The Family Romance of the French Revolution

The Family Romance of the French Revolution

by Lynn Hunt

ISBN: 9780520082700

Publisher University of California Press

Published in Calendars/History, Calendars/Foreign Language

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Sample Chapter

The Family Model of Politics

It was a cold and foggy morning in winter when the king of France met his death. At 10:22 A.M . on 21 January 1793, the executioner dropped the guillotine's blade on the neck of Louis Capet, the former Louis XVI (see figure 1). The recently installed guillotine had been designed as the great equalizer; with it, every death would be the same, virtually automatic, presumably painless. The deputies hoped that by killing Louis in this way, they would prove "that great truth which the prejudices of so many centuries had stifled; today we have just convinced ourselves that a king is only a man and that no man is above the laws."

In these few words, the newspaper writer captured the meaning of the event in the most accessible terms: the French killed the king in order to convince themselves that the king was only a man like other men, that the magic of kingship which had been so powerful during so many centuries could be effaced. "Capet is no longer! Peoples of Europe! Peoples of the world! Look carefully at the thrones and you will see that they are nothing but dust!"1 As if to ensure the return of this particular throne to dust, the severed head and body of the king were immediately deposited in a deep grave in the Madeleine Cemetery and covered with quicklime. All remaining traces of the king's physical presence were effaced.

The newspaper article's tones of hope and tenses of conditionality belie a great anxiety. France has given a great example to the people of the world and a great lesson to kings, the writer proclaims, but will the one and the other profit from it? The day is forever memorable, but will it survive for posterity? "Never let insult come near you. Historians! Be worthy of the time; write the truth, nothing but the truth."2 The writer writes to reject all semblance of guilt. The

"Paris. Journie du 21," Journal des hommes libres de tousles pays, no. 82, 22 January 1793. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from the French are my own.


Engraving of Louis XVI at the guillotine. From  Rivolutions de Paris , no. 185, 19-26 
January 1793. Photo: author.

20,000 spectators jammed into the Place de la Rivolution had been there to share the experience, and 80,000 armed men had stood guard to make sure that there would be no breaches of security.3 If guilt was felt, it was presumably widely shared.

The killing of the king was the most important political act of the Revolution and the central drama in the revolutionary family romance. Everyone recognized its symbolic significance, yet the revolutionaries had various and often contradictory views about the meaning of the act. Even though the deputies in the Convention frequently cited the historical precedent of the execution of England's Charles I, for example, they drew no single consistent meaning from it. In any case, everyone knew that kingship had been restored in England and the regicides punished; it was not a particularly encouraging precedent.

Revolutionaries and royalists alike considered the king the head

For the best account of the trial and execution, see David P. Jordan, The K i ng's Trial: The French Revolution vs. Louis XVI (Berkeley, 1979).

of the entire social order, even though the political position of Louis XVI had been undermined in some respects before 1793, perhaps even before 1789. The status of Louis Capet was very much in question at the time of his execution. Had the executioner killed a king or a man long since deprived of his sacred status? Whatever the answer, whether the king was symbolically dead in 1793, 1789, or before, his actual death in 1793 drew attention to a sacred void, marked by the empty pedestal facing Louis during his execution. The pedestal had supported a statue of his grandfather, Louis XV.

The government which ordered the execution of the former king was a republic whose legitimacy rested on popular sovereignty. Establishing a republic on paper took a stroke of the pen; winning the allegiance of the population and establishing an enduring sense of legitimacy required much more. What would make people obey the law in the new social order? The king had been the head of a social body held together by bonds of deference; peasants deferred to their landlords, journeymen to their masters, great magnates to their king, wives to their husbands, and children to their parents. Authority in the state was explicitly modeled on authority in the family. A royal declaration of 1639 had explained, "The natural reverence of children for their parents is linked to the legitimate obedience of subjects to their sovereign."4 Once the king had been eliminated, what was to be the model that ensured the citizens' obedience?

No one understood better than the English critic of the Revolution, Edmund Burke, the connection between filial devotion and the willingness of a subject to obey. He feared that the whole community would be destroyed by the subversion of "those principles of domestic trust and fidelity which form the discipline of social life."5 In reviewing the early events of the French Revolution and in particular the demeaning of the royal family during the October Days of 1789, Burke bemoaned the passing of what he called the age of chivalry and its replacement by the age of "sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators":

Marcel Garaud and Romuald Szramkiewicz, La Rivolutionfrangaise et la famille (Paris, 1978), p. 135.

Letter to a Member of the National Assembly , quoted in Steven Blakemore, Burke and the Fall of Language: The French Revolution as Linguistic Event (Hanover, N.H., 1988), p. 42. Blakemore offers an excellent discussion of Burke's understanding of patriarchy.

In the new age, all the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off.

Without that "decent drapery," without "the sentiments which beautify and soften private society," Burke predicted, the revolutionaries would have to rule by the force of terror. "In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows."6

My analysis in the following pages is much influenced by Burke's fundamental insight into the interweaving of private sentiments and public politics, even though I have a very different view of the Revolution from his. Burke saw that political obedience rested on something more than rational calculation: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely."7 Political obedience always rests on a set of assumptions about the proper working of the social order, and obedience in modern terms, consent is never automatic, even when it most appears to be so, as in so-called traditional societies. It was certainly not automatic in the new republic, as tax collectors and military recruiters discovered every day.

The revolutionaries were ripping the veil of deference off society. Unlike Burke, however, they did not see this as the end of all decency; they wanted to make their government "lovely" too. From 1789 onward, supporters of the Revolution were engaged in the great adventure of the modern Western social contract; they were trying to replace deference and paternal authority with a new basis for political consent. Many of them had read the great theorists of this adventure: Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. But the theorists, with the exception of Rousseau, offered little in the way of advice about the affective relations that might cement a new contract.

In the absence of any clear model for the private sentiments that might make a new order lovable, the revolutionaries fumbled their way through a thicket of interrelated problems. If absolutism had rested on the model of patriarchal authority, then would the de-

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution i n France (New York, 1973), pp. 89-91.

Ibid., p. 91.

struction of absolutism depend on the destruction of patriarchy, what the French called "la puissance paternelle"? How far should the moderation of paternal authority go? Would the restriction of paternal authority make everyone in the political family equal, brother with brother, brother with sister, and children with parents? In other words, what kind of family romance would replace the one dominated by the patriarchal father? If paternalism was to be replaced by a model of fraternity, what were the implications of that new model? How, for instance, was the idea of the political exclusion of women to be maintained in the absence of the old justifications of "natural" family order? Would the model of the family be thrown out altogether in favor of a model based on isolated, independent, self-possessing, contracting individuals? The attack on absolutism brought in its turbulent wake a necessary reevaluation of the shape of the individual self.

Although these questions might seem to be obvious, they did not present themselves very clearly or even all at once to the leaders of the French Revolution. To a great extent these questions have also dropped out of much modern, contract-based political theory. Contract theory pretends that questions about the family and the relations between men and women belong in a private sphere separate from the public arena. All of the great political theorists from the seventeenth century onward struggled with the question, in particular, of women's place in the new order, and all of them tried to devise solutions that would ensure the continued subordination of women to their husbands after the breakdown of patriarchy. Yet most of these theorists showed little interest in elaborating what Carole Pateman calls the "sexual contract" between men and women that logically accompanied the social contract.8 The one great exception is Freud. Although hardly known as a political theorist indeed his forays in this direction are among his most maligned works Freud tried to imagine a story about the original social contract that would explain the genesis of "the law of male sex-right," the right of men as men to dominate women.9

Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford, 1988). Although Pateman's analysis is very important, I do not follow her on all points. I have written this book to showy holy difficult it was to enforce a patriarchal version of fraternity.

Pateman takes the term "law of male sex-right" from Adrienne Rich. See ibid., p. 2.

In Totem and Taboo (1913), in particular, Freud offered his own version of the origins of the social contract, or what might be called the original family romance. He located those origins in a kind of prehistoric fall from life in the primal horde, the first amorphous gathering of humans. In "the first great act of sacrifice," as he called it, the sons banded together to kill the father and eat him.10 They killed the father because he had kept all the females for himself and driven away the growing sons. By eating him, they accomplished their identification with the father. The deed once accomplished, the brothers felt a sense of guilt, so they undid their deed by creating two taboos: a taboo against killing the totem animal that was substituted for the father; and the incest taboo, which denied the liberated women to the brothers. These taboos gave rise to religion and social organization (kinship) respectively, and they effectively repressed for the future the two main wishes of the Oedipus complex: the desire to kill the father and to sleep with the mother.

By instituting the taboos, moreover, the brothers solved the major problem facing them after the killing of the father: their feelings of competition with each other for the women. "Sexual desires do not unite men," claimed Freud, "but divide them."11 If the brothers were to live together in peace, they had to deny themselves the women previously controlled by the father. Freud suggests that the brothers' social organization had a homosexual tinge that was worth preserving. By creating the incest taboo, the brothers "rescued the organization which had made them strong and which may have been based upon the homosexual feelings and acts, originating perhaps during the period of their expulsion from the horde."12 Through their new social organization, the brothers were able to reconcile themselves with the dead father, whom they also loved and admired, maintain their feelings for each other, and at the same time enforce a heterosexual system of marriage to ensure the survival of the group.

An inevitable "longing" for the father led to a recreation of him in the form of gods and social organization itself. Because of the pres-

Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental L i ves of Savages and Neurotics , in vol. 13 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of S i gmund Freud , trans. James Strachey (London, 1958), p. 151.

Ibid., p. 144.


sure of competition within the band of brothers, no one could be allowed to gain "the father's supreme power," but the desire to mimic the father could be accommodated in new systems of rank and status. "The original democratic equality" of each member of the tribe was relinquished, and individuals who distinguished themselves above the rest were venerated.13 Thus the social contract as envisaged by Freud was not only based on a concomitant sexual contract, in which women were subject to men's power; it also implied complementary bonds between men. Social organization sublimated an underlying, highly charged, male bonding. Women had no place in the new political and social order except as markers of social relations between men.

Freud's own inability to work himself out of a patriarchal model of psychopolitical organization was revealed in one of the throwaway lines of Totem and Taboo . Speaking of the move toward deification of the murdered father, Freud inserts: "I cannot suggest at what point in this process of development a place is to be found for the great mother-goddesses, who may perhaps in general have preceded the father-gods."14 Freud's vision was so patriarchal that the only contests he could imagine were between fathers and sons; women were merely the objects of these conflicts. In a telling passage, he asserted: "The psychoanalysis of individual human beings, however, teaches us with quite special insistence that the god of each of them is formed in the likeness of his father, that his personal relation to God depends on his relation to his father in the flesh and oscillates and changes along with that relation, and that at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father."15 The same might be said of the law and of social organization generally.

In the essays in this book, I do not intend to apply Freud or Freudianism to the French Revolution, as if Freud's theories of human development could be simply superimposed as a grid on the raw data of the revolutionary experience. Indeed, many of the central Freudian concepts such as penis envy, castration fears, or even the Oedipal complex will appear infrequently or not at all in these pages. I find Freud's analysis in Totem and Taboo suggestive

Ibid., pp. 148-49.

Ibid., p. 149.

Ibid., p. 147.

because it sees a set of relationships as being critical to the founding of social and political authority: relationships between fathers and sons, between men, and between men and women. In addition, Freud's own need to write a myth of human origins demonstrates the centrality of narratives about the family to the constitution of all forms of authority, even though Freud's account cannot fruitfully be read as an analysis of an actual event in prehistory or as a rigid model for social and political relationships. I will be arguing that the experience of the French Revolution can be interpreted to put pressure on the Freudian account, even though that account provides an important point of departure.

The very mention of the name Freud by a historian is for some a red flag of danger. Among historians, psychoanalytic interpretation has been largely confined to the analysis of individual biographies or, more rarely, to the analysis of group psychology in times of crisis. The connection between individual psyches and social and historical development is an interesting subject of research, but it does not directly concern me here. I do not, for example, offer an analysis of a figure such as Robespierre in Freudian terms. I am interested rather in the ways that people collectively imagine that is, think unconsciously about the operation of power, and the ways in which this imagination shapes and is in turn shaped by political and social processes. Central to this collective imagination are the relations between parents and children and between men and women.

To put it in specific historical terms, once the French had killed the king, who had been represented as the father of his people, what did they imagine themselves to be doing? What figure did they imagine to take his place? What was the structure of the new political unconscious that replaced the old one? Answers to these questions require an analysis of the political imagination that is at once historically specific and capable of illuminating generally the basic metaphors of modern political and social life.

Freud's apparent insistence that the ritual sacrifice of the father was an actual deed "in the beginning was the Deed";16 his fondness for analogies between the thought processes of "savages" and neurotics; and his incredibly intricate, if not fanciful analyses of particular individuals are all grounds for worry about the verifiabil-

The concluding sentence of Totem and Taboo , ibid., p. 161.

Engraving of the execution of Louis XVI. From  Rivolutions de Paris , no.
 185, 19-26 January 1793. Photo: author.

ity or scientific grounding of psychoanalysis. Yet they do not vitiate the importance of the questions raised by Freud or of the general metaphorical structure that he outlined. Freud, like Burke, saw that obedience was not automatic, and he tried to provide an explanation for how it works. In so doing, he suggested several themes that will appear again and again in this book: the killing of the father, the nature of fraternity, the assignation of guilt, the fate of the "liberated women," the choice of new totems to replace the dead father, and the enforcement of the incest taboo.17

The French killed the father in an act that comes as close as anything does in modern history to a ritual sacrifice (see figure 2).

A very brief suggestion of the importance of this "primal scene" can be found in Ronald Paulson, Representations of Revolution (1789-1820) (New Haven, 1983). See especially p. 26: "It is here that we find the central and most important aspect of the self-representation inside Paris: a tension of the stereotypic and the unique, of the symbolic and the representational, which is to say the regressive, which urges a return to the primal scene which Phre Duchesne and others (in England Burke) knew as the real heart of the matter, a scene more primal than republican Rome or Lycurgan Sparta."

The radical newspaper that published the engravings reproduced in figures 1 and 2 put it just that way:

We owe to the earth, since we have in a manner of speaking consecrated slavery by our example, we owe a great lesson in the person of the 66th king, more criminal than all his predecessors taken together. The blood of Louis Capet, shed by the blade of the law on 21 January 1793, cleanses us of a stigma of 1300 years. . . . Liberty resembles that divinity of the Ancients which one cannot make auspicious and favorable except by offering to it in sacrifice the life of a great culprit.

It is worth noting that in this passage the editor did not describe the "great culprit" as a father figure. By 1793 the revolutionaries wanted to reject any such role for Louis Capet, the former Louis XVI. Nevertheless, the father is implied because the paper went on to refer to the brothers who had killed him, and it described a scene in which the victim was metaphorically devoured. A crowd of people ran up to the scaffold after the execution to dip their pikes and handkerchiefs in the blood of the former king. One zealot sprinkled blood on the crowd and shouted, "Brothers, they tell us that the blood of Louis Capet will fall again on our heads; well, so be it, let it fall. . . . Republicans, the blood of a king brings happiness."18

This is one of those rare occasions when revolutionary discourse provides its own revealing glimpse into the psychosexual foundations of the political order. Yet even in this case, the evidence is subject to more than one interpretation. In a major rereading of Freud's analysis, the literary critic Reni Girard has offered a different psychoanalytical perspective on just such a scene. He argues that ritual sacrifice is not fundamentally about parricide and incest but rather is a way of concealing and disguising the community's terror of its own violence. The ritualization of violence the singling out of a scapegoat serves to reinstitute differences, limits, and boundaries and thereby displaces violence from the interior of the community. He insists, "The purpose of the sacrifice is to restore harmony to the community, to reinforce the social fabric." Boundaries are especially important because any "sacrificial crisis," according to Girard, threatens sexual differentiation. The singling out of

"Mort de Louis XVI, dernier roi de France," Rivolutions de Paris , no. 185, 19-26 January 1793. I have compared Durkheimian and Freudian analyses of the killing of the king in "The Sacred and the French Revolution," in Jeffrey Alexander, ed., Durkheimian Sociology (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 25-43.

the scapegoat, who might be anyone and not just the father, is for Girard the true origin of all myths, rituals, kinship systems, indeed, symbolic thought itself.19

The Girardian reading provides a different angle on the passage from the revolutionary newspaper about the execution of the king. In a Girardian account, the emphasis would not be on the king's position as father of his people. The brothers do not kill him because they want to share his power but rather because the French fear their own capacity for violence and need a ritual act in order to reinstitute community boundaries. In other words, the king has to die to erase the guilt that the French themselves feel before the act has been committed . As the editor of the Rivolutions de Paris wrote: "We owe to the earth, since we have in a manner of speaking consecrated slavery by our example, we owe a great lesson in the person of the 66th king."

In order to displace its own violence, which follows from the disintegration of Old Regime cultural and political codes, the revolutionary community has to focus its guilt on a surrogate victim, the scapegoat, who is, as Girard puts it, a kind of "monstrous double": "The surrogate victim constitutes both a link and a barrier between the community and the sacred."20 The king has to be transformed into a kind of sacred monster, whose expulsion will return the community to itself. His monstrousness is defined by his outrageous culpability; he is, the newspaper claims, "more criminal than all his predecessors taken together." He has to be in order to be a suitable victim. As a consequence, his blood (another sacred allusion) "cleanses us of a stigma of 1300 years." Only the sacrifice of a great culprit would be sufficient to the task of community redefinition and redemption.

Several themes from Girard's reinterpretation of Freud will appear in the essays that follow: the moment of sacrificial crisis, the need for the community to define itself through the choice of victims, and the threat of the loss of boundaries, especially sexual boundaries. It is not enough, however, to replace Freud with Girard. In the French Revolution, the king was victimized for several reasons; he may have been a great culprit and hence a monstrous

Reni Girard, Violence and the Sacred , trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore, 1977), pp. 8, 188, 235.

Ibid., p. 271.

double of the community, but he was also the father. So, in a sense, I want to have it both (Freudian and Girardian) ways. The French Revolution is a drama about conflict between father and sons and about the threat of violence to the community.

Girard denies the validity of the Oedipal triangle between father, mother, and son and replaces it with a more generalized mimetic model of desire which emphasizes the identification between men; nevertheless, he too accords some importance to the role of women.21 Women are often blamed for violence in order to exonerate men; women are associated with delirium in order to reassure male dignity and authority and in particular to eliminate the blurring of sexual boundaries that accompanies the sacrificial crisis.22 In the end, however, Girard, like Freud, refuses all independence of action to women; in both psychoanalytic scenarios they are simply the objects of desire, whether directly (in the case of Freud) or indirectly through male mimesis (in the case of Girard). It is one of my aims here to redress that balance, to insist that women were viewed as threats because they could act and not just because they were convenient figments of the male imagination.

The French revolutionaries did talk self-consciously about "fraternity," the least understood of the values in the revolutionary triad of "liberty, equality, and fraternity." In conscious discourse fraternity was an idea associated with political solidarities and the drawing of political and social boundaries within the community. The notion of fraternity gradually evolved during the revolutionary decade, as a recent study by Marcel David has shown. In the early years of the Revolution, fraternity had a large and confident meaning because almost everyone could be imagined as participating in the community. For example, at the Festival of Federation of 14 July 1790, Lafayette swore on behalf of all the federated national guards present "to remain united to all the French by the indissoluble bonds of fraternity."

Girard rejects the family model, whether it privileges fathers or brothers, and insists instead on the centrality of rivalry to desire. As he puts it, "rivalry does not arise because of the fortuitous convergence of two desires on a single object [such as the mother]; rather, the subject desires the object because the r i val desires it. " It follows, then, that "the incest wish, the patricide wish, do not belong to the child but spring from the mind of the adult, the model. . . . The son is always the last to learn that what he desires is incest and patricide, and it is the hypocritical adults who undertake to enlighten him in this matter." Ibid., pp. 145, 175.

Ibid., pp. 139-41.

During the radical years, 1792-94, fraternity was used more often in a narrow and fearful sense; fraternity defined a kind of "us" and "them" of revolutionary politics, especially on the popular level. One Parisian sectional assembly proclaimed in February 1793, "For a free people, there should be no neutral being. There are only brothers or enemies." The slogan "fraternity or death" seemed to capture this sentiment in dramatic fashion. A reaction against such a belligerent notion of fraternity accompanied Robespierre's fall from power. In the first months after his execution, most representations of fraternity associated it with symbols of sweetness, purity, innocence, and union.

Domestication of fraternity did not prove to be enough, however. Progressively after the fall of Robespierre, "fraternity" dropped out of revolutionary slogans to be replaced by liberty and equality standing alone. Official engravers no longer included fraternity in their repertoire of themes, and royalist engravers represented it in derisory contexts. An engraving of 1797, for example, shows a sansculotte trampling on the constitution. The word fraternity is written on his dagger. Fraternity and fraternization were now cynically limited to the relations with the "sister republics," the satellites and dependents of the conquering French nation. Under the Consulate, prefects were expressly forbidden to use the word.23 This brief history suggests that the word had a political charge that was indissolubly linked with radical revolution.

Getting at the affective charge implicit in the notion of fraternity is more difficult. Revolutionaries rarely explained their emotional motives for, or reactions to, their language, gestures, or rituals. As a consequence, my analysis will usually have to proceed by indirection and inference. There are, however, all sorts of clues about the psychosexual meaning of fraternity in revolutionary symbolics, for instance, in the ordering of festivals and the choice of icons and emblems; and, on occasion, in revolutionary discourse itself for example, in the debates on women's clubs or in the newspaper accounts of the killing of the king. The psychosymbolics of the

My account of the conscious meaning of fraternity is taken from Marcel David, Fraterniti et Rivolutionfrangaise, 1789-1799 (Paris, 1987); the quotations are from pp. 58, 145, 205, 244. David provides an indispensable guide to the usages of the term before and especially during the Revolution. He argues that the slogan "la fraterniti ou la mort" was not meant to be as menacing as it sounds.

revolutionary political imagination are also apparent, however, in less conventional sources for historical analysis: in novels, in paintings, and especially in political pornography. All of them are examples of genres in which family romances can be dramatically enacted.

In what follows, I offer a necessarily selective but I hope not arbitrary reading of a wide range of sources, from laws about the family to pornographic novels. My subjects will include such diverse topics as the rise of portraiture in 1791, the regularization of inheritance for illegitimate children in 1793, and the vogue of novels about orphans after 1795, as well as the more obvious topics such as the killings of the king and the queen. Although the iconography of the Revolution has of late attracted considerable attention, especially as it is expressed in graphic form, much less has been done as yet with revolutionary painting and literature.24 The revolutionary decade has been considered unworthy of attention by most literary critics and art historians because it produced little in the way of great literature or painting, apart from works by Jacques-Louis David. Until very recently, scholars continued to assume that the Revolution had had little positive impact on "high" art beyond the "vandalization" of national treasures that occurred during the radical period of late 1793 and early 1794.25 Literary histories of the Revolution, for instance, still begin with considerations of political speeches and newspapers, just as they did in the nineteenth century.26 It is obvious that no one scholar can hope to offer a survey of all the relevant cultural and political expressions of the period in the search for their underlying patterns of familial imagery. I certainly

See, for example, the essays in French Caricature and the French Revolution, 1789-1799 , catalogue for an exhibition coorganized by the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Bibliothhque nationale de France (Los Angeles, 1988). For a useful general discussion of revolutionary art forms see Emmet Kennedy, A Cultural History of the French Revolution (New Haven, 1989).

Serge Bianchi, "Le 'Vandalisme rivolutionnaire' ou la naissance d'un mythe," in La Ligende de la Rivolution , actes du colloque international de Clermont-Ferrand, juin 1986 (Clermont-Ferrand, 1988), pp. 189-199. In his excellent study of revolutionary painting William Olander remarks on the denigration of revolutionary art: "Too often, the decade of the 1790s has been seen merely as a continuation of art and policies pursued under the ancien rigime , or as a simple, but unrealized prelude to the era of Napoleon and beyond." "Pour transmettre ` la postiriti: French Painting and the Revolution, 1774-1795" (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1983), p. 11.

See, for example, the useful overview by Biatrice Didier, La Littirature de la Rivolutionfrangaise (Paris, 1988).

do not claim to account for every engraving, painting, or novel in my analysis, but I do hope to offer an account of the links between family images and power that will prompt others to examine their own sources in new lights.

Anyone who works on the revolutionary period knows how difficult it is to use art-historical and literary materials. Sources such as paintings, engravings, and novels are by their nature particularly rich in representations of fathers, mothers, and children, but they are not transparent representations of the imagery of power. Painters rarely painted with straightforward political purposes, even during the French Revolution, and novelists rarely wrote with the self-conscious aim of supporting a particular political order. Moreover, we know little about the specific intentions of artists or novelists of the period.

The difficulties are also technical. We do not know the press runs of most novels published at the time, and the exhibition catalogues of the revolutionary period are often limited to simple and uninformative designations of paintings such as "family scene" or "head of an individual." The example of engravings is particularly instructive. Prints required less time for production and as a consequence could be expected to follow the latest political developments more rapidly than the less obviously politicized media.27 Revolutionary prints were not produced from a set of systematic or self-conscious themes, however; they were produced in response to a variety of demands ranging from the immediate propaganda aims of the government to the consumer market for subscription engravings that captured revolutionary history even as it unfolded.28 There are over 30,000 prints from the French Revolution collected in various libraries and museums in the world. Most of them are not dated or signed, so drawing conclusions about their meaning is even more risky than in the case of works by well-known painters.

These problems compound the difficulty of working in a psychoanalytic perspective. I will be moving constantly between the familial

On the lack of revolutionary themes in French painting of the period, see James Leith, Art as Propaganda in France, 1750-1799: A Study in the History of Ideas (Toronto, 1965). Leith estimates that only 5 percent of French paintings exhibited in the official salons treated revolutionary themes. They were vastly outnumbered by landscapes, portraits, and genre paintings. See especially pp. 135, 145. A more nuanced view can be found in Olander, "Pour transmettre ."

See French Caricature and the French Revolution .

and the political, on the grounds that they are interconnected; and I will be shifting back and forth through a variety of sources, on the grounds that they tell a set of interrelated stories about the founding of a new political and social order. Like the "new historicists" in art and literary criticism, I juxtapose the work of literature, painting, or other art form with other kinds of contemporaneous historical documentation. Yet in the end, my aim is different from theirs. Rather than trying to account for the work of art or literature, I want to get at the common historical and imaginative processes that animate painting, engraving, and literature as well as political events during the French Revolution. I find that common ground in the development of family romances that both unified and threatened to unravel the revolutionary experience as a whole.

Excerpted from "The Family Romance of the French Revolution" by Lynn Hunt. Copyright © 1993 by Lynn Hunt. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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