‘Continuity and Rupture’ 1789-1830

The first Revolutionary Researchers event of 2015 was a reading group on the theme of ‘Continuity and Rupture’ in the period 1789-1830 on 26th February at Warwick before a fascinating seminar with Munro Price on 1812-1814 and the fall of Napoleon.
Jonathan has been the driving impetus behind this first reading group and the reading we discussed was as follows:
·      Roger Chartier ‘Do Books Make Revolutions?’ in Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, trad. by Lydia G. Cochrane (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1991), pp. 67-91
·      François Furet, ‘The French Revolution is Over’ in The French Revolution in Social and Political Perspective, ed. by Peter Jones (London: Arnold, 1996), pp. 30-54
·      James Johnson, Listening in Paris: A Cultural History (Berkeley, Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 97-163
·      James Leith, The Idea of Art as Propaganda in France, 1750-1799: A Study in the History of Ideas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), pp. 70-129
 Two main themes dominated the discussion, namely those of ‘compartmentalisation’ and ‘construction’.
We found that revolutionary scholarship has tended to ‘compartmentalise’ events. In music, the decade 1789-1799 has tended to be seen as 1789-1793, 1793-1795, 1795-1799. Theatre is marked likewise by the changes of 1789, 1791, 1793, 1799, 1806 and 1807. We then discussed how much these external political events shaped the repertoire being performed. On the one hand, certainly some cultural elements were removed with these ruptures, but we found that through popular demand, institutional choice, and political allusion the repertoires actually contained many more elements of continuity that this compartmentalised vision has allowed for. When rupture does occur there are also numerous external factors such as the actors themselves or the physical conditions of the buildings which are not uniquely political. After this there was the difficult question of how to measure change and how this altered between the arts and between genres. From this, using Chartier and Furet, we thought about the notion of ‘construction’, both the extent to which the Revolution fashioned the ‘Enlightenment’ and how the ‘Revolution’ has been, and continues to be, shaped since the events of 1789.
The theme of ‘Continuity and Rupture’ was then suitably extended by a seminar with Munro Price where he explained why 1812-1814 were the years of Napoleon’s downfall rather than 1815. By 1815, Price considers that Napoleon could not remain leader of France even if he had won at Waterloo. From a variety of unexploited archives from high profile figures such as Metternich, Price demonstrated Napoleon’s continued refusal of peace and his psychological inability to retreat in time or accept rather than dictate a truce. This seriously questions the true extent of Napoleon’s military genius and the dominant narratives surrounding the final years of the First French Empire.