Anne Vincent-Buffault describes the affective relations established between l’homme and his frères in the revolutionary oath (Histoire des larmes, p. 93). 68 Keith Michael Baker explores in Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990) the way representation during the Revolution was used by those in power to invent and control public memory (p. 56). “If one controls people’s memory,” he writes, “one controls their dynamism” (p. 31). One of the engines of this dynamism, I am arguing, was emotion. My point is thus to explore the central role of affect in the process of meaning-making, community-building, and commemoration during the Revolution. 69 Confédération nationale du 14 juillet 1790, ou Description fidèlle de tout ce qui a précédé, accompagné et suivi cette auguste cérémonie (Paris, 1790), p. 1. 70 Confédération nationale, p. 2.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


narrators in turn, recounting the event to their children and grandchildren: “mettez encore ce récit sous leurs yeux, que leur langue se dénoue pour jurer la liberté, ce serment sera scellé dans les cieux.”71 The process of telling (and re-telling) the events of 14 July thus not only serves to move listeners emotionally but also serves to move them physically to tears and to action; that is, to join heart and mouth to swear the oath themselves. As the pamphleteer continues in the Confédération nationale, “les enfans de vos enfans naîtront libres [...] car vous raconterez aussi ce grand jour à vos enfans.”72 Through this process of transmission, the oaths sworn at the Champ de Mars will be kept and renewed into the future, ensuring that the Revolution’s promise of liberty will be fulfilled.73 La Famille patriote dramatizes this commemorative transmission of history through Casimir’s narration of events on stage. As the pamphleteer above exhorts, he “puts the narrative before their eyes” in order that his auditors will be moved themselves to swear the oath. This includes not only the characters on stage (Monticourt and the maid) but the spectators in the audience as well. Theater could therefore play an active role in fostering the affective bonds of citizenship that kept the oath—and the liberty it avowed—alive. It served to bridge the divide between action and narration, past and future, historical event and its representation. The role of emotion in this economy is clear: it is not argument or reason that ensures virtue and liberty, but narrative and feeling. As Monticourt says, he is moved despite himself (“je me sens ému [...] malgré moi”). The narrated scene appeals directly to his heart in a way that trumps his self-interest, and he cannot help but recognize the truth of virtue he feels in his heart. It was this affective power of ritual in festivals and in theater, and its peculiar power over judgment and action, that Burke and others found so threatening. The wedding ceremony that unites Honorine and Eugène also takes place off stage in La Famille patriote during the intermission, but is evoked in the music played between the first and second acts as indicated by the stage directions specifying that the orchestra “devra jouer alternativement quelques airs analogues, soit au mariage, soit à la grande cérémonie dont il s’agit.”74 The intertwining of musical themes underscores the harmonious joining of the dual oaths and sets the stage for the wedding festivities that dominate the second act. The decorations on stage include a statue of Liberty (rather than of Cupid and Venus) and an altar to the Patrie inscribed with the words “à la liberté, 14 juillet 1789.” The action opens again with the servants preparing for the reception and with the Confédération nationale, p. 2. Confédération nationale, p. 1. 73 The logic of the oath is such that it is as if the future action has already taken place, 71 72

for in uttering it, one is tied to its future fulfillment. “Between the original determination and the actual performance of the thing willed, a whole world of things, conditions, even volitional acts, can be interposed without snapping the long chain of the will,” writes Friedrich Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals (New York: Anchor Books, 1956), p. 190. 74 Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 26.

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


various groups of characters encountered in the first half of the play—factory employees, guardsmen, servants, neighbors, and others—arriving at the Gaspard home fresh from the Champ de Mars to celebrate the new couple. The highlight of the celebration comes when Honorine’s younger brother Victor leads a band of children in a re-creation of the federative oath for the entertainment of the guests. The youths are dressed in national guard uniforms and carry a banner with the words “la valeur ne connaît pas de l’age,” in imitation of actual children’s groups during the Revolution (Figure 3.4).75 Victor addresses the guests: On nous a cru trop jeunes pour les dangers que nos parens ont bravés. Mais si leur tendresse s’est defié de nos forces ... il faut montrer notre bonne volonté ... Jurons de verser tout notre sang pour la cause qu’ils ont defendue. (il va au vétéran) Respectable vieillard ... c’est entre vos mains que nous allons en prêter le serment... Les plus anciens soldats doivent recevoir les plus jeunes.76

This remarkable display of civic virtue on the part of the children reenacts David’s famous tableau of Le Serment des Horaces, and would have been immediately recognizable to Collot d’Herbois’s audience (Figure 3.5). Like the sons of Horace, the boys swear before the old veteran to defend the Constitution to the death.77 Unlike David’s painting, however, the marriage that serves as background to the oath in La Famille patriote does not represent a tragic conflict between duty and love as it does for the Curatii and Horatii but embodies the harmony of public and private duties and affections in one patriotic expression of love, one happy accord.78

According to Simon Schama, “Battalions of Hope” consisting of boys between the ages of seven and twelve were formed throughout France. The boys were uniformed as National Guards, taught drills, and prompted to memorize passages from the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen (Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution [New York: Knopf, 1989], p. 522). For a discussion of the iconic and symbolic power of the guardsman’s uniform, see Dale L. Clifford, “Can the Uniform Make the Citizen? Paris 1789–1791,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 34.3 (2001): pp. 363–83. The children’s slogan also echoes a famous line from Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid (1637), “La valeur n’attend point le nombre des années” (Act II, scene ii). 76 Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 50. 77 La Famille patriote, p. 50. This theatrical reenactment of David’s painting thus predates David’s own sentimental staging of his painting in one of the scenes he orchestrated for the Festival of the Supreme Being (July 1794). 78 David’s painting depicts a scene from the early days of pre-republican Rome in which the sons of the Horatii swear to defend Rome in single combat against three brothers of Alba, the Curatii. The heroic devotion of their lives to Rome is complicated, however, by the emotional ties linking the two families: one Horatius is married to a Curiatius woman (Sabina), and one sister of the Horatii (Camilla) was engaged to a Curatius, who was also a close friend of her brother. Each side was thus fighting to the death against their own relations by marriage. Whatever the outcome, both families would suffer. 75


Fig. 3.4

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

Jean-Baptiste Lesueur, Serment des enfants. Gouaches de JeanBaptiste Lesueur de 1789 à 1806. Paris: Musée Carnavalet / RogerViollet.

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract

Fig. 3.5


Jacques-Louis David, Le Serment des Horaces, ca. 1784. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo: G. Blot / C. Jean. Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY.

The guests are deeply affected by this display of juvenile patriotism, but none so much as Monticourt. Already stirred by Casimir’s description of the Federation, Monticourt is moved to such heights of love and admiration for his countrymen by the children’s performance that he covers his eyes and cries “J’ai pour jamais abjuré tous mes préjugés. Je suis redevenu citoyen. Les voilà ces titres chimériques. Je les dépose, je les sacrifie sur l’autel de la Patrie.”79 He renounces his titles on the spot (as nobles had done on the historic night of 4 August 1789) in a ceremonial “sacrifice” over the altar to the fatherland (conveniently on hand for the occasion). Monticourt is moved to abjure his prejudices so that he may now jure (swear) the oath of fidelity to the Nation, Law, and King. Significantly, Monticourt depicts his conversion in terms of a return, a “becoming again,” when he says: “je suis redevenu citoyen.” He is returned to the natural feelings in his heart and thus becomes a citizen again. His conversion reflects the way sentimental aesthetics operate, not by changing human nature or thinking but by 79 Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 50. Gaspard’s brother, Le Prieur, is a former priest who left his abbey “dès qu’il s’est vu libre, et qu’il a cru pouvoir nous être utile” (p. 7).

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


reacquainting citizens with the natural virtue and sympathy already inscribed in their hearts and, thus, with the moral foundations of society. Through the emotions it elicits, the play (and the performance-within-the-play) can thus be an effective instrument of social and moral regeneration and action (Monticourt’s sacrifice of tears leads to sacrifice of privileges). Again we see that the role of spectators within the scene, particularly of Monticourt, is key to the exemplary functioning of the performance. The patriotic virtue of the children, inspired itself by the virtuous example of their parents, elicits Monticourt’s tearful response; the spectators’ tears in turn, we can imagine, form an ever-expanding chain of shared feeling. Performance in La Famille patriote thus serves to fuel a patriotic fervor in the spectators and each spectator’s patriotism is in turn fueled by the spectacle of the fervor of others, continuing the contagion of sentiment beyond the bounds of the stage and playhouse. Gaspard meanwhile responds to the children’s oath as follows: “Aimables enfans! Ce sont eux qui recueilleront les fruits que nous semons aujourd’hui.”80 He underscores the future-oriented nature of oath-taking: the fact that the seeds sown today (the vows to the Constitution, but also in the sexual relations encumbent on the marriage union) will reap, and be reaped by, future generations of “victors” who will defend the laws into the future. Indeed, at the end of the play Victor promises the guests that next year when they gather again, it will be to celebrate his own nuptials, an act that will both reinforce and extend his vows today. Oaths patriotic and marital thus serve to reproduce the nation and its ideology, and ensure its continuity into the future. Let us not forget, however, that Monticourt’s response is to a performance of oath-taking and not the thing itself. Even within the fiction of the play, the children’s oath is not presented as a binding speech act but as a representation of one. The children can hardly be held to these oaths—since they have not reached the age of conscription (20 years old in 1790)—any more than they could be held to marriage vows had they chosen to recreate the day’s other oaths instead. As a reenactment of what took place at the Champ de Mars, the oaths are not successful performative speech acts in Austin’s sense of illocutionary assertives or promissives; rather, they recall his now-famous observation in How to Do Things with Words that “a performative utterance will, for example, be in a peculiar way hollow or void if said by an actor on the stage, or if introduced in a poem, or spoken in soliloquy.”81 Theirs is merely the “hollow” dramatic performance of a performative. Yet, while this oath does not constitute a “felicitous” speech-act in Austin’s terms, it also is not mere theater. For Victor and the other children in the play, their performance serves a ritual purpose; like the federative oath it recreates, the children’s oath follows a conventional form (text and gesture) and is performed with solemnity and witnesses. It conveys the children’s “bonne volonté” to join in the action upon reaching the age of majority and their desire to reproduce the heroic actions of Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 51. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, p. 11.

80 81

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


their parents in defending the liberties won thus far. We might concede that it is performative in the sense of enacting the valor and virtue their words claim; what is being performed is less the oath of “liberty or death” than the virtuous identity that was believed to be the necessary precondition for the oath and citizenship, also dramatized in the play through the conversion of Monticourt.82 But even more importantly, what the children’s performance enacts is the impossibility of the oath. It is in effect a performance of this impossibility. The children are excluded from participation in the public body (due to their age) and therefore can only mimic the ritual of initiation into the collectivity. The effect of their performance on those gathered depends upon the recognition of this present impossibility and its relation to the future possibility of oath-taking. We might say that their representation of an impossible performative provides the precondition for future bonds of state by redefining the relations among those who swear it. It is through representation (the narrative of Casimir, and the performance of the children) that Monticourt is regenerated and joins the body politic as citizen and equal. It is through representation that the children come to see themselves as equals in all but age with the active citizens of France. It is through representation that spectators and actors at the Federation create in imagination the nation to which they swear loyalty. Whereas Olympe de Gouges had planned to present “all” that occurred at the Champ de Mars in ideal form on stage, Collot d’Herbois kept the oath offstage and presented the children’s performance of it instead. This representation of a failed (or “hollow” or “void”) performative acknowledges theater’s status as reenactment rather than event, performance rather than performative. But by placing the oath at the center and climax of his sentimental play, Collot suggests that the representation of oaths—whether in narrative or performance—plays a critical role in forming a people capable of contracting together. Theater thus had a vital role to play. It represented the act of contracting together (if not the contract itself) necessary to the forging of emotional, social, and political bonds. If we pause for a moment to consider the political implications of Collot’s depiction of the relationship between representation and political contract, we can begin to see the way in which the oath-taking at the Champ de Mars on 14 July 1790 functions in a way similar to the children’s performance in La Famille patriote. Here Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s political philosophy offers a frame of reference. In The Social Contract (1762), Rousseau describes the act of foundation as follows: Judith Butler argues in Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997) that agency lies in the repetition of speech, not its origination (p. 39). Speech thus becomes equated with habitual conduct; one binds oneself to perform a certain identity (p. 49). Thus the agent is the effect or consequence, not the origin, of the utterance. John Renwick similarlyidentifies the way the oaths taken in the National Convention exemplify the rhetorical category of ethos, which “concern[s] the way in which the orator conveys to his public [...] an idea of his own qualities” (Language and Rhetoric of the French Revolution [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990], p. 58). This notion will be explored further in Chapter 6 below. 82


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“At once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting party, this act of association creates a moral and collective body.”83 Before considering this act of association (the social contract), however, Rousseau states that one must first consider “the act by which a people becomes a people, for that act, being necessarily antecedent to the other, is the real foundation of society.”84 He explains the origin of the social contract as necessitating an exchange between two preexisting parties by which legitimate political and moral authority is created. But as Louis Althusser and others have noted, Rousseau “cheats” because both parties do not pre-exist it: the people only become a people after agreeing to the contract.85 As Lesley Walker describes: “The primordial contract—the act whereby a people becomes ‘a people’—recedes elusively because the ‘people’ always already seem to be constituted as such [ ... ] Clearly Rousseau cannot envision how the ‘advantageous exchange’ dreamed of in his Contrat social might come about.”86 However, Rousseau does envision the means by which the people are constituted as such in his Projet de constitution pour la Corse (1763), published one year after the Social Contract: the oath. Rousseau does not mention an oath in the final version of the Social Contract, and though the oath appears in the Geneva manuscript, Rousseau includes it there only to specify its inutility and irrelevance (“Car il y a bien de la différence entre demeurer fidèle à l’État seulement parce qu’on a juré de l’être, ou parce qu’on tient son institution pour céleste et indestructible”).87 The philosophes in general, following the natural law tradition, relegated the oath to an auxiliary role and deemed it superfluous and inconsistent because it lacked foundation. However, in his Projet de constitution pour la Corse, Rousseau identifies the oath as one of the main elements in the foundation of the body politic, “le premier acte” necessary to the establishment of a modern 83 Rousseau, The Social Contract, trans. Maurice Cranston. (New York: Penguin, 1968), p. 6. 84 Rousseau, The Social Contract, p. 59. I am grateful to Dan Edelstein for this insight into the larger political implications of Collot’s play, particularly in relation to the question of representation in Rousseau’s Social Contract. 85 “The ‘peculiarity’ of the Social Contract is that it is an exchange agreement concluded between two RPs [Recipient Parties] (like any other contract), but one in which the second RP does not pre-exist the contract since it is its product”; Louis Althusser, Politics and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (London: Verso 1972), p. 130; quoted in Lesley H. Walker, A Mother’s Love: Crafting Feminine Virtue in Enlightenment France (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2008), pp. 76-77. Jacques Derrida locates a similar circularity in the U.S. Declaration of Independence in which “we, the people of these United States” declare independence of England, although neither the U.S. nor its people existed prior to its being declared as such in the Declaration. See his “Declarations of Independence” in Otobiographies: l’enseignement de Nietzsche et la politique du nom propre (Paris: Galilée, 1984). 86 Walker, A Mother’s Love, pp. 76-77. 87 Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, ed. Bernard Gagnebin and Mercel Raymond, vol. 3 (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 318.

Sentimental Vows and the Affective Bonds of Social Contract


society on solid ground.88 He outlines the parameters for a collective oath-taking as follows: “Toute la nation corse se réunira par un serment solennel en un seul corps politique dont tant les corps qui doivent le composer que les individus seront désormais les membres.” The oath provides here the ritual of union that allows the multitude of citizens to unite in a “single political body.” However, because the number of citizens exceeds the ability to be present to each other in one single location at once, a momentary unity of all is achieved through the simultaneity of the oath-taking. “Cet acte d’union sera célébré le même jour dans toute l’île et tous les Corses y assisteront autant qu’il se pourra, chacun dans sa ville, bourgade ou paroisse.”89 Rousseau places particular emphasis on the unanimity and publicity of the oath, stipulating that it must be sworn by all citizens in the presence of all others, “under the open sky,” in a public shared place.90 The immediate and local manifestation of the Corsican oath-taking thus serves synecdochically to represent the whole and creates the sovereign body by extension in imagination.91 But as Rousseau states in the Social Contract, the people cannot be represented by anything other than themselves. Thus, like the children’s oath in La Famille patriote, the communal oath-taking in effect represents this impossibility, both in the sense of the interdiction on representation in Rousseau’s political philosophy and in the sense that it is impossible for all citizens to take the oath in the presence of all others. Representation (of this impossibility), in other words, precedes the act of foundation. Traditionally, oaths served as guarantee of a contract; not the contract itself, the oath was the sign of the sincerity and solemnity of the promise made, an accessory tie to the primary tie forged in the contract.92 In Rousseau’s project for Corsica, however, the reverse is true. As Lucien Scubla has argued, rather than the oath being auxiliary to the contract, the contract issues from the oath.93 Similarly in France during the Revolution, the revolutionaries fixed upon the oath as the promise to a new law, a promise the future would keep. In the absence of a lasting document (the constitution promised in the oath), the oath became the primary tie of the people, the first act by which they became a people capable of contracting the together. The oath thus functioned as a new ritual basis for the revolutionary community. As René Tarin succinctly states: “Dans la fête [...] le public s’est fait peuple, il est la Nation.”94 The collective oath-taking Rousseau proposed for 88 Rousseau, Projet de constitution pour la Corse in Œuvres complètes, vol. 3, pp. 940–46. 89 Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 3, p. 943. 90 Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 3, p. 944. 91 See Anderson, Imagined Community, p. 6. 92 According to the Encyclopédie, the oath is “un lien accessoire” made in order to confirm the sincerity of the promise (vol. 15, p. 100). In 1792, the deputy Mathieu defined the civic oath as “le lien fédératif de tous les peuple; il est le premier signe, le moins équivoque, le plus généralement adopté de la solennité des promesses” (AP 1, vol. 52, p. 67). 93 See Lucien Scubla, “Le serment dans les écrits politiques de Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” in Le Serment, ed. Raymond Verdier (Paris: Editions du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1991), vol. 2, pp. 105–23. 94 Tarin, Le théâtre de la Constituante, p. 230.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


Corsica states that citizens not only give themselves to the totality they have created, but also to the nation which pre-exists the contract. France after all, like Corsica, existed prior to the oaths sworn at the Federation; however, the new political entity, the sovereign body of the people, is consolidated in the act of collective oathtaking. What joins citizens according to Rousseau is love of country, which is the love of customs, mores, and traditions that make them singular and opposed to other nations.95 The oath thus embodies the social, pre-political bond of the people. It provides an impossible but necessary representation of the people that precedes the act of foundation, and redefines the relationships among those who swear it. Such was the main achievement of the mass oath-taking at the Champ de Mars and throughout France on 14 July 1790. Collot d’Herbois’s play thus illuminates the fact that the federative oaths were themselves performances of an impossible performative—in effect, a representation of the impossibility of representation— which nonetheless provided the necessary originary act from which the political contract issues. Theater played a mediating role in the process by negotiating the relation of personal and public sentiments, and by self-consciously performing the impossibility of representation that precedes, and provides the necessary condition for, “the marriage of France with France.” Conclusion: “The marriage of France with France” We have seen above the way in which the federative oath at the center of the 1790 Festival of Federation, and of Collot d’Herbois’s play, provided an emotionally charged act of social and moral obligation to one’s equals. No longer an oath of loyalty to a single figurehead, it now expressed a spirit of solidarity between semblables, especially between one’s compatriots. Felicity Baker has suggested that the revolutionary expression of fraternity in the civic oath of the Revolution filled the place occupied by sensibility and bienfaisance in the Enlightenment.96 According to her, fraternity was a particular case of sensibility and provided the revolutionaries with an egalitarian corrective to the moral codes regulating social relations. No longer the top-down hierarchy of bienfaisance, it was now an oath among equals. This leads Lynn Hunt to argue in The Family Romance of the French Revolution (1992) that the oaths of federation on 14 July 1790 portray the new individual-state relationship envisioned by the liberal ideology that was taking root through the legislation of the Constituent Assembly; individuals relate to the state as individuals, through contracts (in this case oaths of allegiance, which were the centerpiece of the ceremony). The family is still essential to society, but its status as political building block is now in some doubt.97

Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 3, p. 444. Felicity Baker, “Rousseau’s Oath and Revolutionary Fraternity,” p. 278. 97 Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution, p. 46. 95 96

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Hunt focuses in particular on the way printed engravings of the Festival of Federation depict few family groupings and, coupling this with the rise of political portraiture, concludes that citizens are portrayed as “virtually atomistic individuals linked to the nation through their oaths rather than by their families or other particular ties.”98 As we have seen above, however, this is not the case in the plays of the era, or in the pamphlet literature commemorating the mass oath-taking on 14 July 1790. On the contrary, the family is the privileged site of the affective ties that bind individuals to the social contract and upon which the new social order was to be founded. Sentimental comedies such as Collot’s La Famille patriote reflect the transfer from a traditional patriarchal model of the family to a more egalitarian one founded upon mutual affections and duties. By the end of the play, differences of class and age are eradicated so that all can join together as a single family through the oaths sworn and performed on stage and off. The private fête of mutual love combines with the public festival of national unity in the play’s final tableau of the “happy accord” as the wedding guests join together in a round of the “ça ira.” After Honorine and Victor each sing a chorus, a national guardsman steps forward to sing the following lyrics: Oh! ça tiendra, ça tiendra, ça tiendra cette union si fermement jurée. Oh! ça tiendra, ça tiendra, ça tiendra. Malheur à qui jamais l’attaquera. Notre bon ROI lui-même la scella. Et chaque cœur aussi-tôt répéta: oh! ça tiendra, etc. Ce beau serment que chacun prononça, Aucun François ne le démentira, Et toujours chaque année Il le renouvellera.99

As the characters sing and dance, and the audience joins in with the refrain, the spectacle ends and the national festival begins. Thus the civic oath was indeed being performed “a second time” as ariette, as General Lafayette had imagined when the people petitioned him at the Champ de Mars on 14 July 1790. But it was not, as Lafayette feared, merely an empty performance. Rather, the oath was enacted on stage as a rite of integration into the collectivity, a representation that made the act of political foundation possible and that kept the social pact alive in memory and in reality. Describing the effect of La Famille patriote on audiences in Paris in the summer of 1790, Helen Williams writes that it ensured that the “enthusiastic spirit of liberty displays itself, not merely on the days of solemn ceremonies” but every day when the lyrics of the Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution, p. 46. Collot d’Herbois, La Famille patriote, p. 51.

98 99


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ça ira return to the people’s lips.100 “When they sing, it is but to repeat a vow of fidelity to the constitution, at which all who are present instantly join in the chorus, and sportively lift up their hands in confirmation of this favourite sentiment.”101 The representation of the oath in theater inspires spectators with “this favourite sentiment” to join heart and mouth in swearing their oaths again, and thus to join in a common utterance that will be the source of future law. Through participation in the theater, the actor-spectator-witness merged with his or her compatriots in a common pledge of love for the patrie and liberty, and a common vision of the nation and its foundation.

100 Williams, Letters from France, vol. I, vol. 1, pp. 204–6. As she describes, “ça ira hung on every lip, ça ira glowed on every countenance! Thus do the French, lest they should [...] forget one moment the cause of liberty, bind it to their remembrance” (p. 205). 101 Williams, Letters from France, vol. I, vol.1, pp. 70–71.

Chapter 4

Virtue’s Proofs: Paméla on Stage and on Trial during the Terror What must that virtue be which will not stand a trial? —Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (1748)1 What does proof matter to the sensitive soul? Is feeling not enough! —Madame Roland, Mémoires (1795)2

In the tense summer of 1793 in France, a sentimental comedy by Nicolas François de Neufchâteau entitled Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée (1788; adapted from the popular novel of the same name by Samuel Richardson), opened at the Théâtre de la Nation (Comédie-Française). Despite the favorable reviews and warm reception from audiences, the author and actors were jailed by the Committee for Public Safety for incivisme and “insulting” the patriots of the Republic following its ninth performance on 2 September 1793.3 The accusations stemmed from the outcry of a single spectator at the theater that night, a provincial officer named Jullien de Carentan, during a monologue on the virtues of religious tolerance which 1 Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady (New York: Penguin, 1986), p. 430. 2 “[Q]u’importe à l’âme sensible de ne pouvoir les démontrer? ne lui suffit-il pas de les sentir!” Mémoires de Madame Roland, ed. de Roux, p. 397. 3 “Cette pièce a obtenu un succès mérité,” wrote Le Journal de Paris (no. 218, 8 June 1793). The sources for the arrest and hearing are the Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860, ed. Jérôme Madival and Emile Larent, series 1, vols. 73 and 74 (12–22 September 1793) (Paris: Librairie administrative de Paul Dupont, 1879–), pp. 622–9; the pamphlet N. François [de François de Neufchâteau], auteur de Pamela, à la Convention nationale [Paris, 1793]; and records of the Jacobin Club and newspapers repr. in Arthur Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution: scènes, récits, et notices (Paris: Gaultier, Magnier, 1902). Editions of François de Neufchâteau’s play consulted are: Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée (Paris: Barba, an troisième [1795]) repr. in Répertoire du Théâtre républicain, vol. 6, pièce 5 (Geneva: Slatkine, 1986); Paméla, ou, La vertu récompensée, nouvelle édition [TCFD] (Paris: André, an huitieme [1800]); and the manuscrit de souffleur at the Comédie-Française repr. in Nicolas François de Neufchâteau, Paméla ou la vertu récompensée: Edition critique d’après le manuscrit de souffleur original de la Comédie française, avec les variantes des différentes versions scéniques originales, introduite, établie, annotée et commentée par Martial Poirson, SVEC 2007:04. All references in the text are to the 1795 edition.

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


Carentan understood as a veiled plea for political moderatism.4 While in prison, François de Neufchâteau prepared a fifty-five-page defense narrative in which he invokes his untarnished record of service to the country as an elected member of first the Legislative Assembly and then the National Convention, the same body of law he now faced as an accused.5 More remarkably, however, he also invokes the conventions—both moral and narrative—of sentimental drama: pleading his case to the deputies, François de Neufchâteau exclaims: “C’est le sort de la vertu; elle souffre, on l’outrage, mais elle triomphe!”6 Throughout the mémoire, the playwright identifies himself with his heroine, defending the “purity” of his heart and the virtue of his play, and at one point claims that Paméla is “une pièce dont je peux dire: la mère en prescrira la lecture à sa fille.”7 Casting himself in the title role of the persecuted innocent, François de Neufchâteau marshals the popular rhetoric of sentimentality in an attempt to write for himself and the players an ending of “virtue rewarded” rather than the tragic ending of “virtue sacrificed” exemplified in Richardson’s other sentimental bestseller, Clarissa (1748). Despite his hearing before the National Convention on 20 September 1793—exactly one year from the day he had made the welcome address before the same body on its opening day—Neufchâteau and the actors of the Comédie-Française languished in prison eleven months without trial, only narrowly escaping the guillotine.8 Various accounts of the events that led to the closing of the Comédie-Française have generally held that the Jacobins used Carentan’s denunciation of Paméla as a convenient excuse to eliminate their remaining opposition, the Girondins, and its mouthpiece. The rancorous split of the troupe of the Comédie in April 1791 along political lines—between the revolutionary “Blacks” who followed Talma The two principal charges made against the Girondins by the Montagnards in Year II (1793–94) were fédéralisme and modérantisme. The day after the arrests at the Nation, Bertrand Barère said before the National Convention, “le principal vice de la pièce de Paméla était le modérantisme” (AP 1, vol. 73, p. 363). In Jean-Louis Laya’s controversial play L’Ami des lois, performed at the Comédie seven months earlier, the hero Forlis responds to the accusation of modérantisme with the following speech: “Si fuir les factions, c’est être modéré, / De cette injure alors j’ai droit d’être honoré” (3.3.631–42). 5 François de Neufchâteau had in fact been elected to the National Convention and to the Ministry of Justice in September 1792 and before that had served in the Legislative Assembly. However, due to a grave illness—the result of a Crusoe-esque episode in which he was shipwrecked on his way back from Saint-Domingue and lay on a rock without clothes or food for seven days—he left Paris to be Justice of the Peace in the canton where he was raised. 6 AP 1, vol. 74, p. 629. 7 AP 1, vol. 74, p. 622. This was such a cliché for claiming the moral value of a work that it would appear two years later, ironically, as the epigraph to the Marquis de Sade’s La Philosophie dans le boudoir (1795). 8 The comédiens’ case never proceeded to the revolutionary tribunal because Charles Labussière, a clerk working for the Committee of Public Safety at the time, courageously smuggled their dossier out under his cloak and threw it in the Seine. For a detailed account and biography of Labussière, see Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, pp. 134ff. 4

Virtue’s Proofs


to the Richelieu and the more moderate “Reds” who remained at the Théâtre de la Nation—and the closing of Jean-Louis Laya’s controversial drama L’Ami des lois in January 1793, had already brought political suspicion upon the actors. However, following earlier outcry from journalists over the play’s “immoral” ending, Paméla had in fact been vetted and approved by the Committee for Public Safety three days before reopening on 2 September. The play Carentan saw that night was therefore a revised version of Paméla that had received the nihil obstat of the Committee members. What exactly then did Carentan find objectionable in the sentimental comedy, and why did the Jacobin-led government treat its performance as an affair of state? A closer look at the offending lines of the play, and the whole range of accusations leveled against Paméla from its first to its last performance in 1793, reveals the central concern to be that of virtue and its performance. It is continuously to virtue, and the play’s distortion or lack of virtue, that the attacks in the newspapers and in the various speeches at the National Convention and Jacobin Club return. Paméla appeared only weeks before terror and virtue were officially declared “the order of the day” and as national security was most threatened by foreign forces.9 Virtue thus became the watchword of the Jacobin regime (“nous avons commandé la vertu pour la République,” proclaimed Robespierre in 1793), and to be a patriot and citizen above suspicion one needed to display one’s virtue continuously to the eyes of others.10 Theater’s acknowledged importance in the promotion of public spirit (civisme) led the Jacobin government to regulate and control it more closely. According to a report made to the National Convention on 3 September 1793, theater was “l’école primaire des hommes éclairés” and therefore “doit être un supplément à l’éducation publique, et non pas un foyer de principes dangereux [...] pour corrompre l’esprit public par les représentations théatrales.”11 After only two years of liberty, theaters experienced new censorship more repressive at times than under the Ancien Régime. Actors were now considered teachers and, like them, public functionaries of the state required to take oaths of office. If they did not adhere to a sanctioned curriculum of virtue, the consequences could be imprisonment, deportation, or, in one case, death.12 9 By fall 1793, the region of Condé was taken by the Austrians, Mayence was abandoned, Valence surrendered to the Duke of York, the Midi had risen up, and the Spanish were advancing. 10 Œuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre, 10 vols. (Paris: Leroux, 1967), vol. 10, p. 517. Robespierre claimed: “De tous les décrets qui ont sauvé la République, le plus sublime, le seul qui [...] ait affranchi les peuples de la tyrannie, c’est celui qui met la probité et la vertu à l’ordre du jour” (p. 519). 11 François-Alphonse Aulard, Paris pendant la Réaction Thermidorienne et sous le Directoire: recueil de documents pour l’histoire de l’esprit public à Paris. 5 vols. (Paris: Leopold Cerf, 1898–1902), vol. 5, p. 424. 12 Actors were traditionally linked with the monarchy (the comédiens ordinaires du roi in particular), and their métier of playing roles other than themselves brought further suspicion upon them during the Terror. The only actor executed for lines spoken in a


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

In addition to viewing the case against Paméla as an example of the political power struggles and strict censorship of 1793, literary critics have also treated the events within the broader context of the reception of Richardson’s novels in France.13 Recently, Lynn Festa has combined these approaches to argue that the controversy ignited by Paméla during the Terror exhibits the irreconcilable conflict at the heart of Revolutionary politics between sentimental universalism and patriotic nationalism; that is, between, as she states, “the imperatives of personal liberty and the needs of the larger social order, between the rights of man and the rights of the citizen.”14 For Festa, the sentimental mode is synonymous with Anglo-American liberal democracy exemplified by Richardson’s novel and thus lies in direct opposition to the republicanism of Year II. Although it is true that Jacobin politics under the National Convention subordinated individual liberty to the expression of the general will, sentimentality and republicanism were not so clearly opposed during the Jacobin reign.15 As Dan Edelstein writes, classical republicanism was not itself incompatible with natural right, both sensibilité and natural republicanism elevated the laws of nature to a similar transcendental position. Ideally, the same sensibilité would act virtuously and avoid immoral or illegal conduct even in the absence of threatening laws, as in the natural-republican and Physiocratic paradigms. […] [O]ne can see how the sudden disappearance of a recognized legal framework—for example, France after August 1792—would not seem as alarming within this context. And there is no doubt that the language and pathos of sensibilité remained hugely prevalent during the period of Jacobin ascendancy.16 play was in a revival of Calderón’s classic seventeenth-century comedy La Vida es sueño [Life is a Dream]. See James H. Johnson, “Revolutionary Audiences and the Impossible Imperatives of Fraternity” in Re-creating Authority in Revolutionary France, ed. Bryant T. Ragan and Elizabeth Ann Williams (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992), pp. 58–97. 13 Most interpretations of the arrests accept that the Jacobins used the outcry of Carentan as a convenient excuse to punish the Comédie Française for an earlier play, L’Ami des lois, that had openly critiqued the Jacobin regime during the trial of the king. Mention of the case can be found in James Grantham Turner, “Novel Panic: Picture and Performance in the Reception of Richardson’s Pamela,” Representations 48 (Fall 1994): 70–96; Lynn Festa, “Sentimental Bonds and Revolutionary Characters,” in The Literary Channel: The International Invention of the Novel, ed. Margaret Cohen and Carolyn Dever (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), pp. 73–105; and Martial Poirson, “La Paméla française ou les infortunes de la vertu,” in Paméla en Europe, ed. Luci Comparini (Montpellier, 2007). Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 98ff; Bernard Facteau, Les Romans de Richardson sur la scène française (Paris, 1927). 14 Lynn Festa, “Sentimental Bonds,” p. 95. 15 See Mona Ozouf, “Liberté” in Dictionnaire critique de la Révolution française, ed. Bronisław Baczko, François Furet and Mona Ozouf (Paris: Flammarion, 1988), pp. 763–75. 16 Dan Edelstein, The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p. 116. Patrice L.R. Higonnet also offers a different interpretation from Festa in Goodness beyond Virtue:

Virtue’s Proofs


As Edelstein shows, classical republicanism, natural republicanism, and sensibilité all privileged the notion of natural virtue, which, in the absence of a defined body of law after 1792, moved to the fore as the transcendent moral guarantee of the Republic.17 In this climate, sentimentality and republicanism became two sides of the same coin, whose shared language of natural virtue abundantly invaded public discourse, government programs, and juridical proceedings.18 Sentimental theater thus fell well within the parameters of virtuous example the government approved of and prescribed. The Committee of Public Instruction, for instance, made the following recommendation to the National Convention in 1794: dans toutes les villes de 4,000 habitants, il y aura une salle de spectacle où les élèves des écoles publiques et autres personnes pourront s’exercer, et ne pourront néanmoins donner que des pièces sentimentales et dans le sens de la Révolution... . Je crois que rien ne serait plus propre à instruire le peuple, à lui faire oublier les singeries des prêtres, et enfin à régénérer les mœurs. (emphasis in original)19

Such a proposal from one of the Convention’s watchdog committees suggests that sentimentality and republicanism were viewed as equally important to the moral and political regeneration of France. Wholesome domestic virtues, epitomized and embodied by characters like Paméla, provided a necessary complement to patriotism and were celebrated in the many sentimental-patriotic plays that filled

Jacobins during the French Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), in which he argues that Jacobin ideals were both communitarian and individualistic, but when forced to choose between individual rights or the common weal, the leaders defaulted to attitudes deriving from the Old Regime: a “quasi-mystical” loyalty to the state, an intolerance toward dissent, and a vivid sense of the “majestic purpose” of the state (pp. 70–73). 17 This notion of innate natural virtue had come to prominence in the latter half of the eighteenth century and held that all of humanity was bound by common ties of sympathy. “Such fellow-feeling was not overtly political,” writes Marisa Linton. “But it conveyed the broader notion that men had civil responsibilities for fellow citizens and that their virtue legitimized their participation in public life”; “Virtue Rewarded? Woman and the Politics of Virtue in 18th-century France: Part 1,” History of European Ideas 26.1 (March 2000): 38. 18 See, for example, Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling (Chapter 6: “Sentimentalism in the Making of the French Revolution”), pp. 173–210 in which he argues that “sentimentalist doctrines [...] remained central to the unfolding of events, from the outbreak of Revolution in May-June 1789 down to the end of the Terror in July 1794” (p.  177); and Denby, Sentimental Narrative (Chapter 4: “Sentimentalism in the rhetoric of the Revolution”), pp. 139–65. 19 Qtd. in Graham E. Rodmell, French Drama of Revolutionary Years (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 35.

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the Revolutionary stage, as well as the tender family scenes that punctuated the Revolutionary festivals.20 Rather than view sentimentality as putting forward a set of abstract liberal principles in conflict with the Jacobinism of Year II, my aim instead is to show that Jacobin politics share a number of assumptions and conventions with sentimental aesthetics, and that sentimentality consequently had a sizeable effect on the norms, mores, and perceptions of virtue during the Terror. The years of the Revolution are characterized by a curious and sometimes dangerous mixing of discourses of virtue that, like sentimentality, could be assimilated into a wide variety of political languages. As Dorinda Outram argues in The Body and the French Revolution (1989), the era was marked by a “cacophony” of competing and “sometimes converging prescriptions” for personal conduct: The same individuals who sighed and wept over the complicated motivations of Clarissa, Julie or Saint-Preux, might also hero-worship a canon of “great men” which the century had elaborated: William Penn, Socrates, Voltaire, Rousseau, Homer, Newton, Franklin, Cato, all figured in this eighteenth-century pantheon.21

Individuals thus drew upon numerous models and discourses of virtue—moral, political, social, classical, scientific, sentimental—in the performance of their new roles as citizens. The case against Paméla in 1793 provides a compelling text and event through which to unravel some of these competing discourses, and their implications for theater during the years of the Terror and after. Another aim of this chapter is to argue that the stakes in the foment surrounding François de Neufchâteau’s Paméla cannot be reduced to a textual debate over sentimental versus republican principles, but necessarily entails consideration of performance and the different rules governing theater and print.22 Richardson’s In May 1794, Robespierre instituted a system of national festivals to take place every ten weeks on topics representing “des vertus les plus chères et les plus utiles à l’homme, des plus grands bienfaits de la nature,” including “la tendresse maternelle,” “la piété filiale,” and “la frugalité” among others (Œuvres, vol. 10, p. 463). 21 Dorinda Outram, The Body and the French Revolution: Sex, Class, and Political Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 72. Two famous examples of this mixing of discourses are Robespierre, who allegedly wrote his political speeches with La Nouvelle Héloïse at his side as a guide (Aulard, Les grands orateurs de la Révolution, p.  242), and Madame Roland, who requested two books when she was imprisoned: Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse and Plutarch’s Lives (Mémoires, vol. 1, p. 41). 22 A disparity of bienséance existed at the time between the representation of virtue on stage and in print. For example, the Marquis de Sade overturned the Enlightenment moral order and sentimental norms in his libertine prose (Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu [1791] and Philosophie dans le boudoir [1795]), but his plays written and performed in the same era were thoroughly conventional fare. Fanni, ou les effets du désespoir (1790) and Oxtien, ou les malheurs du libertinage (1791), for example, present the standard sentimental ethos of persecuted virtue triumphant over unmasked vice. Sade’s dramatic plots, characters, and mise-en-scène uncritically reflect the theatrical ideals developed by the philosophes (from Louis Riccoboni and Diderot to Beaumarchais and Mercier). 20

Virtue’s Proofs


novel was not on trial or even in question during the Revolution; in fact it was published in a new edition in France in 1793.23 As a reviewer that year noted, “Le Roman de Paméla est dans les mains de tout le monde.”24 And whereas performances of Paméla were banned, the script was made available in print. In his defense, François de Neufchâteau claims that mothers would “recommend the reading of the play” to their daughters, conspicuously sidestepping the question of its dramatic representation (and perhaps strategically distancing himself from the players). In other words, at issue in the controversy surrounding Paméla was performance itself. Performance was believed to have a more immediate, unanimous, and powerful effect on audiences than reading a text in private did, and therefore was potentially more dangerous to public mores; it therefore needed to be more closely regulated.25 It is thus my contention here that the broader debate and outrage set in motion by Paméla was over the vexing problem of virtue’s performance, not only on the stage but also for citizens of France more generally. The 1789 Revolution opened the political field to all active citizens who were now required not only to invoke virtue, but also to perform it and embody it publicly. As a result, virtue’s performance came under especially intense regulation, scrutiny, and censorship both in the playhouse and on the political stage. As the revolutionary newspaper La Décade philosophique described: “L’homme publique est sur un théâtre où de tous côtés des regards curieux l’observent, et où il ne suffit pas d’être vertueux, mais où il faut le paraître.”26 This imperative for virtue to appear created a troubling divide between seeming and being, and it served to fuel the Jacobin drive for transparency that, as many critics have shown, characterized the years of the Terror. The textual production surrounding the events leading up to and including the arrest and hearing of François de Neufchâteau and the players of the Comédie—theater reviews, newspaper reports, procès-verbaux, personal letters, political speeches, legal decrees and briefs, and textual edits to the play— provides a rich nexus of debate over virtue and its correct performance at this time, as conflicting interpretations of virtue’s signs, proofs, and judgments were put forward. The question was not only what constitutes virtue but also, more pressingly, how can one recognize virtue? What are its signs and proof? How could officials discern enemies from allies, especially when “hypocrites” and “intriguers” hid their crimes behind the mask of virtue? Finally, no current account of the trial of Paméla addresses the issue of gender as it manifests in the reactions of the press, in the trial documents, and in the play Angus Martin, Vivienne G. Mylne, and Richard Frautschi, Bibliographie du genre romanesque français, 1751–1800 (London: France Expansion; Paris: Mansell, 1977), p. 375. 24 Journal des spectacles (2 August 1793). 25 For a discussion of the Revolutionary debate over the relative merits of print and performance, see Maslan, Revolutionary Acts, pp. 30–39. 26 Décade philosophique, an IV (1795), 8, trimestre II, p. 420, qtd. in Outram, The Body and the French Revolution, p. 80. 23


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

itself. It is curious, for example, that François de Neufchâteau repeatedly draws a parallel between himself and his heroine in his mémoire apologétique and that his critics would repeat this conflation of author-character-text against him. This chapter will investigate these rhetorical strategies in the context of the larger shifts in the gendered discourse of virtue as well as in juridical rhetoric and procedure during the Terror. My aim is to demonstrate that a gendering of the concepts of innocence and virtue took place during the Jacobin regime, both complicating the determination of guilt and contributing to the crisis of truth, language, and law that characterized Year II. The outcry over Paméla undoubtedly reflects the profound political rifts that were occurring in France at the time, as well as the potential perils of liberal virtue’s journey to the Continent in 1793. However, the stakes of the event, and the issues it raises, spill over into larger questions and struggles— regarding virtue, juridical proof, transparency, and legitimacy—that crippled the Revolution midstride. Virtue reworded: The case against Paméla Quand on est toujours sur les frontières de l’impossible, une pièce de théâtre est beaucoup, et Paméla même, si douce, si tendre, si sensible, pouvait changer la face de la France. —Fleury, Mémoires27

Of the three plays that caused public scandals at the Comédie-Française during the French Revolution—Chénier’s Charles IX (1788), Laya’s l’Ami des lois (1793), and François de Neufchâteau’s Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée (1788)— Paméla stands out for its lack of overt political subject matter and the fact that, until recently, it has been relatively ignored by scholars and critics.28 Based on an adaptation of Samuel Richardson’s beloved and influential sentimental novel, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740)—arguably the novel to ignite sensibility and anglomania throughout Europe in the mid-eighteenth century—Neufchâteau’s Paméla was a charming if predictable domestic comedy of sexual virtue like so

27 Abraham Joseph Bénard, dit Fleury (1750–1822), Mémoires de Fleury de la Comédie-française, publiés par J. B. P. Lafitte, 2 vols (Paris: A. Delahaye, 1847), vol. 1, p. 416. Fleury played the role of Milord Bonfil in the Comédie’s production of Paméla. 28 Marie-Joseph Chénier’s Charles IX (1788) heralded the beginning of the politicization of the stage during the Revolution. As Marvin Carlson explains, its performance in 1789 marked the “first time a play had been demanded by a political rather than a literary faction” (The Theatre of the French Revolution, p. 23). L’Ami des lois was written and staged during the trial of Louis XVI and expressed Laya’s moderate Girondist views, harshly criticizing and satirizing his Jacobin contemporaries with thinly disguised parodies of Marat (Duricrâne) and Robespierre (Nomophage). Widely anthologized and analyzed by critics, both of these plays have become synonymous with theater of the French Revolution.

Virtue’s Proofs


many others conceived in the same vein and performed in Paris at the time.29 Originally written in 1788 and modeled closely on an English translation of Carlo Goldoni’s Italian comedy, Pamela nubile (1750), it recounts the story of a virtuous serving maid who, following the death of her mistress, enters into the service of her Lady’s son, Milord Bonfil. Bonfil falls in love with Paméla, and she with him, but their difference in rank causes Bonfil to struggle in his heart between his desire for her and the constraints of social prejudice. When he leaves for the countryside, Paméla is left to fend off the sexual advances of another nobleman, Lord Reynolds. Thanks to the fortuitous return of Bonfil and the arrival of Paméla’s father, her honor, though tested, remains intact. Bonfil is so moved by this proof of her virtue that he is about to declare his intention to marry Paméla when her father reveals that he is not a commoner after all, but a Scottish nobleman who has been in hiding since the Glorious Revolution in England. The couple marries to the delight of all.30 Although the play was a success with audiences (“cette pièce eut beaucoup de succès,” wrote the Journal des spectacles), the fact that rank not virtue was rewarded in the end was quickly and violently denounced in the newspapers as evidence of pro-aristocratic and pro-English sympathies.31 Whereas Richardson’s heroine was originally the daughter of poor country folk, François de Neufchâteau followed Goldoni’s example too closely in making Paméla the daughter of a count.32 The decision to keep the Italian ending in his 1788 script and in performance in summer 1793 proved disastrous. Further compounding matters for François de Three stage versions of Paméla were produced in France shortly after the appearance of l’abbé Prévost’s 1742 translation of the novel into French by Nivelle de la Chaussée (1742), Louis de Boissy (1743), and Godard d’Aucour (1743). According to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (whose play, Miss Sara Sampson [1755], was also an adaptation of Paméla), these French adaptations were only “tolerably vapid plays” (Hamburg Dramaturgy [NY: Dover, 1962], p. 55). None had a significant run. 30 In Act V, scene iv (p.  107) Paméla’s father, Joseph Andreuss, is revealed to be Capitaine Auspingh (Oxpen), a Scottish courtier to the banished Charles II. 31 Le Journal des spectacles (2 août 1793). 32 Carlo Goldoni had given his heroine a noble birth in order to conform to Italian law. As he explains in his Mémoires: “Le but moral de l’auteur anglais ne convenait pas aux mœurs et aux lois de mon pays”; Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de sa vie et à celle de son théâtre. 2 vols. Paris: Ponthieu, 1822; repr. Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1968), vol. 2, p. 63. Although François de Neufchâteau kept Goldoni’s ending, he made several cuts to the play, mainly all references to Pamela’s worldliness. The first half of Pamela’s monologue in Act I, scene ii of Goldoni’s play—in which she wonders whether she is right to “sacrifice her fortune for her honor” in thwarting B’s advances is cut completely. So is any skepticism on the part of Jervis regarding Pamela’s virtue. In general, Goldoni had little interest in moral lessons. Nonetheless, in February 1793 the National Convention honored him with a pension, thanks to an appeal by Marie-Joseph Chénier in which he lauded Goldoni as “this wise author and moralist whom Voltaire has called the Molière of Italy” (qtd. in Carlson, The Theatre of the French Revolution, p. 152). Goldoni had attended a reading of François de Neufchâteau’s Paméla in 1788, and the play set to follow Paméla at the Comédie was a translation of Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters (1743). 29

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Neufchâteau was the fact that Voltaire’s sentimental drama, Nanine, ou le préjugé vaincu (1749), also an adaptation of Richardson’s Pamela, was in production at both the Théâtre de Montansier and the Théâtre National (Richelieu) at the same time. Voltaire had been among the many critics of Richardson’s novel, and in Nanine he corrected what he perceived as the problem of virtue’s reward in it.33 Journalists were quick to draw comparisons between the two works and authors. The editor of the radical newspaper Feuille du salut public, for example, wrote of François de Neufchâteau’s Paméla: Ce drame ressemble beaucoup à Nanine, par le cadre, par les principes; mais il offre une différence vraiment immorale. Nanine, bien antérieure, et faite sous le règne des préjugés, ayant plus d’obstacles à vaincre, remporte la victoire de l’égalité; et Paméla ne seroit point épousée si elle ne trouvoit la fille d’un cidevant. (emphasis in original)34

In Voltaire’s play, the heroine is the daughter of a soldier whose obscure origins keep her from marrying the young nobleman she loves. However, her struggle for virtue is not merely to preserve her honor (that is, her virginity), as it is in Richardson’s novel and François de Neufchâteau’s play, but is, rather the wholly unselfish endeavor to combat her own desires in order to save the nobleman she loves from making an imprudent marriage with her. She loves Comte d’Olban but, because of her lack of name and fortune, sacrifices her own desires in order to secure her lover’s happiness.35 Voltaire also reformed the character of Richardson’s rakish Mr. B in his depiction of the Comte d’Olban as a retired widower whose intentions toward Nanine are pure. Her reward of marriage in the end to the virtuous Comte is thus less morally dubious than Pamela’s to Mr. B and, as the play’s subtitle suggests, places less emphasis on virtue’s reward than on the vanquishing Pamela’s critics believed that her verbal show of virtue concealed the moral failing of her actions toward Mr. B. This failing was confirmed by her agreeing to marry him. In a letter to M. le Comte d’Argental (16 May 1767), Voltaire wrote: “Je n’aime pas assurément les longs et insupportables romans de Paméla et de Clarisse. Ils ont réussi, parce qu’ils ont excité la curiosité du lecteur, à travers un fatras d’inutilités; mais si l’auteur avait été assez malavisé pour annoncer, dès le commencement, que Clarisse et Paméla aimaient leurs persécuteurs, tout était perdu, le lecteur aurait jeté le livre”; Voltaire, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, 52 vols (Paris: Garniers Frères, 1881), vol. 45, pp. 262–3. 34 Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 103. 35 This notion of virtue as self-sacrifice was the touchstone of sentimental virtue in France. In his Éloge de Richardson, Denis Diderot wrote, “Qu’est-ce que la vertu? C’est [...] un sacrifice de soi-même” (Œuvres esthetiques, p. 33). In The Sentimental Education of the Novel, Margaret Cohen contends that the French sentimental tradition is more closely linked with classical tragedy than the English, and reflects its notion of virtue as sacrifice rather than virtue rewarded (pp. 26–76). Martial Poirson similarly maintains that the British novel’s Protestant and middle-class ethos of virtue rewarded, at odds with French culture and society, explains the slow and tepid reception of Richardson’s Paméla in France (Nicolas François de Neufchâteau, pp. 63–4). 33

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of prejudice. Because of its portrayal of selfless virtue, Nanine was the only play Rousseau recommended in his Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles (“l’honneur, la vertu, les purs sentiments de la nature y sont préférés à l’impertinent préjugé des conditions,” he writes).36 By complicating virtue’s trials in the play, Voltaire created a more successful drama, and one more in line with the principles of the Revolution. As R.S. Ridgway has argued, Nanine “undoubtedly helped to create the state of mind which led, forty years after its first performance, to the ‘nuit du quatre août’ when the French nobility renounced its privileges in an effusion of sensibility.”37 Nanine would in fact prove to be Voltaire’s most-performed play during the years of the Revolution. By contrast, François de Neufchâteau’s “truly immoral” play was charged with violating the moral and egalitarian principles of the Revolution. The recurrent comparison to Nanine served to underscore a clear dichotomy between moral and immoral, republican and aristocrat, revolutionary and counter-revolutionary, Nanine and Paméla.38 The Gazette Nationale (moniteur universel), for example, noted that “ni l’auteur anglais, ni Voltaire, n’a fait son héroïne fille d’un comte; tous deux ont senti que c’était manquer le but moral de leur ouvrage.”39 The Journal de Paris meanwhile asked, “Comment le citoyen François de Neufchâteau ne s’en est-il pas laissé imposer par l’autorité réunie des deux Grands Hommes qui l’ont précédé, Richardson et Voltaire?”40 François de Neufchâteau had publicly paid his debt to both authors, as well as to Goldoni, in verses published in July 1793 in which he humbly deferred to Voltaire’s “chef-d’œuvre.”41 Faced with the persistent and disparaging comparisons to Nanine, however, he would later insist in his defense that “le sujet de Paméla [...] n’est point celui de Nanine, quoiqu’on en veuille dire.”42 The Committee of Public Safety initially paid Paméla little attention, perhaps afraid to repeat the riots that followed the closing of Laya’s L’Ami des lois at the Comédie-Française seven months earlier. The continued attacks in the press, however—despite the play’s success at the box office—eventually led the authorities to step in and close the production on 29 August 1793.43 Bertrand Rousseau, Lettre à d’Alembert, p. 76. Ronald S. Ridgway, Voltaire and Sensibility (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University

36 37

Press, 1973), p. 217. 38 As Robespierre declared in 1793: “Dans le système de la Révolution française, ce qui est immoral est impolitique” (Œuvres, vol. 10, p. 354). 39 Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 103. 40 Journal de Paris, no. 218 (6 août 1793). 41 Journal des spectacles (19 juillet 1793), p. 254. 42 AP I, vol. 74, p. 626. 43 Receipts for the month of August at the Comédie-Française show that Paméla had the greatest draw both per performance and overall than any other play, with the exception of one performance of Monvel’s Les Victimes cloîtrées. See the chart and facsimile of the ledger page printed in Poirson, Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée, pp. 41–2.


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Barère de Vieuzac, co-creator with Danton of the Committee of Public Safety, oversaw the review of the script and demanded that François de Neufchâteau cut several sections, primarily from the third and fourth acts pertaining to Paméla’s aristocratic birth. According to François de Neufchâteau’s defense, he complied without debate or delay and in a matter of hours made all the committee’s suggested changes, in effect re-Richardsonizing the play for republican tastes.44 Paméla reopened at the Comédie-Française four days later. The municipality, anticipating a riot, passed a special order banning all sticks, clubs, or other weapons from the theater. The first three acts passed without incident, but in the fourth act a stir was created when Jullien de Carentan loudly denounced several lines. According to his deposition at the Jacobin Club: J’avois peine à contenir mon indignation; mais elle éclata lorsque j’entendis prononcer trois vers, dont voici le sens: ... Les persécuteurs seuls sont coupables, Et les plus tolérans sont les plus pardonnables; Tous les honnêtes gens seront de cet avis.45

Carentan is reported to have cried out, “Point de tolérance! La tolérence politique est un crime!”46 After a brief altercation he was forced out of the theater, and the play resumed without further interruption. Carentan meanwhile rushed to the nearby Jacobin Club to make his report. Robespierre wasted no time in taking Carentan’s deposition and affidavit to the Committee of Public Safety, and that very night the order for the arrest of François de Neufchâteau and the comédiens was issued. By the following day, the author and thirty-one of the thirty-three actors of the Comédie-Française were jailed.47 During the session of the National Convention the next day, Barère recounted the Committee’s report as follows: “Le Comité fit arrêter la représentation de la pièce. L’auteur y fit des corrections; cependant il y laissa des vers qu’on ne

44 N. François [de Neufchâteau], auteur de Paméla, à la Convention nationale [Paris: C.F. Patris, 1793], p. 18. 45 Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 107. Varying accounts point to different lines as the offending ones. Henri Welschinger, for example, cites them as “Chacun pri à son gré; les amis, les parents/ Suivent, sans disputer, des cultes différents” (Théâtre de la Révolution, p. 58). These are the two lines preceding the section François de Neufchâteau and Carentan cite. According to Martial Poirson, it is Bonfils’s reply, “Tous les honnêtes gens sont d’accord là-dessus,” that caused the outrage (Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée, pp. 43–51). 46 Qtd. in Poirson, Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée, p. 45. 47 Mme Roland notes the arrival of the actresses at the prison of Sainte-Pélagie on 4 September 1793, a day after the arrests: “l’officier de paix soupe et se divertit avec elles. Le repas est joyeux et bruyant [...] Le lieu, les objets, les personnes, mon occupation, forment un contraste qui me paraît piquant”; Mémoires, p. 384.

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peut pas approuver, tel est celui-ci: ‘Le parti qui triomphe est le seul légitime.’”48 However, the lines in question had been approved by Barère himself. It was Barère who oversaw the changes to the script, and he who encouraged François de Neufchâteau to re-open the play. François de Neufchâteau had offered to shut down the production indefinitely, but Barère advised him that doing so might bring suspicion upon him. Less than a week later, however, Barère baldly condemns the play. Moreover, the line he cites does not appear in the script. The passage in question, as performed on 2 September 1793, reads as follows: Ma femme est protestante, et dans votre croyance Elle a, de Paméla, nourri la tendre enfance. Lorsque j’obtins sa main, ce point lui fut promis; Je crus que, sans scrupule, il pouvait être admis. Eh! Qu’importe qu’on soit protestant ou papiste? Ce n’est pas dans les mots que la vertu consiste. Pour la morale, au fond, votre culte est le mien; Cette morale est tout, et le dogme n’est rien. Ah! Les persécuteurs sont les seuls condamnables, Et les plus tolérans sont les plus raisonnables.49

Carentan had misquoted the lines in his deposition to the Jacobin Club: he replaced “condamnable” and “raisonable” with the stronger “coupable” and “pardonable,” turning description into judgment and judgment into sentence. Barère’s misquotation (“le parti qui triomphe est le seul légitime”) goes further to attribute an overt political meaning to the excerpted lines. The message of the original passage spoken by Paméla’s father is clearly one of religious tolerance, a typical Enlightenment harangue against Christian dogma in favor of universal morality. Nothing is more in keeping with revolutionary sentiment than to claim that morality lies in the heart and not in convention, dogma, or words (“Ce n’est pas dans les mots que la vertu consiste”).50 According to Robespierre, virtue does not lie in the words but in the feelings “qui brûlent dans les seins des vrais patriotes.”51 Although the actors of the Comédie were known to be politically moderate, it is doubtful that François de Neufchâteau, a retired Convention notable, sought to “insult” his compatriots or otherwise endorse counter-revolutionary sentiments with his play as he was accused. He had originally come back to Paris in 1793, not expressly for the theater but to deliver AP 1, vol. 73, p. 363. François de Neufchâteau, Paméla, ou la vertu récompensée (Paris: Barba, an

48 49

troisième [1795]), Act IV, scene 12, in RTR, vol. 6, play 5. 50 Anti-clericalism in general was one of the strongest engines of the Revolutionary stage. Voltaire’s crusade against religious intolerance in his denunciation of the official persecution suffered by Jean Calas, for instance, was the subject of three new plays during the Revolution. 51 Robespierre, Ecrits, p. 306.

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two proposals on agricultural reform to the National Convention. A third proposal he drafted at the time called for turning the Comédie-Française into an educational institution for the instruction of youths through performances of virtuous scenes from classical history (“une espèce de cours d’histoire en tableaux et en action [...] des vertus romaines”), a proposal heartily supported by Hérault de Séchelles, one of the twelve members of the Committee of Public Safety (this proposal and his correspondence with Hérault were published as pièces justificatives with his memoir). However, the choice to stage a comedy set in England about a virtuous country girl’s reward of noble marriage—which, moreover, lauds the English form of government—was remarkably out of step with the Revolution in 1793.52 The year had seen the execution of Louis XVI in January, the declaration of war with England in February, the establishment of the revolutionary tribunal in March, the routing of the Girondins from the Convention in June, and the assassination of Marat in July. Making an already precarious situation more dangerous for the comédiens, the National Convention passed a decree the day after Paméla re-opened stating that “Tout théâtre sur lequel seraient représentés des pièces tendant à dépraver l’esprit public, et à réveiller la honteuse superstition de la royauté, sera fermé, et les directeurs arrêtés et punis selon le rigueur des lois.”53 Even works that cast aristocratic or royal characters as villains were censured, including such hard-won classics of the early Revolution as Chénier’s Charles IX and Voltaire’s Brutus. As a result, the most popular genres of theater at the time, as Marvin Carlson lists them, were the fait historique, fait patriotique, divertissement patriotique, comédie patriotique, impromptu républicain, tableau patriotique, scène patriotique, sans-culottide, and vaudeville patriotique.54 In other words, republican ideology and sentimental patriotism provided the main entertainments of the day. In 1788, the script of Paméla would have been revolutionary—even with Goldoni’s ending—given its extreme stance on equality and its critique of monarchy in favor of British constitutionalism (then considered a possible model for France). In the changed circumstances of 1793, however, it appeared reactionary. Not only did the play present aristocratic characters in a favorable light on stage, it portrayed English aristocrats at a moment of particular national crisis. The very day Paméla re-opened at the Comédie, news reached the Convention that the city of Toulon had fallen to British forces. Outraged, the radical press called for the arrest or deportation of the playwright and players. In the National Convention, Barère claimed that at performances of Paméla “les aristocrates, les Four other plays featuring English characters and subjects were nonetheless in production at other theaters in Paris at the time: Les Amants anglais (1791) at the Théâtre de Montansier, Le Braconnier anglais (1773) at the Ambigu-Comique, Le Chasseur anglais (1791) at the Gaité, and L’Orphelin anglais, ou le Menuisier de Londres (1769) at the Richelieu, each with three performances in August of 1793. CESAR. 53 AP 1, vol. 73, p. 360. 54 Carlson, Theatre of the French Revolution, p. 156. 52

Virtue’s Proofs


modérés, les feuillants se réunissaient pour applaudir les maximes proférées par des mylords; on y entendait l’éloge du gouvernement anglais, et dans le moment où ce duc d’York ravage notre territoire.”55 The political context had thus changed significantly since François de Neufchâteau first penned his play, such that, as François de Neufchâteau describes in his defense, it now borrowed “des allusions que je n’avais pas pu prévoir, lorsque je composai ma pièce en 1788.”56 After acquiescing to the Committee for Public Safety’s demands to cut unpatriotic passages, François de Neufchâteau offered a rebuttal to the accusations against him in an open letter published in the Gazette Nationale on 1 September 1793. The context had changed, but the play itself, François de Neufchâteau argued, was “moral et patriotique”: Car quoie de plus conforme aux principes les plus purs de nôtre révolution, qu’une pièce qui présente le triomphe de l’égalité sur le préjugé de la naissance, et dans laquelle un grand seigneur épouse sa servante, non pas seulement parce qu’elle est jolie et bien élévée mais parce qu’elle est vertueuse et qu’elle a resisté à ses séductions!57

Neufchâteau here links the sentimental morality of the play with the political republicanism of the Revolution in Year II, insisting on “l’utilité morale de l’ouvrage.” He writes: “On ne m’otera pas la conscience d’avoir fait une pièce utile aux mœurs [...] une pièce, en ce sens, et à tous les autres égards, plus révolutionnaire que tant d’autres qui en portent le titre.”58 He further claims that the outrage of the press was premature: all would be appeased in the sequel to Paméla (based upon Goldoni’s comedy Pamela maritata), which reflected more accurately his patriotic sentiments.59 However, Paméla was most vociferously condemned not because it exhibited counter-revolutionary sentiments and sympathies but because it hid them under a mask of virtue. For example, the editor of the Feuille du salut public identifies the actors’ real crime to be the way they disguise their anti-patriotic sympathies:

AP 1, vol. 73, p. 363. The Duke of York was commander of the British allied forces in Flanders that would invade France in 1793. References to Cobourg, an Austrian officer fighting in Belgium against French troops, were also commonplace in France at this time. Rousselin, for example, wrote of Paméla that “la majorité n’aime point un dénouement qui est à l’unisson des désirs impies de Cobourg et des laquais” (Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 103). 56 Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 104. 57 AP 1, vol. 74, p. 626. 58 AP 1, vol. 74, p. 626. 59 For critics of François de Neufchâteau and the Comédie, this letter was fodder for fresh attacks. The Feuille du salut public, for example, mordantly replied that “Cette fille orgueilleuse du citoyen François ne sera point maritata. Elle vient de mourir vierge” (Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 105). 55

The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution


Ce n’est point uniquement pour s’être plû à présenter dans une république le triomphe de la noblesse sur l’égalité, que le peuple veut leur châtiment; ce fait très coupable sans doute n’est que le millième pareil. Le spectateur le plus impartial déposera dans leur procès qu’ils ont été constamment et audacieusement le point de ralliement de tous les scélérats déguisées en honnêtes gens. (emphasis in original)60

It is not because “nobility triumphs over equality” in the play that the actors ought to be punished, Rousselin says here (especially since this ending was in fact deleted from the play), but because the theater had continuously played to an audience of cidevants who hid their counter-revolutionary leanings behind virtuous masquerade. In other words, although upholding aristocratic prejudices was “very culpable,” it did not compare to the greater crime of hypocrisy. Revolutionary vigilance was now aimed at discerning the “honest folk” from the disguised pretenders, and so Rousselin aims his pen at exposing the author and actors for their false displays of civisme. He begins by “unmasking” François de Neufchâteau’s claim that he had made many sacrifices to the country of a more serious nature than the one of cutting a few lines from his play: J’ignore si les sacrifices faits par le citoyen François à la liberté, lorsqu’elle n’existoit pas, peuvent l’excuser d’avoir, quand la République a consacré son existence, offert aux valets de l’aristocratie, toujours déguisés en honnêtes gens, un nouveau point de ralliement sur le théâtre dit la Nation. (emphasis in original)61

Rousselin’s halting rhetoric, alternating between assertions and italicized asides, performs a double reading of François de Neufchâteau’s letter aimed at illuminating the hypocrisy of his claims to virtue. It is both exegesis and accusation. Rousselin does not honor the cuts François de Neufchâteau made to the play as a “sacrifice,” because they do not change the fact that the play provides a rallying point for aristocratic conspirators. He furthermore suggests that François de Neufchâteau could not have made “so many other sacrifices” to liberty, because liberty did not exist until it was consecrated by the Republic—the very Republic François de Neufchâteau insults with his aristocratic play. Rousselin’s asides attempt to unveil the lies he perceives lurking behind François de Neufchâteau’s assertions of patriotism. The same reasoning is displayed in his analysis of the play Paméla: “Cette pièce est du style le plus pur et le plus agréable; l’égalité y est célébrée d’une manière douce, persuasive et conciliatrice; mais l’égalité n’y triomphe point” (emphasis in original).62 The play might celebrate equality and virtue at Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 116. Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 68. 62 Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 104. This was also the basis of 60 61

the critique waged by anti-Pamelists against Richardson’s heroine (that her language of virtue is contradicted by her actions toward Mr. B such that her innocent appearance belies a calculated manipulation of him).

Virtue’s Proofs


every turn, but the victory goes to prejudice. In other words, the play said one thing but performed another, just as François de Neufchâteau, the actors, and the audience merely paid lip service to a liberty they did not in fact support. The critiques of Paméla by Rousselin and others reveal an anxiety that between the words and their meaning there existed a dangerous space for ambiguity and, therefore, factionalism. With the politicization of theater, audiences became vigilant in their scrutiny of political nuance, often appropriating lines of plays to their own purposes and meanings. Describing the incidents that had closed production of Paméla, for example, the actor Fleury recounts in his Mémoires the way: il n’était pas un hémistiche qui ne fût une égratignure, pas un vers qui n’emportât la pièce [...] ils y heurtaient à tous momens contre une pointe; la voix de l’acteur voulait-elle adoucir un trait, cette demi-teinte même devenait une finesse. Ce que nous ne trouvions pas, le public nous le donnait.63

As spectators searched for political meaning behind the surface appearance of the words, they attributed innuendos and inferences that were not necessarily there, or they conflated the sentiments of a character on stage with the actual sentiments of the actor playing him.64 Thus Carentan could take lines about religious tolerance in Paméla out of context and interpret them as a hidden plea for political tolerance on the part of the actors and author. Ironically, by forcing François de Neufchâteau to bring Paméla into conformity with republican principles, the Committee of Public Safety made the play more vulnerable to such accusations of hypocrisy. The fear was that the political and emotional identification of the audience with the sentiments on stage would promote a subversive production of incivisme. As Lynn Festa has argued, according to revolutionary ideology, the “audience must not identify with the wrong parties. The community Paméla’s consumers sought to join—or the community with which they wished to identify themselves—was not the community the Committee for Public Safety wished to reproduce.”65 In contrast to this image of an audience party to the incivisme presented on stage, Rousselin imagines an impartial spectator who, in the court of public opinion, will testify to the continued crimes at the Comédie-Française and thus unveil the hypocrites for what they truly are—British lackeys and Cobourg’s valets. As he writes, “Le spectateur le plus impartial déposera dans leur procès qu’ils ont été constamment et audacieusement le point de ralliement de tous les scélérats déguisées en honnêtes gens.” The “impartial spectator” here does not refer to Adam Smith’s metaphor of moral conscience of the same name elaborated in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759); rather, for Rousselin and his contemporaries Fleury, Mémoires, vol. 1, ch. 8, pp. 416–19. James H. Johnson maintains that the “dramatic distance distinguishing the part

63 64

from the player gradually disappeared as an ethos of transparency came to reign during the Terror” (“Revolutionary Audiences and the Impossible Imperatives of Fraternity,” p. 59). 65 Lynn Festa, “Sentimental Bonds,” p. 95.

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it indicates the (impartial) general will of the people as opposed to the (partial) self-interested factionalism of the nation’s enemies.66 In his written defense narrative, François de Neufchâteau tries to counter his opposition’s pointed rhetoric of public opinion by underscoring that when the actors were forced to close the play the first time, it was at the instigation of a few outspoken citizens and did not reflect the general will of the people: “Je me suis rendu au désir de plusieurs patriotes qui paroissoient fâchés que Paméla se trouvât noble. Elle sera donc roturière [...] je n’ai pas voulu laisser le moindre doute sur mes sentiments, bien connus.”67 The implication is that when the authorities stepped in to close the play they were following the desires of “several patriots” rather than those of the people more generally. In other words, the legislative body and its enforcers were acting under the sway of a special interest group rather than reflecting the general will. François de Neufchâteau invites the judgment of the people instead. “J’en appelle à la voix du peuple, qui juge sainement des choses, et qui, bien loin de s’élever contre la pièce et contre moi, était disposé à demander qu’on donnat Paméla de par et pour le peuple.”68 Those who accused him and his play of incivisme represented not the voice of the people but, rather, “the people” as it was being narrowly defined by the Jacobins in 1793, and which now excluded women, nobles, foreigners, clerics, and soon all dissenters from the Jacobin platform. In order to understand what the misfortunes of Paméla in 1793 can tell us about the relationship of sentimentality, politics, and theater during the Terror, it will be necessary to place the various documents generated by the controversy over the play within the broader juridical context of the late eighteenth century. François de Neufchâteau’s defense narrative in particular reflects the changes that occurred in the style and rhetoric of legal briefs in the decades before the Revolution and anticipates the profound changes in the judicial process that would be passed into law at the height of the Terror in 1794, just months after the arrests of the comédiens. The case against Paméla furthermore allows us to discern the continuity of sentimentalist forms and assumptions from the old to the new regime in both personal and institutional documents and to illuminate the way disenfranchised individuals during the Terror employed sentimental conventions in their search for sympathy and justice from the public rather than from a judicial system that no longer represented their rights or interests. Historian Lynn Hunt has attributed the Jacobin penchant for unmasking to the failure of a liberal political culture to take root in France in the eighteenth century (Politics, Class, and Culture, p. 42). The concept of interests or interest groups never became truly legitimate for the French revolutionaries as it did for the American revolutionaries establishing their own republic. Factional interests became identified with what is hidden or unseen and led to a climate of suspicion. As a result, revolutionary rhetoric underwent a narrowing into stark polarities that were invoked with enthusiasm throughout the Terror: virtue/vice, republican/ royalist, the people/the aristocracy, open/hidden, and secret/transparent (p. 44). 67 Gazette Nationale, 1 September 1793. 68 AP 1, vol. 74, p. 622. 66

Virtue’s Proofs


Sentimental form and the defense of virtue [S]i après les plus rudes épreuves, nous voyons enfin la vertu terrassée par le vice, indispensablement nos âmes se déchirent, et l’ouvrage nous ayant excessivement émus, ayant, comme disait Diderot, ensanglanté nos cœurs un revers, doit indubitablement produire l’intérêt, qui seul assure des lauriers. —Marquis de Sade, Idée sur les romans (1796)69

A number of scholars have analyzed the way the new moralizing fervor that permeated the arts and society of Europe after 1760 had reached the legal milieu in the last years of the Ancien Régime. Historian Sarah Maza, for instance, has demonstrated the way the style of defense used by pre-revolutionary lawyers in their published briefs was deeply inscribed within the language and conventions of sentimental literature.70 Spinning the particulars of their clients’ cases into melodramatic narratives, these lawyers effectively moved the sympathies of the general public for the defendants and in many cases affected the outcomes of their trials. One of the more sensational cases of the 1760s featured a young serving maid, Mlle Cléreaux, who was accused of stealing from her employer. The false charges against her were in fact retaliation by her employer for having rejected his sexual advances. If convicted, she would face the death penalty.71 Cléreaux’s situation in many ways paralleled the popular story of Pamela, from Richardson’s novel of the same name, which shows female purity, virtue, and innocence tried Sade, Idée sur les romans, Octave Uzanne, ed. (Paris: Edouard Rouveyre, 1878), pp. 26–7. Sade is describing here the novels of Richardson and Fielding. Putting virtue to the test was the method by which sentimental narratives since Richardson revealed and proved the supreme moral character of their protagonists. Such trials did more than test the heroine’s virtue; they also produced it. A reviewer in Le Journal des spectacles in fact complained that “Paméla n’est d’ailleurs pas assez éprouvée, pas assez contrariée” (no. 34, 3 August 1793); in other words, her virtue needed to be tested more vigorously if it was to be proven unequivocally. As Huet has shown, trials during the Revolution served to render those who suffered them heroic, such as Jean-Paul Marat, who gained credibility and secured his position as “l’Ami du people” only after demanding that he be tried by the revolutionary tribunal (Rehearsing the Revolution, pp. 60–65). As a heroic general in the play Les Épreuves du républicain, ou l’Amour de la Patrie (1794) declares: “C’est au creuset du malheur que s’épure la vertu républicaine” (p. 17), in RTR, vol. 14, play 12. 70 In Private Lives and Public Affairs, Sarah Maza chronicles the way lawyers took cases from the private realm of morality to the courts and then appealed to the higher tribune of public opinion in printed judicial memoirs (pp. 126–9). These memoirs served as a means to criticize the parlements and the legal systems, and to legitimize public opinion as a valid and objective tribunal. Such proceedings also added to male authority in the judgment of female virtue. 71 Hanging was the standard punishment for theft at the time. The law concerning domestics was severe, and proof of a crime rested “sur la seule plainte des maîtres”; See Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, “Mémoire pour la fille Cléreaux (Rouen 1785),” SVEC 208 (1982), pp. 325–35. 69


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

by aristocratic male lust and treachery.72 The defendants were often illiterate and did not write their own defenses. But as Maza notes, what mattered in these sensational narratives “was not plausibility in a narrow technical sense, but the moral coherence of this drama of good and evil.”73 Their literary style, she states, was “exactly that of Richardson’s great novels of female virtue besieged.”74 The modest and chaste adolescent girl thus became the emblem of virtue in distress and, in the case of another real-life wrongly accused serving maid, Victoire Salmon, the image itself of “innocence presumed” (Figure 4.1). Pictured this way, innocence not only indicated the legal right and designation of “not guilty” but also drew upon a host of associations and values relating to purity of heart, mind, and body. Such innocence reflected, as Maza notes, the moral universe of sentimental novels and of melodrama in which “people do not commit good or bad actions; they embody virtue and vice.”75 Thus while the chaste and honest defendant in the Cléreaux case was perceived as innocence and virtue itself, the corrupt and debauched employer was seen by the public as vice incarnate, a characterization that generated such popular outrage and anger that a mob stormed his home.76 Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink and Thomas Crow have linked the radical change in the language and style of legal briefs in pre-Revolutionary France with that of political pamphlets of the Revolutionary era.77 Crow elaborates the way in which 72 Paméla’s success in fact lay in Richardson’s combining of the popular scandal narratives of previous novelists such as Eliza Haywood and Delariviere Manley (which pit female innocence and sensitivity against aristocratic male libertinage and economic power) with the didactic and moral discourse of sermons and biblical reading. With Richardson, the trials of virtue became recognized not as salacious pleasure but as the most effective means of moral improvement derived from pity and sympathy for the suffering of virtue. The narrative of virtue unjustly persecuted by corrupt and hypocritical nobles continued to provide the main trope of sentimentality on the eve of the Revolution, apparent in such works as Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782), in which two unscrupulous aristocrats seduce and ruin a virtuous woman, and Bernardin de Saint Pierre’s Paul et Virginie (1787), in which an enclave of virtue is destroyed by the depravity of the Ancien Régime. 73 Maza, Private Lives, p. 219. 74 Maza, Private Lives, p. 219 75 Maza, Private Lives, p. 220. 76 The fact that superior virtue was now associated with simple folk and lowly rank and that women were believed to be more likely to develop such virtue, contrasted sharply with the centuries-old tradition that based virtue upon a rejection of passion in favor of reason, held that men were more capable of achieving virtue, and that superior social rank and superior virtue more or less coincided. See Marisa Linton, The Politics of Virtue in Enlightenment France (New York: Palgrave, 2001); and David Morse, The Age of Virtue: British Culture from the Restoration to Romanticism (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000). 77 Thomas E. Crow, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985); and Hans Lüsebrink. “Mémoire pour la fille Cléreaux,” pp. 323–72. According to Lüsebrink, the Cléreaux case was paradigmatic of scandal trials at the end of the eighteenth century “qui donnèrent une dimension neuve à l’action politique et sociale d’une nouvelle génération d’avocats mettant en place une mode d’affrontement idéologique constitutif d’une situation (pré)révolutionnaire” (p. 323).

Virtue’s Proofs

Fig. 4.1


L’Innocence présumée est Marie Françoise Victoire Salmon. n.d. [Paris, 1786] Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Collection de Vinck.


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the most influential examples of this radical political literature took the form of crudely sentimental pamphlets claiming to describe the persecution of honest citizens by depraved and corrupt officials.78 However, unlike the legal briefs, which highlighted cases of exceptional corruption by those with money and rank, the political pamphlets now brought attention to the institutional corruption that promoted and sustained a larger system of inequality and injustice. Robespierre, for example, when he was still a defense lawyer in Arras, wrote a pamphlet in the 1780s called Les Ennemis de la nation démasqués, in which he fiercely castigated the local government for oppressing the people. The unmasking and laying bare of true character this literature called for, Crow observes, was most often reduced to questions of style—in manner, in appearance, and in written and spoken expression. The pamphlets urged their readers to note the outward signs by which virtue and vice could be recognized. While villains hid their true characters behind facades of aristocratic refinement and Rococo finesse, which invariably served to disguise the greed and depravity of their selfish designs, the voice of sincerity, naturalness, and virtue, by contrast, could be recognized by its awkward and blunt simplicity. “A feeble and timid creature [...] can turn pale, stammer, contradict herself [...] and still be innocent,” wrote Robespierre.79 During the years of the Terror, however, the problem of appearances and the Jacobin imperative to unmask enemies was complicated by the fact that the mask was no longer that of aristocratic refinement but was now the veil of virtue. As we saw with Rousselin’s accusations against François de Neufchâteau and the players of the Comédie-Française, style and appearance could no longer serve as reliable indicators for rooting out the enemy since the “enemy” now looked and spoke just like the virtuous citizen. As Robespierre expressed, “l’hypocrisie rend hommage à la vertu, en adoptant ses formes, et en balbutiant son langage.”80 The revolutionary demand that virtue appear coincided with an increasing distrust of its signs and proofs. In the play Les Épreuves du républicain, ou l’Amour de la patrie (1794) by Jean-Marie Laugier, for example, a virtuous character laments that, “Trop de traîtres, de fripons ont abusé de notre confiance, à la faveur d’un masque de patriotisme ... nous ne voulons plus croire aux hommes sur les dehors, sur les discours.”81 As Marie-Hélène Huet and others have persuasively argued, 78 Thomas E. Crow, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), pp.  220–229. He further points out how prerevolutionary art criticism—which called for art to unmask the false appearances behind which a despotic elite escaped public scrutiny and censure—is echoed in the radical propaganda of the immediate pre-revolutionary period. This is to say that political tracts often read like fierce anti-Rococo art criticism applied to persons not pictures. See pp. 103ff. 79 Œuvres, vol. 1, p.  274; cited in A. Jourdan, “Robespierre and Revolutionary Heroism,” in Robespierre, ed. Haydon and William Doyle (New York; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 72–3. 80 Œuvres, vol. 5, p. 304. 81 Laugier, Les Épreuves du républicain, ou l’Amour de la Patrie, comedy in three acts, first performed on 4 August 1794; Act 1, scene vi (p. 17) in RTR vol. 14. The play follows the travails of the virtuous public servant Francial, who is wrongly accused of crimes against the state. His virtue is ultimately proven on the battlefield.

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the Terror was as much a war against representation as it was against foreign and civil enemies. Huet illuminates in particular the way “purity” was opposed to the most serious form of treason—that which stemmed from language itself.82 And once language had become a crime against the state, wrote Camille Desmoulins describing Robespierre’s politics of terror in Le Vieux Cordelier, “it was only one step to turn into crimes mere looks, sadness, compassion, sighs, even silence.”83 In order to aid in the effort to unveil false patriots, Robespierre devised a guide by which his spies could judge suspect behavior. According to him, any excess— whether in language, appearance, or behavior—was a sure sign of hypocrisy and false zeal and was to be condemned.84 Also suspect would be those who dreaded public notice (formerly a virtue), those who only sacrificed aristocrats for form’s sake and who mouthed commonplaces against Pitt and Cobourg. Robespierre thus sought to expose those citizens who, like the Lovelaces and Valmonts of fiction, reproduced the signs of virtue in order better to hide their vicious designs.85 Ironically, such a codification of conduct, rhetorical style, and affect makes Robespierre’s lists read more like the gesture manuals used by actors and painters, or the popular volume Physiognomy (1775) by Johann Kaspar Lavater,

Marie-Hélène Huet, “Performing Arts: Theatricality and the Terror,” in Representing the French Revolution: Literature, Historiography, and Art, ed. James A.W. Heffernan (London: University Press of New England, 1992), p. 138. On the desire for an increasing transparency of signs, see Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class, pp. 87–119. 83 Desmoulins, Le Vieux Cordelier, no. 15 (December 15, 1793); John Hardman, The French Revolution Sourcebook (New York: Arnold, 1999), p. 208. The Terror’s extremely repressive policing of emotion saw in signs of sympathy toward anyone but the people and its representatives the seeds of counter-revolution. In a speech on domestic policy (5 February 1794), for example, Robespierre argued that the Dantonists were weakening the Revolution with their private vice and their wrongly placed sympathies. The tears they shed over the misfortunes of the Girondists were considered proof of a greater cruelty toward the suffering people: “Tous les élans de leur fausse sensibilité ne me paroissent que des soupirs échappés vers l’Angleterre et vers l’Autriche” (Œuvres, vol. 10, p. 359). As Desmoulins protested: “Je vais à l’échafaud pour avoir versé quelques larmes sur le sort de tant de malheureux” (Le Vieux Cordelier, no. 7). 84 “Quand un homme se tait au moment où il faut parler, il est suspect. Quand il s’enveloppe de ténèbres, ou qu’il montre pendant quelques instans une énergie qui disparoît aussitôt; quand il se borne à de vaines tirades, contre les tyrans, sans s’occuper des mœurs publiques et du bonheur de tous ses concitoyens, il est suspect” (Œuvres, vol. 10, pp. 22–3). 85 In both Clarissa by Richardson and Les Liaisons dangereuses by Laclos, the aristocratic seducer stages a false scene of virtue in order to dupe his victim. Juliet McMaster describes the way Richardson codified these conventions in the way the virtuous Clarissa Harlowe exhibits the paradigm of the body “as the natural and true extension of the mind,” whereas Richard Lovelace has “mastered another body of discourse, the manuals of the professionals who instruct painters and actors in the synthesis of emotion and the willed reproduction of signs” (Reading the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Novel [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004], p. 120). 82

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than political judgment.86 His taxonomy belies a desire to turn “every act, every movement of conscience” into an “immediately perceptible reality.”87 The subtle scrutiny of virtue’s signs proceeds from the sentimentalist belief that a person’s inner life was more accurately discerned in the comportment of the face and body than in one’s words. However, the equivocal nature of these signs (as simulation of virtue or its natural expression of internal truth) meant that the Jacobin drive for transparency paradoxically led the Terrorists back to the surface—to the signs and conventions by which virtue and vice could be recognized, that is “sur les dehors, sur les discours.” Neuchâteau and the players of the Comédie thus got caught in the crosscurrents governing virtue’s performance during the Terror. On the one hand, François de Neufchâteau’s defense narrative participates in the sentimental modes and concepts of virtue that characterize pre-revolutionary defense briefs. Like them, it seeks above all else to rally public opinion and sympathy for his case by creating an unmediated connection between his presumed virtue and that of his sympathetic readers. Unlike the pre-revolutionary briefs, however, the victim is no longer an innocent young woman whose sexual virtue is persecuted by a corrupt and duplicitous aristocrat; now it is a devoted public servant, like Francial in Les Épreuves du républicain, wrongly accused by his fellow representatives in government. Lise Andries has analyzed the many personal defense narratives written during the Terror by citizens such as François de Neufchâteau who had been active in public life and now found themselves on the other side of power. According to her, these texts constitute a new mode of public discourse in between legal brief and memoir.88 Like the former, as we have seen, the defendants seek consolation for their suffering as well as a just hearing from their peers and the public, but like the latter, they are now written by the defendants themselves, rather than their lawyers. François de Neufchâteau’s defense shares a number of other characteristics with these defense narratives written between 1793 and 1795: it contains a short récit de vie, it appeals to public opinion, it expresses reluctance In On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1960), Hannah Arendt links the language of hypocrisy and unmasking during the Terror directly with theatrical concepts of persona (the actor’s mask through which the actor’s voice is heard) and hypocrite (from the Greek for play-actor, or the actor himself not the mask). What made the hypocrite so abhorrent to revolutionaries, she writes, “was that he claimed not only sincerity but naturalness, and what made him so dangerous [...] was that he instinctively could help himself to every ‘mask’ in the political theater, [...] but that he would not use this mask, as the rules of the political game demand, as a sounding board for the truth but, on the contrary, as a contraption for deception” (pp.  107–8). Huet also addresses the issue of unmasking in relation to theater in Mourning Glory: The Will of the French Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), pp. 59–78. 87 Andries, “Récits de survie: les mémoires d’autodéfenses pendant l’an II et l’an III” in La Carmagnole des muses, ed. Jean-Claude Bonnet and Lise Andries (Paris: Colin, 1988), p. 272. 88 Andries, “Récits de survie,” pp. 261–75. 86

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to be in the public eye, and it draws upon literary modes—such as pastoral, gothic, and sentimental fiction—to convey as effectively as possible to readers the innocence, suffering, and sincerity of the author.89 On the other hand, however, François de Neufchâteau’s critics perceived his claims to virtue as hypocritical— merely mimicking the discourse and signs of virtue—and aimed their accusations and denunciations at unveiling his and the comédiens’ true counter-revolutionary leanings. The case against Paméla in 1793 thus serves to illustrate the way that the enforcement of republican virtue during the Terror opened into a mise-en-abyme where every display of virtue was haunted by the fact that its social and intelligible signs were conventions that could be adopted by the virtuous and vicious alike. From “innocence presumed” to “moral proofs”: Virtue on trial The crisis over virtue’s signs in Year II effected a dissociation of virtue from its appearance—whether in actions, words, or comportment—that posed particular problems for judicial judgment during the Terror. Virtuous acts could be criminal if enacted by hypocrites, while great crimes could be virtuous if performed in the service of the Revolution (as Saint-Just allegedly boasted). The determination of innocence or guilt thus came to depend uniquely upon the judgment of one’s person rather than one’s actions or words. In the trial of Louis XVI, for example, Saint-Just argued: “Le procès doit être fait à un roi non point pour les crimes de son administration, mais pour celui d’avoir été roi. [...] On ne peut point régner innocemment.”90 In the absence of material proof of crimes, the fact of being a king was itself sufficient proof of guilt. The notion of innocence consequently came to refer not only to the legal determination of “not guilty” of a particular crime, but to a Rousseauian notion of virtue as innocence of heart and soul, and of the natural virtue associated with the people who always had the public good at heart.91 In this climate, the presumption of innocence came to be seen as a hazardous and unnecessary policy. For example, Robespierre beseeched his colleagues in the National Convention: “Si Louis peut être présumé innocent, que devient la Révolution? Si Louis est innocent, tous les défenseurs de la liberté deviennent des calomniateurs.”92 The Terror reversed the order of Andries, “Récits de survie,” pp. 263–5. This is from Saint-Just’s maiden speech to the National Convention (13 November

89 90

1792), before the discovery of the incriminating contents of the armoire de fer provided material proof of the king’s treason. Œuvres complètes de Saint-Just, ed. Michèle Duval (Paris: Gérard Lebovici, 1984), p. 379. 91 Carol Blum explains that, “In the latter years of [Rousseau’s] life, as he felt himself increasingly unjustly accused, he tended to substitute ‘innocence’ for ‘virtue’ as the moral substantive he experienced so intensely within himself”; “Rousseau’s Concept of ‘Virtue’ and the French Revolution,” in Enlightenment Studies in Honour of Lester G. Crocker, ed. Alfred Bingham and Virgil W. Topazio (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 1979), p. 33. 92 Robespierre, Ecrits, p. 215.

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justice in demanding proof of innocence. In the arrests following the reopening of Paméla, François de Neufchâteau and the players were not presumed innocent, as per their right proclaimed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen; rather, the burden of proof now rested with the defendant, who had to prove his innocence, which is to say, his unblemished virtue (both civisme and sensibilité), beyond a reasonable doubt. As Robespierre repeatedly asserted in his speeches, the Republic required “la vertu pure et éprouvée” of all its citizens.93 However, such innocence and virtue could not be proven unequivocally, since words and actions could be false. “Qui donc démêlera toutes ces nuances? qui tracera la ligne de démarcation?” Robespierre asked.94 His answer lay in his own “incorruptible” intuition: the judgment of virtue was best done by listening to one’s heart, which never lies.95 “It is virtue that divines with speed of instinct what will be conducive to the general advantage,” Mercier had written in his Notions claires sur les gouvernements (1787). “Reason with its insidious language can paint the most equivocal enterprise in captivating colors but the virtuous heart will never forget the interests of the humblest citizen.”96 This faith in the spontaneous judgment of the pure heart, what Carol Blum has called an “epistemology of sentiment,” pervaded Jacobin politics and came to inform legal policy and procedure during the Terror. As Blum demonstrates, this epistemology of sentiment led to a distrust of material evidence that became law with the passing of the infamous Law of 22 Prairial (10 June 1794).97 Written by Robespierre in the wake of several attempts on his life, the Law of Prairial was designed to prosecute enemies more easily by suppressing the right to legal representation and witnesses.98 The new law effectively denied the accused the right to a lawyer, to witnesses, and to defense. According to Blum, it sought to replace judicial impartiality with a more emotionally immediate and hence morally superior method of justice based on virtue. As she explains, “the awkward rules of evidence and the burdensome rights of defense, so laboriously established in the Enlightenment’s battle with arbitrary feudal law, were replaced by one single criterion: the jury’s immediate impression Œuvres, vol 10, p. 68. Œuvres, vol 10, pp. 276–7. 95 “Quel est le remède?” he asks in 1794: “ce ressort général de la République, la 93 94

vertu”; Ecrits, p. 303. 96 Cited by Schama, Citizens, p. 159. 97 Carol Blum, Rousseau and the Republic of Virtue: The Language of Politics in the French Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), p. 256. 98 The following articles are of particular interest since they address the issue of admissible proof: “VIII - La preuve nécessaire pour condamner les ennemis du peuple est toute espèce de document, soit matérielle, soit morale, soit verbale, soit écrite, qui peut naturellement obtenir l’assentiment de tout esprit juste et raisonnable. La règle des jugements est la conscience des jurés éclairés par l’amour de la patrie. XIII - S’il existait des preuves soit matérielles, soit morales, indépendamment de la preuve testimoniale, il ne sera point entendu de témoins [...] XVI - La loi donne pour défenseur aux patriotes calomniés des jurés patriots; elle n’en accorde point aux conspirateurs”; from Jean-François Fayard, La justice révolutionnaire: Chronique de la Terreur (Paris: Laffont, 1989), p. 296.

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of the accused’s morals.”99 This moral judgment based on feeling and intuition came to dominate judicial proceedings from the trial of Louis XVI onward and grew out of the increasing distrust of virtue’s signs. Language in particular, it was believed, could be employed and disfigured by wicked people against the virtuous, therefore it had to be circumscribed to allow more power to instinct, which was the only true source of virtue.100 For Robespierre: Le chef-d’œuvre de la société serait de créer en lui, pour les choses morales, un instinct rapide qui, sans le secours tardif du raisonnement, le portât à faire le bien et à éviter le mal; car la raison particulière de chaque homme égaré par ses passions n’est souvent qu’un sophiste qui plaide leur cause, et l’autorité de l’homme peut toujours être attaquée par l’amour-propre de l’homme.101

Where reason errs, swayed by the passions and self-interest, the natural instinct of the virtuous heart is always right. Neufchâteau declares his innocence and virtue in the opening lines of his defense narrative (“je suis patriote et je suis innocent”) before addressing each of the four charges against him and the actors. His aim, he writes, is to prove “jusqu’à l’évidence” that none of the accusations apply to him: “je ne dis pas le moindre argument, mais le plus léger soupçon; qu’au contraire, ma conduite, en cette circonstance, n’a rien que de louable et de pur.”102 His language acknowledges the imperative to prove his virtue and innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt. François de Neufchâteau repeatedly notes that his private papers seized by the arresting officers revealed no incriminating evidence against him, but rather were evidence of the purist patriotic sentiments.103 “Autant il faut d’ardeur pour démasquer les traitres et punir les aristocrates,” he pleads, “autant on doit d’égards Blum, Rousseau and the Republic of Virtue, p. 258. On the distrust of language during the Revolution, see Sophia Rosenfeld, A



Revolution in Language: The Problem of Signs in Late Eighteenth-Century France (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001); and Philippe Roger, “The French Revolution as ‘logomachy’” in Language and Rhetoric of the Revolution, ed. John Renwick (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990), pp. 4–18. 101 Robespierre, Ecrits, p. 317. On the issue of error, see David William Bates, Enlightenment Aberrations: Error and Revolution in France (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002). 102 AP 1, vol. 74, p. 622. 103 Carla Hesse has elucidated the increasing emphasis on seized writings as “preuve matérielle” in 1794 in “La preuve par la lettre: Pratiques juridiques au tribunal révolutionnaire de Paris (1793–1794)” Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 51.3 (May–June 1996), p. 635. The private letter—“objet d’une saisie”—in particular came to the fore in the determination of innocence or guilt because it was believed to reveal the most intimate thoughts and feelings of the author (p. 635). In case after case, she notes, “la condemnation se fonde non sur l’existence de plans définies mais sur la mise en lumière du sentiment intime” (p. 639). This is precisely the means by which Paméla’s virtue is proven in the play—through her intimate writing which Bonfil (like Mr. B in the original novel) reads against her wishes.

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aux innocents persécutés, et de soutien aux patriotes outragés par la calomnie.”104 Like his heroine, and such pre-revolutionary defendants as Mlle Cléreaux, he embodies innocence persecuted. Because innocence rests upon virtue, he does not distinguish between the civisme demanded of the Republic and the sensibilité of Richardson’s heroine, but draws upon both in his appeal to readers to judge the truth of his innocence and sincerity, and the purity of his heart. The legal misfortunes of Paméla thus reflect this moment in which the rule of law ceded to the rule of virtue. With justice now based upon the spontaneous judgment of the virtuous, and thus a matter of sentiment, the admissible proof and evidence of one’s virtue were left dangerously abstract and intentionally vague.105 The hearing François de Neufchâteau was given before the National Convention took place only days after the Law of Suspects was passed (17 September 1793), which decreed, among other things, that all citizens carry a carte de civisme. To accuse François de Neufchâteau and the comédiens of “incivisme” was to call them “gens suspects” and thus enemies of the state. To be accused as such by a virtuous citizen was sufficient “moral proof” of guilt, so no further testimony or documentation was allowed into evidence. In October 1793, the public accuser, Fouquier-Tinville, lamented his inability to execute the remaining Girondists in prison without trial, which included François de Neufchâteau and the actors of the Comédie. In a letter to the National Convention regarding their case, he expresses the desire to change the laws so that revolutionary justice could be more effectively and swiftly carried out: “Ce procès sera donc interminable. D’ailleurs, on se demande pourquoi des témoins? La Convention, la France entière accusent ceux dont ce procès s’instruit; les preuves de leurs crimes sont évidentes, chacun a dans son âme la conviction qu’ils sont coupables.”106 In the absence of material proof against the comédiens and François de Neufchâteau (the dossier after all had been destroyed by a clerk in the office of the Revolutionary tribunal) all the “moral proof” Fouquier-Tinville needed was the conviction of guilt inscribed in the hearts of good patriots. Ironically, this returned citizens to the situation that prevailed in pre-Revolutionary France in which a single accusation by an aristocrat (now by a statesman) supplied sufficient proof of guilt to convict defendants like Mlle Cléreaux. No longer protected by the law, these disenfranchised individuals sought sympathy and justice outside the channels of the judicial system through published memoirs that appealed to public opinion in an attempt to find meaning in the chaos of the Terror. AP 1, vol. 74, p. 625. As one member of the revolutionary tribunal succinctly put it: “People are ceaselessly telling the judges: take care to protect the innocent; and I say to them, in the name of the patrie: tremble to save the guilty.” Qtd. in Barry M. Shapiro, Revolutionary Justice in Paris, 1789–90 (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. x. 105 Robespierre purposefully left laws vague so that “hypocrites” could be more easily prosecuted: “la loi pénale doit nécessairement avoir quelque chose de vague, parce que le caractère actuel des conspirateurs étant la dissimulation et l’hypocrisie, il faut que la justice puisse les saisir sous toutes les formes”; qtd. in Arendt, On Revolution, p. 292n32. 106 Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 115. 104

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Gender, virtuous masquerade, and the political order [C]haque femme de Paris rassemble dans son appartement un sérail d’hommes plus femmes qu’elle. —Rousseau, Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles (1752) Que ce sérail impur soit fermé pour jamais. —Feuille du salut public (September 1793), referring to the Comédie-Française

In his mémoire justificatif, François de Neufchâteau passionately paints his situation as a victim of circumstance, unjustly treated by those in power. He decries in particular the way he has been unjustly confined without a hearing. “Je suis privé de ma liberté, sans avoir été entendu ni avant, ni depuis mon arrestation. Et pourquoi suis-je captif?”107 Like the heroine of his play, he is powerless and defenseless against the institutions of justice that no longer represent his interests or guarantee his rights. He thus appeals to the public in an attempt to garner sympathy for the distress he suffers. The parallels drawn among the author, the play, and his heroine had been used in the battle waged between François de Neufchâteau and the press in August 1793, and it is not surprising that he would continue this rhetoric in his defense. However, the tenor has changed significantly in the latter, taking on a more personal and emotional cast. François de Neufchâteau had retired from Paris and public life earlier in 1793 and thus his identification with Paméla—her sincerity, modesty, and honesty; the victimization of her virtue; her perseverance and charitable acts—is understandable given how far from his former colleagues and former position in the legislative branch he now found himself. His only hope was to persuade his persecutors of his untarnished virtue and to appeal to the public for a fair hearing. François de Neufchâteau frequently compares himself to Paméla, at times speaking of his and her trials and fate as essentially the same. Like her, he maintains his faith in virtue despite his mistreatment and like Richardson’s other heroine, Clarissa, he marshals the material evidence at his disposal as a testament of his innocence: private letters, certificates of civisme, proposals, reports from various committees, the procès-verbaux regarding his seized papers upon his arrest, and the script of Paméla. Although he never saw his day in court, he had these documents published and sold to the public in addition to being circulated to the members of the National Convention. Neufchâteau’s identification with his heroine came at a moment of particular retrenchment and debate regarding gender roles and difference in the political assemblies. Within a few weeks of his arrest and hearing, for example, the deputy André Amar argued before the National Convention that women lack the necessary

AP 1, vol. 74, p. 622.


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“moral and physical force” for political participation.108 Female virtue was believed to be essentially different from men’s, and thus women’s proper sphere of action was in the private realm of the family (raising and nurturing heroic citizens) and charity. William Sewell has shown how, as the unity and indivisibility of the Republic demanded a particularly intense and masculine form of virtue—which Amar characterized before the National Convention as “a severe impassivity and the abnegation of the self”—it was the duty of women to keep men sensible et vertueux.109 The Convention also banned women’s popular societies in October 1793. Several months later all political association by women was prohibited.110 More sensationally, François de Neufchâteau’s parallel between himself and Paméla was complicated by the fact that two of the most high-profile trials before the Revolutionary tribunal in summer and fall 1793, as Paméla came under scrutiny, involved prominent women associated with the counter-revolution: Charlotte Corday in July and Marie-Antoinette in October. In both cases, the virtue of these women was as much on trial as their actions. The gendered and sexualized nature of this virtue is apparent in the popular obsession with the purported immoral conduct of the queen, on the one hand, and with verifying Corday’s virginity, on the other.111 At the same time that eyewitnesses commented on Corday’s youthful modesty at her execution, others attributed her heroic assassination of Marat to her “male virtue,” and she was frequently compared to the Roman assassin Marcus Brutus.112 In his ode to Corday, André Chénier praised her courage, writing that in Qtd. in William Sewell, Jr., “Le citoyen/la citoyenne: Activity, Passivity, and the Revolutionary Concept of Citizenship,” in The French Revolution and the Creation of Modern Political Culture, ed. Keith Michael Baker and Colin Lucas, 4 vols. (New York: Pergamon Press, 1988), vol. 2, p. 109. 109 Sewell, “Le citoyen/la citoyenne,” p.  109. Women’s natural sensibility and benevolence were seen as the necessary antidotes for the increasingly austere civic virtue required for participation in the public realm from which, by her nature, she was now necessarily excluded. She is rather “naturally destined to make one love virtue. When she has filled this duty, she will have merited the patrie” (AP 1, vol. 78, p. 50). 110 See Dominique Godineau, The Women of Paris and their French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Literate Women and the French Revolution of 1789, Catherine Montfort-Howard, ed. (Birmingham, AL: Summa Publications, 1994); Candice E. Proctor, Women, Equality, and the French Revolution (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990); Leslie W. Rabine and Sara E Melzer, eds., Rebel Daughters: Women and the French Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); and Shirley Elson Roessler, Out of the Shadows: Women and Politics in the French Revolution, 1789–95 (New York: Peter Lang, 1996). 111 See Dena Goodman, ed., Marie Antoinette: Writings on the Body of a Queen (NY: Routledge, 2003); and Antoine de Baecque, Body Politic. On Corday, see Nina Corazzo and Catherine R. Montfort, “Charlotte Corday femme-homme” in Literate Women, ed. Catherine Montfort-Howard (Birmingham: Summa Publications, 1994), pp. 33–54. The authors, for example, note the way rumors that Corday was pregnant at the time of her execution led to a doctor verifying her virginity postmortem (p. 45). 112 In her letter to the tribunal from jail she wrote that she will “jouir du repos dans les Champs-Elysées avec Brutus et quelques anciens,” in Gerard Walter, Actes du Tribunal révolutionnaire (Paris: Mercure de France, 1986), p. 61. 108

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giving her life for the good of France: “Seule tu fus un homme.”113 Both women were painted as “arch offenders of the Jacobin ideal of the wife/mother,” and vilified by contemporaries as “unnatural” women and “monster[s]” for having dared to intervene in public affairs.114 Other politically outspoken women such as Madame Roland and Olympe de Gouges were executed in September and November 1793 respectively. In fact, the dangerous presence of women in public life lies at the heart of the language hurled at François de Neufchâteau and the comédiens by the radical press. Rousselin, for example, described the Comédie-Française as the place “où le poignard qui a frappé Marat a été aiguisé,” thus directly linking Corday’s act of counter-Terrorism with the theater and its supposed spread of incivisme.115 He also cites as one of the outward signs of the Comédie’s corruption the fact that women in the audience at performances of Paméla displayed themselves immodestly: “La salle étoit remplie; les femmes présentoient un luxe vraiment monarchique.”116 Rousselin refers to the Comédie as a “sérail impur,” drawing upon a long tradition that associated women and theater with luxury and monarchy. The actors and audience, he writes, should be deported to Russia “où ils porteront ce talent monarchique et efféminé que la République n’aura point à regretter, et qu’elle eût dû déjà proscrire à jamais de son sein” (emphasis in original).117 The rhetoric of the seraglio and the corrupt pleasure of women’s tyranny over men (with specific reference made to the ruling female monarch of Russia, Catherine the Great) underscores the way the political order was seen as resting upon an order of the sexes: just as monarchy represents the dangerous mingling of the sexes in pleasure, luxury, and androgyny, the republic is founded upon a logic of sameness that denies difference in allowing citizenship exclusively to men. It was not just that theater promoted the wrong kinds of relationships between the sexes; rather, it also created wrong relationships among citizens. As Rousseau had argued in the Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles, spectators at the theater exhibited the same mannered behavior as the actors such that theater served to impede the identification between citizen and his semblables that was believed necessary for ideal relations in the republic.118 For Rousseau, it is important that the citizen be 115 116 117 118

André Chénier, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Gallimard, 1958), p. 78. Corazzo and Montfort, “Charlotte Corday femme-homme,” p. 45. Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 106. Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 106. Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, p. 106. Rousseau, Letter to M. d’Alembert on Theater, pp. 84–6. What Rousseau condemns about women who adorn themselves in the latest fashions and whose cosmetics and ornaments are too visible is that, rather than a sign of her natural innocence and modesty (her virtue or pudeur), her mask presents appearance as appearance. Thus like actresses, Parisian women consciously solicit the gaze of men in a way that engenders and perpetuates the unnatural theatricality that Rousseau denounces as dangerous to the Republic. A parallel can be drawn between Rousseau’s complex formulation of pudeur and the enforcement of virtue in France during the Terror, when the mask had to appear naturally as virtue 113 114


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

like every other man, for sameness is what guarantees the integrity of the political body.119 Differentiation, on the other hand, leads to private interest and a straying from one’s civic duty. As republican politics of Year II were increasingly grounded in notions of “male energy” and an intolerance of difference in the public sphere, including gender difference, Jacobin policy progressively emphasized the need for transparency as the safeguard of the republic.120 The female role François de Neufchâteau assumes at times in his defense shows him identifying with difference, “becoming a woman” rather than citizen, and thus going against the ethos of sameness guaranteeing the republic. Acting of any kind was potentially vicious since it entailed, as Rousseau had elaborated in the Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles, playing someone other than oneself and thus not showing one’s true face. (This belief had significant consequences for actual actors whose person was now equated with the role [persona] he or she played. Actors were traditionally linked with the monarchy—the comédiens ordinaires du roi in particular—and their métier of playing roles other than themselves brought further suspicion upon them during the Terror.) François de Neufchâteau’s identification with his heroine was likely an attempt on his part to dissociate himself and his play from the public arena of politics and action. He distinctly allies himself with the feminine and the private. However, at this critical moment of the Revolution when the political order came increasingly to rest upon an order of the sexes that split the public and private into separate gendered spheres, the identification with Paméla called attention to his performance of virtue as performance and therefore threatened to expose not only the hidden gender order upon which republican foundations were built but also the performative rather than essential nature of virtue itself. Conclusion: Performing virtue Collot d’Herbois wrote to Fouquier-Tinville in June 1794 to request a collective trial for François de Neufchâteau and the dozen actors of the Comédie-Française still in prison then: “le Comité t’envoie, citoyen, les pièces concernant une partie des ci-devant comédiens-français. Tu sais, ainsi que tous les patriotes, combien ces gens-là sont contre-révolutionnaires; tu les mettras en jugement le 13 messidor rather than appear theatrically as appearance, with the difference now that men also came to occupy the disenfranchised position formerly reserved for women under patriarchy. See Feilla, “Regarding Women: The Politics of Beholding in Rousseau’s Letter to M. d’Alembert on Theater,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 7 (1994): 1–18. 119 Rousseau, Letter to M. d’Alembert on Theater, p. 88. 120 Caroline Weber argues that “revolutionary fraternity and misogyny are indissociable complements” in Terror and its Discontents: Suspect Words in Revolutionary France (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), p. 89. She points out the way the Law of Prairial followed closely upon the heels of the misogynistic Festival of the Supreme Being (pp. 89–93).

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[1 July 1794]” (emphasis in original).121 The expression “place in judgment” was by then a euphemism for execution since the revolutionary tribunal rarely saw acquittal. Fortunately for the prisoners, their trial was delayed. When Robespierre and the Jacobin-led government fell three weeks later, on 10 thermidor (28 July 1794), the proceedings against François de Neufchâteau and the actors were brought to an end. They were released from prison shortly thereafter. The troupe reunited in the new Théâtre Feydeau that summer and, one year later, brought Paméla, ou la vertu recompensée back to the stage (22 July 1795). The play went on to a successful run with nearly eighty performances at four different theaters from 1795 to 1799. Its popularity continued into the nineteenth century as well, such that the script was published in five new editions and inspired three new novels.122 In 1804, the authors of a new play entitled, Paméla mariée, ou le Triomphe des épouses, paid homage to François de Neufchâteau in their preface, writing that his “belle comédie de Paméla a causé, et à la fois, son malheur et sa gloire.”123 François de Neufchâteau meanwhile returned to political life as Minister of the Interior under the Directory and as a member of several political committees throughout the reign of Napoleon. He was later named director of the Feydeau. As discussed above, the reprisal of the anti-Pamelist debate in France during the Terror was inscribed in the legal and political, rather than strictly social and literary, milieux of revolutionary Paris, and involved many of the main figures, political institutions, and legislative acts of the period. The case reflects the stakes of virtue’s performance and prosecution at this time, both in the theater and for citizens more generally. Politicians exhorted the people to assert their liberty through the free exercise of their natural virtue, which was believed to be always directed toward the public good. Yet they also directed the full arsenal of suspicion and denunciation against those whose civisme seemed to serve goals different from their own, accusing them of hiding private interests under the mask of virtue. By demanding that private as well as public virtue appear, the government of the Terror—ever distrustful of empirical evidence and the potential dissimulation of virtue’s signs—revealed the paradoxes at the heart of revolutionary government: in order to establish a rule of law, they suspended the rule of law; in order to enforce virtue and transparency, they forced citizens to be actors and hypocrites. The trials of Paméla in 1793 can also help us understand the complex ways in which the relationship between sentimentality and politics was articulated not only during the Revolution but also subsequently, by scholars of the Revolution 121 Pougin, La Comédie Française et la Révolution, pp.  153–4. On 5 thermidor (23 July 1794), Fouquier-Tinville wrote to the Paris police: “encore tout Paris s’attendait à la mise en jugement des comédiens-français” (p. 156). According to Etienne and Martainville, the public began lining up in advance along the route to the guillotine in anticipation of seeing them. 122 See Poirson, M. François de Neufchâteau, for a full bibliography. 123 Benoit Pelletier-Volméranges et Michel de Cubières-Palmezaux (Paris: Barba, 1904), Préface, p. 7; qtd in Poirson, M. François de Neufchâteau, p. 52.

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today. We have seen, for example, Lynn Festa’s view that sentimentality was opposed to the nationalistic patriotism of the Terror. For her, the invidualism and universality of liberal sentimentality ran afoul of the Jacobin government of Year II, which emphasized the collective over the individual and the national over the universal. By contrast, William Reddy has posited a causal relationship between sentimentality and the politics of the Terror.124 For him, Jacobinism represents the triumph of sentimentality and its belief, developed over the eighteenth century, in “natural” and universal sentiments that everyone can recognize in their own hearts. Reddy argues that the purges and terror of Year II could not be the result of reason in practice, as is often claimed, but of emotion. “The eighteenth century’s misunderstanding of emotions, coupled with the paradoxical effort to enlist the coercive power of the state in the service of benevolence and generosity, transformed the emotional refuge aimed at in 1789, in four short years, into the acute emotional suffering of the Terror.”125 Insightful as both of their readings of the affective dimension of revolutionary discourse and principles are, they overstate the oppositional and causative relationship between sentimentality and republicanism of Year II respectively. The Terror was neither sentimentality’s logical endpoint (Reddy) nor its antithesis (Festa). Rather, politics and sentimentality were mutually justifying discourses in Year II of the Republic. Although representing different systems of thought with different foundations and purposes, republicanism and sentimentality nonetheless converged in a shared vocabulary and valuation of virtue and “transparency.” While the political virtue of classical republicanism referred to a transparent and egalitarian attribute that underwrote democracy, the natural virtue of sentimental sociability was based upon emotional transparency associated with sincerity, loyalty, benevolence, frugality, and so on. “Innocence” and “virtue” came to indicate both moral and political determinations that informed judicial process during the Terror.126 As Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling, pp. 140–150. Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling, p. 147. Reddy thus argues that “sentimentalism”

124 125

created the cultural expectation that one perform one’s “natural” sincerity through emotional declarations but that this demand led to increasing distrust of the truth value of such utterances; see in particular, pp. 190–199. 126 Whereas Montesquieu went to great lengths to distinguish political from moral virtue (“ce n’est point une vertu morale, ni une vertu chrétienne, c’est la vertu politique”) in L’Esprit des lois (1749), the two were largely conflated in the Revolution. For Montesquieu, republican virtue was created by following law, by accepting an external standard and making it one’s sole guide. The civic virtue upheld by the revolutionaries, however, was a unique blend of the social and moral virtues with republican virtus. Although these discourses had different origins and distinctive sets of associations, they shared a similar social perspective: both held that private and public virtue were related and that the individual citizen should put public welfare before private interest. In the next chapter, I explore the way the shared element of sacrifice—important to both sentimental and civic definitions of virtue—facilitated the conflation of the two during the Revolution. See The Spirit of the Laws, trans. Thomas Nugent (New York: Macmillan, 1949).

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David Andress describes: “Emotional honesty (or, to be cynical, the acting-out of such openness) was taken to represent political honesty.”127 This equivocation between emotional honesty and its “acting-out” was precisely the dilemma for citizens and their representatives during the Terror. Paméla’s fate in 1793 and 1794 hinged upon the question of the perceived sincerity of virtue’s performance. It was not enough to claim one’s virtue as Paméla (and François de Neufchâteau) did in writing and speech. One had to perform it. “Ce n’est pas dans les mots que la vertu consiste.” What both Festa and Reddy overlook, therefore, is the issue of performance. Because virtue had to appear, it risked calling attention to itself as appearance; that is, to its conventional rather than natural foundations. The drive for transparency during the Terror meant that virtue had to appear as transparent and thus as the natural adequation between being and seeming, between virtue and its performance. The trials and tribulations of François de Neufchâteau and the players of the Comédie thus reveal the critical link between sentimentality, performance, and politics in shaping the republicanism of Year II.

David Andress, The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006), p. 128. Andress acknowledges the “strangeness of this concept to modern eyes” and cites in particular the example of Louvet de Coudray, whose authorship of sentimental fiction provided proof of his “virtue in the factual world of politics” (p. 128). 127

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Chapter 5

Virtuous Citizen, Suffering Father: Voltaire’s Brutus and the Sentimentalization of Political Tragedy Je me rappelle que quand on donnait le Brutus de Voltaire, on ne jouait guère que pour les banquettes et pour la phalange littéraire [...] Qui l’eût dit alors, que son Brutus non suivi, presque dédaigné, incompris, deviendrait quarante années après, la pièce fondamentale de nos fêtes civiques. —Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Le Bien informé (6 pluviôse an VII [1799])1 Il y a une sensibilité qui est extrèmement rare. L’amour de la patrie, la passion pour la gloire et pour la vertu ne sauraient habiter dans une âme médiocrement sensible. Ainsi le personnage de Brutus bien traité est un des personnages les plus sensibles du théâtre. C’est une vérité dont il faut être convaincu, je ne dis pas pour juger des pièces de ce genre, mais même pour les comprendre. —Marie-Joseph Chénier, “Épître dédicatoire à mon frère” (1790)2

A popular campaign to revive Voltaire’s heroic tragedy, Brutus (1730), at the Théâtre Français (Comédie-Française) was launched in the summer of 1790 in the wake of the great Fête de la Fédération and gained momentum as the call for greater liberty of the theaters was championed by the likes of the Comte de Mirabeau and Jean-François de La Harpe. When the troupe at the Comédie acquiesced in the face of overwhelming public demand and announced a series of performances of Brutus beginning on 17 November 1790, the popular press rejoiced in the victory. “C’est aujourd’hui, ce soir, que le patriotisme va, au Théâtre français, faire mordre la poussière à l’aristocratie,” exulted the Journal universel.3 The play became a touchstone of republican sentiments and was a decisive victory on the road to the liberation of the theaters (decreed two months later). Voltaire’s remains were transferred to the Pantheon in a spectacular festival designed by Jacques-Louis David in July 1791, confirming Voltaire’s status as the “Father of the Revolution” and fixing select lines from Brutus forever in the minds of the French people. With 1 Le Bien informé (6 pluviôse an VII [25 January 1799]) collected in Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Mon bonnet de nuit; suivi de, Du théâtre, ed. Jean-Claude Bonnet (Paris: Mercure de France, 1999), p. 1543. Mercier first saw the play performed in Paris in 1756. 2 Théâtre de M. J. Chénier: précédé d’une notice et orné du portrait de l’auteur, ed. M. Daunou (Paris: Foulon, 1818), p. 380. 3 Journal universel, ou révolutions des royaumes 360 (17 Nov. 1790), p. 2875; qtd. in John Renwick, “Introduction,” in The Complete Works of Voltaire, vol. 5 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1998), p. 94.

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these events and the timely exhibition of David’s painting Les Licteurs rapportent à Brutus les corps de ses fils (1789), the Brutus legend came to prominence in the public imagination. Hailed as the “Father of Liberty,” Brutus’s image adorned political pamphlets, playing cards, and altars to the Fatherland. Short hair and open collars “à la Brutus” came into fashion.4 More than three hundred children were christened with the name Brutus, as were a section of Paris and several regions of France.5 Busts of Brutus stood in the Théâtre de la Nation, in the meeting house of the Jacobin Club, before the speaker’s lecturn in the National Convention, and in a number of converted churches around the country. Orators in the National Assembly sometimes swore “on the head of Brutus” and frequently pointed to him when invoking the principles of just law. In other words, Brutus served as a constant reminder of the classical ideal of civic virtue necessary to found and secure liberty and law. To recite lines from Voltaire’s play, to invoke or uphold Brutus’s example, to adopt his style in dress or comportment was to identify oneself as a patriot and defender of the nation. When the Girondist deputy and sentimental novelist Louvet de Coudray supported a proposal to expel the king’s uncle, Philippe d’Egalité, from the National Convention in July 1793, he did so by speaking in Brutus’s name: “Ce n’est pas moi qui viens appuyer la proposition du Buzot, c’est l’immortel fondateur d’une république fameuse, c’est le père de la liberté romaine, Brutus.”6 Through identification with Brutus, the representatives of the people gained legitimacy for their actions and policies, and contended for the title of the supremely virtuous man. In 1799, Sébastien Mercier marveled at the way Voltaire’s heroic tragedy Brutus (1730) had gone from being the darling of the cultural elite under the Ancien Régime to the “fundamental play” of the popular Revolutionary festivals. According to him, Brutus had been “ignored” and even “disdained [and] misunderstood” by audiences for decades, only to emerge in the 1790s as the favorite rallying point of the people and a model for the nation’s representatives. In 1790 Marie-Joseph Chénier attributed the play’s newfound popularity in Revolutionary culture not to the stoicism or civic virtue of the hero but to his exceptional sensitivity (“sensibilité”). As he writes, “le personnage de Brutus bien traité est un des personnages les plus sensibles du théâtre. C’est une vérité dont il faut être convaincu, je ne dis pas pour juger des pièces de ce genre, mais même pour les comprendre.” The sensitivity of the tragic hero is not in itself constitutive of tragedy, and therefore not a quality by which to judge a tragic work, Chénier says. But he holds that in order to understand classical heroic and republican From the letters of Henry Redhead Yorke, in Thompson, English Witnesses of the French Revolution (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1938), p. 224. 5 I am indebted for many of the details here to the research of Robert L. Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus” and the French Revolution; and Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, “Réécritures et formes de réception du Brutus de Voltaire au dix-huitième siècle” Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 305 (1992): 1871–74. 6 Qtd. in Outram, The Body and the French Revolution, p. 79. 4

Virtuous Citizen, Suffering Father


tragedies, and Brutus in particular—that is, to move from the incomprehension (“incompris”) with which audiences met Voltaire’s play for more than forty years to a place of understanding—it is necessary to recognize the “extremely rare sensibilité” of the protagonist. Without the conviction that sensibility is as necessary for love of country and virtue as it is for paternal love and private virtue, Chénier declares, one cannot comprehend Brutus or its tragic meaning for the revolutionaries. Chénier’s comments offer invaluable insight into the Revolutionary-era reception of Brutus. Taking his claims seriously, this chapter offers a new reading of Voltaire’s tragedy through the lens of sentimentality. Such a sentimentalist undertanding of Brutus and its signficance during the Revolution goes against the grain of traditional interpretations—by Lynn Hunt, Marie-Hélène Huet, and J.L. Herbert among the most prominent—which view Brutus as the severe republican father to replace the soft and ineffective father of monarchy.7 Instead, I argue that for the revolutionaries Brutus represented the painful struggle between the fermeté of the republican father and the sensibilité of the natural father, between the magistrate and the man. More specifically, I aim to show the way in which the greater focus in the eighteenth century on Brutus’s extreme suffering as a result of the sacrifice of his children (in the tradition of Livy) rather than on his severity (the Plutarchian tradition) conceives of and expresses republican virtue within sentimental conventions. Unlike classical tragedy, in which private desire (love, passion) conflicts with duty (family, state) and must be overcome for the sake of the public weal, sentimental drama puts forth both sides as positive and equally valid duties.8 This sentimentalization of political tragedy extended beyond the playhouse to inform the way political events were understood as well. The figure of Brutus, especially as portrayed in Revolutionary-era performances of Voltaire’s tragedy, would have profound effects on the conceptualization of political leadership, and would prove key to directing sympathies away from the king during his trial toward those who, like Brutus, had to make painful sacrifices in order to secure the future of the state. Exploring the particular forms that Brutus’s emotional sensitivity takes in Voltaire’s play, this chapter charts the sentimentalization of stoicism and heroism in both the script and its performances. Consideration of the play’s reception history before and during the Revolution, as well as its appropriation into political discourse and culture throughout the 1790s, will serve to elucidate the mediating role theater played between classical example and contemporary history.

Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus”; Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution; Lynn Avery Hunt, “Discourses of Patriarchalism and Anti-Patriarchalism in the French Revolution” in Language and Rhetoric of the French Revolution, ed. Renwick, pp. 25–39. 8 I use here Margaret Cohen’s distinction articulated in The Sentimental Education of the Novel, pp. 23 and 32–33. 7

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Brutus and the spectacle of heroic suffering Prenons l’exemple qui révolte le plus notre siècle, et examinons la conduite de Brutus souverain magistrat, faisant mourir ses enfants qui avaient conspiré contre l’Etat. —Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Réponse à A. Bordes (1752)9

A heightened enthusiasm for and identification with ancient classical heroes pervaded popular and political culture of the French Revolution. Classical history provided not only familiar narratives applicable to the revolutionary moment but also examples of exceptional virtue and courage to imitate and inspire. “Noms, surnoms, vêtements, usages, lois,” wrote Charles Volney in 1803, “tout a voulu être spartiate ou romain.”10 Among the many classical examples invoked during these years, “un nom domine les autres, celui de [Lucius Junius] Brutus, le fondateur de la République romaine, celui qui n’hésita pas à sacrifier ses fils pour assurer la grandeur de la cité.”11 Brutus was the nephew of Tarquin the Proud, the corrupt king of Rome who had killed Brutus’s father and brother but had spared Brutus because he feigned idiocy (brutishness, hence the name Brutus). Years later, when the king’s dissolute son raped the virtuous Lucretia and she committed suicide, Brutus revealed his true nature by swearing an oath over her corpse to free Rome of tyranny.12 He successfully rallied the support of the people to expel the Tarquins and established the first Roman Republic in 508 b.c.e. Brutus and Collatinus, Lucretia’s husband, were elected co-consuls of the new republic. However, Brutus’s sons were drawn into a plot to restore the exiled Tarquins, and the discovery of the conspiracy led to the act that defined the Brutus legend in the latter half of the eighteenth century: as consul, he ordered and witnessed the execution of the traitors, including his two sons. The meaning of Brutus’s example—as model for emulation, or as exemplar— was hotly debated during the Enlightenment, as it had been in the ancient world and would be during the Revolution. Although many admired Brutus’s great civic virtue, others found his ability to sacrifice his own children for the glory Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 3, pp. 88–9. Volney, Leçons d’histoire (1803), qtd. in Claude Mossé, L’Antiquité dans la



Révolution française (Paris: Albin Michel, 1989), p. 65: “Cette manie de citations et d’imitations grecques et romaines,” continues Volney, “nous ont comme frappés de vertige.” As Karl Marx famously observed in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), “in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured and borrowed language [...] the Revolution of 1789 to 1814 draped itself alternately as the Roman republic and the Roman empire” (p. 15). 11 Mossé, L’Antiquité dans la Révolution française, p. 89. 12 Livy’s Roman History (II.iii-v) and Plutarch’s “Life of Marcus Brutus” (II.i.) and “Life of Poplicola” provide the main ancient sources. The latter was translated by Mme Dacier in the eighteenth century as Les vies parallèles and widely read. The most popular eighteenth-century account was Charles Rollin’s Histoire romaine (1740).

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and security of the commonwealth inhuman and even monstrous. For classical authors such as Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy, Plutarch, Augustine, and Virgil, for example, there was something terrible in the extreme sacrifice of Brutus’s own blood for the state.13 According to Plutarch, his was: an action truly open alike to the highest commendation and the strongest censure; for either the greatness of his virtue raised him above the impressions of sorrow, or the extravagance of his misery took away all sense of it; but neither seemed common, or the result of humanity, but either divine or brutish.14

In the eighteenth century, opinions were similarly divided over whether Brutus was a “great,” “noble,” and “exalted” model for imitation15 or whether, as the ancients had perceived, there was something “barbarous” and “repulsive” in his ability to sacrifice his own children.16 The Encyclopédie entry on “Vertu,” for example, cites Brutus as its first example but notes: “l’un croit que la vertu exige tel sacrifice, l’autre ne le croit pas: Brutus, consul et père, a-t-il dû condamner ses enfants rébelles à la patrie? La question n’est pas encore unaniment décidée.”17 The ambivalent reception of the historical Brutus extended to the public’s response to Voltaire’s 1730 heroic tragedy Brutus as well. When the play first opened at the Comédie-Française, it had only a moderate success. The journalist and critic, l’abbé Desfontaines, attributed this poor reception to the play’s central act of filicide. For him, the “vertu féroce” and “sévérité outrée” that Brutus showed in choosing the state over his children “me font quelque peine.”18 Desfontaines concludes that as a tragic subject the Brutus legend “ne sera jamais traité par qui Dionysius of Halicarnassus’s Antiquitates Romanae, IV.lxvii–V.xiii; Livy’s Roman History, II.iii–v; Plutarch’s “Life of Marcus Brutus” (II.i.) and the “Life of Poplicola”; Augustine’s City of God, III, xvi, and V, xviii; and Virgil’s Aeneid, VI, 820. 14 From the “Life of Poplicola,” in Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, trans. John Dryden, ed. Arthur Hugh Clough (New York: New Modern Library, 1992), p. 120. 15 Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. Raphael and A.L. Macfie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976; repr. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1984), p. 192. L’abbé de Mably lauds “la vertu féroce du premier Brutus” as a positive military example for having effectively secured “l’établissement du gouvernement politique” (Collection complète des œuvres de l’abbé de Mably, 52 vols [Paris: C. Desbrière, 1794–95], vol. 4, p. 269–71). 16 François-Vincent Toussaint, Les Mœurs (London: Thomas Wilcox, 1751): “Mais il naît quelquefois des monstres: on vit des pères sans amour; &, par une suite nécessaire, on en vit de cruels; on en vit qui trempèrent leurs mains barbares dans le sang de leurs propres enfants” (pp. 231–2); and Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 3, pp. 88–9 respectively. 17 Romilly fils, “Vertu,” Encyclopédie, vol. 17, p. 176. 18 Pierre-François Guyot Desfontaines, Le Nouvelliste du Parnasse, ou Refléxions sur les ouvrages nouveaux, 1730–1732 (Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1967); qtd. in Renwick, “Introduction” p. 113. Voltaire answered his critics in the essay Discours sur la tragédie, published as a preface to Brutus in 1731, stating that his play was “née en Angleterre” where playwrights had more freedom to depict on stage what in France could only be conveyed through language. Still, compared tothe on-stage violence of the English dramatizations of the Brutus legend, by Nathaniel Lee (Lucius Junius Brutus, 1680) and Charles Gildon (The 13


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que ce soit heureusement, et d’une manière qui plaise.”19 Other critics agreed that the play’s dénouement was too painful for French audiences to enjoy. La Harpe, for example, advised actors, “ne pas présenter ce sujet devant les Français.”20 Bernard de Fontenelle held that the subject of Voltaire’s Brutus was not appropriate to tragedy and that “son style était trop fort, trop pompeux, trop brillant.”21 Mercier meanwhile ranked Brutus among the “monstres renommés” of the theater. “À quoi sert l’exemple,” he asked, “s’il ne peut fléchir mon âme, ou plutôt s’il la révolte?”22 Audiences largely agreed. From 1730 to 1780 Brutus was one of the very least performed of Voltaire’s plays.23 This negative reception of Brutus during the Enlightenment was turned on its head, however, in the last decade of the Ancien Régime. In 1780, for example, La Harpe now enthused, “quelle énergie dans Brutus!” while Condorcet declared the tragedy to be “un chef-d’œuvre de pathétique” in his 1788 essay, La Vie de Voltaire.24 Mercier, as we have already seen above, registered his amazement at the success of Brutus during the 1790s and the way audiences now appreciated “la beauté, le sens, la profondeur” of the play.25 Political circumstances after 1789 certainly fueled both the newfound appreciation for Voltaire’s tragedy and the emergence of Brutus more generally as the premier icon of civic virtue. As Robert L. Herbert has noted, “No other antique hero could have rivaled him in responding to such complex and urgent needs, especially after Voltaire and David had provided him with such memorable images and words.”26 But the popularity of Voltaire’s tragedy began before 1789—a 1786 performance of it had inspired David’s painting and Vittorio Alfieri’s tragedy Bruto Primo (1788)—and lay as much with its evocation of the “pathétique” (as Condorcet observed) as it did with its republican politics. In order to understand the recovery of Voltaire’s Brutus in the theater and culture of the Revolution, it will be necessary to explore the Patriot, 1735), Voltaire’s play strictly conforms to the neoclassical conventions governing French bienséance, having the four deaths in the play occur off stage. 19 Desfontaines, Le Nouvelliste du Parnasse; qtd. in Renwick, “Introduction,” p. 113. Desfontaines nonetheless acknowledges “the pleasure that reading the script gives” (p. 77); it is only in performance that the subject is too painful. This reaction is typical of the reception of Brutus in the early eighteenth century. 20 La Harpe, Commentaire sur le théâtre de Voltaire, ed. Jacques-Joseph-Marie Decroix (Paris: Maradan, 1814), p. 78. 21 Qtd. in Condorcet, “La Vie de Voltaire,” in Voltaire, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire (Paris: Furne, 1835), vol. 1, p. 9. 22 Mercier, Du théâtre, p. 38. Montesquieu had warned in L’Esprit des lois (1749), “Even virtue has need of limits” (Spirit of the Laws, ed. Anne M. Cohler et al. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989], p. 155). 23 See Lüsebrink, “Réécritures et formes de réception du Brutus,” p. 1873. 24 Condorcet, “La Vie de Voltaire,” p. 9; La Harpe, Eloge de Voltaire (Geneva: Pissot, 1780), p. 37. 25 Mercier, Textes critiques, p. 1545. 26 Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus,” p. 120.

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“extremely rare sensibility” of the tragic hero, as Chénier maintained, as well as the reasons why sensibility was at the core of the play’s significance and relevance for the revolutionaries. The Brutus legend had been resuscitated in various periods of political challenge to established order, such as among Florentine humanists in the Renaissance and English republicans in the late seventeenth century, as Herbert and others have shown.27 However, in eighteenth-century France, Brutus was represented and taught more as a model of morality than of political instruction. In general, classical texts were invoked not so much to inspire a desire for a republic as to encourage imitation of the private virtues of the ancient heroes and the fashioning of one’s life and rhetoric according to classical models. According to Claude Mossé: “c’est d’abord de morale que se préoccupaient les éducateurs de la jeunesse, et plus que sur des modèles d’organisation politique, c’est sur des comportements héroïques ou vertueux qu’ils mettaient l’accent.”28 The abbé Royou, for example, describes how at the collèges, pupils were asked to admire Brutus not for his role as liberator of Rome but for his stoicism in sacrificing his sons to his love of country.29 Consequently, whereas pre-Enlightenment invocations of Brutus focused primarily on the episode of Lucretia’s rape and suicide and the subsequent pact to liberate Rome, the eighteenth century brought a shift in emphasis to the episode of Brutus ordering the death of his sons. This later episode offered a more complex and psychological portrait of Brutus better suited to eighteenth-century sensibilities and the new interest in social ideals. Voltaire’s Brutus combines elements drawn from the various seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century versions of the Brutus story but signals a shift toward greater interest in the moral rather than political implications of the history, and greater focus on the episode of filicide rather than of the liberation of Rome.30 As Marie-Joseph Chénier claimed: “Voltaire a plus profondi dans ses tragédies 27 See, for instance, Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus”; Jed, Chaste Thinking; and J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975). 28 Mossé, L’Antiquité dans la Révolution, pp. 62–3. The moral significance of classical models for revolutionaries is evident, for example, in Babeuf’s comment: “I had the moral purpose, in taking as my patron saints, the most honorable men, in my opinion, of the Roman republic” (Tribun du peuple 23, p.1n1; qtd. in Harold Talbot Parker, The Cult of Antiquity and the French Revolution [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1937], p. 140). 29 Parker, The Cult of Antiquity, p. 23. 30 The main literary works representing the Brutus narrative prior to Voltaire are: Mlle Scudéry’s novel, Clélie, histoire romaine (1654–71), which takes from classical sources but suits it to contemporary tastes for romance by adding a love element; Nathaniel Lee’s Lucius Junius Brutus, Father of His Country (1680), which introduced sibling rivalry between Brutus’s sons and endowed Brutus with more humanity and love for Titus than in earlier versions; Catherine Bernard’s Brutus, tragédie (1690); and Charles Porée’s Brutus (à l’usage de la jeunesse) (1708). Voltaire’s main sources were Livy’s Roman History (2.3–5) and Catherine Bernard’s tragedy.

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la morale proprement dite, que la politique.”31 The action of the play takes place shortly after the expulsion of the Tarquins and the establishment of the Roman Republic. Act I opens in the Senate hall where Brutus presides as consul. Brutus agrees to receive the banished king’s ambassador, Arons, but before Arons arrives, he calls on the senators to swear an oath never to accept a king in Rome again.32 The scene forecasts the issues and actions to come. Although Arons has come back ostensibly to retrieve the property of the Tarquins, the audience quickly learns that his real mission is to foment support for a conspiracy to restore the monarchy. He focuses his efforts on Brutus’s youngest and favorite son, Titus, who has just been denied a seat in the Senate because he is too young. By manipulating both Titus’s ambition and his love for Tarquin’s daughter Tullia, Arons successfully lures him into the royalist plot.33 His ruthless and secretive tactics present a marked contrast to the austere republican virtues of the representatives of Rome in the first scene. When the conspiracy is uncovered, the Senate leaves Brutus with the harrowing task of deciding the fate of the conspirators. He could have been more lenient— exile, for instance, was an option—but he recognized that Rome needed a strong example at this crucial point in its early history. In a tearful final scene between father and son—their last private interview—the repentant Titus admits his fault and accepts his punishment. Brutus, though horrified by his son’s betrayal, is moved by his courage and virtue and forgives him (“tant de perfidie avec tant de courage? / De crimes, de vertus, quel horrible assemblage!”). Overcome by emotion, Brutus weeps: Mes pleurs, en te parlant, inondent ton visage: Va, porte à ton supplice un plus mâle courage; Va, ne t’attendris point, sois plus Romain que moi, Et que Rome t’admire en se vengeant de toi. (5.7.225–8)

Brutus encourages his son to be noble in the face of death, not to weep like him, but to be “plus mâle,” “plus Romain.” The scene presents the climax of the emotion of the father battling against the resolve of the consul. After Titus exits the scene, the stage direction describes Brutus as follows: “Son âme dit le dernier adieu à son fils; il se rejette dans le fauteuil et couvre son visage de ses mains.” In other words,

Chénier, “Discours préliminaire” to Charles IX, in Théâtre de la Révolution, ed. Moland, p. 16. 32 The lines of the oath would later serve as a rallying cry during the Revolution: “Si dans le sein de Rome il se trouvait un traître, / Qui regrettât les rois, et qui voulût un maître, / Que le perfide meur au milieu des tourments.” The Complete Works of Voltaire, ed. Theodore Besterman, vol. 5 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1998), Act 1, scene 1, lines 165–7. Further references to this edition of the play will be cited parenthetically within the text. 33 Brutus’s wife was the sister of the Vitelli, one of the two families in the conspiracy to restore Tarquin. 31

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Brutus the magistrate succumbs to his natural sorrow as a father, symbolized on stage by his body language as he falls limp into the chair. By the final scene, however, Brutus, like Titus, has assumed a stoic face. The death sentence has been passed and Brutus waits in the Senate for news of the executions, which take place off stage. When Proculus says to him with sympathy, “Vous êtes père enfin,” Brutus replies with sang-froid: “Je suis consul de Rome” (5.6.166–7). News of the executions is brought to him, and the play ends with the line that would supply a popular refrain during the Revolution: “Rome est libre. Il suffit ... Rendons grâces aux dieux” (5.8.240). The juxtaposition of his public stoicism with the preceding scene of private suffering between father and son serves to cast into greater relief both the magnitude of the sacrifice required of Brutus and the fortitude needed to master his emotions before the public. As MarieHélène Huet describes in Rehearsing the Revolution (1982): “Brutus is the tragedy of paternity or, rather, of paternities, dual paternities in constant opposition.”34 For her, Voltaire’s play replaces the guilty but inviolable father of monarchy (Tarquin) with the civic and natural father of the republic, for whom the law represents both liberty and that which divides him from his private feelings. Brutus expresses this divided paternity clearly when he says to Titus: “De l’État et de toi je sens que je suis père” (4.6.182). Ultimately, paternal love must be supressed for love of country, but it comes at a great emotional cost, captured eloquently by André Chénier in his 1790 ode to David: “Le premier consul, plus citoyen que père [...] / Savourant de son cœur le glorieux tourment.”35 The honoring of his duty as “Father of the State,” despite the personal suffering it entails, was both terrible and admirable, a tragic victory of public over private. One of the innovations Voltaire is credited with in his version of the Brutus legend is the introduction of the reformation of the character of Titus, who now becomes a sympathetic figure. This change is crucial to complicating the question of Brutus’s virtue in the play, and to expanding the pathos of the dénouement. As the Chronique de Paris described the final scenes in 1790: “Le crime de Titus, son repentir, la noble fermeté de Brutus, la catastrophe enfin a excité un sentiment profond et difficile à rendre.”36 Titus plots against the state and against his father, but he repents. Should the magistrate pardon him? Should the father forgive him? As La Harpe writes in his Commentaire sur le théâtre de Voltaire: “Plus Titus est intéressant, moins le spectateur est disposé à pardonner à Brutus l’arrêt de mort qu’il va porter.”37 The spectator’s sympathies are thus torn as well, uncertain whether to pardon the son or the father in turn. After seeing a 1756 performance of Brutus, Mercier questioned Voltaire’s choice to make audiences feel such sympathy for Titus:

36 37 34 35

Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution, p. 93. Chénier, “Le Jeu de Paume,” in Chénier, Œuvres complètes, p. 168 (3.13–16). Chronique de Paris 322 (18 November 1790), p. 1286. La Harpe, Commentaire, p. 73.

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Dans cette pièce on s’intéresse pour le fils de Brutus; mais ce fils méditait un parricide en faisant remonta Tarquin sur le trône, car on devait commencer par égorger les deux consuls. Pourquoi donc M. de Voltaire a-t-il voulu intéresser pour deux fils dénaturés, pour deux mauvais citoyens qui préféraient un tyran à la liberté?38

For him, the viewer’s sympathies are misdirected to the treacherous son, who is guilty of an unforgivable crime against both his father and his country. His political interpretation suggests that the audience’s interest should be reserved for Brutus alone, who is forced to his painful decision by the betrayal of his own kin. Brutus thus made for an equivocal example in the eighteenth century. Judgment of his action depended not only on the audience’s affective response to the characters and their dilemmas but also on whether one interpreted the significance of the sacrifice as being primarily political or moral. For example, Helvétius lauded Brutus in De l’esprit (1758) as an example of the severe republican virtues of ancient Rome: Brutus ne sacrifiera son fils au salut de Rome, que parceque l’amour paternel avait sur lui moins de puissance que l’amour de la patrie; il ne fit alors que céder à sa plus forte passion: c’est elle qu’il l’éclairent sur l’intérêt public, lui fit apercevoir dans un parracide si généreux, si propre à ranimer l’amour de la liberté, l’unique ressource qui pût sauver Rome [...] il fallait qu’une pareille action servît de fondement à la vaste puissance à laquelle l’éléva depuis l’amour du bien public et de la liberté.39

His sacrifice was necessary to save the republic and set the high example upon which Roman patriotism was founded. Diderot strongly disagreed with Helvétius’s interpretation, and in his Réfutation de Helvétius (1774) writes: C’est une façon de raisonner aussi singulière que celle d’un historien qui prétendrait prouver par l’exemple de Brutus que dans les premiers temps de Rome les pères ou n’aimaient pas leurs enfants, ou les aimaient moins que la patrie. Il n’y avait peut-être parmi tous les citoyens que cet homme capable de son action héroïque ou féroce. L’étonnement général qu’elle causa le prouve assez.40

Whereas for Helvétius, Brutus’s example proves the rule of patriotic fortitude, for Diderot, his exceptional act proves the rule of paternal love. Their debate reveals what is at stake in the example of Brutus and how it would be taken up by revolutionaries decades later. Diderot not only disagrees with Helvétius’s Mercier, Mon Bonnet de nuit, p. 253. Claude-Adrien Helvétius, De l’esprit, vol. 2, ch. 5; qtd. in Renwick, “Introduction,”

38 39

p. 38n51. 40 Diderot, Œuvres philosophiques, ed. Michel Delon and Barbara de Negroni (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), p. 606.

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interpretation but also questions his “singular” method of using the example. On one hand, an example is something typical, other than singular; on the other, it stands as an exemplar, a paragon, the embodiment of something beyond or larger than itself. In the case of Brutus, he is an example of Roman civic virtue (and thus substitutable as one example among many); on the other, he is a singular exemplar (“only this man,” as Diderot says) of a principle beyond himself (of an exceptional patriotism that proves the rule of paternal love, or according to Chénier of an “extremely rare” sensibility). John Renwick has identified the way these two conflicting responses to Brutus represent the two interpretive traditions in the eighteenth century stemming from Plutarch, on the one hand, and Livy, on the other. Those who follow Plutarch present Brutus as “severe” and “inflexible [...] like steel of too hard a temper.” Those who follow Livy focus on the internal emotional dilemma faced by the consul. For Livy’s adherents, Brutus is torn between his duties as father and as consul of Rome, and the test of his commitment to the republic is painfully felt as an internal struggle within himself. Although both interpretations had currency throughout the century, and both authors were widely read, Livy’s characterization of the consul’s anguish provided the main tradition followed in the eighteenth century by not only Voltaire and David but also the main popularizer of ancient history, Charles Rollin.41 Rollin’s multi-volume Histoire romaine (1739–1749) includes a lengthy narrative of the events surrounding the fall of the Tarquins, the establishment of Brutus and Collatinus as consuls of the new republic, and the discovery of the plot to restore the Tarquins. When he describes the execution of Brutus’s sons, Rollin focuses on the spectators who, as he says, were “touched with passion” for Brutus: “toute la multitude ne détourna point la vue de dessus le père, examinant ses mouvements, son maintien, sa contenance, qui, malgré sa triste fermeté, laissait entrevoir les sentiments de la nature qu’il sacrifiait à la nécessité de son ministère, mais qu’il ne pouvait étouffer.”42 The gaze of the spectators at the execution is drawn not to those being executed but to the spectacle of the father’s suffering. They are moved to compassion with the father by the signs of pain visible beneath his stoic exterior. The sacrifice of his sons means the sacrifice of his natural feelings. As Huet said, the civic and the natural father are divided by the law that defines them. Rollin suspends the narrative at this point to reflect on the morality of Brutus’s actions in a section entitled “Examen de la conduite de Brutus, qui fait mourir ses fils,” inviting the reader to judge him as well (“Est-ce en lui fermeté? Est-ce insensibilité? Doit-on louer l’amour de Brutus pour sa patrie? Doit-on détester sa

Renwick, “Introduction,” p.11n7. Interpretations of Livy varied according to whether one translated the line “eminente animo patrio” as indicating “paternal” feelings or as love of “fatherland.” 42 Charles Rollin, Histoire romaine depuis la fondation de Rome jusqu’à la bataille d’Actium, 2 vols. (Paris, 1741), vol. 1, p. 211. 41

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cruauté à l’égard de ses enfants?”). Here the author turns to Livy’s account and provides the following interpretation: [U]n père contraint de verser lui-même le sang de ses propres enfants était un spectacle dont le souvenir ne pouvait jamais s’éffacer . [...] Elle coûta sans doute beaucoup à sa tendresse paternelle; et c’est ce que Tite-Live marque admirablement par ces mots: eminente animo patrio inter publicae poenae ministerium. Elle parut, cette tendresse, d’une manière sensible dans ses yeux, sur son visage, et dans tout son maintien: Eminente animo patrio. Il y eut un rude combat entre l’amour d’un père pour ses enfants et l’amour d’un consul pour sa patrie. Celui-ci enfin l’emporta: Vincet amor patriae, dit Virgile; mais ce ne fut point sans peine. Qui dit victoire laisse entendre qu’il y a eu combat et résistance; et cela doit être ainsi: autrement, l’action de Brutus ne serait point fermeté ni courage, mais férocité et brutalité. S’il n’eut fait paraître, comme le suppose Plutarque, ni trouble, ni douleur, ni sensibilité, Brutus, ce me semble, devrait être regardé comme un monstre.43

Rollin asserts the essential tendresse and sensibilité of Brutus’s character in contrast to the ferocity and brutality of the exceptional act he is forced by duty to command. As Renwick points out, Rollin thus interprets the adjective patrius in Livy’s description (by way of Virgil) as meaning “paternal.”44 Rollin renders a sentimental interpretation of Livy to emphasize Brutus’s “paternal affection” and “the tenderness of a father” rather than the stoicism of the consul. Brutus’s dilemma is that of the citizen faced with the demands of the new government which must take precedence over his private bonds of family and affection. Although the consul prevails over the father, the virtue of the act lies in the “combat and resistance,” as Rollin argues, in Brutus’s breast. The struggle he feels between his two duties, and the pain he suffers as a consequence, is a necessary component of his virtue. And “so it should be” is Rollin’s emphatic judgment. Without painful suffering, his act would be that of “un monstre.” The emphasis Rollin places on the “rude combat” between two duties recalls the definition of virtue Rousseau offers in La Nouvelle Héloïse (1762): “ne savezvous pas que la vertu est un état de guerre, et que, pour y vivre, on a toujours quelque combat à rendre contre soi?”45 As Margaret Cohen has argued, the heroic language of combat and war in sentimental narratives (Saint Preux, for example, recalls the classical preux, heroism and valor) points not to the valor of great heroic action but to the new virtue of heroic suffering.46 Virtue is now configured as the silencing of the sentiments of nature by the power of the will through strenuous “travail et combat.”47 This is not the civic virtue of military prowess, bravery, 45 46 47 43 44

Rollin, Histoire romaine, vol. 1, pp. 239–40. Renwick, “Introduction,” p. 11n7. Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 6, p. 7. Cohen, The Sentimental Education of the Novel, p. 35. Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 2, pp. 823–4.

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and excellence that typifies the virtus of Rome. The civic virtue exemplified by Brutus was, rather, conceived and expressed within the sentimental convention of virtue as a conflict of duties, wherein both sides present an equally valid moral imperative.48 This formulation shows an irreconcilable polarity between the public welfare and individual feeling, between the collective and personal, which cannot exist at once except as a struggle (as a “rude combat”) and which cannot be resolved except through sacrifice of one side to the other. Two moral imperatives thus divide Brutus against himself: duty of the father to preserve his children and duty of the consul to preserve the state. Virtue emerges not as the principle of one side or the other but as the struggle between the two irreconcilable duties, two paternities, as Huet says, and this struggle is itself the form virtue takes.49 Rollin in fact characterizes this struggle in terms of two loves (“entre l’amour d’un père pour ses enfants et l’amour d’un consul pour sa patrie”) rather than two duties, and thus a battle waged in the heart not the head. Rollin’s sentimental reading of Livy had its critics; one, for example, attacked Rollin for having made Brutus weep “comme un imbécile,” while another claimed that the sentimental aspect was entirely Rollin’s invention.50 Nonetheless, the sentimental interpretation of Livy was the one that predominated among eighteenth-century writers and artists, and was characterized by a greater concern with the moral rather than political implications of the legend. As a result, there is little acknowledgment in the eighteenth century of the guilt of the sons. The sacrifice Brutus makes is not the same as Abraham’s of Isaac (not least of which because God ultimately stays Abraham’s hand in the biblical story as reward for his obedience), though the comparison between Brutus and Abraham is often made.51 The primary difference is that Brutus’s sons are guilty: they have This “double bind,” as Cohen calls it, distinguishes the French tradition of sentimentality from the English, Whereas the latter’s paradigm of virtue rewarded stresses an ultimate harmony and reconcilability of individual and society, the French paradigm is closer to the tradition of tragedy and expresses instead an ethos of virtue sacrificed (The Sentimental Education of the Novel, pp. 36–7). In classical tragedy, private desire (love, passion) was always to be overcome for the sake of public duty (family, state). In sentimental narrative, however, both sides of the equation are put forth as positive and equally valid duties. 49 “My child,” writes Rousseau in his pedagogical novel Emile, “there is no happiness without courage, nor virtue without struggle” (trans. Allan Bloom [New York: Basic Books, 1979], p. 444). 50 From François Bellenger’s Essais de critique. I. Sur les écrits de M. Rollin (Amsterdam, 1740), vol. 1, pp.  1–50; qtd. in Renwick, “Introduction,” p.  11n7. Jacques Tailhé in his Abrége de l’histoire romaine (1755) writes that, “Livy says nothing about extreme signs of the consul’s sorrow [...] Livy wants to present a hero to our eyes, who bears his sacrifice as a hero and without any extreme expression of weakness”; qtd. in Elmar Stolpe, Klassizismus und Krieg: Über den Historienmaler Jacques-Louis David (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1985), p. 146. 51 By Jean Ehrard, Thomas Crow, and Elmar Stolpe, for example. 48

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conspired against the fatherland and against their father and pose a real threat to the state. If we acknowledge that Brutus’s sons are not innocent, his judgment— though arguably extreme—is undeniably just. The question asked throughout the eighteenth century, however, was not whether Brutus was just in sentencing his children to death but whether he was virtuous. Rousseau addresses this distinction in a letter from 1765: “Brutus faisant mourir ses enfants pouvoit n’être que juste. Mais Brutus étoit un tendre père: pour faire son devoir il déchira ses entrailles, et Brutus fut vertueux.”52 The death sentence Brutus passes against his own children is just: as magistrate, his duty is to enforce the rule of law. But as a father, Brutus was “tender”—an important term in the new lexicon of sensibility in part inaugurated by Rousseau—and with this most terrible sacrifice he makes of his sons, his insides are torn in two (“il déchira ses entrailles”).53 To be just, he suffers; from this painful suffering, Rousseau concludes: “Brutus fut vertueux.” The inflexible adherence to law makes him just (“pouvait n’être que juste”). It is the combat in his heart—the tearing in two of his loyalties, and the suffering that arises from the sacrifice—that constitutes his virtue. Rousseau elaborates his view of Brutus further in another letter: La douceur qui est la plus aimable des vertus est aussi quelquefois une faiblesse de l’âme. La vertu n’est pas toujours douce; elle sçait s’armer à propos de sévérité contre le vice, elle s’enflamme d’indignation contre le crime [...] Brutus n’étoit point un homme doux; qui auroit le front de dire qu’il n’étoit pas vertueux?54

Rousseau struggles here between the weakness and passivity of the “sweet” virtues and the strength of active heroic virtus. One year earlier, he had abandoned an article on La Vertu des héros (1751), which some critics have interpreted as his recognition that “the admiration for heroic virtue expressed in it was incompatible with his new role of defender of the ‘quiet’ virtues of justice, equity, and peaceableness as prerequisites for a secure and prosperous society; and it is undeniable that there is real incompatibility here.”55 The question of whether classical virtus was at all reconcilable with a modern civil society, devoted to commerce and the art of peace—republican and liberal virtue respectively—was a common one posed by the philosophes. Rousseau gives Brutus some of the extraordinary qualities Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 2, p. 58). At this time Rousseau began work on the play La Mort de Lucrèce, which he never finished. 53 Madeleine Scudéry’s version of the Brutus story in Clélie, histoire romaine (1654– 61) provided the first definition of tendresse: “une certaine sensibilité du cœur; qui ne se trouve presque jamais souverainement, qu’en des personnes qui ont l’âme noble, les inclinations vertueuses, et l’esprit bien tourné” (Clélie: histoire romaine, 10 vols [Paris: Augustin Courbé, 1670; repr. Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1973], vol. 1, p. 211). 54 Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, vol. 3, p. 72. 55 N.J.H. Dent, A Rousseau Dictionary (Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1992), p. 243. Rousseau’s article was a response to the Corsican Academy prize question of what virtue was most necessary to heroes. 52

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of the hero, but unlike a hero, he is not actively cruel, brutal, or vicious.56 He is inflexible towards vice and crime, but kind and sensitive toward virtue, qualities echoed in Saint-Just’s comment forty years later that “l’homme révolutionnaire est intraitable aux méchants, mais il est sensible.”57 Here we might borrow Diderot’s expression from the Essai sur les règnes de Claude et de Néron to say that for both the philosophes and the revolutionaries, Brutus was a “stoicien mitigé”—that is, a stoic mitigated by sensibility.58 He is both a man of steel and a man of tears, an austere ruler and a feeling father. The portrait of Brutus as virtuous citizen and suffering father can be viewed not only in the context of the shift toward a sentimental notion of virtue as heroic suffering, but also within the larger changes in the way that fathers and paternity were represented in the latter half of the eighteenth century. With the flourishing of sentimental drama—and its emphasis on emotions and good family relations— the image of fatherhood most proliferated by the 1750s in art and literature was positive and familial, with fewer examples of the tyrannical father of tragedy, and many more examples of the benevolent and sometimes tortured father who is made to suffer by his guilty children. This eighteenth-century image of the “Good Father”—to use Lynn Hunt’s expression for the virtuous and sensitive patriarch of the 1750s, 1760s, and 1770s—manifested in the many touching scenes of filial piety for an unjustly punished father or tearful portraits of paternal affection that appeared in theater, novels, and paintings throughout the century.59 The subject of filicide in particular appears in a number of plays of the era. Drawn largely from ancient Roman models—Virginia, Brutus, Manlius Torquatus, and so on— these plays are nonetheless altered and adapted, sometimes slightly, sometimes

56 The Encyclopédie drew a distinction between the perfect and the classical hero. The former, in addition to military courage, had a sincere desire for public happiness (vol. 7, pp. 847–8). 57 Saint-Just, Œuvres complètes de Saint-Just, p. 372. 58 From Essai sur les règnes de Claude et de Néron (1782), qtd. in Jean and Antoinette Ehrard, “Brutus et les lecteurs,” p. 106. 59 Hunt, The Family Romance, pp. 17–52. Whereas Lawrence Stone’s The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977) and Randolph Trumbach’s The Rise of the Egalitarian Family (New York: Academic Press, 1978) claim that patriarchy was slowly replaced by domesticity during the eighteenth century, eventually leading to “a pattern of close and loving association between husband and wife, and of doting care for children” (Trumbach, p. 120), more recent historians of gender and the family have challenged these models by finding much of the evidence upon which they are based to be the era’s expressions of “the ideal model of gender relations rather than a reflection of its reality” (Elizabeth A. Foyster, Manhood in Early Modern England: Honour, Sex, and Marriage [London and New York: Longman, 1999], p.  2). For an overview of recent literature in this field, see Jeremy W. Webster, “Sentimentalizing Patriarchy” in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 17.3 (April 2005): 425–42.


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completely, for modern sensibilities.60 Rather than a severe or tyrannical father, the eighteenth-century filicide was more often a loving and sensitive father whose violent act caused him great suffering. For example, Sébastien Mercier (who had condemned Voltaire’s Brutus as a “monster”) wrote a bourgeois tragedy entitled, Le Déserteur (1770, first staged 1782) that was loosely based on the Manlius Torquatus legend and involved the execution of a young soldier at the hands of his own father. The play, as discussed briefly in Chapter 1 above, had greater success during the Revolution than before. The plot concerns the tribune (Saint-Franc) who must by law command the squad that will execute his son (Durimel) for the crime of desertion from the army.61 Like Titus, Durimel repents his crime but entreats the father to follow through with the punishment in order not to bring dishonor on his father’s name. The message of the play is not that public welfare must come before personal ties, but that the laws for desertion were unjustly harsh and forced sensitive fathers to unnatural acts and unnecessary suffering. The virtue displayed by Saint-Franc arises from his stoic fulfillment of duty, despite its injustice. As one character says of him: “Cette fermeté dont se pare votre cœur est une vertu bien terrible.”62 But it is the suffering of Saint-Franc at the execution that crowns the play. The execution takes place off-stage but a friend and witness, Valcour, relates the scene to Durimel’s fiancée, describing how Saint-Franc presented a “spectacle affreux”; unable to give the signal to the firing squad, he falls into tears and embraces his son one last time. In contrast to the rigid and “inflexible” law, Saint-Franc’s body goes limp as he swoons into his son’s arms with “tant de tendresse.”63 His tears are not confined to a private interview as in Brutus but are now in plain view for all to see. “J’ai vu tous les visages frémir, et pleurer. On entraîne le père malheureux” (5.9). The spectacle of the father’s suffering moves those present at the execution (and in the audience) to share his tears.64 Valcour 60 For example, tragedies based on the Virginia legend appeared by Samuel Crisp (1754), Charles Moncrieff (1755), Gotthold Lessing (1778), and La Harpe (1786). Lessing’s bourgeois tragedy, Emilia Galotti, in particular transposed events and characters to modern times to develop the familial and pathetic dimensions of the story to their fullest. 61 Manlius Torquatus is the 3rd-century bce Roman tribune who condemned his son to death for having fought and beaten one of the enemy without having first obtained his father’s permission. 62 Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Théâtre complet (Amsterdam: B. Vlam, 1778), p. 214 (Act 5, scene 3). 63 Mercier, Théâtre complet, p. 226 (Act V, scene viii). This drame larmoyant follows the principles of Diderot with scenes of great pathos—recognitions, reunions, farewells, and copious tears—and in Saint-Franc finds an eloquent spokesman for benevolence and enlightenment. 64 One enthusiastic spectator wrote verses addressed to the actor who played Saint Franc: “All fathers cry with you / In your pain”; qtd. in Léon Béclard, Sébastien Mercier: sa vie, son œuvre, son temps (New York: G. Olms, 1982), p. 270. Apparently, Marie Antoinette found the ending too painful and requested that Mercier rewrite the ending so that a pardon is issued. The severity of the punishment for desertion from the French army was relaxed by decree in 1775.

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exclaims: “Quelle scène terrible... Des deux côtés, quel héroïsme!” (5.8). The “heroism” he recognizes is not the stoic action Saint-Franc takes but the suffering he endures as a consequence of his great sensitivity. The death sentence thus is not the act of a “monster” who unnaturally and coldly performs his duty; rather it is the painful act of a sensitive father who suffers the greatest pain imaginable. The Correspondance littéraire reviewed the first performance of the drame in Paris in June 1782 and remarked on its “héroïsme bourgeois.”65 It is the domesticated heroism of the father moreso than of the tribune. The play ends on the père malheureux who, in a final tableau, beseeches God to oversee that his son’s death will result in new and better laws. The sensibilité and consequent suffering of the father serves to justify the otherwise “inhuman” and unnatural civic actions that he—like Brutus—ultimately performs. Thus sensitive masculinity paradoxically accommodated the dolorous acts deemed by earlier generations to be too terrible to please on stage. That is, the fierce heroic and civic virtue of the Roman originals were gradually tempered by the sentimental virtue of bourgeois drama in the eighteenth century. This sentimentalization of stoicism, and the focus on conflicted paternity, placed emphasis less on the severity of the father who kills his offspring (in the tradition of Plutarch) and more on the extreme suffering of the father forced to such an unnatural act (in the tradition of Livy). In accord with other filicide plays, such as La Harpe’s Virginie and Mercier’s Déserteur, representations of Brutus in the last decade of the Ancien Régime came to focus on the visible signs of his suffering more plainly on stage and highlighted his sensitivity rather than severity in a way that was more palatable and pardonnable to audiences. The shift in sensibilities, and the competing demands it placed on tragic form, is evident in the play Bruto Primo (1788), which appeared on the eve of the Revolution by the Italian playwright Vittorio Alfieri. Published in Paris in 1788 and dedicated to George Washington (“the deliverer of America”), Bruto Primo was based closely on Voltaire’s tragedy and depicts the same events, with the major difference that Alfieri removes the love subplot and, with it, all female characters from the play.66 The consul’s inflexible will is cast into stark relief by the Correspondance littéraire, vol. 13, p. 159. The reviewer also noted that, had it not been for some awkward stylistics that broke the illusion from time to time, “ce spectacle serait en vérité trop déchirant” (p. 159). Thus, like Brutus, it was seen as too painful to view in performance by Ancien Régime audiences but would become popular during the Revolutionary decade. 66 Vittorio Alfieri, The Tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, trans. by Edgar Alfred Bowring, 2 vols. (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970), vol. 2, pp. 267–310. In his Memoirs (1804), Alfieri describes his inspiration for the play as follows: “I received a letter from my mistress [...] in which she casually informed me that she had been lately present at the performance of the Brutus of Voltaire, which had afforded her the highest gratification. I had myself seen it nearly ten years before, but I remembered little or nothing of the piece. I instantly felt myself inspired with a principle of emulation and mentally ejaculated, ‘The Brutus! The Brutus of Voltaire! I will also compose a Brutus’ (Vittorio Alfieri, Memoirs, trans. by E.R. Vincent [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961], p. 247). 65

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emotional appeal of his son’s love. As the author of the 1830 tragedy Lucius Junius Brutus wrote of Alfieri’s Bruto Primo: “les plus nobles passions du cœur humain, l’amour de la patrie et celui de la liberté combattent contre le sentiment le plus fort et le plus tendre, l’amour paternel.”67 The same pathos evident in Voltaire’s play is found in the last scene of Bruto Primo. Here, however, the execution takes place on stage such that Brutus’s agony is plain for all to see as the conspirators are marched into the Senate and bound for execution. At first he hides the pain he feels (“Those soft affections and that gush of tears, / In the profound recesses of our hearts, / Are now suppress’d” [5.3]), but ultimately Brutus sinks in his chair and averts his gaze from the terrible spectacle. “I have not a heart of steel / Think on the pangs of the distracted father / each cleaving axe already gleams on high ... / O Heavens! my very heart is rent in twain” (5.3). He does not exhibit the stoic resolve of Plutarch’s Brutus, alluded to in the line “I have not a heart of steel.”68 Instead, Alfieri presents the eighteenth-century Livian Brutus whose “heart is rent” in two. When Valerius says to him, as he does in Voltaire’s play, “of Rome is Brutus / Father and god,” Brutus replies, “I am / The most unhappy man that ever lived” (5.3). Alfieri thus ends his play with a reversal of the sentiments expressed in Voltaire’s Brutus. Rather than the magistrate’s stoic response to Proculus, “Je suis consul de Rome” in the final scene of Brutus, Alfieri’s Bruto replies to the chorus with the line, “I am / The most unhappy man.” Alfieri presents us not with the stoic consul in the end but with a final image of the suffering father, of Brutus malheureux. The emphasis in Alfieri’s ending is clearly on the moral, the personal, and the domestic that would be most famously portrayed a year later in Jacques-Louis David’s tableau, Les Licteurs rapportent à Brutus les corps de ses fils (1789; Figure 5.1).69 The painting depicts Brutus in his home following the execution of his sons. He sits in a chair before the icon of Rome, while his wife and daughters stand at the painting’s center in the throes of grief and horror as the sons’ bodies are carried in by the lictors in the background.70 David described his Brutus in François-Guillaume-Jean-Stanislas Andrieux, “preface” to Lucius Junius Brutus: tragédie en cinq actes (Paris: Madame de Bréville, 1830), p. xiv [TCFR]. Andrieux began writing his tragedy in 1795 but abandoned it when plays about overthrowing established authority lost favor at the end of the 1790s. 68 Plutarch, Lives, p. 1186. 69 Jacques-Louis David knew Alfieri and his work. He exhibited his painting at the 1789 Salon, less than two months after the fall of the Bastille. The painting was initially banned from the Salon because the court feared it would become a venue for revolutionary propaganda. The public complained, and eventually the painting was allowed to be shown. Because of the sensation it caused, David’s Brutus became a rallying point for critics of the monarchy, much as Voltaire’s Brutus later did. 70 The scene recalls Diderot’s suggestion in the Entretiens sur le fils naturel for a split stage on which two actions occur simultaneously as a means to increase the realism of the scene and emotional response in the audience. Dorval in fact chooses the scene of a father and mother at home who learn of the death of their son, when the body is brought home to them (Diderot, Œuvres esthétiques, p. 62). 67

Virtuous Citizen, Suffering Father

Fig. 5.1


Jacques-Louis David. Les Licteurs rapportent à Brutus les corps de ses fils, 1789. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY.

a letter to his pupil Wicar as “man and father, who has deprived himself of his children and who has returned to his home.”71 David’s staging of Brutus in the domestic space of the private family was unique—it is a dramatic moment that does not appear in Livy or Plutarch—and was criticized at the time for its historical inaccuracy. Early sketches show that David originally planned to depict the public scene of execution but chose instead to portray the private aftermath of the public act. The focus on the private feelings of the consul was not lost on spectators, who commented more on the emotional impact than the didactic content of the tableau: “on se désespère avec la mère, on s’attendrit avec les filles, on gémit sur le sort des fils, on frissonne avec le père,” wrote an observer in 1789.72 David’s complex play of strong emotions and moral ideals was in keeping with the appeal to sentiment of French Enlightenment culture. As Huet remarks, David’s Brutus was “inspired by classical antiquity, but intended for an entirely contemporary sensibility.”73 Jean and Antoinette Ehrard have similarly argued that On 14 June 1789, qtd. in Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus,” pp. 123–4. Qtd. in Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus,” p. 130. 73 Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution, p. 22. 71 72

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by depicting the internal combat of Brutus and not the victory, David produced a moral tableau; he “introduced the ethical into academic republicanism.”74 In other words, the classical models made flesh in David’s various canvases—Brutus, Socrates, the Horatii—presented not an example for political institution-building but a moral ideal to emulate. The gnarled feet, veil of darkness, and impassive look of Brutus portray his inner turmoil, while the conspirators’ letter he holds— proof of the sons’ guilt—dramatizes the dilemma of consul and father. It was this moral dilemma between man and citizen that resonated with revolutionaries and brought Brutus to the center of public life in 1789. Grimm described the way both the tenderness of the father and the fierce virtue of the consul are legible on Brutus’s face: “Toute son attitude, tous ses traits portent à la fois le caractère d’une affliction profonde et d’une sévérité inflexible.” The struggle between father and consul caused by “ce cruel sacrifice,” says Grimm, “paraît empreint sur ses lêvres, mais avec une douleur sombre et recueillie qui marque assez tout ce qu’il lui fallut rassembler de force et de constance pour remporter une victoire si pénible, pour soutenir un dévouement si héroïque.”75 For contemporaries, his virtue is defined less by the stoic resolve and self-mastery he exhibits than by the visible pain and heroic suffering such virtue entails. In Cato’s Tears (1999), Julie Ellison identifies a logic of compensation at work between republicanism and sentimentality. According to her, sensibility accompanies republican politics, providing justification for the austere acts such a political ethos entails. “The apparent persistence of the ‘classical republican’ marks the repetition of the system of sensibility. Wherever Cato appears decked out in his stoic rigor, sensitive masculinity [...] resides nearby.”76 Republican stoicism and sensibility thus constitute mutually justifying systems in the eighteenth century. In France of the Revolution, however, “stoic rigor” and “sensitive masculinity” do not appear side by side, embodied by two different male characters; rather, they are dramatized and thematized within the breast of one man (as Grimm wrote, Brutus exhibits both “profound affliction and inflexible severity”). Voltaire’s Brutus is both republican hero and homme sensible. That is, the emphasis is not on the selfmastery of stoicism alone but on the extreme emotional suffering occasioned by the painful sacrifice required of republican politics—that is, on the spectacle of masculine sensitivity.77 As Marie-Joseph Chénier claimed, civic virtue is the result Jean and Antoinette Ehrard, “Brutus et les lecteurs,” p. 105. Correspondance littéraire, vol. 15, pp. 535–6. 76 Julie Ellison, Cato’s Tears and the Making of Anglo-American Emotion (Chicago: 74 75

University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 18. 77 In The Body and the French Revolution, Outram traces the stoicism of the revolutionaries to seventeenth-century discourses of self-mastery. Although she acknowledges the emergence of sensibility and new sentimental reading practices in the eighteenth century, she nonetheless, to quote Suzanne Desan, “exaggerates the extent to which the drive for stoicism was pitted against sensibilité in a dichotomy of male stoicism versus female sensibilité” (Desan, The Family on Trial, p. 364n69). The example of Brutus supports Desan’s claim here and furthers it by illuminating the way male stoicism and sensibility were complementary characteristics defining the “revolutionary.”

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not of fierceness or self-mastery but of an extreme and rare sensibility. It is not felt as a duty based upon reason but as love based upon the passions. The internalization of the complementary ethoi of “stoic rigor” and “sensitive masculinity” is perhaps most clearly exemplified in the way David’s Brutus was performed as a tableau vivant at the end of one of the most important performances of Voltaire’s Brutus during the Revolution. The revolutionary campaign to bring Voltaire’s heroic tragedy back to the stage of the Comédie-Française resulted in a triumphant series of performances in November 1790. The new political relevance of the play was apparent to all. Taking advantage of the popularity of David’s painting (the bust by Houdon he used as a model already graced the stage), Vanhove, the actor playing Brutus, spoke the last lines of the play then slumped into an antique chair like the one in David’s painting, as four lictors entered in the background bearing the body of Titus. “Every Parisian knew David’s painting,” wrote one reviewer of the performance.78 But, of course, it was only half of the painting: whereas the canvas is split between Brutus and the women and children, exemplifying the struggle between public and private respectively, the reenactment on stage in 1790 depicts Brutus alone. (The removal of the women parallels the political developments in France, as women were programmatically excluded from active citizenship.) However, the private sphere of familial affections and sorrow has not been excluded in the performance; rather, it is embodied by Brutus, whose visible suffering and exemplary virtue reflect the irreconcilable duties of man and citizen. The text of Voltaire’s original play ends abruptly with Brutus’s laconic response to Proculus (“Je suis consul de Rome”) followed by silence. As Pierre Frantz notes, “ce silence était plein d’une brutalité insupportable.”79 However, the final tableau added to Revolutionary-era performances of the tragedy extends the dénouement into the scene of Brutus’s private feelings and thus facilitates the audience’s sympathetic identification with (rather than pity and terror for) the suffering father. The focus is no longer on the “brutalité insupportable” of the magistrate’s stoic resolve but on the sensitivity of the “père infortuné,” as Grimm described Brutus in his review of the 1790 performance.80 The tableau vivant changes the setting of the scene from the Senate to the home, ending on the domestic tragedy of the man in a private moment of anguish. In other words, the Revolutionary staging of Brutus reversed Voltaire’s ending, as Alfieri had done in Bruto Primo, to end on an image

Von Halem, qtd. in Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus,” p. 78. Frantz, L’esthétique du tableau, p. 177. 80 Correspondance littéraire, vol. 16, p. 117 (November 1790): “Au dénouement on a 78 79

mis en action le tableau de David; au moment où l’on annonce à Brutus la mort de son fils, ce père infortuné se place sur un fauteuil antique comme le Brutus du peintre, et de même on voit passer le cortège funèbre qui rapporte ses deux enfants dans sa maison.”


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of the unhappiest man. Editions of Brutus published during the Revolution were subsequently amended to include the tableau vivant in the final stage direction.81 Newspapers such as the Chronique de Paris prepared spectators for opening night on 17 November 1790 by printing various lines of the play it encouraged its readers to applaud, as well as “maximes condamnables” they should disapprove. The editors also freely cited analogies between characters in the play and contemporary figures, thus drawing clear political lines through identification with the characters and action on stage. Describing the atmosphere during the performance that night, the Chronique de Paris reported: “Jamais illusion n’a été plus complète: les spectateurs étoient autant de Romains; tous croyaient avoir part à l’action.”82 Le Courrier de Paris (19 November 1790) similarly noted the spectators’ identification with the stage action: L’analogie des circonstances ajoutant à l’illusion; les Romains et les français fondus en quelque sorte l’un dans l’autre, ne faisant plus qu’un même peuple, toutes les applications tels que le spectateur s’identifiait à l’action, et était successivement Brutus, Publicola s’il était patriote, et Arons et Messala, s’il était un traître.83 (emphasis in original)

These accounts underscore the extreme identification of the public with the events and sentiments portrayed in the play. The content reflected the new political reality of France (i.e., the rule of law), and the form provided spectators with a means by which to become “so many Romans” and to “have a part in the action” through their emotional participation in the scenes. Romans and Frenchmen “melted (fondus)” into one another, forging a single virtuous people, a single republican history in the present of the play. Affective identification with republican heroes was the mark of a true patriot, and the means by which citizens became successively a modern-day Brutus or Publicola. With the aid of newspapers and printed copies of the play (13 editions of Brutus were published between 1790 and 1795), the spectators’ selfapplication of the virtue and action on stage was crucial to their understanding of the performance of their new roles as citizens.84 Those who supported the Revolution and its goals did not merely act out an already-written script; the script was in turn changed by the performances of 1790. We can thus see that in the intervening years from the play’s creation in 1730 to its revival in 1790, the relationship between spectators and spectacle had changed 81 The addition reads as follows: “Quatre licteurs, portant le corps de Titus, traversent le vestibule. Brutus tombe sur un fauteuil. Le rideau tombe”; Renwick, “Introduction,” p. 101. Also see Lüsebrink for a discussion of the “réception productive” of Brutus (p. 1873). Apparently, chansons were also added (the Marseillaise, for example) in performance, and the ending was altered during the Terror. Lüsebrink notes that Brutus played a key role in the power struggles between the conservative municipalities and the liberal clubs (p. 1872). 82 Qtd. in Lüsebrink, “Réécritures et formes de réception du Brutus,” p. 1873. 83 Qtd. in Renwick, “Introduction,” p. 96. 84 Lüsebrink, “Réécritures et formes de réception du Brutus,” p.  1871. The large number of printed editions attests to the fact that it was read as well as seen in performance.

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significantly as a result of the development of sentimentality in theater and the arts. John Winter argues that Voltaire was in fact the playwright who first introduced changes to tragedy that foretold the development of the drame, and he links these dramatic innovations directly to the tableaux of David. Winter especially notes the reduction of individual psychology for the growing interest in social ideas evident in both Voltaire’s tragedies and David’s paintings.85 The addition of David’s tableau at the end of Brutus thus brings this development full circle, in effect sentimentalizing Voltaire’s tragedy by turning it into a “drame patriotique,” as the Chronique de Paris called it.86 The play’s significance during the Revolution lay as much in the political subject matter as in the moral and emotional effect on the audience; that is, in its ability to foster sympathy and identification with the theatrical fiction on stage. The mechanism of moral and emotional identification with ancient models was facilitated by the sentimental addition. As Dorinda Outram has argued, audiences “passed easily” from their pre-Revolution habits of identification with heroes and heroines of sentimental literature to identification with classical heroes, a “practice widespread over the whole range of the political spectrum.”87 Theater thus provided the people of France with an important step from sympathetic communities of readers and spectators to active political communities of the nation. Brutus and the trial of Louis XVI The identification of revolutionaries with Brutus’s example served a number of political ends during the Revolution, as Voltaire’s play and David’s painting were both appropriated into political rhetoric and action. Even before the republic was declared in 1792, Brutus’s willingness to root out corruption at all costs—even in his own family—stood as a potent example of republican virtue in contrast to monarchical corruption. In December 1790, for example, La Harpe remarked on lines from Voltaire’s tragedy in his long manifesto on the liberty of the theaters: This admirable tragedy whose only fault is to be above the century and the spectators, if only by virtue of these two verses where one says, speaking of a king [Tarquin], “And if he dares be false to the laws of Rome, / Rome is no more his subject, he alone is the rebel.” It is the first time, perhaps, that one heard this word rebellious of a king. This word contains the whole doctrine, then so little known among us, of the sovereignty of the nation.88

John F. Winter, “Les Horaces chez Corneille et les Horaces chez David: Un aspect de l’évolution des idées du XVIIe au XVIIIe siècle,” Iconographie et Littérature: D’un Art à l’Autre (Paris, 1983), p. 129. 86 La Chronique de Paris (12 March 1791), p. 282. 87 Outram, The Body in the French Revolution, pp. 78–9. 88 From Le Journal des Amis de la Constitution (21 December 1790); qtd. in Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus,” p. 144. In the essay, La Harpe attacked the royal theater for its monopoly on the classical repertory and its stubborn refusal to play Brutus until forced. 85


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This notion of the king as potential “rebel” is, as La Harpe says, made possible by the new doctrine of national sovereignty, according to which the king is no longer both embodiment of the law and above the law but is himself subject to it. In Voltaire’s Brutus, the Senators of Rome swear an oath over the Altar of Mars to rid Rome of all traitors (1.2.167–9). When the royalist conspiracy is discovered later in the play, Brutus reminds the senators of their duty: “Prenez garde, Romains, point de grâce aux perfides: / Fussent-ils nos amis, nos frères, nos enfants / Ne voyez que leur crime, et gardez vos serments” (5.2.34–6). The oath forges bonds of community greater than those of family and friends, and demands the necessary lack of mercy towards those who threaten that community. But Voltaire’s unique contribution to the notion of oath-taking was, as La Harpe notes, to posit its mutually binding force between king and subjects. Louis could be a traitor, a rebel, or a “brigand” if he did not honor his oath to uphold the law. Like Tarquin, his violation of his sworn obligations returned the people of France to their legitimate rights (“Tarquin nous a remis dans nos droits légitimes” [1.2.159]). In the aftermath of the royal family’s unsuccessful flight to Varennes on 20 June 1791, lines from Brutus were taken up with gusto in political discourse, and aimed against supporters of monarchy by the defenders of the republic.89 This identification of the king with Tarquin and the conventionnels with Brutus took on further amplitude following the overthrow of the monarchy on 10 August 1792. References to Brutus, for example, filled a session of the Jacobin Society devoted to discussion of the fate of the king and his family. One member inveighed to his colleagues: “Judge Louis XVI, judge Marie-Antoinette, it is the will of the sovereign people,” after which a bust of Brutus was brought into the room amid applause.90 The members named Brutus their official patron and decreed that all member groups of the Jacobin Society also adopt the bust of Brutus in their meeting halls. Pointing to the bust, the secretary, Manuel, proclaimed: “Gentlemen, here is Brutus, who will remind you at every turn that in order to be a citizen, it is always necessary to be ready to sacrifice everything, even your children, to the welfare of your country.”91 Brutus’s example was a constant reminder of the extreme sacrifices necessary to ensure the liberty of the republic. According to Manuel, these sacrifices were understood as the active judgment, condemnation, and 89 The Club des Cordeliers, for example, posted a placard with the following lines from Act One of the play: “‘Si parmi les Français il se trouvait un traître, / Qui regrettât ses rois et qui voulût un maître, / Que le perfide meure au milieu des tourments;/ Que sa cendre coupable, abandonnée aux vents,/ Ne laisse ici qu’un nom, plus odieux encore/ Que le nom des tyrans que l’homme libre abhorre!’ Les français libres [...] déclarent à tous leurs concitoyens qu’elle renferme autant de tyrannicides que de membres” (Voltaire, Œuvres complètes, ed. Besterman, vol. 5, p. 193n3). 90 Qtd. in Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus,” pp. 89–90. As Herbert notes, it was subsequently decreed that the bust of Brutus be adopted by all of the Jacobin Society’s member groups as well, with the inscription “The Mother Society has taken Brutus as its patron” (p. 90). 91 Qtd. in Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus,” p. 90.

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execution of enemies of the Revolution. Even the sacred bonds between parents and children were not to sway citizens from their public duty. In the heated debates of November and December 1792 over whether to bring the king to trial, references to the example of Brutus appear with great frequency. In this phase of the debates, Louis XVI is cast in the role of the tyrant, Tarquin. Robespierre, for example, asked his fellow deputies: “Dans quelle république la nécessité de punir le tyran fût-elle litigieuse? Tarquin fût-il appelé en jugement? [...] Rome n’a pas consulté des avocats pour juger Tarquin.”92 Saint-Just similarly argued that, “Il n’y avait rien dans les lois de Numa pour juger Tarquin.”93 Lacking the legal precedent to try the king (who had been decreed “inviolable” in the 1791 constitution), Brutus provided the deputies with a moral precedent.94 Camille Desmoulins claimed, for example: “Différents entre nous d’opinions, nous nous accordons tous à nous disputer à l’envi le surnom de Brutus, et voilà quatre mois que 740 Brutus délibèrent gravement si un tyran n’est pas inviolable.”95 As the trial progressed, however, the question shifted from whether to try Louis to whether the sentence should be exile, imprisonment, or death. Again, Lucius Junius Brutus supplied an apposite example invoked by various deputies in the Convention. Bailly, for example, justified his support of the death penalty by citing the way exile had proven ineffective in the case of Tarquin. Others like Charles François Gabriel Morrison instead cited Tarquin as an example to support the argument for exile: “The English caused the head of the criminal Charles Stuart to fall upon the scaffold, and yet England is still subjected to a King. Rome, on the other hand, was more generous and merely exiled the Tarquins; and Rome for many years enjoyed the happiness of being a republic.”96 As the proceedings developed, however, Louis XVI was more often equated with Brutus’s treacherous sons than the tyrannical Tarquin. The shift in rhetoric from the earlier episode of liberation to the later episode of filicide marks a shift in the representation of the king from tyrant to traitor. Such a change in the depiction of the monarch also necessarily entailed a change in the way Brutus was characterized. Desmoulins, for example, ended his long speech on 7 November 1792 with the following appeal: Avons-nous autre chose à faire sur-le-champ, que ce que fit le consul Brutus, quand le peuple le commit pour juger lui-même ses deux fils [...] Il leur fit venir devant son tribunal, comme vous devez faire traduire Louis XVI devant vous. [...] Il ne vous restera plus qu’à prouver, comme Brutus au peuple romain, que vous êtes dignes de commencer la République et sa Constitution et à apaiser les

Œuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre, vol. 9, pp. 124 and 132. Œuvres complètes de Saint-Just, p. 380. 94 The historical precedent of Charles I was regularly invoked as well, but Brutus 92 93

was the only one that the deputies sought to imitate. See Michael Walzer, Regicide and Revolution: Speeches at the Trial of Louis XVI (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974). 95 Qtd. in Mossé, L’Antiquité dans la Révolution française, p. 89. 96 Speech on 13 November 1792; qtd. in Walzer, Regicide and Revolution, p. 118.


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution mânes de cent mille citoyens qu’il a fait périr, en prononçant le même jugement: I, lictor; deliga ad palum. 97

Pronouncing the king’s judgment would prove that France was worthy of a republic, that its citizens, like Brutus, were virtuous and prepared even to sacrifice family in order to safeguard the liberty of the people from tyranny and counterrevolution. Rather than an example of an exceptional and extreme act of virtue to admire, Brutus was now a model to emulate.98 As Desmoulins described, “740 Brutuses” deliberated the fate of the king. Watching from England, Edmund Burke lamented the situation in France in which, as he described it, “wretches calling themselves father [...] demand the murder of their sons, boasting that Rome had but one Brutus, but they could show five hundred.”99 Whereas the fate of Rome had been decided by the heroic feats of a handful of great men—the two Brutuses, the Gracchi, the Horatii, Mucius Scaevola—in the extraordinary times of the Revolution it was believed that the virtuous actions of each individual would determine the fate of the republic. The Revolution had thus galvanized hundreds and thousands of individuals eager to “become so many Romans.” In his speech in support of the king’s execution (3 December 1792), Robespierre identifies with the later Brutus episode and states: “Je prononce à regret cette fatale vérité ... mais Louis doit mourir, parce qu’il faut que la patrie vive.”100 The “regretfully” announces the pain he bears in upholding this judgment, which he calls a “cruelle exception” to the law against the death penalty—cruel, that is, for the one who must pronounce it.101 He had argued passionately against the death penalty before the National Assembly in 1791, painting an image of a condemned person before such laws as “plus faible qu’un enfant devant un 97 AP 1, vol. 54, p. 176. The Latin is from Livy’s account of Manlius Torquatus (who condemned his son to death for having fought and beaten one of the enemy without having first obtained his father’s permission): “Go, lictor, bind him to the stake.” 98 On emulation, see Thomas E. Crow, Emulation: Making Artists for Revolutionary France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995) and Emulation: David, Drouais, and Girodet in the Art of Revolutionary France (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2006), and “Forum: Emulation in France, 1750–1800,” in Eighteenth-Century Studies 36.2 (2003): 217–48. 99 Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace (1793–1794) in Burke, The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. P.J. Marshall, 9 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), vol. 5, p. 209. 100 Robespierre, Ecrits, p. 219. 101 In a speech during the trial of the king, Robespierre described the death sentence as a “cruel exception to the ordinary laws” but a necessary one. George Rudé has shown in Robespierre: Portrait of a Revolutionary Democrat (New York: Viking, 1978) that the Terror was thus not an extension of the “ordinary law” under which Louis, as a “cruel exception,” was sentenced to death. Rather, the government itself had become “exceptional” and both the Revolutionary Tribunal and the justice it meted out were “exceptional” as well (its full title was “tribunal extraordinnaire and révolutionnaire”) (p. 166).

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homme fait.”102 The image of the condemned as a helpless child victimized by absolute power places sympathy clearly with the defendant. Just over a year later, however, Robespierre would be calling for an exception in the case of the king, in order to make an example of him for the nation’s enemies (“[d]onner à l’Europe l’exemple”).103 As Charles Rollin had written in the Histoire romaine more than half a century earlier, Brutus’s sons must die for their crimes in order to spread terror (“jeter la terreur dans les esprits”) among would-be traitors.104 His duty to his fellow citizens requires this terrible sacrifice, this example of both great virtue and great severity to enemies (as Titus says of his father, “Un Héros, l’Exemple des Mortels”). Thus was the cruel justice of the laws the representatives of France also painfully enforced. When the deputy Louvet de Coudray criticized Robespierre for an allusion he made to Brutus, Robespierre responded: “Ce n’est point le couteau des tyrannicides que j’appelle, c’est le glaive des lois; je veux que la hache des consuls s’incline devant le peuple et qu’elle frappe, s’il le faut, les fils mêmes de Brutus.”105 It is not Marcus Brutus he invokes as precedent, but the first Brutus. In other words, it is not a singular act he is calling for, but the duty of all legislators—painful as it may be—to uphold the law.106 Robespierre thus invokes both the fermeté and the anguish of Brutus in his description of the legislator. “Si parmi nous les fonctions de l’administration révolutionnaire ne sont plus des devoirs pénibles, mais des objets d’ambition, la république est déjà perdue,” he explains.107 In other words, suffering was the guarantee that virtue not ambition motivated public action. For legislators, Brutus’s example provided the standard of revolutionary devotion and civic virtue. The suffering incurred by following his example supplied the sign of one’s sensitivity and thus a justification for the “cruel” pronouncement of death that they—like Brutus—were forced to make. The legislator emerges as Robespierre, Œuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre, vol. 7, p. 437 (30 May 1791). He calls the laws allowing the death penalty “ces loix de sang qui commandent des meurtres juridiques” and elaborates the analogy of defendant as child: “Un homme fait, qui égorge un enfant pervers qu’il peut désarmer et punir, paroît un monstre!” (p. 433). 103 Robespierre, Ecrits, p. 210. 104 Rollin, Histoire romaine, vol. 1, p. 239. In 1791, the deputy Jean-Joseph Pithou de Loinville echoed this sentiment when he wrote: “Brutus, ta vertu te coûte cher, mais tu devois cet exemple terrible à tes concitoyens” in Le Plaisir prolongé, p. 38. 105 Robespierre, Ecrits, p. 175 (25 January 1792). 106 Patricia Robinove’s research shows that Voltaire’s La Mort de César (1732) was revived following the king’s flight to Varennes, and references to it subsequently appeared with more frequency, including during the king’s trial (“Voltaire’s Theater on the Parisian Stage, 1789–1799,” The French Review 32 [1958–59]: 534–8). “After August 1793 the only plays of Voltaire to be staged in Paris during the balance of the year were Brutus and La Mort de César” (p. 538). Voltaire’s La Mort de César presents a more severe rejection of family ties for the state than seen in Brutus, in which republican brothers are eager to end tyranny, even if it means killing one’s father. 107 Robespierre, Œuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre, vol. 3, p. 518. 102

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a heroic and tragic figure ready to make painful sacrifices to preserve the republic. These sacrifices could be of one’s own life for the patrie—the motto “la liberté ou la mort” was passed by the National Convention in 1792—or could be, like that of Brutus, a sacrifice of one’s own family and natural feelings for the common weal. The two notions of virtue—republican and sentimental—thus begin to blend and merge at this time. This is evident, for example, in the audience’s reaction to a performance of Voltaire’s Brutus at the Comédie-Française on the day of Louis’s execution: Les spectacles n’ont point été fermés le jour de l’éxécution, il s’est même rendu assez de monde au Théâtre de la Nation, où l’on jouoit Brutus. Les maximes républicaines renfermées dans cette pièce ont été vivement applaudies, surtout ce vers: Dieux! Donnez-nous la mort plutôt que l’escalavage.108

Although the verse refers to the patriotic oath (“la liberté ou la mort”) of the senators in Act One, and thus to the vow to die oneself for the cause of liberty, the death that had been rendered to save France from “slavery” was Louis’s. Given the context of the line’s performance on the day of his execution, the audience’s applause suggests that their interpretation of “la mort” slips from heroic self-sacrifice to the heroic sacrificing of others. The ambiguity of the referent effectively erases the possibility for the king to fill a stable and tragic part. He is either the guilty son or the guilty tyrant, Titus or Tarquin, whose death is void of heroism or martyrdom. Sympathy is instead reserved exclusively for the legislator and magistrate, Brutus, whose suffering as a result of the sacrifice made is raised to the heights of tragic heroism. Sacrificial virtue: Brutus as revolutionary martyr The popularity of Brutus did not abate following the death of the king but continued to gain in force in the assemblies, on the stages, and in the press of the Revolution. We might ask, as John Renwick does, what the persistence of the image of Brutus after the execution of the king suggests by way of critique of Lynn Hunt’s notion of the “family romance,” which ostensibly should end when the patriarch dies.109 According to her, the killing of the king on 21 January 1793 symbolized the destruction of the patriarchal model of the state. A fraternal model Annales patriotiques et littéraires 23 (23 January 1793), p. 105. The issue also included a lengthy and matter-of-fact description of the king’s activities on the eve and morning of his execution. 109 Renwick, Language and Rhetoric, pp. 45–6. This chapter can also be seen as a response to Hunt’s discussion of Hercules in Politics, Culture, and Class, pp. 87–121. Hunt focuses on the emergence of Hercules as a figure for the people following the execution of Louis XVI. The king’s death, she argues, left a frightening void at the center of political and social organization and meaning which the revolutionaries filled by means of a new image of the new sovereign body, the people. 108

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had emerged following the uprising against the monarchy in August 1792 and led, she argues, to the eventual executions of the king and queen a year later. In place of the patriarchal model, representations of fraternity flourished during the Terror until its failure led to a rehabilitation of the family model in the postThermidoran era.110 Yet Brutus’s image not only continued to stand in official meeting halls and public squares but also was printed on coins, engravings, games, and playing cards. According to Suzanne Desan, although various ceremonies and prints promoted images of soldiers as virile brothers “united by fraternal ties and marching off to defend each other’s honor,” this male image could also “take the classical form of an austere Brutus placing loyalty to the nation above family ties.” Desan further notes that “for all of their homosocial emphasis on fraternal male loyalty to the patrie, the revolutionaries fervently believed that patriotism was rooted in family honor and also in female approval. They hoped to reincorporate the patriotic Brutus within the conjugal family.”111 In other words, paternal images continued to proliferate alongside fraternal ones long after the death of Louis XVI. For example, Le Triomphe du Peuple Française (1794), David’s last image of Brutus, designed for the curtain of the Opéra, depicts him alongside other heroic parents of the French Revolution ready to sacrifice their children for the sake of the republic: the Roman matron Cornelia with her sons and William Tell with his son.112 In theater, father figures also live on in the civic curriculum mandated by the state that included Guillaume Tell, Caius Gracchus, and Brutus. Each of these plays stages the tragic dilemma of a father who must choose between the state and his sons. For John Renwick, this persistence of the father figure suggests that the act that effectively ends Brutus’s biological paternity—the execution of his sons— actually serves to affirm a higher ideal of paternity as a sort of compensation for the death of the king. That is, through the excruciating act of self-abnegation in choosing the state over his sons, Brutus emerges as a “genuine father figure”—the true father of the state and of the people.113 Shortly after the execution of Louis XVI, the Academy of Painting chose the death of Lucius Junius Brutus as the subject for the new republic’s first Grand Prize competition.114 According to the story recounted in Charles Rollin’s Hunt, Family Romance, p. 53. “The literal effacement of the political father was the subject of a systematic, official campaign in which images of the kings of France, as well as images of royalty, aristocracy, and feudalism, were destroyed” (p. 53). 111 Desan, The Family on Trial, p. 75. 112 Unlike the other two historical figures, Cornelia and William Tell, Brutus appears alone, no longer surrounded by his family. Although one might argue that Brutus, without his sons, is no longer a father but a revolutionary brother joined in the battle against tyrants and conspirators, he nonetheless is associated here with examples of virtuous parents. The psychoanalytic narrative of the “family romance” Lynn Hunt borrows from Freud and extends via Girard cannot account for the proliferation of these examples of the “Good Father.” 113 Renwick, Language and Rhetoric, pp. 46. 114 See Antoine de Baecque, Glory and Terror: Seven Deaths under the French Revolution, trans. Charlotte Mandell (New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 1–5. 110

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Histoire romaine, Brutus died in single mortal combat with the son of Tarquin at a location far from Rome. This little-known episode of Roman history was revived as a reminder of the continued need for vigilance against counter-revolution and served to establish Brutus not only as a hero but also as a martyr of the Revolution. The Academy’s proposal stipulated that entries depict “the moment when his body, carried by Roman knights, is received by the Consuls and the Senate.”115 Brutus’s corpse was thus displayed before the public for veneration the way other martyrs of the Revolution were. Consequently, the death of Louis was eclipsed by the sacrificial image of Brutus, who, through his heroic suffering and death, appropriated the roles of tragic hero and revolutionary martyr denied to the king. R.L. Herbert describes, for example, how the obelisk in the Place des Victoires was replaced by the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, which was surrounded by four columns made of stones from the Bastille on top of which were placed busts of Jean-Paul Marat, Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, Guillaume Tell, and Brutus. A 1793 engraving of the Déclaration (Figure 5.2) similarly shows Brutus as a defender of the laws beneath portraits of the martyrs Marat and Lepeletier. Each of the figures in the print represents a protector of Liberty who made extreme sacrifices (of his own life or of others) for the republic, be they sons, brothers, or fathers. While Brutus enters the pantheon of revolutionary heroes and martyrs, the king is reduced in the engraving to the symbols of privilege cast off and overthrown at the bottom of the page. When David eulogized the young revolutionary martyr Lepeletier—who was killed after casting his vote for the death sentence for Louis XVI—in a speech before the National Convention in March 1793, he did so by comparing him to Brutus: Brutus, called upon to judge one of his own accused of treason against liberty, forgot blood ties and condemned him—that is an act of virtue! Would Lepeletier be less virtuous in condemning the head of this superb nobility of which he had been a member himself? But there is this difference between Brutus and Lepeletier: the former did not have to face the challenge of confirming his sentence faced with the raised arm of a menacing assassin.116

Not only is Lepeletier’s virtue worthy of Brutus, since he “forgot blood ties” and condemned one of his own, it surpasses Brutus’s example because Lepeletier seals the sentence of death against the king with his own blood. He judges the king, even though it means his own life. Lepeletier thus embodies the quality of the new revolutionary hero, “ce troisième Brutus,” whose sacrifices will ensure the fate of the republic.117 Qtd. in de Baecque, Glory and Terror, p. 4. Qtd in Herbert, David, Voltaire, and “Brutus,” p. 96 (6 March 1793). 117 “Où est-il [...] ce troisième Brutus, ce héros encore inconnu?” Robespierre, Œuvres 115 116

complètes de Maximilien Robespierre, vol. 10, p.  107. Like Brutus, Robespierre had to sacrifice his own family (the Jacobin family represented by the Dantonists and Hébertists) in order to continue to honor his vow to the nation.

Virtuous Citizen, Suffering Father

Fig. 5.2


Print of the the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen flanked by busts of Lucius Junius Brutus (left) and Mucius Scævola (right). Engraving by Jacques Le Roy. Paris: chez Fillion, 1793. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Collection Michel Hennin.

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Conclusion: Encore un Brutus In 1795, a revolutionary drama entitled Encore un Brutus, ou le tribunal révolutionnaire de Nantes by “le Citoyen [Etienne] Calland” opened in Lille.118 Associating the figure of Brutus with the recently ended Jacobin Terror, the author presents a dark tale of the abuse of power by an evil father ironically named Ledoux. Ledoux is president of the Revolutionary tribunal and has had thousands executed (mostly men whose wives he wants to sleep with), and now his virtuous son, Félix, is on trial for having attempted to save several of his father’s victims. Eager to be “comme un autre Brutus” and to pronounce the death sentence himself, Ledoux sardonically proclaims: “La nature doit se taire quand la Patrie a parlé.”119 There is no struggle in his heart, and far from the visible signs of suffering such an act exacts, Ledoux enters the tribunal “avec une joie bruyante.”120 The role of Brutus is one he dons willingly as a pretext for license and murder. Félix’s evil brother Clément, meanwhile, feigns virtue by pretending to help Félix. “Que deviendra l’humanité, si la pitié et la sensibilité sont des crimes?” he says, parroting the language of virtue. An inverted image of Brutus and Titus, Ledoux and Clément are perfect hypocrites who serve their personal interests under the pretense of serving the republic. Their names ironically evoke the domestic and social virtues they outrage with systematic brutality and greed. Calland’s Encore un Brutus clearly represents a radical transformation of Voltaire’s Brutus into a melodrama contrasting the extremes of good and evil. Voltaire’s tragedy is mentioned ironically in one of the play’s trial scenes when the villains maintain that theater cannot compete with the spectacle of death furnished by the guillotine: “la meilleure tragédie de Voltaire ne valait point,” says one “Droiture,” in comparison with the people’s taste for executions and blood sport.121 Here vice masquerades as virtue, fathers execute sons without flinching, and personal interest triumphs over that of the patrie. There is no struggle in the heart of the legislator between his duties to his son and to his country, for he loves neither. Innocence is persecuted to the point that the sensitive and virtuous hero despairs that “le désir d’être utile à la vertu malheureuse est sans effet.”122 The play evokes the manichean world of malevolent forces and innocent victims associated with Robespierre’s reign of Terror, which would find its full realization in theater in the plays of Guilbert de Pixerécourt several years later, and illustrates Encore un Brutus, ou le tribunal révolutionnaire de Nantes: drame en trois actes et en prose, par le Citoyen Calland, artiste au Théâtre de Lille (Lille: Roger, an troisième [1795]). 119 Calland, Encore un Brutus, Act 1, scene 9; p. 13. Ledoux is likely based upon Joseph Le Bon of Arras, made infamous during the Revolution for the number of people he sent to the guillotine. 120 Calland, Encore un Brutus, Act 3, scene 1, p. 44. 121 Calland, Encore un Brutus, Act 3, scene 1, p. 45. 122 Calland, Encore un Brutus, Act 2, scene 1, p. 30. 118

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the rapidity with which the image of Brutus transformed almost overnight—from founder of the republic to vengeful magistrate to republican martyr to “l’allégorie même de la Terreur” after thermidor.123 Brutus slides from particular (singular) case to a general type and back again in a way that reveals the equivocal nature of his role as example and model. Reflecting on tragedy in his essay, Über die tragische Kunst [On Tragic Art, 1792], the German playwright, poet, philosopher, and historian Friedrich Schiller questions Brutus’s potential as a tragic figure for the stage. For him, the Roman consul is a poor subject for the theater because his suffering is too particular, it requires a Roman sensibility (“eine Römische Gesinnung”) in order to sympathize with Brutus’s dilemma, and it therefore is not universal.124 Schiller’s 1792 essay was written at the same time that Voltaire’s play was triumphing on the Revolutionary stage and as the cult of Brutus was at its height in France. Therefore, one cannot help but see his comments as a critique of both the play and the Revolutionary sensibilities that brought it to prominence during the 1790s. Brutus’s judgment could only resonate with a people who shared the particular (rather than universal) sensibility, and even circumstances, of Rome. In “the illusion of enthusiasm” at Brutus’s example, spectators at performances of Voltaire’s play indeed saw themselves as so many Romans on the historical stage, heroically shaping the fate of the nascent republic. They found in their identification with the ancients, and Brutus in particular, a justification for the seizure of sovereignty, and the means through which to strengthen it and secure it into the future. But they also found in Brutus the moving figure of a father who embodied the painful crisis that attended the transition from subject to citizen. Brutus came to represent the emotional price of modern citizenship and the painful sacrifices it required. It is this latter emphasis on the emotional suffering and sensibility of the character that defined Brutus’s significance during the Revolution. As Marie-Joseph Chénier argued, it is necessary to recognize Brutus as one of the most sensitive heroes of tragedy, whose love of country and paternal love stem from an “extraordinarily rare sensibility.” But as Schiller foresaw, the illusion was short-lived. Voltaire’s play, which before the 1780s had left audiences cold for more than fifty years, fell once again

123 Michel Thévoz, Le théâtre du crime (Paris: Editions du minuit, 1989), p. 11. Mercier notes in Le Nouveau Paris the way royalist youths in the early nineteenth century identified with Titus (“le mot de Titus équivaut pour eux à celui de Louis XVI”) and that “[t]ous ces Titus figurent les panégyristes” of Louis XVIII. “Auraît-on imaginé que la mode [...] eût amené parmi nous les Titus, qu’ils se diraient tout bas les vengeurs du trône, et que cette inepte effronterie se logerait dans des corps de pygmées”; Chapter 268 “Les Titus,” p. 456. 124 “Für den Römer hat der Richterspruch des ersten Brutus [...] subjektive Wahrheit” but it is “nicht unmittelbar aus der allgemeinen, sondern mittelbar aus einer besonders bestimmten menschlichen Natur. Um diese Gefühle mit ihnen zu teilen, muss man eine römische Gesinnung besiztzen”; in Friedrich Schiller, Vom Pathetischen und Erhabenen: Schriften sur Dramentheorie, ed. Klaus L. Berghahn (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1970), p. 44.


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out of the repertory at the decade’s end.125 The play’s apotheosis came in January 1799 on the sixth anniversary of the king’s execution when, as Mercier observed, it was played all over Paris: [J]e vis le Brutus de Voltaire annoncé sur toutes les affiches: Brutus à l’Odéon; Brutus rue de la Loi, Brutus au théâtre des Amis de la Patrie, Brutus à l’Estrapade, Brutus à la Foire, Brutus rue Martin. La voilà donc, cette pièce, me disais-je en moi-même, que l’on jouait si rarement dans ma jeunesse, et qui n’attirait jamais la foule; la voilà solennelle et solennisée.126

Thus by 1799, Brutus had become a “solemn and solemnized” ritual marking the painful victory over monarchy. Mercier is led from here to ponder which contemporary play, like Brutus, “fera la première décoration de nos grandes époques nationales” fifty years hence. He concludes that the beauty, feeling, and depth of a work do not lie in the text but “dans celui qui l’écoute et qui l’interprète.”127 The peculiar “Roman” sensibility of the revolutionaries, which brought Voltaire’s tragedy to prominence during the 1790s, allowed Brutus’s sacrifice, formerly viewed as too painful for the stage, to be viewed not only with pleasure but also with sympathetic identification by audiences. For them, the play reconciled in tragic form the apparent contradiction between the development of sentimental paternity, on the one hand, and the increased necessity for Brutus’s terrifying and “unnatural” act of filicide, on the other. It gave form to the modes of sacrifice considered necessary during some of the most crucial moments of political action—not merely as an ideal or a symbol but as an example to follow. The drama of Brutus’s painful struggle between two loves and two duties provided an image through which the revolutionaries—and legislators in particular—came to understand their own political moment, both personally and collectively, and came to see the new relationship between public and private, and between government and individual, as one of sacrifice.128 It was national history played as domestic tragedy—embodying a tragic notion of the irreconcilable duties and rights of man and citizen and revealing the way in which ideas about the patrie and nation were based for the revolutionaries, not only on notions of citizenship and political contract but also on a vision of emotional communion among citizens bound together by shared suffering and sacrifice. 125 With the emergence of Napoleon as premier consul in 1799, Brutus fell out of favor completely. The playwright F.-G.-J.-S. Andrieux explains that “depuis le 18 brumaire An viii (l0 novembre 1799), jusqu’en juillet 1830, aucun de nos gouvernemens n’eût laissé représenter sur le théâtre une révolution qui détruisit le pouvoir absolu d’un seul, pour fonder une république” (preface to Lucius Junius Brutus, p. iii [TCFD]). Andrieux’s Brutus was not performed until 1830. 126 Mercier, Mon bonnet de nuit, pp. 1544–5. 127 Mercier, Mon bonnet de nuit, pp. 1544–5. 128 See Jesse Goldhammer, The Headless Republic: Sacrificial Violence in Modern French Thought (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005).

Chapter 6

Acting Revolution: Talma and the Sentimental Body Comme il s’est fait un changement prodigieux dans les circonstances actuelles, notre éloquence a pris un nouveau caractère. —Sébastien Mercier, Nouveau Paris (1798)1

The performance of virtue during the Revolution granted a central and privileged position to the body, particularly to the sensitive and expressive body. As we saw in Revolutionary-era performances of Brutus in the previous chapter, the silent tableau added to the tragedy’s final scene presented the audience with an image, not of the stoic body of the legislator as in David’s painting (the upright torso, the tense feet) but of the feeling body of the tender father collapsing under the weight of pain and sorrow as he slumps into an antique chair on stage. The legibility of Brutus’s suffering on his face and body was crucial to establishing his exemplary virtue. The sentimentalist assumption that the body and its peculiar language and comportment were the natural extension of the mind provided revolutionaries with a powerful new rhetoric of virtue to counter the studied and declamatory styles of the Ancien Régime. The author of an anonymous 1793 pamphlet Le Portrait du vrai patriote, for example, describes the ideal citizen in the following terms: “Le Patriote a l’abord facile, le ton simple, la conversation libre; la naïveté est dans ses expressions, la franchise dans ses discours, et la pureté dans son cœur.” 2 An ideal of naturalness and simplicity, the true patriot’s virtue is legible on his body; to see him and hear him speak is to know the purity of his heart. What is remarkable in this portrait is that the author does not locate truth in the patriot’s words but in their delivery. The citizen employs his body—its gestures, facial expressions, voice inflections, and so on—in order to convey the truth and virtue of his speech to his compatriots. More important than the words themselves, therefore, is the manner in which they are communicated. The performance both expresses and embodies the ease, simplicity, freedom, naïveté, frankness, and purity—in a word, the virtue—of the speaking self. Along with the many new visual markers of patriotism that emerged in political culture of the Revolution—bonnets rouges, cockades, the tricolor, pikes, and short hair, among others—bodily comportment thus came to serve as another indicator of one’s political and moral character, though one that was believed to be a truer and more natural expression of inner 1 From Sébastien Mercier, Chapter 77 “Tribune,” in Paris pendant la Révolution (1789–1798), vol. 1, p. 276. 2 Appeared anonymously in a Bethune broadsheet in Year II; qtd. in Malcom Cook, “Politics in the Fiction of the French Revolution, 1789–1794,” SVEC 201 (1982): 329.


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sentiments. Not only must the good patriot be able to convey his virtue to his fellow citizens, but he must also be able to read it on the body of others. As Anne Vila has argued in Enlightenment and Pathology (1998), the body held a principal position in Enlightenment thought such that it is necessary to “‘re-somatize’ our understanding not just of eighteenth-century psychology and philosophy but also the period’s moral theory, aesthetics, and literature.”3 As she demonstrates, it is the sensitive, reactive, and expressive body in particular that featured in the many new studies published by scientists, philosophers, humanists, anatomists, and theoreticians of acting and painting in the eighteenth century, and which supplied the cultural frame and sentimentalist assumptions that informed the various new modes of self-presentation that appeared with the Revolution.4 The two main studies of the body and the Revolution, by Dorinda Outram (The Body and the Revolution, 1989) and Antoine de Baecque (Le Corps de l’histoire, 1997), concentrate mainly on the neoclassical, medical, and religious models that influenced Revolutionary depictions of the body.5 Focusing on sentimental models instead, my aim in this chapter is to reveal the ways in which the silent, expressive body of sensibility emerged at the center of revolutionary notions of eloquence, and how this development relates to the larger “acting revolution” 3 Anne C. Vila, Enlightenment and Pathology: Sensibility in the Literature and Medicine of Eighteenth-Century France (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 5 (“The most productive and problematic somatic metaphor of the French Enlightenment was, in my view, that of the sensible or reactive body”). The current chapter explores the impact of this somatic model on Revolutionary theater and oratory. See also McMaster, Reading the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Novel, in which she delineates the way “the body is recurrently endorsed as a site of truth” in sentimental works (p. 120). 4 For example, Carl Jaspar Lavater’s Physiognomy (1777) contributed to the belief that the face revealed the true character of the person; Johann Jakob Engel’s Idées sur le geste et l’action théatrale (1788) was the most popular acting manual of the 1790s (Molé made Talma study it); the sentimental playwright and theorist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing planned to write a book on Körperliche Beredsamkeit, or body language; and Jean Baptist Nougaret’s L’Art de Pièces de Théâtre sans Paroles (1775) emphasized the importance of gestures and facial expression to the art of acting. It also drew the attention of sentimental novelists and dramatists who contributed to the development and codification of the body’s expressivity. 5 De Baecque focuses on the imagined bodies of the state—the political body as metaphor—represented in various revolutionary representations of power. His exclusive focus on pamphlet literature leaves oratory and acting outside the scope of his study. Outram, in contrast, focuses on the emergence of a new controlled, autonomous, impermeable stoic body during the Revolutionary decade to argue that “attitudes toward the body actively created the new public world of the Revolution, and hence influenced the sort of state it created” (The Body and the French Revolution, p. 23). Drawing on Norbert Elias’s notion of homo clausus and Michel Foucault’s ideas of the body as “directly involved in a political field” of power relations (Discipline and Punish [1979]), Outram demonstrates the way in which this new form of stoicism, characterized by the self’s mastery of the body, arises at the same moment when the body became most vulnerable to the state apparatus, exemplified by the guillotine (p. 25).

Acting Revolution


that had begun in the latter half of the eighteenth century.6 This chapter thus demonstrates the ways in which the profound changes in the art of acting—an area that lies outside the scope of both Outram’s and de Baecque’s studies—and in oratorical style during the Revolution reflect the appropriation of sentimental conventions into the public sphere of performance and politics. Studies on oratory of the Revolutionary period naturally focus on the language, rhetoric, and ideas of the orators but largely overlook the role of bodily actions, accentuations, and gestures (actio) in the delivery of their speeches.7 When actio is explored, it is usually in connection with particular individuals or performances, and not as part of a larger transformation in attitudes and practices regarding elocution and acting in the last decades of the Ancien Régime.8 This chapter proposes to investigate the sentimental body as the privileged site of a new revolutionary rhetoric of virtue in acting and oratory during the Revolution. From the silent gestural language of pantomime to the “heated gestures” of Mirabeau and other leading orators of the Revolution, the sentimental body emerges on the public stage of the Revolution as a new conventionalized spectacle of morality and patriotism. Performance is by nature ephemeral and the evidence for it sporadic and often unreliable. Because performance lies outside of the text, it has eluded the predominant emphasis in Revolutionary studies on discursive practices. As the legendary revolutionary actor Joseph-François Talma states in the opening lines of his Réflexions sur Lekain, et sur l’art théâtral (1825), “le talent de l’acteur, quand il a quitté la scène, n’existe plus que dans le souvenir de ceux qui l’ont vu et entendu.”9 We are left to reconstruct the actor’s art and individual performances from the textual traces and effects of those who saw and heard, and are reminded of the gulf in understanding that exists between those who have only seen a play, and those who have only read it. Yet the fact that the specifics of performance were so I focus primarily on revolutionary and not counter-revolutionary ideas of eloquence, since the latter often take the form of traditional arguments against rhetoric stemming from antiquity. Stated first by Plato, who was arguing against the Sophists, the traditional critique condemns eloquence for its lack of truth and morality. For counter-revolutionaries, the Revolution incarnated a vulgar culture built on the ruins of the old order. Antoine de Rivarol and La Harpe, for example, underscore the loss of good taste, of beautiful language, and elegance (La Harpe’s Du fanaticisme dans le langage révolutionnaire, 1797). For an overview, see Stéphane Pujol, “Eloquence,” in Dictionnaire européen des Lumières, ed. Michel Delon (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1997), pp. 383–8. 7 Brasart, Paroles de la Révolution; Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Funktionen parlamentarischer Rhetorik in der Französischen Revolution: Vorstudien zur Entwicklung einer historischen Textpragmatik (Munich: Fink, 1978); and Aulard, Les grands orateurs. 8 Angelica Goodden’s Actio and Persuasion: Dramatic Performance in EighteenthCentury France (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986) is an exception and perhaps the first attempt at a broader portrait of changes in acting of the eighteenth century. But as a comprehensive study of the entire century—of dance, theater, pantomime, oratory, and painting—the Revolutionary decade is only summarily treated in it. 9 François-Joseph Talma, Réflexions sur Lekain et sur l’art théâtral, ed. Pierre Frantz (Paris: Desjonquères, 2002), p. 27. 6

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important to the reception and meaning of theater during the Revolution and that, as Peter France has pointed out, Revolutionary print was largely devoted to the transciption of oral events—including notation of actio and audience responses— suggests the need for more exploration of the connections between the oral and textual, somatic and discursive experiences and practices of the Revolution.10 Peter Brooks’s groundbreaking work in this area is well known. As he writes, “One can see in the revolutionary moment the origins of what we might call an aesthetics of embodiment, where the most important meanings have to be inscribed on and with the body.”11 Brooks reads this embodiment through the lens of psychoanalysis, focusing on the symptomology of bodies that “act out,” in order to argue that the modern subject is an embodied subject that performs its meaning to the eyes of others. Whereas his discussion of the melodramatic mode looks ahead to its textual incarnations in the nineteenth-century realist novel, my own discussion casts its glance back to the eighteenth century in order to situate the development of sentimental and melodramatic modes of Revolutionary culture within a trajectory of discourses on eloquence that gave an increasingly central place to the feeling and expressive body. In focusing on actio, or action in French, during the late Enlightenment and Revolution, my aim is to elucidate the ways in which eloquence was increasingly equated with the body as a truer, more immediate, and more direct indicator of virtue than words, and thus to chart the unique merging of the natural and the theatrical on both the political and dramatic stages. Actio is the rhetorical category that concerns all of the physical aspects that contribute to the delivery of a text—gesture, facial expression, voice, posture, and pantomime—and which serve to link acting and oratory. The likening of orators to actors gained new force with the Revolution and has been well documented by recent critics and is not my focus here.12 Rather, I examine select performances by individual actors and orators as well as two revolutionary treatises on verbal and bodily eloquence—Réflexions sur Lekain et sur l’art théâtral (1825) by the actor Talma and Réflexions sur la déclamation (1795) by the politician Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles—in order to demonstrate the role of the sentimental body in revolutionary expression.13 These works provide insight into the era’s beliefs regarding eloquence by practitioners of their respective arts, and together they illustrate the great value placed on actio in both theory and practice during the Revolution. Peter France, “Speakers and Audience: The First Days of the Convention,” in Language and Rhetoric of the Revolution, ed. John Renwick (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990), pp. 50–67. 11 Peter Brooks, “The Revolutionary Body,” in Fictions of the French Revolution, ed. Bernadette Fort (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1991), p. 44. Also see Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985). 12 Huet, Maslan, S. Bryson, Friedland. 13 François-Joseph Talma, Mémoires de Lekain, précédés de refléxions sur cet acteur et sur l’art théâtral par F. Talma (Paris: Ponthieu, 1825); and Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles, “Réflexions sur la déclamation” and “Conversation,” in Magasin encyclopédique, ou journal des lettres, des sciences, et des arts, vol. 1 (Paris, 1795), pp. 396–416. 10

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Revolutionary eloquence: Actio and le talent d’émouvoir La vertu, comme les talents, tient beaucoup au physique. —Charles Bonnet, Essai de psychologie (1754)14

Article 6 of the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (1789) decreed that, all men being equal, political office was available to all citizens “selon leur capacité, et sans autre distinction que celle de leurs vertus et de leurs talents.” Just as virtue was no longer associated with noble birth or title, political promotion was no longer meted out according to privilege and rank, as it had been under the Ancien Régime, but was now accorded based upon one’s talent. The talent deemed most necessary for public office was eloquence. According to Malesherbe, the Enlightenment magistrate and politician, public men are “ceux qui ont le talent d’instruire les hommes et le don de les émouvoir.”15 For Robespierre, the legislator’s talent lay in his ability to excite “dans les cœurs ce doux frémissement par lequel les âmes sensibles répondent à la voix du défenseur de l’humanité.”16 Eloquence was thus the ability to move the hearts and minds of auditors. Indeed, many of the most renowned figures of the Revolution were also its great orators: Mirabeau, Barnave, Vergniaud, Danton, Robespierre, and Saint-Just, among others. According to John Renwick, there was an awareness that political oratory in France was a new development made possible by the liberty of the people in 1789.17 Although academic, forensic, and religious oratory had flourished under monarchy in the eighteenth century, political oratory was largely suppressed and therefore existed, according to Renwick, “in forms that ‘dare not speak their name’ (romances, didactic or pedagogic novels, plays, history, Ancient and Modern, art criticism).”18 As Saint-Just expressed: “Avez-vous vu les orateurs sous le sceptre des rois? Non. Le silence règne autour des trônes.”19 With the opening of a variety Charles Bonnet, Essai de psychologie in Collection complete des oeuvres de Charles Bonnet, 17 vols (Neuchâtel: S. Fauché, 1783), vol. 8, p. 136. efts/ARTFL/databases/TLF/. 15 Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes in an address to the Académie française in 1774; qtd. in Pujol, “Eloquence,” p.  387. Malesherbes’s definition repeats the terms of d’Alembert’s entry on “élocution” in the Encyclopédie: “On pourroit définir autrement l’éloquence, le talent d’émouvoir” (emphasis in original); vol. 5, p. 520. 16 Qtd. in Trahard, La Sensibilité révolutionnaire, p. 189. 17 Renwick, Language and Rhetoric of the French Revolution, pp. 1–10. 18 Renwick, Language and Rhetoric of the French Revolution, p. 8. In other words, political eloquence before the outbreak of Revolution was to be found in the works of sensibility. These literary forms often provided revolutionary orators with models, as one observer noted of Robespierre: “Il écrit, le plus souvent, ayant près de lui, à demi ouvert, le roman où respirent en langage enchanteur les passions les plus tendres du cœur et les tableaux les plus doux de la nature, la Nouvelle Héloïse”; qtd. in Aulard, Les grands orateurs, p. 289. 19 Œuvres de Saint-Just, Jean Gratien, ed. (Paris: Éditions de la Cité universelle, 1946), p. 208. 14

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of new forums for the display of political oratory—clubs, assemblies, committees, and so on—it is no surprise that those with rhetorical experience from the law courts, academies, Church, and theatrical stage entered the ranks of politicians and distinguished themselves as the era’s great orators. Because oratory involved the public delivery of texts, eloquence was long linked with actors: Cicero learned from Roscius, Demosthenes from Satirus, and a number of Revolutionary figures studied elocution with leading actors of the day. Just as the theater was a school of virtue for the people, it could also serve as a school of talent for their representatives. The representative Portiez, for example, argued in an address to his fellow deputies that theater could provide crucial lessons for France’s orators: Représentants du peuple, les mots sont les signaux convenus de l’expression des idées: le théâtre n’apprend-il pas à faire usage de ces signaux, en apprenant l’art de communiquer ses idées à une grande assemblée, à proportion du volume de son organe, de l’étendue de l’édifice et du nombre des personnes? Aujourd’hui que tous les citoyens sont appelés à exercer toutes les places dans la République, les vertus et les talents devant êtres les seuls titres de recommandation, ces moyens d’instruction sont-ils donc à negliger?20

As citizens of diverse backgrounds, educations, and strata were being called to fill positions in government for the first time, the theater served a useful function of teaching them “the art of communicating” to large assemblies (the vast assembly halls at Versailles and Paris could hold more than two thousand people). Whereas words were the “conventional signs” of ideas, the actor and orator animated these signs and communicated their ideas to their auditors; that is, they made the words sensible. Much as in theater, the performance of a political speech was experienced in a crowd and had a direct impact on the senses and emotions of the audience. As Mme de Staël wrote, “L’éloquence ayant toujours besoin du mouvement de l’âme, ne s’adresse qu’aux sentiments des hommes, et les sentiments de la multitude sont toujours pour la vertu.”21 It is not merely an animating of signs but an animating of the feelings of the people, and thus of their virtue. Staël’s view rests on the Enlightenment belief, also held by the revolutionaries, that the natural passions move man toward the good and the virtuous.22 Louis François René Portiez, “Opinion sur les théâtres” from séance de 2 germinal an VI (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1798); qtd. in Frantz, “Pas d’entracte pour la Révolution,” p. 395. 21 De la littérature: Considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales, ed. Paul van Tieghem, 2 vols. (Geneva: Librairie Droz; Paris: M.J. Minard, 1959 [1800]), ch. 8, p. 384. 22 For Diderot, for example: “it is wrong to attribute the crimes of men to their passion. It is their false judgments that are at fault. The passions always inspire us rightly, for they inspire us only with the desire for happiness”; qtd. in Norman Hampson, Will and Circumstance:Montesquieu, Rousseau, and the French Revolution (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983), p. 192. 20

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Already a convention of sentimentality, bodily eloquence thus surfaced during the Revolution as a crucial element in representatives’ exercise of authority. The Comte de Mirabeau, for example, was widely admired as the master of revolutionary oratory, lauded by contemporaries for the passion of his delivery and his unparalleled physical expressivity. As the historian François Alphonse Aulard writes, “il est évident que, chez Danton comme chez Mirabeau, l’action joue le premier rôle.”23 Contemporary witnesses placed particular value and emphasis on Mirabeau’s physical action. The actor Molé, for example, saw Mirabeau speak in the Assembly and was deeply impressed by his “entraînante action oratoire”; he is said to have exclaimed: “Quel discours! quelle voix! quels gestes! mon Dieu! que vous avez manqué votre vocation.”24 For him, Mirabeau’s compelling delivery rivaled the actor’s for its artistry. Another eyewitness wrote of Mirabeau: “La chaleur de son action, embellissaient sa figure, et lui composaient une physionomie éloquente qui subjugait ses auditeurs, et les disposait d’avance à soumettre leur opinion à la sienne.”25 Through an “eloquent physiognomy” the orator predisposes auditors to accept the truth of his words and thus to join their views with his. Mirabeau’s ability to move the emotions and opinions of his fellow representatives and the public is thus attributed specifically to his corporeal (rather than verbal) eloquence. In Réflexions sur Lekain, Talma similarly emphasizes the way actors prepare the audience through their action: Le sentiment dont il est oppressé, avant que sa voix ait pu l’exprimer, s’échappe soudainement par l’action muette. Le geste, l’attitude, le regard doivent donc alors précéder les paroles, comme l’éclair précède le foudre. [...] Ces artifices constituent ce qu’on appelle proprement le jeu muet, partie essentielle de l’art théâtral, et qu’il est si difficile d’atteindre, de posséder, de bien régler; c’est par lui que l’acteur donne à débit un air de naturel et de vérité, en lui ôtant toute apparence d’une chose apprise et récitée.26

According to Talma, the illusion of spontaneity—which gives naturalness and truth to performance—stems from the bodily eloquence displayed in the jeu muet that precedes the words. This gestural language is essential to performance because it gives the appearance that one is not reciting a text learned. It creates the illusion of spontaneity by establishing the scene and the emotion before any words are spoken. A writer for the Mercure de Paris, Jacques-Antoine Dulaure, similarly praised Mirabeau for “toute son action extérieure,” claiming that his talents were at their best when spontaneous.27 Whether Mirabeau’s speeches and action were in 25 26

Aulard, Les grands orateurs, p. 209. François-Réné Molé, cited in Fleury’s Mémoires, vol. 4, p. 167. Qtd in Aulard, Les grands orateurs, p. 58. Jean-Baptiste Joseph Innocent Philadelphe Régnault-Warin, Mémoires sur Talma avec notice et notes par Henri d’Alméras (Paris: Soc. Parisienne d’Édition, 1904), p. 58. 27 Qtd in Goodden, Actio and Persuasion, p. 60. 23


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fact spontaneous or not—most speeches of the era were not—the effectiveness of Mirabeau’s oratory, like the actor’s, stemmed from the appearance of spontaneity. The harmony of his speech and gesture conveyed the illusion that he was speaking from the heart—not by heart—and was therefore expressing the equivalence between his own sentiments and those he expressed. Bodily eloquence provided the revelation of inner states and conveyed the immediate emotion of speaking heart to heart. Helen Maria Williams attended a session of the National Assembly in 1789 and reported with admiration that the French deputies “have not trusted merely to the force of reason, but have studied [...] the appointment of solemnities perfectly calculated to awaken that general sympathy which is caught from heart to heart with irresistible energy, fills every eye with tears, and throbs in every bosom.”28 She not only emphasizes the orators’ evocation of feeling and sympathy by means of action but also their subordination of argumentation (“the force of reason” or logos) to the communication of feeling “from heart to heart” (pathos). The deputy Hérault de Séchelles—one of the twelve who sat on the Committee for Public Safety—wrote a short essay entitled Réflexions sur la déclamation (published posthumously in 1795 in the Magasin littéraire) in which he argues that actio holds the chief position in oratory. He begins his meditation on declamation with an anecdote about the ancient Greek orator Demosthenes.29 “Démosthène, interrogé, quel étoit le premier mérite de l’orateur, répondit l’action. Le second? L’action. Le troisième? L’action. Il avoit pris lui-même des leçons de Satirus, le plus célèbre acteur de son temps.”30 L’action (or actio) is the art of animating a speech or script. According to Hérault, it consists of memory, voice, and gesture in order to learn a speech by heart and deliver it with the appropriate tone and gestures.31 These three elements contribute to the overall performance. Hérault gives tips on memorization, but the bulk of his essay is devoted to the art of delivery, which, for him, is the most important element of oratory. He does not address issues of argumentation or language but disregards content in favor of an exclusive focus on the communication of spontaneity and emotion through l’action. With the illusion of spontaneity as his primary goal, Hérault advises his fellow orators to employ gestures to prepare the way to ideas in terms reminiscent of Talma and the admirers of Mirabeau cited above: “Avant d’exprimer un sentiment, faites-en le geste.”32 The orator must prepare the mind and ears of auditors through their heart and eyes. The art of oratory for Hérault thus lies primarily in hiding the fact that one is performing a written text. As he notes, “L’illusion est détruite, s’il ne Williams, Letters from France, vol. I, vol. 1, pp. 60–61. Demosthenes is considered the greatest orator of ancient Greece known particularly

28 29

for his natural style. 30 “Hérault, “Réflexions,” p.  396. This anecdote was relayed by Plutarch and was often cited in the eighteenth century. 31 Hérault, “Réflexions,” p.  397. Actio is the fifth element of rhetoric according to classical works and is comprised of vox (voice) and gestus (gesture and posture). See Rosenfeld, “The Gestural Origins of Semiosis and Society,” in her A Revolution in Language, pp. 13–56. 32 Hérault, “Réflexions,” p. 413.

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cache pas avec soin qu’il répète ce qu’il a appris.”33 The illusion of naturalness and spontaneity is best achieved by hiding the rehearsed nature and theatrical situation of delivering a script to an audience. Hérault illustrates this point further by recounting a piece of advice given to him by the actress Mlle Clairon, with whom he studied: “Le personnage seul nous plaît et nous étonne / Tout le charme est détruit, si l’on voit la personne.”34 The audience should perceive only the character on stage, and not the person playing it. Indeed, Sébastien Mercier had complained in his 1773 treatise Du théâtre that on the French stage: “On voit l’acteur et le personnage; on en souffre.”35 According to Hérault, this holds whether the performance is on the stage, at the tribune, in the pulpit, or in the Assembly: “On peut dire qu’un homme qui parle en public, joue une personnage quelconque. La principale attention de l’orateur doit donc être de ne laisser voir que son personnage.”36 The notion of “personnage” he raises corresponds to the classical category of rhetoric known as ethos, which, according to Aristotle, is the speaker’s power of evincing a personal character that will make one’s speech credible.37 Since performing a role assumes the necessary presence of spectators, and thus risks being theatrical, the challenge according to Hérault is to comport oneself in a way that seizes public interest without seeming false or affected. Although the personne has prepared the text and the accompanying tones and gestures, the personnage recites it as if for the first time. The success of the performance, as he notes, thus lies in hiding the art—which means hiding the fact that the speech is a performance of a prepared script. The aim is to convey the illusion of spontaneity and thus of sincerity, naturalness, and truth. If one were to see the personne it would mean seeing the person veiled in the theatricality engendered by the spectating dynamic. To see only the personnage,in contrast, is paradoxically to see the true person, achieved through an art of the natural. In other words, the performance evinces the true self, free of theatricality. The implication is that one play a role in order to project a more authentic version of the self, or that one is most truly oneself in the performing of that role.38 With Hérault, the way to present the true self was in a manner that defused or neutralized the theatricality of 35 36 37 33

Hérault, “Réflexions,” p. 397. Hérault, “Réflexions,” p. 397. Hérault, “Réflexions,” p. 352 Hérault, “Réflexions,” p. 397. Rhetoric, 3569b. Aristotle’s rhetoric includes: 1) the speaker’s power of evincing a personal character which will make his speech credible (ethos); 2) his power of stirring the emotions of his hearers (pathos); and 3) his power of proving a truth, or an apparent truth, by means of persuasive arguments (logos). 38 Judith Pascoe has explored the example of William Godwin, who, during the Scottish treason trials in England in the 1790s, advised his friend Joseph Gerrald to adopt a particular persona at the bar and provided Gerrald with lines to rehearse for his performance in court. Godwin emphasized the “manner” Gerrald should assume as well as the words, but then ends his letter to Gerrald by saying “—be wholly yourself”; Romantic Theatricality: Gender, Poetry, Spectatorship (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), p. 42. 34

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appearing in public. Here we might draw again upon Michael Fried’s vocabulary of absorption and theatricality explored in regard to sentimental tableaux in Chapter Two above. Hérault’s notion of self-presentation accepts a hidden mise-en-scène in demanding that one hide the inherent theatricality of the situation in order to achieve the most natural and true performance of the self. Because this naturalness of expression is achieved through actio, the body serves as the vehicle and the site of sincerity and transparency. Revolutionary-era notions of eloquence thus destabilized the distinction between the natural and the theatrical. Rather than being opposed, naturalness and performance began to merge into a single notion of natural acting. In both Revolutionary drama and oratory it was important to persuade one’s auditors not so much of what one said but of the sincerity or naturalness of how one said it. As Dulaure had remarked in the Mercure regarding the speeches of Mirabeau, the natural eloquence of his body already won audiences over to his opinion even before he spoke. The perception of the truth of the words was thus a function of actio and was visible on the body rather than heard in the words. Hérault similarly wrote of the actor Lekain, “il étudiot scrupuleusement son geste, comme étant le véhicule de la vérité de son diction.”39 The preoccupation with the body as the instrument of truth necessarily led to an increased scrutiny of the body as revelatory of the inner “true” self, as was seen above in Robespierre’s lists of suspect behavior.40 For example, the deputy Charles-Alexandre de Moy delivered the following speech to the National Convention: Comment la vertu s’exprimera-t-elle par sa bouche, s’il n’en a pas lui-même? Il peut bien répéter les mots, les phrases qu’il a appris: un souffleur est là pour rappeler ce qui échappe à sa mémoire; mais le ton, le geste, le port, l’attitude, tout ce qui doit partir de son fond: sa sensibilité seule peut le lui inspirer.41

One can repeat memorized lines and even be prompted to repeat forgotten ones, as De Moy suggests, but only sensibility can communicate true virtue, and only virtue can animate the expressions of sensibility. This was best achieved, as De Moy notes, through the bodily signs of sensibility; that is, through actio. The same held for actors as well, as, for example, when Mercier wrote of a convincing actor that, “C’est le ton, le regard, l’air, l’accent d’un monarque; il en aura sans doute Hérault, “Réflexions,” p. 398. The belief that eloquence reveals rather than disfigures truth runs counter to the

39 40

traditional notion of rhetoric. In the Encyclopédie entry on “rhétorique,” for example, Diderot expresses the view that truth remains obscure without the light of eloquence. Such an understanding of eloquence as itself truth was taken further by Mme de Staël in De la littérature, where she expressed that whatever is eloquent is true: “Ce qui est éloquent est vrai [...] l’éloquence proprement dit est toujours fondée sur une vérité, il est en suite facile de dévier dans l’application, ou dans les conséquences de cette vérité; mais c’est alors dans le raisonnement que consiste l’erreur” (p. 416). 41 Charles-Alexandre de Moy, “Des Fêtes, ou quelques idées d’un citoyen francais rélatives aux fetes publiques et a une culte nationale” (Paris: Chez Garnery, An VII), p. 2; qtd. in Goodden, Actio and Persuasion, pp. 29–30.

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le cœur.”42 Whether a monarch or republican, one’s tone, gestures, attitude, and comportment provided the visible signs of what lay in one’s heart. Truth and virtue were consequently located in the body, that is, in the performance, rather than in the discourse itself. In classical rhetoric, an appeal based on emotion was referred to as pathos. Jay Fliegelman has shown in the American revolutionary context that the emphasis in oratory of the late eighteenth century was less on argument (logos) than on the revelation of character (ethos). And whereas pathos was the opposite of ethos in ancient rhetoric, now feeling (pathos) became itself the revelation of character (ethos).43 A similar development is apparent in the French context, where emphasis was also clearly placed on sincerity and feeling as signs of virtue and thus political legitimacy. As the deputy de Moy claimed, the source of the new eloquence emphasizing spontaneity and virtue was sensibility. To use the terms introduced by Hérault, we might say that emotion is revelatory of the personnage, which is the true self stripped of theatricality. A number of differences are, however, also apparent. For one, theater played a greater role in France as an important instrument and institution in the formation of public men. The emphasis in French oratory also placed more emphasis on sight (pantomime) rather than the American emphasis on sound (elocution). Finally, a pervasive rhetoric of suffering, absent from the American context, characterized revolutionary speeches and became increasingly displayed on (rather than through) the body, as will be explored below.44 The public revelation of the self in performance—not only in words but also on the face and the entire body—became a crucial indicator of virtue during the years of the Revolution. While natural acting was associated with virtue, theatricality was a sign of immorality. The anonymous writer of the Anecdotes curieuses sur des orateurs de la Révolution, for example, offers a scathing description of the actor and playwright turned politician Fabre d’Eglantine: “Avec les talents et le moral du comédien Fleury, par exemple [...] on est certainement un citoyen précieux et recommandable, mais avec la médiocrité, l’immoralité et la scélératesse d’Eglantine, on n’est qu’un vil histrion.”45 The conservative Mallet du Pan similarly criticized the actor-turned-deputy Collot d’Herbois because “il n’a jamais perdu l’apprêt théâtral.”46 Theatricality was tantamount to corruption Mercier, Du théâtre, p. 354. See Fliegelman, Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language & the

42 43

Culture of Performance (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 43. 44 We see this greater emphasis in France on appearance, for example, in the following line from the last chorus of Louis “Philippon” de la Madeleine’s play Agricole Viala, ou Le Jeune héros de la Durance (1794): “Simples mœurs, simples d’habits, Prenons la vertu pour parure.”[RTR] The good patriot wears his virtue in the form of simple habits and manners much as aristocrats wear their vice in the form of “opulence” and “faste antique.” 45 Qtd in Goodden, Actio and Persuasion, p. 56. 46 Qtd in Goodden, Actio and Persuasion, p. 56. The demand that representatives be hommes vertueux was not unique to the Revolution; Quintillian, Cicero, Fénélon, and others before had emphasized the need for orators to be model citizens. The difference in eloquence by the 1790s, however, was that the basis of this virtue, and this eloquence, was sensibility.

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and dishonesty, suggesting that natural eloquence was itself a sign of virtue. “Te voyant éloquent,” wrote Brissot in a letter to Linguet, “je te croyais honnête et sensible.”47 The link of the natural and the moral was important in the construction of political authority, particularly since the natural bond between the people and their representatives was now determined by nothing more than their “virtues and their talents.” We see here that talent is no longer merely a complementary criterion to virtue, guaranteeing merit rather than privilege in public office, but is now itself the sign of virtue.48 As a result, representatives’ authenticity depended upon the audience’s acceptance of a performance as real or, to use Hérault’s terms, of the personnage as personne. In other words, orators required the public theater of exchange to persuade auditors of their virtue, yet had to conceal the theatricalized context in which it occured in order to establish the naturalness of performance. As a result, conventions of naturalness and performance began to merge into a single notion of the natural and truthful performance of the self. These developments in Revolutionary oratory coincided with changes in the art of acting as well. The Revolution ushered in a series of sweeping innovations in staging and acting techniques that brought the jeu muet of actors to the fore, spearheaded by the unrivaled master of physical expressivity and the leading actor of the Revolution, Talma. Garrick, Talma, and l’action théâtrale C’est donc sur-tout aux mouvemens de l’âme les plus passionnés que la pantomime est nécessaire. Alors ou elle seconde la parole, ou elle y supplée absolument. —Marmontel, “Pantomime,” Supplément à l’Encyclopédie49 Une vive sensibilité est souvent la mère d’une admirable éloquence. —Barnave, Œuvres50

Talma is the figure most associated with the transformation from classical declamation to a new naturalness and sensibility on the French stage. According to Pierre Frantz: “Il est certain que le jeu de Talma a radicalisé l’évolution du jeu [...] vers un ‘naturel sublime,’ c’est-à-dire un renouvellement de la rhétorique Qtd in Trahard, La sensibilité révolutionnaire, p. 179. Paul Friedland expresses the shift in the representation of the authenticity of political

47 48

authority in terms of a shift from the demands of truth to those of truthfulness—that is, from le vrai to vraisemblance. This change altered in turn the quality of antitheatrical prejudice, which he says shifts from the threat of the actor’s transformation into the social threat of the actor’s use of duplicity (Political Actors, p. 27). This shift would constitute an ongoing problem for revolutionary politics (explored in Chapter 4 above). 49 Supplément à l’Encyclopédie (Amsterdam, 1777), p. 231. 50 Œuvres 4: 204; qtd. in Trahard, La sensibilité révolutionnaire, 178.

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gestuelle.”51 Galvanized by the outbreak of Revolution in 1789, when he was twenty-six years old, Talma won instant acclaim in the title role of Chénier’s Charles IX, the first dramatic cause célèbre of the decade, and then in the role of Proculus in Voltaire’s Brutus, which led the Courrier des spectacles to declare that Talma “a fait [...] une révolution.”52 Combined with the heightened emotions and ideals of the political moment, the aesthetic “revolution” he launched in costume and acting gave force and dynamism to civic and national politics. “Qu’était-il donc, Talma?” François-René Chateaubriand asks in his Mémoires d’outre-tombe (1848). “Lui, son siècle et le temps antique. Il avait les passions profonds et concentrées de l’amour de la patrie; elles sortaient de son sein par explosion. Il avait l’inspiration funeste, et le dérangement de génie de la Révolution à travers laquelle il était passé.”53 Talma was the Revolution. He embodied its spirit and its mode. He joined citizenship and sensibility, antiquity and the present, the political and the natural into compelling new forms. One of the testaments of Talma’s exceptional talent is the fact that his popularity spanned diverse epochs from the Republic to the Restoration, and made him a favorite of such divergent admirers as Danton and Louis XVIII, Mme de Staël and Napoleon. Bridging eras, styles, and genres, he was credited with having renewed tragedy by abandoning the declamatory style of the eighteenth century and “replacing it with an emphasis on the natural, on intonation, and on meaningful accentuation.”54 He brought popularity equally to the works of Corneille and Racine as to Voltaire and Shakespeare. “He reconciled aesthetics that were declared incompatible,” observes Claude Reichler, “and assured a smooth transition after his time from the classical stage to the romantic stage.”55 In De l’Allemagne (1810), Germaine de Staël provides perhaps the most laudatory and detailed accounts of Talma’s art. Whereas other actors used grandiose gesture, she writes, Talma’s costume and “ses geste simples” brought a “talent naturel” to his performance. “Il n’a rien dit encore, mais ses mouvements égarés” communicated the emotion of the scene.56

51 Pierre Frantz, “Talma et David: Quelques refléxions sur une collaboration exemplaire,” in La Scène comme tableau, ed. Jean-Louis Haquart and Emmannuelle Hénin (Portiers: La Licorne, 2004), p. 98. 52 Courrier des spectacles (23 vendémiaire an IX. Cast in a small part in the play, Talma nonetheless made an historic entrance when, inspired and aided by his friend David, Talma appeared on stage in nothing but a toga and sandals. Amid the bewigged players on stage, he stood as a true Roman and true republican. The audience was as shocked as the other actors but immediately applauded Talma’s daring. 53 François-René de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’Outre-tombe, ed. Jean-Claude Berchet, 4 vols (Paris: Classiques Garniers, 1989), vol. 2, book 13, ch. 9, p. 44. 54 Claude Reichler, “Talma as Néron in Britannicus, or, Putting a Monster to Good Use,” trans. Deirdre Dawson, Yale French Studies 76 (1989): 128–9. 55 Reichler, “Talma as Néron,” pp. 128–9. 56 Germaine de Staël, De l’Allemagne (1810; Paris: Garnier frères, 1879), vol. 3, pp. 227 and 229.


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Talma’s exceptional jeu muet embodied in practice many of the Enlightenmentera theories on the art of acting and pantomime—from Saint-Albine’s Le Comédien (1749) to Diderot’s various dramatic writings to Engel’s Idées sur le geste et l’action théâtrale (1788). Acting had been regarded as a branch of rhetoric in the seventeenth century, wherein the task of the actor was to convey the dramatic verses the way an orator or pastor rendered the beauty of a passage, placing more emphasis on the flow of words than on their emotional content. Performance therefore had no meaning apart from the text, and actors employed gestures and facial expressions only to emphasize the meaning of the text. This began to change in the mid eighteenth century, however, with the publication of several treatises on the art of the actor in France and England that sought to raise the standing of actors and establish acting as a legitimate art form.57 According to Angelica Goodden, these works did so by associating acting with the ancient rhetorical category of actio.58 Actio had been used in the teaching and practice of religious, forensic, and academic oratory since the seventeenth century but moved into literary and dramatic composition for the first time during the eighteenth century. This affiliation with the rhetorical strategies of actio put less emphasis on the words and more emphasis on the visual appeal of performance, that is, in embodying speech in gesture. This shift to greater bodily expression over the course of the eighteenth century was the result of several factors; according to Angelica Goodden, these included the revival of pantomime, the introduction of Italian players into France, the legacy of Louis XIV who had raised dance to an art, and the success of exceptional actors like the celebrated David Garrick in England and Lekain (Henri Louis Cain) in France, both of whom excelled in the art of action. Garrick in particular left his stamp on the course of theater’s development in the second half of the eighteenth century, not only as a tremendous actor but as a theater manager and playwright as well.59 In 1744, he published a short Essay on Acting in which he offered the following definition of his craft: 57 A rash of books on elocution, oratory, and pronunciation appeared in England at midcentury, several of which openly acknowledged the influence of Garrick’s improvements in dramatic speech on them: William Cockin’s Art of Delivering Language was dedicated to Garrick, and John Walker’s Elements of Elocution (1781) emphasized bodily expression and looked to Garrick for “such turns and inflexions of voice” as accompanied the art of a “good speaker.” See George Taylor, “The Just Delineation of the Theories of Acting in the Age of Garrick,” in The Eighteenth Century English Stage, ed. Kenneth Richards and Peter Thomson (London: Methuen, 1982), pp. 63–72. 58 Goodden, Actio and Persuasion, p. 3. 59 Garrick managed Drury Lane in London for nearly thirty years (1747–76), during which time he made watershed changes in staging and acting. According to Richard Bevis, Garrick expanded seating in order to fit more ticket-buying spectators; this included shortening the stage depth to allow for more seating, which resulted in actors being forced to retreat toward the proscenium arch and to yell, grimace, and broaden their gestures (English Drama: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century 1660–1789 [NY; London: Longman, 1988], pp. 113–16). Garrick also changed lighting by removing the chandeliers and increasing

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Acting is an Entertainment of the Stage, which by calling in the Aid and Assistance of Articulation, corporeal motion, and ocular Expression, imitates, assumes, or puts on the various mental and bodily Emotions arising from the various Humours, Virtues or Vices incident to Human Nature.60

He defines acting first and foremost in terms of actio. Placing emphasis on the expressiveness of the body, he subordinates the actor’s lines to his physical movements. As the primacy of the dialogue on the page recedes, what the spectator watches on stage is instead the play of the passions over and through the performer’s face and body. According to Deirdre Lynch, Garrick’s exceptional talent for physical gesture in effect “effaced” the text by allowing the common language of the passions to be legible on the body of the actor rather than in the words of the script.61 Most celebrated for his exceptional mastery of facial expressions, Garrick’s performances were visual experiences above all. His direct emotion and replacement of French declamation with a natural ease and a new interpretation of character based on actio—not to mention the production innovations he introduced (lighting, better scene painting, tableau)—revolutionized the English theater at mid-century. One reviewer described the effect Garrick had on stage as follows: heavens, what a transition!—it seemed as if a whole century had been stept over in the transition of a single scene: old things were done away, and a new order at once brought forward, bright and luminous, and clearly destined to dispel the barbarians and bigotry of a tasteless age, too long attached to prejudices of custom, and superstitiously devoted to the illusion of imposing declamation.62

Rather than the old style’s concentration on technique and declamation, Garrick emphasized better visual illusion and the greater development of bodily expression. “C’est dans ce grand art de parler aux yeux, qu’excelle le plus grand acteur qu’ait jamais eu l’Angleterre, M. Garrick,” wrote Voltaire in the preface to his play, Les Scythes (1776). “[Il] a effrayé et attendri parmi nous ceux-mêmes qui ne savaient pas sa langue.”63 For Voltaire, Garrick’s eloquent action allowed Frenchmen to understand and be affected by the performance without knowing a single word of English. Body language was thus able to communicate more universally and emotionally than spoken language, and offered a compelling model for contemplation to the philosophes. The Encyclopédie article on “Geste,” sidelights, which created an enhanced deep-stage “scene” at the expense of the forestage, drawing actors away from the audience into a picture-like tableau. 60 David Garrick, An Essay on Acting (London, 1744), pp. 7–9. 61 Deirdre Lynch, The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 72. 62 Written by the playwright Richard Cumberland in a 1746 review of The Fair Penitent; qtd. in Allardyce Nicoll, The Garrick Stage: Theatres and Audience in the Eighteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980), p. 10. 63 Voltaire, “Préface” to Les Scythes, in OEuvres complètes de Voltaire, ed. Louis Moland (Paris: Garnier, 1877–85), vol. 6, p. 269.

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for example, drawn from Louis de Cahusac’s Le danse ancienne et moderne, ou traité historique de la danse (1754), describes body language as: une des premières expressions du sentiment données à l’homme par la nature. L’homme a senti dès qu’il a respiré; et les sons de la voix, les mouvemens divers du visage et du corps, ont été les expressions de ce qu’il a senti: ils furent la langue primitive de l’univers au berceau; ils le sont encore de tous les hommes dans leur enfance; le geste est et sera toujours la langue de toutes les nations; on l’entend dans tous les climats.64

Verbal language is conventional, that which we inherit upon entering into society; gestural language, in contrast, is born with us in the cradle. Gestures, tears, and sighs are all part of a universally legible language of action, available to all regardless of race, nationality, creed, class, or gender—a notion at one with the Enlightenment’s democratic and humanistic ideals. Such communication was pre-social and, because unlearned, was believed to be free of the prejudice and privilege that accompany social interactions. Denis Diderot influentially called for more pantomime in acting, recognizing its utility and importance to the essential moral ends of theater.65 In the Entretiens, he suggests that viewers cover their ears to truly judge the talent of actors. “Nous parlons trop dans nos drames; conséquemment nos acteurs ne jouent pas assez.”66 For him, not only must action and gesture be given an equal status with words but also there are some scenes—particularly climactic ones—that should be played without words at all. Diderot thus urges playwrights to follow the example of Richardson’s novels and write out their pantomime. Although Voltaire also emphasized the importance of bodily gesture appropriate to the words, he ultimately declares: “Je n’aime point le terme de pantomime pour la tragédie [...] Ce qu’il appelle pantomime, je l’ai toujours appelé action.”67 For Voltaire, the term action gives to pantomime the dignity of rhetoric. Garrick’s performances during his tour of the Continent from 1763 to 1765 not only influenced the philosophes but also prompted actors and critics in Paris to reassess their ideas about the art and practice of acting. As Joseph Roach notes: “Garrick astonished the regulars at the salon [...] by poking his head out from behind a screen to demonstrate the passions in rapid-fire succession.”68 Without Encyclopédie article on “Geste,” vol. 7, p. 652. In the Discours sur la poèsie dramatique, Diderot writes that “la pantomime est

64 65

une portion du drame; que l’auteur doit s’en occuper sérieusement [...] et que le geste doit s’écrire souvent à la place du discours” (Œuvres esthétiques, p. 269). As Frantz notes, for Diderot “La pantomime n’est pas seulement un geste, elle fédère, intègre et ordonne toute une série de gestes” (L’esthétique du tableau, p. 119). 66 Diderot, EFN, p. 48. 67 Voltaire, Lettre à d’Amilaville (30 mars 1762). 68 Roach, The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), p. 111; qtd in McMaster, Reading the Body, p. 78.

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Fig. 6.1


Ah le Bonhomme tout le Monde l’aime! Par un ami intime de Mr. G. Paris, s.n., c. 1765. (ART 256917). By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

speaking a word, he conveyed a breadth of emotion through facial expressions and bodily gestures alone. The actress Mlle Clairon notably changed her acting style to include more pantomime as a result of seeing Garrick perform.69 The cataclysmic effect of his visit on the French can be seen in a cartoon entitled, Ah le Bonhomme tout le Monde l’aime! (Figure 6.1). The image shows Garrick being accosted by several figures. A woman under the title L’Opéra Comique pulls his hair, a man in Roman costume (Les Français) aims a dagger at him, and a commoner raises a pail of water to hurl at him (Les Variétés). In the upper lefthand corner, a man sketches Garrick’s likeness (Les Artistes), and a young boy (La Jeunesse) below him aims a rock at him. The press meanwhile is represented by a dog (Les Journalistes) that bites at Garrick’s coat (a paper marked “Fueilleton [sic]” peeks out from Garrick’s pocket). The caricatures reflect both the threat and the interest he aroused in the French theater community and public. The two sets of pages that lie on the coat—one with “J. J. Rousseau” written on it, the other with “Voltaire”—refers to the rift between the two philosophes caused by d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie In his essay on declamation, Hérault recounts an incident with Mlle Clairon that reproduces Garrick’s salon entertainment: “un jour elle s’assit dans un fauteuil, et sans proférer une seule parole, sans faire un seul geste, elle peignit avec le visage seul, toutes les passions” (“Réflexions,” p. 405). 69


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article on “Geneva” and the divided interpretations of theater each put forth. The sly addition of these names hints at the equally divisive effect Garrick’s arrival had. His performances threw the very basis and purpose of theater into question, eliciting varied opinions as to his merit and talent. Still, change was slow to come to the main theaters of France.70 Ten years after Garrick’s visit to the Continent, Mercier lamented that the declamatory style still persisted in the Paris theaters (“les anciens avoient perfectionné l’art de parler aux yeux par des mouvements, au lieu que la plupart de nos acteurs gauches, d’un front inanimé, d’une tournure désagréable”).71 Even as late as 1790, Helen Williams observed that Madame Vestris was guilty of “tearing a passion to rags” rather than “tear[ing] the hearts of the audience with sympathy.”72 Talma strongly objected to such mannered declamation and openly criticized his colleagues at the Comédie Française, refering to Monvel as “une âme sans corps” and to Larive as “un corps sans âme.”73 Under the tutelage of the actors Molé, Aristippe, and Dugazon, Talma had learned the art of physical movement and pantomime. He excelled to such a degree that even Fleury, Talma’s adversary at the Comédie, praised “sa pantomime éloquent.”74 Talma brought new energy to the theater and was most lauded by his peers and contemporaries for the great naturalness and sensibility of his action, such that one spectator exclaimed upon seeing him perform in a production of Ducis’s Hamlet: “C’est Garrick ressuscité!”75 Aristippe also acknowledged Garrick’s precedent when, after lauding Talma for the “vérité de son jeu muet,” he remarked that “Garrick surtout a excellé dans ce langage

70 At mid-century, Reymond de Saint Albine had commented in his treatise Le Comédien (Paris: Vincent, 1749): “Un acteur qui manque sentiment, ne passe point pour un comédien: il n’est regardé que comme un déclamateur” (p. 41). 71 Mercier, Du théâtre, p. 355. 72 Williams, Letters from France, vol. I, vol. 1, p. 90. 73 Régnault-Warin, Mémoires sur Talma, p. 32. Talma spent several years of his youth in London and it was allegedly after seeing Garrick perform that he decided on a career in the theater. Talma worked in various London playhouses and had been offered a position at one of the patent theaters when his father ordered him to return to Paris. In France he entered the newly established École Royale de Déclamation in 1785. See the Oxford Companion to the Theater, 3rd ed., Phyllis Hartnol, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 932–3. 74 Régnault-Warin, Mémoires sur Talma, p. 11. Talma’s formal training marks a bridge between the two currents of theory: one which focused on the art of acting (“donne tout à l’art” of Diderot, Riccoboni fils, Servandoni d’Hannetaire) and one that focused on the actor’s natural sensibility (Riccoboni père, Saint-Albine). For Talma, it was after learning all the skills and learning the part by heart that one could enter the role so completely that the gestures would appear spontaneously. 75 From the Mémoires of M. Moreau who saw Talma’s 1817 performance of Hamlet, qtd. in Régnault-Warin, Mémoires sur Talma, p. 47.

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silencieux, dans ce jeu muet.”76 Talma was thus seen as a conduit of Garrick’s style, bringing his naturalness and expressivity to the Paris stage but with the marked difference that he did so in the context of social and political Revolution. It is little surprise to find Larive and Mlle Clairon—whose acting style Talma had derided—among the noirs actors at the Comédie whose conservative politics led the troupe to split in 1791.77 Pantomime in general came to be associated with the virtues and liberty of republican Rome at this time, as evidenced in a letter written to the Journal de Paris in 1791: On vient de publier un Prospectus qui annonce à la Capitale un genre nouveau et qui ne peut manquer d’exciter la curiosité. C’est l’haute Pantomime si fameuse à Rome, vers la fin du troisième siècle et qui après avoir pris naissance chez les Romains lorsque la liberté était expirante, renaître chez les Français lorsque la liberté commence à fleurir.78

The close association between pantomime and republicanism was no coincidence. Not only was pantomime associated with popular culture—establishments like the Théâtre de Nicolet were barred from presenting all but “spectacles muets” under the Ancien Régime—but also it was seen as one of the chief means of rousing the passions of the public. Arlequin’s intense popularity during the Revolution, for example, has been explained in political terms by Martin Nadeau as resulting from the fact that these pantomimes expressed a resistance to the representation of the political body defined by the Revolutionary authorities of Year II. Pantomime, Nadeau argues, participated in the lived politics rather than in the desired politics of the revolutionary regimes, and therefore offered a site of competition for the legitimacy of the right to speak for the general will.79 In his essay Réflexions sur Lekain et sur l’art théâtral (1825), Talma provides fascinating insight into his ideas regarding pantomime and its relationship to the 76 Aristippe Félix Bernier de Maligny, Théorie de l’art du comédien; ou, Manuel théâtral (Paris: A. Leroux, 1826), p. 310. “Le plus grand peintre des passions, Garrick, contractait les muscles du front d’une manière singulièrement expressive dans le rôle de Richard III. Talma exécute aussi cette contraction, surtout dans les rôles de Brutus, Charles IX et Manlius. Ce qui domine chez lui, c’est le jeu des muscles du front, des sourcils et ceux de la lèvre inférieure” (p. 5). 77 Talma compared Larive’s acting to the famous automata of Vaucanson, and called Mlle Clairon’s “calculated” (Régnault-Warin, Mémoires sur Talma, p. 32). 78 Journal de Paris 3 December 1791, pp. 1369–70, qtd. in Peter Kulsrud, The Fabrication of the Modern Media, p. 368. In Le Nouveau Paris Mercier describes how “tous les gestes muets” of the actors at the Théâre de Nicolet “semblent nous annoncer la résurrection de ce genre si cher aux Romains” (Paris pendant la Révolution, vol. 2, pp. 446–7). 79 Martin Nadeau, “Présence d’Arlequin sous Robespierre” in Bourdin, Loubinoux, and Bara, eds., Les Arts de la scène et la Révolution française, pp. 313–25. Also see Pierre Retat, Arlequin et ses masques: Actes du colloque franco-italien de Dijon, 5–7 septembre 1991, Baridon Jonard, ed. (Dijon: EUD, 1991), pp. 135–43.

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social and political changes of the Revolution. He begins with a discussion of Lekain, whom, he writes, had neither the “noblesse” nor “grace” of high birth but had a natural talent that transcended rank and allowed him to embody the roles he played. According to Talma, this natural talent for acting consists of the ability to bring “les vrais accents de la nature” into performance and rests upon the actor’s “sensibilité profonde qui constitue le véritable talent.”80 Talma draws a lineage from Lekain to himself, and thus from the Enlightenment to the Revolution, based upon the expression of naturalness and sensibility: Selon moi, la sensibilité n’est pas seulement cette faculté que l’acteur a de s’émouvoir facilement lui-même, d’ébranler son être au point d’imprimer à ses traits, et surtout à sa voix, cette expression, ces accents de douleur qui viennent réveiller toute la sympathie du cœur, et provoquer les larmes de ceux qui l’écoutent; j’y comprends encore l’effet qu’elle produit, l’imagination dont elle est la source.81

The actor’s sensibility is what allows him to become the part he plays: to impress on his features and voice the expressions and accentuations appropriate to the part. Sensibility is also key to the actor’s ability to communicate that sentiment to the audience and awaken the spectator’s sympathy, and expand his or her imagination. Talma rejects the notion that self-mastery is the best means to move the audience, put forward by Diderot in the Paradoxe sur le comédien.82 On the contrary, he writes: “ce n’est que par un excès de sensibilité qu’il parviendra à produire des impressions profondes, et à émouvoir même les âmes les plus froids.”83 It is not Talma, Mémoires de Lekain, pp. 22 and 11, respectively. Talma, Mémoires de Lekain, p. 34. 82 Talma’s emphasis on sensibility is part of a vehement rejection of Diderot’s notion 80


of acting put forth in the posthumously published Paradoxe sur le comédien (first published 1830). Talma and other actors of his generation would have seen an early version of the Paradoxe that appeared in the Correspondance littéraire in 1770 under the title “Garrick ou les acteurs anglais.” The “paradox” of acting, according to Diderot, who took Garrick as his model, lies in the fact that in order to move the audience the actor must himself remain unmoved. It is not l’homme sensible who makes for the best actor; rather, the most moving performance is the result of calculation and sang-froid (“C’est l’extrême sensibilité qui fait les acteurs médiocres; c’est la sensibilité médiocre qui fait la multitude des mauvais acteurs; et c’est le manque absolu de sensibilité qui prépare les acteurs sublimes. Les larmes du comédien descendent de son cerveau ; celles de l’homme sensible montent de son cœur”; Œuvres esthétiques, p. 313). Diderot began to recognize the shortcomings of sensibility later in his career, especially in terms of the possibility for action. Talma’s polemic against Diderot asserts that sensibility, not self-mastery, is the source of the actor’s talent. The insistence by actors and orators on sensibility as the source of talent and virtue moreover counters Dorinda Outram’s argument that self-mastery is the foundation of Revolutionaryera comportment (The Body and the Revolution). Talma and his contemporaries understood the actor’s art in terms of a superabundance of sensibility. 83 Talma, Réflexion sur Lekain, pp. 38–9.

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just sensibility but an excess of sensibility that constitutes the actor’s ability to move audiences. This superabundance of feeling allows the actor to enter “dans les situations les plus tragiques, dans les passions les plus terribles, comme si elles étaient les siennes propres.”84 It is not only by feeling the passions of the character he plays that the actor is convincing in his role and moves the souls of his spectators; he must become the character. Talma provides a sympathetic model of acting—a proto-type of method acting—not through the study of the appearance of passions but by feeling them himself, as if the characters’ situations and reactions “were his own.” For him, nature and truth lie “au fond du cœur”; he thus promotes the Rousseauian notion that the source of true human values was not the intellect but sentiment, and it was from this that the actor drew in order to build the character and scene he then performs spontaneously.85 The actor’s talent was the ability to make a text sensible to spectators—to animate it through sensibility and an expression of the passions that communicated directly to the hearts of the audience. However, Talma also saw the player’s talent and sensibility as historically determined. For him, the revolution in theater and acting was not the product of speculative thinking on the part of the philosophes, or a classical notion of selfmastery, but was grounded in the actual emotions and events of his time. He writes that the Revolution—in the violent scenes and emotions it conjured—served as his school for studying the passions: On me permettra de consigner ici une observation que m’ont suggérée les grands événements de la Révolution: car les crises violentes dont elle m’a rendu témoin m’ont souvent servi d’étude. L’homme du monde et l’homme du peuple, si opposés par leur langage, ont souvent, dans les grandes agitations de l’âme, la même expression: l’un oublie ses manières sociales, l’autre quitte ses formes vulgaires; l’un redescend à la nature, l’autre y remonte, tous deux dépouillent l’homme artificiel, pour n’être plus vraiment qu’hommes.86

In contrast to the unnatural separation of man into unequal classes, the passions are democratic; they unmask the manners of the rich and give eloquence to the simple. Thus, for Talma, the passions return man to his true nature, and the eloquence that arises is an expression of the natural. This eloquence of the passions expresses man’s natural equality by rendering all “nothing more truly than men.” Whereas Voltaire’s article on “éloquence” in the Encyclopédie opens with the line “La nature rend les hommes éloquents dans les grands intérêts et dans les grandes passions,” referring to verbal eloquence, Talma imagines eloquence in terms of gestural expressivity alone.87 As he writes, the different classes are “opposed by their language” yet are united by the natural jeu muet that attends strong emotion. Drawing from the Revolution for another example, he continues: 86 87 84


Talma, Réflexions sur Lekain, p. 32. Talma, Réflexions sur Lekain, p. 42. Talma, Réflexions sur Lekain, p. 33. Encyclopédie, vol. 5, p. 529.

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Supposez de même un homme du peuple et un homme de cour tombés tous deux dans les accès violents, soit de la jalousie, soit de la vengeance; ces deux hommes, si différents par leur habitudes, seront les mêmes par leur frénésie. Ils offriront dans leurs fureurs la même expression; leurs regards, leurs traits, leurs gestes, leurs attitudes, leurs mouvements prendront tout à coup un caractère terrible, grand, solennel, digne dans tous deux et du pinceau du peintre et de l’étude de l’acteur.88

This imagined scene and its physical language of sensibility expresses the presocial externalization of universal feelings. The equation of l’homme du monde and l’homme du peuple is here expressed through the democratizing emotions that unite them in one true nature, one universal humanity. For Talma there is a real political dimension to the depiction of emotion. Equality was now a declared right and leading principle of the Revolution. Suffering removes all rank of society and thereby allows humankind to express its true nature. Talma imagines here a radical social leveling of all strata into one true and natural humankind. For him, the Revolution had in fact freed man to express not only his true nature but also an ideal nature: Les grands mouvements de l’âme élèvent l’homme à une nature idéale, dans quelque rang que le sort l’ait placé. La Révolution, qui a mis tant de passions en jeu, n’a-t-elle pas eu des orateurs populaires qui ont étonnés par des traits sublimes d’une éloquence non recherchée, et par une expression et des accents que Lékain même n’eut pas désavoués? (emphasis in original).89

The great movements of the soul—in life and art—elevate man to an “ideal nature,” he writes. Talma sees this ideal nature as being captured in the passionate speeches of the orators of the Revolution, whose natural expressions and “sublime” eloquence are the “unrehearsed” products of deep-felt emotion. The orators’ great passion and suasion, he says, would have received Lekain’s enthusiastic approval. He thus lauds their art and erases it at the same time by emphasizing its spontaneous and unrehearsed character. The ideal nature achieved in these moments of great sensibility was worthy, he says, of the painter’s brush or the actor’s application, or might even inspire “un de ces mots, une de ces expressions sublimes qui pourront peut-être aussi mériter d’être recueillis par le poëte.”90 The orator’s spontaneous improvisation rises to the level of art, to sublime expressions for poets and artists to record. In other words, the orator’s action, like the actor’s, does not merely animate a text; it is now producer of one. The playwright Jean François Ducis worked closely with Talma, and in his memoirs he describes the process by which Talma’s pantomime managed both to animate and produce the dramatic text: Talma, Réflexions sur Lekain, pp. 31–3. Talma, Réflexions sur Lekain, p. 33. 90 Talma, Réflexions sur Lekain, p. 43. 88 89

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[...] un seul son de sa voix, un seul regard donnait tout à coup l’idée du morceau ou de la situation la plus pathétique; dans la chambre et en causant avec un ami, sa sensibilité s’ébranlit presque comme en présence d’un public rassemblé; il s’échauffait sur les sujets, les voyait d’avance au théâtre, les jouait avant qu’ils eussent un seul vers de fait; il se voyait sur la scène, il sentait ce que tel ou tel caractère devait faire et dire en telle ou telle circonstance, il marchait, il s’écriait, c’était une improvisation sublime; on pouvait, pour ainsi dire, écrire sous sa dictée.91

As Ducis describes here, Talma was capable of embodying the most tragic scenes with his pantomime even before they were written. The expression of the narrative action by the body now precedes its writing, and the author, as Florence Filippi has observed, has only to record “la partition que l’acteur interprète sous ses yeux.”92 Talma’s silent pantomime thus becomes itself the creator of the dramatic text, putting the performing body rather than the text at the forefront of theatrical production. Just as the belief that performance could reveal the true self served to destabilize the borders between the natural and theatrical, so the belief that the body spoke more truthfully than words served to destabilize the borders between script and performance, text and meaning. This represents a complete reversal of the roles of actor and author from what they had been at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Prior to the Revolution, actors had been placed on a lower rung than authors and orators because they merely delivered the words of others. The elaborate theorizing and codifying of the actor’s art during the Enlightenment, and the active engagement of the actors themselves in this process—particularly luminaries such as Lekain, Garrick, and Talma—did much to professionalize the métier and raise the status of the players. With Talma in particular, actors were now considered the equals of orators and playwrights. The corporeal text À la mort de César, j’imagine un de nos orateurs, voulant émouvoir le peuple épuiser tous lieux communs de l’art pour faire une pathétique description de ses plaies, de son sang, de son cadavre: Antoine, quoique éloquent, ne dit point tout cela; il fait apporter le corps. Quelle rhétorique! —Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, ou de l’Éducation (1761)93

Historian Antoine de Baecque has chronicled the practice that emerged during the Terror of presenting the wounded bodies of young soldiers before the National Qtd. in Florence Filippi, “Les comédiens contre le texte: acteurs en quête d’autorité dans le répertoire révolutionnaire,” in Martial Poirson, ed., Le théâtre sous la Révolution: politique du répertoire (1789–1799) (Paris: Éditions Desjonquères, 2008), p. 166. 92 Filippi, “Les comédiens contre le texte,” p. 166. 93 Rousseau, Émile, ou de l’Éducation, Michel Launay, ed. (Paris: Flammarion, 1966), pp. 422–3. 91


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Assembly as moving spectacles of the extreme sacrifices made for the patrie.94 On 6 June 1793, for example, a seventeen-year-old soldier named Lavigne, whose arms had been blasted off by a cannonball, was brought before the National Assembly to receive a civic crown in honor of his service. The effect on the audience was recorded by a journalist: “Sa présence et les larmes qui coulent abondamment de ses yeux excitent la plus grande émotion; elles inspirent les sentiments de tendresse, d’amour pour la patrie et de haine contre les ennemis de notre liberté.”95 This exemplifies the extreme rhetorical strategy of having “the body brought in” described by Rousseau in the epigraph above. Lavigne’s mutilated body and silent, streaming tears spoke his great suffering eloquently to those present. As de Baecque describes, “The wounded, their injuries carefully bandaged, speak little. The orators take it upon themselves to express their suffering and glory.”96 It is the representatives of the people who articulate the body’s meaning into a coherent political discourse. They speak for the victims, these malheureux silenced by the nation’s enemies, and channel the emotions they inspire to political ends. This éloquence du malheur forges an emotional link leading from the suffering body of the people to the mobilization of the political body. Almost one hundred anonymous wounded soldiers were presented to the National Assembly between spring 1792 and summer 1794. De Baecque likens this pageant of wounds to tragic dramaturgy (“played by the revolutionaries themselves, renewed perpetually and every day, a tragedy on the theme of the glory of a fragile, wounded body”).97 However, the display of these silent victims, and the excessive emotionalism they elicit, shares more with the emerging theatrical form of the melodrama than with tragedy. It is not the deaths of tragic heroes that are brought before the Assembly—this would be reserved for the quasi-religious pageant of martyrs to come—but the lived suffering of everyday victims associated more with the popular melodramas and pantomimes dialoguées of the day. Indeed, the theaters of Paris at the time displayed a preponderance of mute and mutilated characters, as Peter Brooks notes: Mutes correspond first of all to a repeated use of extreme physical conditions to represent extreme moral and emotional conditions: as well as mutes, there are blind men, paralytics, invalids of various sorts whose very physical presence evokes the extremism and hyperbole of ethical conflict and manichaeistic

94 Antoine de Baecque, Body Politic: Corporeal Metaphor in Revolutionary France, 1770–1800. Trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp.  280–307. Through the display of sacrificed bodies—and particularly the wounds of these bodies—the revolutionaries, he argues, sought to “control the emotions linked to the exhibition of wounded bodies: it is the work of the pedagogues to channel such a sensibility into a coherent political discourse” (p. 287). 95 Qtd. in de Baecque, Body Politic, p. 287. 96 De Baecque, Body Politic, p. 299. 97 De Baecque, Body Politic, p. 306.

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struggle. In the gallery of mutilations and deprivations, however, the mutes have a special place.98

These mute characters are often silenced by evil forces and subjected to other cruel physical and psychological abuse. In the most popular play of 1797, a “pantomime féerie” entitled, L’Enfant du malheur, ou les amans muets, for example, the crux of the plot is a curse placed on the hero and heroine by an evil fairy who renders them mute one after the other: “toi qui a préféré l’amour d’une vile muette à tout l’éclat dont je voulais t’environner; dès ce moment tu vas devenir muet comme elle, et [...] vous ne recouvrerez tous deux l’usage de la parole, que lorsque cette mère si tendre et si sensible aura de ses propres mains déchiré le sein de son fils.”99 Evil forces thus conspire to destroy the family, epitomized in the horrific and unnatural curse on the mother to murder her own child. The fortitude of the persecuted couple leads to virtue’s triumph in the end and the safe reunion of the family, but only after their senseless and extreme suffering. The pathos of the victims, and their extreme powerlessness and persecution, is emblematized through loss of speech. Theater thus displays a remarkable heightening of the body’s visible suffering on stage, in physical, not just emotional, terms. As Brooks articulates, moral lessons are spelled out on the body in melodramas, assigning a clear and unambiguously legible meaning to events within a schema of good and evil that resacralizes the world by dramatizing “the cosmic moral sense of everyday gestures.”100 The most famous melodrama to combine the visual style (scenery and pantomime) and stock characters (persecuted heroine, evil villain, virtuous rescuer, and so on) of pantomime with the popular sentimental bourgeois dramas of the end of the century was Guilbert de Pixerécourt’s Cœlina, ou l’enfant du mystère (Ambigu, 1800).101 The center and catalyst of the action of this enormously successful play (387 performances in Paris and more than one thousand in the provinces) is the mute stranger, Francisque, who suffers unspeakable physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the villain, Trugelin. Not only do Trugelin and his lackey continually brutalize and terrorize Francisque but also, after beating Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination, pp. 55–6. “One is tempted to speculate that the different kinds of drama have their corresponding sense deprivations: for tragedy, blindness [...] comedy, deafness [...] melodrama, muteness” (p. 56). 99 Cuvelier de Trie, L’Enfant du malheur, ou les amans muets, pantomime féerie en trois Actes à grande spectacle, mêlée de divertissements, combats, etc. (Paris: Barba, 1817), p. 10 (Act 1, sc. xviii). [TCFD]. 100 Brooks, Melodramatic Imagination, p. 13. The great nineteenth-century dramatist Charles Nodier would later write that melodrama expressed the virtue of the Revolution: “La vertu n’est jamais sans récompense, le crime n’est jamais sans châtiment. Et qu’on n’aille pas s’y tromper! Ce n’était pas peu de chose que le mélodrame, c’était la moralité de la révolution”; introduction to René Charles Guilbert de Pixérecourt, Théâtres choisis, ed. Charles Nodier (Nancy: chez l’auteur, 1841–43). 101 René Charles Guilbert de Pixerécourt, Cœlina, ou L’enfant du mystère: drame en 3 actes, en prose et à grand spectacle (Paris: Barba, 1803). 98

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him mercilessly and stealing his property, they cut out his tongue. His persecutors then enforce a campaign of terror to keep Francisque from ever writing down, or otherwise communicating, his story. His suffering is thus compounded and made more pathetic by the fact that he cannot speak and therefore can neither name his oppressors nor enjoy the sweet consolation of sharing his woe with a sympathetic ear. The personnage muet—a specialty of Pixerécourt—thus suffers without the ability to seek or demand justice. Francisque is nonetheless able to endear himself to the other characters in the play through his expressive pantomime. Monsieur Dufour asks Cœlina and the maid Tiennette, “quel intérêt vous prenez tous à un mendiant que vous ne connaissez pas plus que moi.” Cœlina’s reply is: “Celui qu’inspire le malheur.”102 Tiennette then explains: Quel intérêt, monsieur? Celui que je prends à tous les infortunés. Je ne sais quel est cet homme; j’ignore jusqu’à son nom; mais il a une physionomie si douce, des yeux où se peignent si bien la candeur de son âme, un maintien si décent, il jette sur moi des regards si expressifs [...] oui, monsieur, je le connais en physionomie, je vous réponds que c’est un honnête homme et qu’il a éprouvé de grands malheurs.103

Francisque effectively communicates his suffering and his virtue without a word being spoken. His eyes, his mien, his looks, and his tears all move the others and convince them of his candor and honesty. Like the wounded soldiers paraded before the National Assembly, Francisque’s body speaks the suffering he cannot express verbally. But it is no longer the pantomime of varying emotional states we know from the sentimental drame. Nor is it the passionate action of the revolutionary orators that reveals the speaker’s character through the expression of pathos. Now it is the physically scarred and silenced bodies of persecuted victims. As Brooks notes, dramatic tension is increasingly replaced in melodrama by a series of events involving the pursuit and victimization of virtue by unqualified evil. “La vertu consiste moins dans l’innocence de l’âme que dans la resignation à souffrir l’injustice,” Pixerécourt wrote in Charles, ou les dangers de l’inconduite (1806).104 Virtue is now represented as the passive fortitude of suffering innocence. The sympathetic spectators, Cœlina and Tiennette, read this suffering writ on the body and speak for the victim, expressing in words the truths they see written in Francisque’s face and expressions. As Tiennette says, “Je le connais en physionomie.” His whole character is legible on the body. Tiennette’s comment expresses the shift in the body’s representational mode in French theater of the Revolution from pantomime to physiognomy. According to Johann Jakob Engel in Idées sur le geste et l’action théâtrale, physiognomy is

Pixerécourt, Cœlina, Act I, sc. iv. Pixerécourt, Cœlina, Act I, sc. iv. 104 Pixerécourt, Charles, ou les dangers de l’inconduite (Paris: Barba, 1806), Act I, sc. 102


xiv. [TCFD]

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un art semblable à celui de la Pantomime, car tous les deux s’occupent à saisir l’expression de l’âme dans les modifications du corps; avec cette différence cependant que le premier dirigé ses recherches sur des traits fixes et permanents, d’après lesquels on peut juger du caractère de l’homme en général et l’autre sur les mouvements momentanés du corps, qui indiquant telle ou telle situation particulière de l’âme.105

The distinction between pantomime and physiognomy signals the transition from the sentimental to the melodramatic body. Emphasis is placed in melodrama on the embodied and fixed truth of the self (physiognomy), rather than the passing states of mind legible through the play of emotions over the face and body (pantomime). Protagonists are virtue incarnate, antagonists vice itself; transcendent categories of truth and morality are thus, as Brooks notes, made immanent and embodied by individuals.106 But the body of melodrama also serves as a sign of the great crimes the vicious acted out on the bodies of the innocent. The victim’s innocence is to some extent made legible on the body as a result of the visible signs of crime and pain written on it. Francisque’s mutilated body thus serves as a double sign: of the great cruelty perpetrated against him, and of the pain his victimized innocence suffers as a result. Francisque’s particular anguish thus stands as an emblem of suffering and loss for all those who fell victim to the Revolution, a monument of pain both collective and permanent. Conclusion The optimism about human nature that spread throughout Europe in the last decades of the Ancien Régime—based in part on the new confidence in the power of human reason and in part on the belief that certain natural sentiments, sentiments that all people were capable of feeling, were the basis of morality—led a generation of revolutionaries to attach their hopes for a political and social regeneration of France to new notions of virtue and moral sentiment. This fundamental faith in sentiment that underwrote social and political relations in France, and fostered the view that government’s role was to promote greater liberty and virtue, ceded 105 J.J. Engel, Idées sur le geste et l’action théâtrale (Paris, 1795; repr. Geneva: Slatkine, 1979), vol. 1, p. 5. 106 A number of scholars have attempted to articulate the differences between sentimentality and melodrama, whether on the basis of narrative structure, on kind or degree of expression, or on the relation of signs and the meaning and order they signify; see respectively Cohen, The Sentimental Education of the Novel, p. 140; Denby, Sentimental Narrative, p. 58 and pp. 87–8; and Andress, “Living the Revolutionary Melodrama,” pp. 105–11. These distinctions are usually made with reference to the novel and the manichean politics associated with Robespierre rather than to theater or the lived experience of the people during the Revolution. Like Brooks, I locate the transformation to melodrama in representations of the body on the Revolutionary stage, but focus here on the particular shift in the body’s eloquence from pantomime to physiognomy.


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by the end of the century to a melodramatic notion of abject suffering and loss. In 1798, when the Institut de France hosted an essay competition on the subject “Quels sont les moyens de fonder la morale chez un peuple?” it did not have a winner.107 One year later, in 1799, Guilbert de Pixerécourt’s melodrama, Cœlina, ou l’enfant du mystère (1800) took the stage, ushering in a new era for the theater, just as Napoleon Bonaparte’s successful coup d’état of 18 Brumaire (November 1799) ushered in a new era of politics. When David learned of Napoleon’s seizure of power, he is said to have remarked: “I have always thought that we are not virtuous enough to be republicans.”108 Talma, like David and other artists of his generation, was shaped by the experience of Revolution, and his art was shaped by it as well. He gave virtue a body, breathing life and energy into David’s static Roman figures with the emotive persuasion of sensibility and naturalness not before seen on the French stage. For him, sensibility could communicate true virtue, and only virtue could animate the expressions of sensibility. A bridge between eighteenth-century sensibilité and nineteenth-century Romanticism, Talma’s acting innovations and gestural prowess helped prepare the way for melodrama’s emergence at the century’s end and for the Romantic drama of the nineteenth century.

107 Denby, Sentimental Narrative in France, p. 175. The contest was overseen by Bernardin de Saint Pierre, author of the bestselling sentimental novel, Paul et Virginie (1788). 108 Qtd. in Simon Lee, David (London: Phaidon, 2000), p. 234.

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Index Abraham, 175 actio, 199–200, 201–19, 222 actors, 1, 2, 22, 76–78, 99, 111, 127–64, 183, 196–224 D’Alembert, Jean le Rond, 201n15, 213–14 Alexis et Rosette (Guillemain), 49 Alfieri, Louise (Comtesse de), 34, 41, 42 Alfieri, Vittorio, 18, 168, 179–80, 183 De L’Allemagne (Staël), 209 Althusser, Louis, 122 Amar, André, 155–56 L’Ami des lois (Laya), 8, 9, 129, 134, Anderson, Benedict, 64, 97, 123 Andress, David, 13, 90, 161, 223 Andries, Lise, 150–51 Andrieux, François-Guillaume-JeanStanislas, 180, 196 anglomania, 134 anti-clericalism in theater, 32n57, 53, 139n50 anti-Pamelists, 136, 142n62 Arendt, Hannah, 150n86 Aristotle, 28, 205 Arnauld (J.-F. Mussot), 28, 53 L’Artiste patriote (Dupuis), 85–86 Aude, Joseph (dit Le Chevalier), 109, 110, 112 Augustine of Hippo, 167 Aulard, François-Alphonse, 203 Austin, J. L., 17, 101, 120 Baculard d’Arnaud, François-ThomasMarie de, 52n137, 55 Baecque, Antoine de, 106, 198, 199, 219–20 Bailly, Jean Sylvain, 88, 89, 103, 187 Baker, Felicity, 124 Baker, Keith Michael, 195n58 ballet, 32, 33, 44, 45, 48–49, 54 Le Barbier de Séville (Beaumarchais), 34, 35, 37, 56n154

Barère, Bertrand, 128n4, 138, 139, 140 Barnave, Antoine, 201, 208 Barré, Pierre-Yves, 21n12, 25, 44 Barthes, Roland, 71, 74–75 Bastille commemoration of storming of, 85, 93, 96 fall of, 53, 55, 85, 86, 87n82, 93, 95, 96, 192 represented in theater, 93–96, 111 Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron, 4, 8, 16, 30, 34–43, 45, 56, 99 La Belle fermière (Candeille), 4, 45, 49 Bender, John B., 73 Benveniste, Emile, 114 Bercé, Yves-Marie, 107 Bernardin de St-Pierre, Jacques Henri, 23, 146n72, 224 Billaud-Varenne, Jean-Nicolas, 68 Blaise et Babet, 60 Blum, Carol, 151n91, 152–53 Bonnet, Charles, 201 Le Bon père (Florian), 22 Bordes, Philippe, 88–90 Bourdieu, Pierre, 17, 108 bourgeois drame, see drame bourgeoisie, 40, 90–91, 179 Brissot, Jacques-Pierre, 208 Britain anglomania, 134 model of constitutionalism, 140 reactions to French Revolution, 78–80, 93–94, 97, 99, 125–26, 188, 204 theatrical representations of French Revolution, 93–96, 140 war with, 140–41 Brookner, Anita, 88 Brooks, Peter, xi, 200, 220–23 Bruto Primo (Alfieri), 168, 179–80, 183 Brutus (Voltaire), 3, 18, 140, 163–96 Brutus, Lucius Junius, 17, 163–96


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Brutus, Marcus, 157, 189 Bryson, Norman, 67 Bryson, Scott, 67, 70 Buckley, Matthew S., xi, 87 Burke, Edmund, 81n63, 94, 116, 188 Butler, Judith P., 18, 121n82 Cahusac, Louis de, 212 Cailhava, Jean-François, 28 Caïus Gracchus (Chénier), 3, 4, 50 Calland, Étienne, 194 Candeille, Julie, 45, 49 Caplan, Jay, 67, 75, 82n66, 86 Carentan, Jullien de, 127, 129, 138, 143 Carlson, Marvin, 6, 7, 134n28, 140 Catherine the Great, 157 Le Censeur dramatique (newspaper), 34, 42 Charles IX, ou l’École des rois (Chénier), 1, 4, 16, 50, 134, 140, 209 Chartier, Roger, 87 La Chaste Suzanne (Barré, Desfontaines, Radet), 9 Chateaubriand, François-Auguste-René de, 209 Chénier, André, 156–57, 171 Chénier, Marie-Joseph, 1, 3, 4, 8, 16, 50–55, 134, 140, 163, 164–65, 169, 173, 182, 195, 209 children illegitimate, 37–8, 40 parent relations with, 39, 53, 112 represented in revolutionary theater, 55–62, 83–84, 112, 117–20 and the Revolution, 62–63, 117 La Chronique de Paris (newspaper), 47, 171, 184, 185 Cicero, 202 Les Citoyens français, ou le Triomphe de la Révolution (Vaqué), 2 civisme carte de, 154, 155 definition of, 68, 86, 129 sensibilité and, 68, 89–90, 152, 154 incivisme, 127, 143, 144, 157, 159 Clairon, Mlle (actress), 205, 213, 215 Clarissa (Richardson), 82n64, 127, 128, 132, 149n85, 155 Cléreaux, Mlle, case of, 145–46, 154

Cobourg, Friedrich, Prince of Saxe-, 141n55, 143, 149 Cœlina, ou l’Enfant du mystère (Pixerécourt), 221–24 Cohen, Margaret, 64n176, 174 Collin d’Harleville, Jean-François, 21–22 Collot d’Herbois, Jean-Marie, 4, 17, 94, 111–25, 158, 207 comédie d’intrigue, 36, 43 Comédie-Française, 1, 18, 26, 86, 127–61, 183–84, 190 comédie larmoyante, 28, 31–32, 43 comédie sérieuse, 28–29, 30, 50 comedy, 19–64 commedia dell’arte, 22 commemoration, 93, 96, 106, 115–16, 125 Commentaire sur le théâtre de Voltaire (La Harpe), 171 Committee for Public Safety, 127, 137–38, 141, 143 Condorcet, Marquis de, 168 Confédération nationale du 14 juillet (pamphlet), 115 convent dramas, 52–54, 55 Corday, Charlotte, 156–57 Corneille, Pierre, 209 Cornelia, 191 Correspondance littéraire, 19, 22–23, 49n128, 55, 57, 114n64, 179, 182, 183n80, 216n82 coup de théâtre, 51n137, 66, 90, Le Courrier de Paris (newspaper), 184, 209 Le Couvent, ou les Fruits du caractère et de l’éducation (Laujon), 53 Crow, Thomas E., 146–47, 148, 188n98 Cuvelier de Trie, Jean-Guillaume-Antoine, 24n22, 83, 85 Dalayrac, Nicolas, 44, 55–70 Danton, Georges-Jacques, 18, 34, 201, 203, 209 David, Jacques-Louis, 18, 68, 86–90, 163, 164, 168, 171, 173, 180–85, 224 La Décade philosophique (newspaper), 65, 67, 133 Deffand, Marie Anne de, 46 Les Démocrates et les aristocrates (Gouges), 94, 100 Demosthenes, 202, 204

Index Denby, David, 14, 46, 82 Derrida, Jacques, 122n85 Desan, Suzanne, 49, 182n77, 191 Le Déserteur (Gardel), 45, 47–49 Le Déserteur (Mercier), 45, 47, 178–80 Le Déserteur (Sedaine), 16, 45–50 Desfontaines (François-Georges Fouques Deshayes), 21n12 Desfontaines, Pierre-François Guyot, l’abbé, 167 Desmoulins, Camille, 4, 18, 110, 149, 187–88 Les Deux chasseurs et la laitière (Anseaume), 4 Les Deux petits savoyards (Marsollier), 16, 19–20, 55–62 Le Devin du village (Rousseau), 4 Diderot, Denis, 4, 28, 30, 31, 32, 35n70, 36, 42, 46, 63, 65–90, 172–73, 210, 212, 216–17 Didier, Béatrice, xi, 7, 32, 35, 37, 106 Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 167 Discours sur le serment civique (Mulot), 114 Dorothée (Arnauld), 28, 53 La Dot (Desfontaines), 4, 60 drame conventions of, 19, 36, 48 critique of, 27, 43, 51n139 debate on, 30–32 definition of, 29–30, 30–33, 35–36, 51 drame historique, 50, 54 drame-lyrique, 44, 45 drame sombre, 52 effect on audience, 46–47, 62–64, 184–85 flourishing of during Revolution, 31–32, 42, 44 melodrama and, 37, 52, 222 the novel and, 32, 35n70, 43 republican politics and, 30, 141 tragedy and, 50–51, 185 Ducis, Jean-François, 214, 218–19 Duclos, Charles, 73–74 Dugazon (actor), 214 Dulaure, Jacques-Antoine, 203, 206 Dupuis, Amable-Joseph, 85–87 Edelstein, Dan, 130 Edney, David, 38


Ehrard, Antoinette, 181–82 Ehrard, Jean, 181–82 Ellison, Julie, 182 Éloge de Richardson (Richardson) 42n101, 72, 77, 82 eloquence, 197–219 Encore un Brutus (Calland), 194 Encyclopédie, 167, 208, 211–12, 213–14, 217 L’Enfant de malheur ou Les Amants muets (Cuvelier de Trie), 24n22, 83, 221 Engel, Johann Jakob, 210, 222–23 Entretiens sur le Fils naturel (Diderot), 28, 66, 71–72, 212 L’Époux généreux, ou le Pouvoir des procédés (Dejaure), 22 Les Épreuves de misanthropie et de repentir (Jouy and Longchamps), 49 Les Épreuves du républicain, ou L› Amour de la patrie (Laugier), 145n69, 148, 150 De l’Esprit (Helvétius), 172 L’Esprit des journaux (newspaper), 27 L’Essai sur le genre dramatique sérieux (Beaumarchais), 35, 36, 41 Etienne, Charles-Guillaume, 5–6 Fabre d’Eglantine, Philippe-FrançoisNazaire, 21–22, 23, 27, 29, 63, 207 Fabre d’Olivet, Antoine, 68, 84–85, 91–92 La Famille patriote (Collot d’Herbois), 93, 109–26 family bourgeois versus aristocratic, 40–41, 52, 112, 124–25 drame and, 62, 72 as foundation of the state, 113–14, 124–25 as metaphor of the nation, 40, 61, 111–14, 125, 191 reform of, 40–41, 53, 61, 191 tableau of, 75, 84–85, 91–92, 221 tragic conflict with state, 163–92 women and, 156 The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Hunt), 13, 113n56, 124–25, 190–91 Favret, Mary, 78–80 fédérés, 97, 99, 112 Fénelon (Chénier), 16, 50–55


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

Fénelon, François, 52, 54 Festa, Lynn, 12, 14, 15, 130, 143, 160, 161 festivals, see Fête de la Fédération and revolutionary festivals Fête de la Fédération (1790), 17, 78, 85, 94, 95, 96–126, 163 Feuille du salut public (newspaper), 136, 141, 155 Filippi, Florence, 219 Fleury (Abraham Joseph Bénard), 134, 143, 207, 214 Fliegelman, Jay, 207–8 Fontenelle, Bernard le Bovier de, 168 Foucault, Michel, 8, 69–71, 198 Fouquier-Tinville, Antoine Quentin, 154, 158 France, Peter, 200 François de Neufchâteau, Nicolas, 17, 127–61 Frantz, Pierre, 23, 29, 40, 67, 75, 183, 208 French Revolution 4 August, 137 compared to American, 144n66, 207 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, 1, 70, 152, 192, 193, 201 fall of the Bastille, 53, 55, 85, 86, 87n82, 93, 96, 192 foreign views of, 78–80, 93–94, 97, 99, 125–26, 188, 195, 204 Marxist approaches to, 8, 99 representations of in theater, 37, 85–86, 93–96, 100, 102, 109–26 sentimental rhetoric of, 10, 130–32, 144, 145–51, 197–208 Tennis Court Oath, 88, 98, 113 Fried, Michael, 67, 75–76, 89–90, 206 Friedland, Paul, 2n6, 4n21, 8n35, 31n52, 200n12, 208n48 Furet, François, 7–8 Gaiffe, Félix, 20, 30, 31–33, 36n76 Gardel, Pierre, 54 Gardel, Maximilien, 45, 47–49 Garrick, David, 210–15, 219 Gazette nationale (newspaper), 137, 141 Le Génie de la nation, 84–85, 91–92 Genlis, Stéphanie-Félicité de, 46 genre classification of, 27–29, 49–51, 75–76 definitions of, 20–34, 50–51 hierarchy, 26–29

mixed, 23–25, 26, 30–32, 33, 51 political dimensions of, 25–26, 30 Germani, Ian, 49 Girondins, 140, 154, 164 Goldoni, Carlo, 135–37, 140, 141 Goodden, Angelica, 199n8, 210 Gouges, Olympe de, 17, 52n141, 94, 100, 102–3, 107, 109, 111, 157 La Gouvernante (Guillemain), 32 Grétry, André-Ernest-Modeste, 43, 44, 45, 47–50 Greuze, Jean-Baptiste, 69, 84–85 Grimm, Friedrich Melchior, 46n115, 48–49, 55, 182, 183 Guillaume Tell (Lemierre), 3, 44, 191 Guillaume Tell (Sedaine), 44 Gutwirth, Madelyn, 32n57, 40n93 Habermas, Jürgen, 8 Hapdé, Jean-Baptiste-Augustin, 18 Hayes, Julie Candler, 71 Helvétius, Claude Adrien, 172–73 Henri IV, 92 Hérault de Séchelles, Marie-Jean, 140, 200, 204–8 Herbert, Robert L., 165, 168 Higonnet, Patrice, 130n16 Huet, Marie-Hélène, 8, 76–78, 105, 145n69, 148–49, 165, 171, 173, 175, 181 Hunt, Lynn Avery, 8, 13, 67, 105, 112–13, 124–24, 165, 177, 190–91 hypocrisy, 38–40, 142–43, 149–51, 159, 194, Hyslop, Beatrice F., 9n42, 20, 43n107 Iffland, August Wilhelm, 42 Imagined communities of the nation, 64, 78–82, 97, 122–24 forged by sentimental theater, 62–64, 143 sympathy and, 41–42, 143 see also sympathetic community Imagined Community (Anderson), 64, 97n12 Jacobin Club, 124, 138, 164 Jauffret, Eugène, 6 Johnson, Claudia L., 14, 15 Le Journal de la Montagne (newspaper), 51, 54

Index Le Journal de Paris (newspaper), 21, 57, 89, 127n3, 215 Le Journal des spectacles (newspaper), 135 Le Journaliste des ombres, ou Momus aux Champs-Elysées (Aude), 69 Le Journal universel (newspaper), 163 Jouy, Victor, 44 Kennedy, Emmet, 8–10, 11, 13, 22, 24–25, 30, 49, 59–60 Kornmann affair, 37 Kotzebue, Auguste von, 42, 44 La Chaussée, Nivelle de, 28, 32 La Harpe, Jean-François, 19, 26, 163, 168, 171, 185–86 Lafayette, Marquis de, 97, 100–103, 125 Larive (actor), 214, 215 Laugier, Jean-Marie, 148, 150 Laujon, Pierre, 53 Lavater, Johann Kaspar, 149, 198n4 Laveaux, Jean-Charles, 51, 54 Laya, Jean-Louis, 8, 9, 128n4, 129, 134, 137 Le Chapelier Law, 2, 26, 27 Legouvé, Gabriel, 51n137, 83n70 Leichman, Jeffrey, 44n99 Lekain (actor), 206, 210, 218, 219 Lemierre, Antoine, 3, 44 Lenient, Charles, 28 Lepeletier, Louis-Michel, 192 Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles (Rousseau), 12, 21, 36, 137, 155, 157–58 Letzter, Jacqueline, 44 Les Licteurs rapportent à Brutus les corps de ses fils (David), 164, 180–85, 181 De la littérature (Staël), 202 Livy, 165, 167, 173–75, 179, 180 Louis XVI, 9, 18, 92, 100–105, 107, 140, 151, 153, 185–90, 210 Louis XVIII, 195n123, 209 Louise et Volsan (Dejaure), 23 Loustallot, Elysée, 81–82, 110 Louvet de Coudray, Jean-Baptiste, 161n127, 164, 189 Lüsebrink, Hans-Jürgen, 13, 146 Lynch, Deirdre, 211


Magelssen, Scott, 97n12, 111n48 Malesherbe, Guillaume Chrétien de Lamoignon de, 201 Mallet du Pan, 207 Manlius Torquatus, 177 Marat, Jean-Paul, 54, 140, 145n69, 156, 157, 192 Maréchal, Sylvain, 8, 23 Le Mariage de Figaro (Beaumarchais), 34, 35, 37, 55–56 Marie-Antoinette, 156, 186 Marivaux, Pierre, 2, 23 Marmontel, Jean-François, 29, 208 marriage as civil contract, 113, 114 despotism in, 52–54 divorce, 38 as metaphor of social contract, 112–13, 114–15 political dimensions of, 113–17, 120 vows, 17, 94, 113–15, 120 Marrinan, Michael, 73 Marsollier des Vivetières, Benoît-Joseph de, 16, 44, 55–62, 63 Martainville, Alphonse, 5–6 Martini, T.P.E., 45 Marx, Karl, 166n10 Maslan, Susan, 1n3, 8n35, 9n41, 16n61, 22n15, 77n50, 105n30, 133n25 Mason, James Frederick, 28 Maza, Sarah, 13, 72, 145–46 McDonald, Christie, 40 melodrama, xi, 7, 18, 23, 24, 25, 33, 37, 42, 49, 55, 145–46, 194, 200, 219–24 Melodramatic Imagination (Brooks), xi, 220–21 Ménil, Alain, 63–64 Mercier, Louis-Sébastien, 30, 31, 45, 47, 54, 59, 69, 72, 73, 152, 163, 164, 168, 171–72, 178, 196, 197, 206–7, 214 Mercure de France (newspaper), 48, 52n141 Mercure de Paris (newspaper), 203, 206 La Mère coupable (Beaumarchais), 4, 16, 34–43, 45 Michelet, Jules, 103–4, 107, 114–15 Mirabeau, comte de, 18, 85–86, 88, 163, 199, 201, 203–4, 206


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

Misanthropie et repentir (Kotzebue), 44 Molé, François René (actor), 203, 214 Molière, 3, 8, 23, 38, 99 Monsigny, Pierre-Antoine, 44, 45, 47 Montesquieu, Louis Secondat, Baron de, 160n126, 168n22 Monvel (Jacques-Marie Boutet de), 47, 52, 55, 102n27, 214 Mornet, Daniel, 11 Morrison, Charles-François-Gabriel, 187 La Mort de César (Voltaire), 3, 189n106 Mossé, Claude, 169 motherhood, 4, 40n96, 83–85, 156–57, 191, 221 Moy, Charles-Alexandre de, 206, 207 Mucius Scævola, 3, 188, 193 Nadeau, Martin, 215 Nanine (Voltaire), 3, 32, 136–37 Napoleon, 18, 37n79, 159, 196n125, 209, 224 National Convention, 2, 128, 140–41, 154, 155–56, 164, 186–88, 206 National Guard, 96, 97, 99, 117, 125 Netter, Marie-Laurence, 21–22, 24–25, 30 Nina (Marsollier), 55 Nina (Paisiello), 55 La Nouvelle Héloïse (Rousseau), 11, 76, 132n21, 174, 201n18 oath, see revolutionary oaths opéra-comique, 32–33, 43–50 L’Optimiste, (Collin d’Harleville), 19 Outram, Dorinda, 132, 182n77, 185, 198 Ozouf, Mona, 8, 105–6, 109n42, 110 Pamela maritata (Goldoni), 141 Pamela nubile (Goldoni), 135 Pamela (Richardson), 17, 134 Paméla (Neufchâteau), 9, 17, 127–96 pantomime, 210, 214–16, 221–23 Paradoxe sur le comédien (Diderot), 73, 216–17 Paul et Virginie (Bernardin de SaintPierre), 23 Paul et Virginie (Favières and Kreutzer), 23 Le Père de famille (Diderot), 4, 32 performativity, xii, 7, 13–14, 17, 96, 100–101, 105, 107–9, 120–24, 158, 197–208

Le Philinte de Molière, ou la Suite du Misanthrope (Fabre d’Eglantine), 22, 23, 27 Philippe d’Egalité, 164 Philippe et Georgette (Monvel), 47, Le Philosophe sans le savoir (Sedaine), 23, 43 Piis, Augustin de, 110 Pitt, William, 149 Pixerécourt, René Charles Guilbert de, 30, 42, 194, 221–24 Plutarch, 11, 165, 167, 173–75, 179, 180 political authority, 60, 67, 107–8, 208 Portiez, L.-F.-R., 202 Portrait du vrai patriote, 197 Prairial, Law of, 152 La Prise de la Bastille (P. David), 111 La Prise de la Bastille (Désaugiers), 96–97 Programme de la fête civique (Saudray), 103 Projet de constitution pour la Corse (Rousseau), 122–23 Qu’est-ce que le Tiers État (Sieyès), 61 Racine, Jean, 209 Radet, Jean-Baptiste, 44 Reddy, William, 13–14, 160–61 Réflexions sur la déclamation (Hérault), 18, 200, 204–8 Réflexions sur Lekain (Talma), 18, 199–200, 203, 215–18 Réfutation d’Helvétius (Diderot), 172–73 Régaldo, Marc, 31, 32, 33, 45, 50 Reichler, Claude, 209 Renard, Madame (actress), 57 Renwick, John, 121n82, 173, 190–91, 201 republicanism classical, 130–31 sentimentality and, 18, 44, 68, 89–90, 130–32, 140–41, 152, 154, 159–61, 165, 182–85 versus liberal democracy, 130–32, 176 of Year II, 130–32 Restif de la Bretonne, Nicolas Edmé, 31, 90–91 revolutionary festivals, 8, 94, 105–9 revolutionary oaths, 87–89, 94–126, 139, 170n32, 185–87, 190

Index Revolutionary Tribunal, 140, 154, 156, 159, 188n101 Reynolds, Frederick, 93, 94 Richardson, Samuel, 17, 35n70, 46, 72, 77, 81, 127, 130 Ridgway, Ronald S., 137 Roach, Joseph, 212 Robert, chef de brigands (La Martellière), 4, 51 Robespierre, Maximilien, 16, 129, 139, 148–52, 187, 189, 201, 206 Rodmell, Graham E., 9n42 Roland, Madame (Marie-Jeanne), 77, 127, 132n21, 138n47, 157 Rollin, Charles, 173–76, 189, 191–92 roman noir, 13, 52 Romantic stage, 18, 209, 224 Roscius, 202 Rougemont, Martine de, 30, 32, Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 4, 8, 12, 21, 36, 76, 88, 96, 98, 106, 109, 121–24, 132, 137, 155, 166, 176–77, 217, 219, 220 Rousselin, Charles, 142, 143, 148, 157–58 Royou, abbé, 169 sacrifice Abraham of Isaac, 175 martyrdom and, 190–92 of privileges, 120, 137 tableau and, 75–6, 81, 86, 89 to the state, 80–82, 142, 194–95 virtue as, 75n41, 80–82, 86, 89, 128, 136n35, 175 Sade, Marquis de, 13, 145 Sahlins, Marshall David, 17, 108 St-Aubin, Madame (actress), 57 Saint-Beuve, Charles-Augustin, 43 Saint-Just, Louis Antoine Léon de, 18, 151, 177, 187, 201 Salm, Constance de, 45 Sapho (Salm), 45 Satirus, 202 Saudray, Charles-Emmanuel Gaulard de, 105–6 Saulnier, Guillaume, 49 Schama, Simon, 11n49, 117n75 Schiller, Friedrich, 195 Scubla, Lucien, 123


Sedaine, Michel-Jean, 16, 23, 44–50 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, 105n30 Le Séducteur (Bièvre), 32 sensibility, 11–12, 43–47, 49, 68, 78–82, 87–89, 130–32, 152, 164–65, 173– 85, 197–200, 206, 207–19, 224 sentimentality critique of, 19, 62, 91 definition of, xi, 15–16, 19 social aims of, 65–68, 73 Le Serment des Horaces (David), 88, 89, 117 Le Serment du jeu de paume (David), 88–90 Sewell, William, Jr., 156 Le Siège de Thionville (Saulnier), 49 Sieyès, Abbé, 61 Smith, Adam, 62, 143 The Social Contract (Rousseau), 96, 121–23 Le Sourd, ou l’Auberge pleine (Choudard), 4 Staël, Madame de (Anne-LouiseGermaine), 202, 209 Strugnell, Anthony, 73–74 sympathetic community as alternative to public sphere of politics, 41–42 as consolation for injustice, 77, 81 forged through tableau, 75–77, 82, 185 as ideal community, 34–46, 62–64 sympathy aesthetics of, 75, 83–90, 185 political, 78–82, 86 tableau and, 75–82 tears and, 28–29, 43, 46, 50, 51, 75, 76–77, 81–82, 86, 220–21 versus laughter, 62 versus ridicule, 21–22 Szondi, Peter, 90 tableau, 17, 48, 50, 66–92 Tableau de Paris (Mercier), 59, 69 Taine, Hippolyte, 12 Talleyrand, Bishop, 97, 100, 103 Talma, François-Joseph, 18, 128–29, 197–224 Tarin, René, 31, 83, 123 Tarquin the Proud, 187, 190, 192 Tartuffe (Molière), 38 Taylor, George, 10, 47, 53–54 tears, 28–29, 43, 46, 50, 51, 75, 76–77, 86, 220–21


The Sentimental Theater of the French Revolution

Télémaque (Fénelon), 54 Télémaque dans l’île de Calypso (Gardel), 54 Le Temps et la liberté (Gouges), 94, 100–102 Tennis Court Oath, 88, 98, 113 Terror of 1793–1794, 13, 17–18, 144, 194–95 theater censorship of, 1–2, 51–52, 129, 133, 137–38, 143 moral and aesthetic critiques of, 5–7 political approaches to, 7–10 reform of during the Revolution, 1–2, 30–32, 43, 50–52 versus print, 7, 16 visual culture and, 65–68, 83–90 Théâtre de la Cité-Variétés, 24 Théâtre de la Nation, 127, 129, 164; see also Comédie-Française Théâtre de la République, 24n25 Théâtre de l’Opéra-Comique, 24n25, 26n29; see also Théâtre Italien Théâtre de Monsieur, 111; see also Théâtre du Feydeau Théâtre de Nicolet, 215 Théâtre du Feydeau, 159 Théâtre du Marais, 34n64, 42 Théâtre Italien (Comédie Italienne), 22, 55 Théâtre Montansier, 136, 140n52 Théâtre National (Richelieu), 136 theatricality, 8, 75–78, 88–89, 106–7, 109, 157–58, 205–8 Theory of Moral Sentiments (Smith), 62, 143 Thibodeau, Antoine-Claire, 2 Tissier, André, 6, 10 Toussaint, François-Vincent, 167n16 tragedy, 1–3, 25–26, 28–30, 44, 46, 50–52, 66, 72, 90, 163–96, 209, 220, 221n98 Trahard, Pierre, 11 transparency, 40–41, 105n29, 106, 133–34, 150, 158–61, 206 Trial of Louis XVI, 9, 102, 151–53, 185–90 Ubersfeld, Anne, 27

Über die tragische Kunst (Schiller), 194 unmasking, 142, 144n60, 148–51, 153, 155–58, 217 Vanhove (actor), 83 Vaqué, Pierre, 2 Vergniaud, Pierre-Victurnien, 4, 201 Vestris, Madame (actress), 214 Les Victime cloîtrées (Monvel), 51, 52–53, 55 Victor, ou l’enfant de la forêt (Pixerécourt), 60 La Vie de Voltaire (Condorcet), 168 Le Vieux Cordelier (Desmoulins), 149 Vila, Anne, 98 Virgil, 167, 174 Virginie (La Harpe), 179 virtue as innocence, 146, 151–53, 160–61, 194, 222 law and, 151–53 performative, 148–51, 158–61, 201–8 republican, 2–3, 130–31 sacrificial logic of, 75n41, 81–82, 86, 89, 128, 136n35, 175, 190–92 sentimental, 16, 63–64, 133–38, 222–24 terror and, 16, 129 theater as school of, 2–3, 30, 62–64, 83, 129–31, 202 Volney, Charles, 166 Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), 3, 8, 18, 32, 46, 109, 132, 136–37, 140, 209, 211, 212 Walker, Lesley, 122 Washington, George, 179 Watson, Nicola, 14 Welschinger, Henri, 6, 11 Williams, Helen Maria, 68, 78–80, 94, 99, 107, 125, 204, 214 Winter, John F., 185 witnessing, 41–42, 105 Wollstonecraft, Mary, 87 York, Frederick Augustus, Duke of, 129n9, 141n55