Staging Nineteenth-Century Melodrama at the Georgian Theatre Royal

by Sarah Burdett, University of Warwick

For the past five months, I have been working as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Warwick on the exciting practice-based research project ‘Staging Napoleonic Theatre’. The project, led by Dr Katherine Astbury, and funded by the AHRC, has involved staging two nineteenth-century French melodramas in translation. Roseliska, a melodrama of 1811, written and performed by French prisoners of war at Portchester Castle, was revived at the site of its original production in July 2017; and La Forteresse du Danube, (translated as The Fortress), by prolific French playwright Guilbert Pixerécourt, initially staged at the Théatre de la Porte Saint-Martin in 1805, is being revived at the Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, on 25 August 2017. One down, one to go!

Fortress advert

As a British theatre historian who has spent the last four years hunched over manuscripts of Georgian play-texts in dark and silent libraries, the experience of bringing these scripts back to life in my role as dramaturge – of furnishing them with the spectacular and aural vibrancy that the written text alone cannot provide – has been both exhilarating and enlightening. Recent Romantic theatre scholarship has stressed the need for the play text to be read alongside its visual, aural and oral elements, in order for its theatrical impact to be adequately comprehended. Nowhere is this statement more true than in relation to the nineteenth-century melodrama, as I have discovered first hand while working on this project.

Popularised in both France and Britain in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the melodrama sought to provide entertainment emotionally powerful enough to stimulate the minds of a public traumatised by the recent violence in France. In order to achieve this, the genre fully exploited all that the nineteenth-century theatre, its actors and musicians, had to offer in terms of scenic and musical extravagance. As well as making full use of advancements in technology, which enabled the inclusion in melodramatic performances of explosions formed by fireworks, and naval battles performed on flooded stages, the melodrama’s elaborate spectacle was enhanced by a style of acting that consisted of large and elaborate gestures. In the melodrama, nothing is left concealed. Characters are open books whose emotions are externalised clearly and unambiguously through the use of entirely demonstrative gesticulations, movements, and facial expressions. Bodies do the talking: they tell us what characters are thinking and feeling without the need for monologues. Essentially, the body surpasses the script in terms of emotional expression.


The emotional intensity enabled by this expressive style of acting is strongly accentuated by the use of stirring, provocative music. Melodramatic music, provided by an orchestra, plays an integral function in shaping audiences’ responses to the scenes exhibited on stage. Like the actor’s body, music provides another form of non-verbal communication. As well as serving to enable sound effects for occurrences including dramatic storms and battles, music can also anticipate forthcoming events, hark back to previous scenes, magnify a character’s inner thoughts, accentuate externalised feelings, and encourage audiences when to cheer, when to boo, and when to remain silent. Lengthy interludes of instrumental music often accompany moments of high drama within melodramatic performances. Actors move in sync to the orchestra’s music, creating scenes that, while entirely lacking words, and therefore occupying little space in the play text, can last for a good three to four minutes when exhibited on the stage. The melodrama, therefore, becomes an entirely different beast when experienced in the theatre, than it does when confined to the page.

How then do you go about reviving a nineteenth-century melodrama to be staged before a twenty-first century audience? This is the question that myself and the Staging Napoleonic Theatre team continue to grapple with as we approach our performance of The Fortress at the Georgian Theatre Royal. One of the biggest challenges we experienced when staging the first of our two melodramas, Roseliska, was encouraging modern day performers to act in a manner that they considered at first to be grossly over the top. With twenty-first century acting styles being dominated by the influences of Stanislavski and naturalism, it is entirely unsurprising that melodramatic techniques tend not to sit too comfortably with twenty-first century actors. To accommodate this, we have been working with our performers on exercises revolving around mime and tableaux. These were largely inspired by the wonderful collection of essays published in the special edition of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film (Winter, 2002), edited by Gilli Bush-Bailey and Jackie Bratton, documenting the process of reviving melodramas by nineteenth-century British playwright Jane Scott, as part of the ‘Jane Scott Project’. I drew heavily on Dick McCaw’s essay in this collection, on training actors for melodrama, at the workshop/audition we held at the Georgian Theatre Royal back in June, from which we acquired our Fortress cast.

richmond workshop 2

To kick off the workshop, we had each of our participants describe how there morning had been thus far, in the form of mime. The exercise got participants thinking immediately about how to express themselves physically, using entirely non-verbal signs. Scheduling this as the first activity of the day, and using it as much to introduce participants to one another, as to get them thinking about melodramatic techniques, the exercise also quickly banished any inhibitions that the actors might have held about externalising their feelings in this peculiar manner, in front of a group of strangers. We then moved on to look at how narratives might be formed using freeze frames. Entirely pilfering McCaw’s ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ exercise, I gave our actors the task of acting out popular nursery rhymes in small groups, using a series of tableaux. These tableaux were then put into motion, creating a fluid sequence of movements. This exercise built on the opening ice-breaker, by encouraging actors to think about how they might go from conveying one very specific emotion/action to another, without allowing the narrative they are creating to become staccato. Fluidity of movement and of emotional expression are crucial skills for melodramatic actors. As I hinted previously, actors are often required to convey an entire series of emotions within the space of a single piece of music. Therefore, the ability to shift swiftly, coherently, and melodiously from one clearly defined pose to another, is a technique that must be mastered.

Accordingly, a lot of our workshop was devoted to musicality. Our musical director, Dr Diane Tisdall, played tunes on her violin from the original Forteresse score, and our actors were tasked with the challenge of responding to these tunes in character. Music was shown to play an incredibly authoritative role in determining the manner in which the actors interpreted the character they were playing. At one point in The Fortress, the lieutenant Olivier is faced with a moral dilemma: should he obey love or duty? While he silently contemplates this choice on stage, orchestral music helps to externalise his feelings. At the workshop, we experimented with changing the pace and tempo of this music. We found that doing so had a profound impact on the way that the role of Olivier was played. When the music was at its slowest, actors tended to play Olivier as a mournful, indecisive, and somewhat self-pitying character, distraught at the prospect of having to make such an unfair decision. When the music was at its fastest however, Olivier was shown to deal quickly with the emotional turmoil caused by the conflict, and to reach a frantic but firm resolution by the time that the music had ceased. This exercise indicated to our actors the collaborative role played by composers, musicians, and performers, in dictating the narrative’s meaning.

We went on to introduce our actors to popular nineteenth-century acting manuals including Henry Siddons’s Practical Illustrations of Rhetorical Gesture, and the anonymously written Thespian Preceptor. These manuals offer visual and verbal descriptions of the ways in which certain emotions were externalised by performers on the nineteenth-century stage. While by no means offering prescriptive guides, the manuals provide valuable insight into the expressiveness of the poses, gestures, and facial expressions conveyed by performers of the time. Reviews of nineteenth-century melodramas printed in contemporary British newspapers, periodicals, diaries and letters have also been shared with performers. One brilliantly fun review of a melodrama staged in London in 1832 pokes fun at an actor’s incessant use of his arms, by comparing them to the sails of a windmill! This review was particularly helpful in assuring our modern day actors that, despite how ostentatious their gestures might feel, they are entirely in keeping with melodramatic extravagance.

This week the Staging Napoleonic Theatre team is up in Richmond, Yorkshire, ahead of our performance of the Fortress at the Georgian Theatre Royal on Friday 25 August. For this performance, we are working with a community cast, many of whom had never heard of Pixerécourt prior to their involvement in the play, but have quickly become experts in the dramatic genre that he pioneered. Following the fantastic reception that Roseliska received when performed at Portchester castle last month, we have discovered that there is definitely still a place for nineteenth-century melodrama on the twenty-first century stage. And what better stage to perform this on, than that of the country’s oldest working Georgian theatre, upon whose boards the likes of Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean, and William McCready have previously stood? So, if you’re still wondering how one might go about reviving a nineteenth-century melodrama for a twenty-first century audience, come along and see for yourselves! We’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Fortress on the Danube is being performed at the Georgian Theatre Royal, Yorkshire, on Friday 25 August, 7.30pm. Director: Sarah Wynne Kordas; Musical Director: Diane Tisdall; Dramaturge: Sarah Burdett. Tickets can be purchased at


History of Celebrity Conference, IHR

At the end of March, on the ominous day of Brexit, researchers from North America and Europe gathered at London’s Institute of Historical Research for the ECR conference on the History of Celebrity with Prof Antoine Lilti (EHESS) as the keynote speaker. Revolutionary Researchers had already held a reading group on Lilti’s work Figures publiques, l’invention de la célébrité, and so it was an excellent chance to build on this and hear contributions from across the globe. In the first panel, ‘Thinking Celebrity in the Eighteenth Century’, Ariane Fichtl examined how Revolutionaries modelled themselves on antique ‘celebrity’ figures, whilst Gabriel Wick gave a fascinating analysis of celebrity through place and space, studying the Duc de Chartres at the Palais Royal and at Monceau, and the role of public celebrations in early celebrity culture. Blake Smith then spoke on Anquetil Duperron, the ‘celebrity scholar’, investigating the networks which sustain celebrity status and this can be preserved or lost. The second panel, ‘Celebrity Bodies’, started with Chris Haffenden’s paper on Jeremy Bentham, subtly analysing how contemporaries portrayed Bentham as a celebrity and how the philosopher participated in the preservation and regulation of his own image. Jessica Hamel-Akré continued the focus on Britain with the celebrity case of Ann Moore, the Fasting Woman of Tutbury. Hamel-Akré looked at the local level of celebrity and how new medical analyses, primarily by men, surveyed and controlled these medical celebrities. Meagan Mason also used the lens of medicine, especially the new pseudo-sciences of phrenology and physiognomy which allowed the public to “know” celebrity musicians. Prof Antoine Lilti then gave a lecture on his seminal work on celebrity, distinguishing between the notions of glory, reputation and celebrity, the latter being the uncontrolled spread of image beyond reputation, which has lead to his critique of the Habermasian public sphere. For Litli, this public sphere is not critical, but rather fascinated by gossip and public and private lives. Prof Colin Jones extended Lilti’s analysis of Habermas: the latter maintained that a collective conscious was central to the public sphere but Lilti’s research shows the public sphere to be based on human subjectivity, and he praised Lilti for using a historical anachronism as a historical tool. Dr Emrys Jones then shared his response to Litlti, especially from a British perspective, exploring the link between celebrity and intimacy, and touching upon ‘unwilling celebrities’. The final panel was then dedicated to the post Revolutionary period: Lewis Hughes’s paper looked at Victorian celebrity interviews held in the domestic sphere and their emphasis on ‘normality’ and daily routine; Holly Grout explained Mistinguett’s attempt to separate her public and private personas in her memoirs, reflecting and refracting elements of the celebrity self. Following this literary vein, Thibaut Casagrande took the genre ‘le roman d’actrice’ as a tool to correct the image of celebrities.


The translation of Lilti’s Figures publiques. L’Invention de la Célébrité appears later this year:

CfP: Connected Histories and Memories: French Emigrants in Revolutionised Europe

Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands), 19-20th June 2017


Keynote speakers: Professor Simon Burrows (Western Sydney University, Australia); Professor Kirsty Carpenter (Massey University, New Zealand); Dr. Karine Rance (Université Blaise Pascal, France)


Since the publication of the collection of essays on Emigration in Europe edited by Kirsty Carpenter and Philip Mansel in 1999, our knowledge of the emigrant community and that of European responses to the French Revolution have dramatically progressed. The historiography on the subject was renewed with pioneering studies on the Counter-Revolution and Anti-Enlightenment as well as new analysis on the nobility and the heterogeneity of migratory projects. Scholars have ventured into the memorial and literary landscape of emigration, at times articulating literary criticism around the question of trauma and refuge. Research into gender proved to be a fruitful way to challenge previous conceptions of the émigré figure. With this conference, we aim to approach emigration using the notions of connection, transfers and transnationalism, as well as cultural innovations, relating the current knowledge on emigration to studies on the connections between the émigré community and the host country. In particular, we would like to discuss the formation of political and national consciousness deriving from the encounters between the emigrant and their host communities.

This inter-disciplinary event will particularly welcome early career researchers and scholars who have studied or shown an interest in the French émigré community in any European context or beyond. It is open to those researching alternative and trans-national histories of exile in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Participants are invited to give papers, in English or in French, on the following themes:

  • Emigrés, exiles and refugees? Questioning the designations of individual migrants and their community
  • Foreign archival repositories and the renewal of sources on emigration
  • Host discourses on emigration and the creation of an émigré national consciousness
  • Towards a connected history of emigration and the counter-revolution in Europe and the World
  • Against the tide: alternative migratory projects and ruptures with the politically and culturally-dominant émigré group
  • Studying emigration in the twenty-first century
  • The émigré novel and memoirs in the long eighteenth century literary landscape

–   Any other topic relevant to the conference


Please email abstract of 300 words by 5th April 2017 to: and


More information on the organisation of the conference and accommodation arrangements will be provided to participants in due course.

Call for Papers: Early-Career Researchers Day-Conference on the History of Celebrity


Keynote Speaker: Professor Antoine Lilti, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris

Venue:            Institute of Historical Research, London

Date:               Wednesday 29th March 2017

Time:              10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.

Deadline for abstracts: 15th February 2017

Among the most significant recent contributions to ‘celebrity studies’ and the early history of celebrity is Antoine Lilti’s Figures publiques. L’Invention de la célébrité (1750-1850). The English translation forthcoming in 2017 is eagerly awaited. Professor Lilti will give the keynote address, entitled ‘Public figures and private lives: the invention of Celebrity’, at this day-conference in which postgraduate and post-doctoral researchers are invited to contribute papers.

Lilti’s Figures publiques offers a genealogy of the concept of celebrity in French, British and North American societies dating back to the eighteenth century when it emerged alongside notions of increased selfhood and personal authenticity. This emergence, Lilti also shows, was linked to a ‘media revolution’ that democratised access to portraiture, and a growing taste for biographies, autobiographies and private lives. Lilti revisits Jürgen Habermas’s notion of the ‘public sphere’, but argues that while the development of new forms of ‘publicity’ may have facilitated rational debate and criticism, it also stimulated prurient curiosity and trivia. In the new, affective and intimate relationship now conjoining celebrities and their public, members of the general public wanted to meet and become acquainted with famous people, and thought about them in a familiar, informal manner. Celebrities too had to accept that the expanded public would comment and criticise them, and they thus had to contend with detractors as well as fans.

This day-conference seeks to offer an overview of the history of celebrity from the beginnings sketched out by Lilti and through to the present day. How has celebrity been understood? What forms has it taken? Can we detect stages in its development?

Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The representation of celebrity
  • The perception of celebrity by contemporaries
  • The legacy of celebrities
  • Semantic studies on celebrity
  • How people lived celebrity
  • The representation of celebrities in print
  • Comparative studies of reputation/celebrity/glory

We particularly encourage papers from early career scholars working on Europe and North America from the eighteenth century to the present.

The conference is co-organized by Anaïs Pedron (Queen Mary University of London, and Dr Clare Siviter (Université Blaise-Pascal, The workshop is generously funded by the Society for the Study of French History, the School of History and the Eighteenth-Century Seminar at Queen Mary University of London.

The deadline for submissions is 15th February 2017. Abstracts of up to 300 words should be sent to the conference organisers at

Attendance is free. There is no registration fee but due to limited space, advance registration is required.

Please send enquiries to

Antoine Lilti is one of the foremost social and cultural historians of eighteenth-century France and the Enlightenment. He is attached as directeur d’études to the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Among his many publications are Le Monde des salons. Sociabilité et mondanité à Paris au XVIIIe siècle (2005), translated as The Society of Salons : Sociability and Worldliness (Oxford University Press, 2015) and Figures publiques. L’invention de la célébrité (1750-1850), (2014; English translation forthcoming, 2017).

Professionalization and Networks Study Day

Earlier this summer, we had the pleasure to welcome Dr. Rebecca Dowd Geoffroy-Schwinden for the final Revolutionary Researchers event of the year. The morning started off with Rebecca’s lecture followed by a discussion, and then three shorter presentations by UK PhD students in the afternoon.

We had discussed Rebecca’s thesis, ‘Politics, the French Revolution, and Performance: Parisian Musicians as an Emergent Professional Class, 1749-1802’ during our reading group in March and so Rebecca’s visit was a fantastic opportunity to carry on our conversation and we are very grateful for her visit. In both sessions, the themes of networks and professionalization dominated, especially the methodology we should adopt as scholars to trace such individuals and institutions. Rebecca explained how the Revolution purposefully demolished and established institutions, but that these ‘new’ entities often carried on from their predecessors. Although musicians were the only artists to not have an authoritative institution before the Revolution, Rebecca showed that a less formal network existed prior to 1789 in the form of masonic lodges. Even during the ancien régime, musicians were able to transform their status through these lodges: instead of being church servants, they now played alongside amateurs, in a body of players from differing social ranks. Within this institution, all were supposedly equal. Rebecca argued that this experience transformed musicians’ status in the new Revolutionary institution of the Conservatoire. This institution’s members had often been masons, and having belonged to such an establishment greatly helped a musician’s chances not only of gaining a position in the new Conservatoire, but of holding on to his position during the budget cuts of the late 1790s. It was a formative experience in a musician’s quest to become a professional. As PhD students, it was very beneficial for us not only to continue the discussion from March but to see how Rebecca’s research had developed over her time as an Early Career Researcher.

Maïa Kirby then gave a presentation entitled ‘The Democratic Sphere: Communications to the French National Assembly’s Committee of Research, 1789-1790’ where she presented her impressive database built from information from over 12,000 archival documents, originating from all over France and sent to Paris. Maïa’s paper was particularly revelatory, because although many of the letters were denunciations, attempting to unseat elements of the ancien régime, they offer us a new view of how the revolution was carried out at the municipal level. Stacie Allan then spoke to us about networks of female authors such as Madame de Staël and Claire de Duras during the early nineteenth century and their political engagement. Although women are traditionally side-lined in these narratives, Stacie demonstrated not only how they interacted in the political sphere through their novels, but how women could be politically engaged when correcting and influencing male productions, which Simone de Beauvoir continued to do with Jean-Paul Sartre well into the twentieth century. Finally, Clare Siviter’s presentation returned to show how theatrical continuity and rupture can be traced through the ‘Registres de la Comédie-Française’ project. As Rebecca had shown with her case study of continuity and rupture, this database reveals that many elements of the ancien régime lasted into the Revolution, allowing the discussion to return to methodological questions of what such an approach reveals or hides and how we as researchers should treat such questions.

Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden, ‘Politics, the French Revolution, and Performance: Parisian Musicians as an Emergent Professional Class, 1749-1802’, Thesis, Duke University, 2015

This term’s reading group was dedicated to the notion of the ‘emergence of a professional class’, for which Jonathan chose Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden’s recent doctoral thesis. The aim of this session was to help us think about this phenomenon within our own Revolutionary artistic communities at the centre of our research.


We agreed that this was a conceptually useful and stimulating approach, which emphasised how informal ancien régime relationships became institutionalised by the Revolution. In her third chapter, which was the focus of our discussions, Geoffroy-Schwinden uses the history of the Conservatoire as a ‘history from below’ instead of the traditional top-down approach, she investigates French actors outside of France, and how musical activity whilst in emigration could licence an émigré’s return: the regime had an inherent belief in music’s didacticism.


Geoffroy-Schwinden’s work created much discussion and forced us to reflect on our own approaches. Fabio, who has worked on both real and imaginary networks around Cherubini advocated for a more contextual approach; Jonathan wanted to look at the relationships not just between composers, but between composers and librettists, and how the wider network, which invariably involved the Church, the military, and other teachers in the Conservatoire impacted on these friendships and the works themselves. What about the international scene and how did the identity of ‘French’ fit into this? Essentially, we just wanted to know more about our own and different case studies.


This brought us onto a more detailed methodological dialogue, reflecting on topography. Cosmin rightly argued that such an approach was necessary to underline the social context at the time which can all too easily be left aside but that such approaches could run the risk of generalising. In our interdisciplinary environment we wanted to know how topology differs between the disciplines, both now and at the time. The principle question was simply how do we do this? How do we track these networks and measure their impact? How do we move beyond the institutions which are at the basis of our studies? This harked back to our discussions on the Revolution as a moment of continuity or rupture. Was 1789 really such a moment of rupture?

‘Revolution Under a King: French Prints 1789-92’, UCL Art Museum, London

After the Napoleonic exhibitions which have dominated the scene recently, it was very refreshing to return to some earlier, Revolutionary prints and we are very grateful to Dr. Richard Taws for welcoming us to the UCL Art Museum and giving us a guided tour.


Whereas the Terror attracts the most British attention, the curators, Emeritus Professor David Bindman and Dr. Richard Taws, wanted to focus on the period before this, whilst Louis XVI was still alive. The exhibition displays an intriguing collection of prints, from those of the three Estates, to the women marching on Versailles, the hidden silhouettes of tobacco boxes, Louis XVI for target practice, and contemporary political figures to name but a few subjects. However, whilst we might be familiar to some of these prints, this exhibition puts them into context. For example, in the ‘Réunion des trois ordres’ we are used to the image of the third estate carrying the noble and the clergyman, but in this example there are three etchings printed together: that we know well, but also one where all three estates embrace each other and where the third estate rides the back of the noble, who is dragged by the clergyman, all three men donning cockades: We were forced to reconsider our assumed knowledge: in ‘Il faut en goûter’ the traditional revolutionary bonnet is green instead of red. Is the bonnet an earlier form of Father Christmas whose subsequent marketing has made us think of him as dressed in red?


Dr. Taws talked in depth about revolutionary print culture animating a rich discussion. He explained about print culture at the time, about the speed of printing and appropriation of former images with the change of events, but also how a normal household could own between 4 and 6 such prints, and whilst a print might lend itself to a certain reading, this interpretation was in no means unified. The objects we see set behind glass become astonishingly alive.


The democratic side of these objects was fascinating. Taws described how minor or side-lined artists could make a name for themselves as salon culture became more democratic. These images in turn allowed people to engage more actively in politics: they recognised political figures, the most famous example of which would be the recognition of Louis XVI at Varennes after his flight from Paris. This complimented our discussions from December on Lilti’s Figures publiques, l’invention de la célébrité, where Lilti pays significant attention to the role of images in the rise and democratisation of celebrity.


The most thought provoking point though was the role prints played in how Revolutionary events were historicised, for example by creating a cult around the Bastille, or by pre-producing prints for political events before they had actually occurred. These images significantly impacted on the contemporary, and our, understanding of the French Revolution.


More information on the exhibition can be found at: and there is an excellent blog:

Rebecca Powers: “Representations of le travail under the July Monarchy (1830-1848)”

Many congratulations to Rebecca Powers, a member of the Revolutionary Researchers network, who has recently finished her PhD at John Hopkins University. Here is the abstract of her dissertation:

“Representations of le travail under the July Monarchy (1830-1848)”

This project investigated how the ubiquitous but elusive concept of labor was operating at different levels of discourse in the 1830s and 1840s. After their contribution to the July Revolution, French workers were hoping for improved social conditions, but were promptly denied them. Their frustration came to a head in 1848, when they demanded the right to work. This moment is often considered the beginning of the labor movement in France, but I contend that it is during the years leading up to 1848 that “travail” underwent its most dramatic consecration as a modern value.

In order to better understand how the term took on such significance, I examined a variety of cultural documents, both literary and what we would today consider paraliterary, although this is a more recent distinction. I relied on Michel Foucault’s theory of discourse formation, whereby various texts contribute to an authoritative understanding of a given subject. The corpus included novels by Honoré de Balzac and George Sand; moralist inquiries by L.R. Villermé and H.A. Frégier; Jules Michelet’s historiography of the French peuple; and writings by the workers themselves, whose first-hand accounts of physical labor were becoming increasingly influential. I found a progression in the modalities of representation of work over the course of the July Monarchy: “le travail” shifted from an object of observation in Balzac, to a subject of discourse in Sand and the moralists, and finally to a political imperative in the workers’ press. Additionally, I discovered that, even as authors strove to represent labor as an observed reality, they were nonetheless highly dependent upon the imaginary types and tropes of literature, highlighting the centrality of literature in the formation of a social conscience.

May scholars before me have investigated textual instances of the emergence of a working-class identity in France, usually conceiving of 1848 as a point of rupture. Historians William Sewell, Jacques Rancière, and Joan Scott have studied popular discourse leading up to that moment, while French literary scholars Roland Barthes and, quite recently, Claire White have focused on the author’s own identity as laborer after 1848. However, before my project, the centrality of literature in the construction of a paradigm for understanding the social reality of labor before1848 had been neglected. Historians discounted the literary significance of the texts which form discourse, while most literary scholars ignored texts which did not fit an aesthetic or generic category, such as worker-writer newspapers. As a result, there was a gap to be filled as to how cultural and literary writings worked together to form the backbone of a discourse on labor which would ultimately lead to the uprisings of 1848. My research contributes to a more complete understanding of the cultural tapestry of the July Monarchy.

Le Musée de la Révolution française and le centre de documentation-bibliothèque Albert Soboul

Le Musée de la Révolution française, Domaine de Vizille

Le Musée de la Révolution française, Domaine de Vizille

Whilst at the conference ‘Collectionner la révolution française’ we had a little chance to explore the Museum’s collections and we were luckily enough to be shown the library as well as have free access to the ‘fonds ancien’. The museum is actually set in the former presidential chateau (seeing a state of the art bathroom from over half a century ago was an experience!), but most of the space has been redesigned in a thoroughly modern way to display the Museum’s fascinating collections.

The museum also has a very precious resource which might be of interest to the Revolutionary Researchers, the ‘centre de documentation-bibliothèque Albert Soboul’ with over 27,000 works. 3,000 are dedicated to history of art during the period, 20,000 to French Revolutionary historiography, 4,000 in the ‘fonds ancien’, 36,000 prints and 25,000 microfiches, not to mention the press at the time. The ‘fonds ancien’ was particularly interesting. Taking the example of poetry and theatre, the centre de documentation had some remarkable bound collections of Revolutionary plays which were deemed to be ‘political’ as well as some beautiful first editions.

What is more, the Museum and centre de documentation are able to accommodate researchers free of charge in the gothic tower (see their conditions below). Speaking to several of the academics who had worked there, they said it was a fantastic and idyllic experience, and an opportunity well worth taking up!

For more information see:

‘Collectionner la révolution française’, 23rd-25th September 2015, Grenoble and Domaine de Vizille, Musée de la Révolution française

Collections of objects from the French Revolution were the topic of discussion, as a modern-day collection of French Revolutionary scholars gathered in Grenoble and then at the Musée de la Révolution française in Vizille, nestled in the Alps. A blog space is far too short to give this fantastic conference full justice but the programme can be found here, and hopefully the ‘actes’ will be published:

The first afternoon opened with an introduction from Michel Biard, who was followed by Alain Chevalier’s paper which gave a very useful overview of the French Revolution collecting habits, from 1790 to the present day. Laurent Le Gall and Serge Aberdam’s fascinating papers relied heavily upon regional collecting practices and scholarship, whilst Raymond Huard concentrated upon the collector Marcelin Pellet’s republican influences in the construction of his collection.

After a spooky arrival at Vizille which was bathed in fog, the second session ‘Collections érudites, collections engagées’ got underway. Tom Stammers, who we were lucky enough to have speak at the Revolutionary Researchers Study Day in 2014, spoke about Jean-Louis Soulavie, and his collecting habits during the Revolution, especially papers which could later be helpful for him in the changing political tides. Michela Lo Feudo was concerned with how Chamfleury’s collection had been dispersed, and proposed alternative notions of collection, such as that of novel writing. Jean-Marie Bruson then spoke about the Count Alfred de Liesville’s collection which was instrumental in the Musée Carnavalet’s holdings. Aurore Chéry then gave a great paper on the modern royalist collections, their activities since the bicentenary, and questioned the ethics of these collections.

The afternoon focused on the institutions of the Bibliothèque nationale de France with Yann Fauchois’s paper, and the Archives nationales with the archivists Yann Potin and Martine Sin Blima-Barru. All the speakers highlighted the difficulties of classification of the Revolutionary collections, most amusingly and disbelievingly in Martine Sin Blima-Barru’s paper on Dubois who was employed by the Archives nationales in the nineteenth-century and stole many documents to collect their signatures, which after being divided, were re-collected by the Archives nationales. Magali Charreire finished the afternoon with a paper which would have attracted many Revolutionary Researchers, on Pixerécourt, Nodier and Lacroix.

The final day saw the collections become international. Vladislava Sergienko, Guillaume Nicoud, and Elena Myagkova all spoke about the intriguing Russian collections and archives of the French Revolution, including their classification, division and how the French Revolution was understood through the Russian Revolution. Then the focus became Anglophone, with Julia V. Douthwaite asking whether one can collect innocently, especially for an American institution which receives patronage or has an ideological aim, after which Kate Astbury and Clare Siviter gave a paper on the Marandet Collection at the University of Warwick and how it can be used online. The afternoon finished with historiographical collections, with Antonio De Francesco speaking about Harvard University’s collection of Alphonse Aulard’s works, and Yoshiaki Omi’s paper on the Michel Bernstein collection in Japan.

In all, it was an enthralling conference which created much discussion and debate!