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First review in Les Nouvelles de l’Estampe #258

A first review of my monograph has been published in the most recent issue of Les Nouvelles de l’estampe. It’s so new in fact that the website hasn’t been updated yet, but I found out through the magic of Twitter:

The editor, Rémi Mathis, very kindly sent me a PDF of the whole review.

It was written by none other than Annie Duprat, whose research I have long-admired and, thankfully, it ends on this very generous note indeed:

Très bien composé et très détaillé, ce livre, qui comporte un appareil critique considérable (notes, bibliographie, index) rendra de très grands services à tous ceux qui s’intéressent à l’histoire culturelle de la Révolution française.

[Translation:] Very well composed and very detailed, this book, which contains a considerable critical apparatus (notes, bibliography, index), will be of great service to all those interested in the cultural history of the French Revolution.

Couldn’t ask for better, frankly.

Dramatic finances: Jacques Necker etched as a charlatan

I have a bit of a twisted fascination for Revolutionary characters that suffer a dramatic downfall after a large amount of popularity. One of these is three times minister of finances Jacques Necker who, frankly, did not have the easiest ride. His infamous Compte rendu au roi (1781) was a document in which Necker manipulated the accounts to present a more positive image of finances. Through this, he gained a tremendous amount of popularity, sometimes depicted as a saviour of France (there was an outcry when he was dismissed on 11 July 1789, just before the storming of the Bastille). By 1790, however, it was clear that he was not up to the task and his popularity evaporated.

I want to draw attention to two prints from 1790 which depict Necker as a charlatan. They’re part of a much wider trend of prints that are fascinated with the concept of unmasking (but that’s a whole other story).


The first print is called ‘Et ne devrait-on pas à̀ des signes certains reconnaitre le cœur des perfides humains’ (1790). The title comes from lyrics taken from Act 4 scene 2 of Rachine’s Phèdre, which immediately adds a dramatic layer to the image.

(roughly, it translates as ‘and shouldn’t we recognize from certain signs the deceitful hearts of humans’)

This etching was an illustration in the book Necker jugé par le tribunal de la lanterne (1790), people must have been a bit confused about it as an explanation was also printed (translation mine):

We read the following: “The King accuses Necker of quackery. In his anger, he flipped the table on which were the instruments, such as cups, nutmegs, wand, etc. The gaze of the king is mingled with indignation and surprise, and he looks ready to burst out in anger against Necker. Necker is depicted with the charlatan apron. He wears a hand to his forehead to mark his humiliation, and the other to his heart, and seems to say to the king “ah! Sire, if you knew my heart!” Through one of his eyes, a mocking laugh escapes, which shows that this adventurer trusts the king’s weakness. A deity embraces with one hand a gallows, and on the other, she directs the rays of the lantern to the chest of Necker, where we see snakes emanate, symbols of the passions that animate this minister. The figure of the deity seems to laugh to mark the joy she feels at having unveiled the heart of this false and corrupt man. Both verses that are at the bottom of the print, are ideally suited to the subject. The French should not regret to have not known sooner the uselessness and vices of this minister, that they had adored so blindly.”[1]

The lantern was used very frequently in 1790 prints, in part because this word has a double meaning, referring on the one hand to the illuminations of a magic lantern, and on the other to lynching. Both senses are used here.


Let’s look at another print, ‘Compte Rendu au roy’, which was published in May 1790 in the Révolutions de France et de Brabant of Camille Desmoulins. The image is without a legend, but earlier in the newspaper, the following appears (my translation again): ‘Necker asked again on Monday for 20 million […] he is always asking for money […] we ask him for accounts, accounts, and he never hands in his accounts […] I demand that […]  Necker the charlatan should be arrested.’[2]

This print is less obvious than the previous one in its satire, until you look at the framed text in the background (‘New way to regenerate France: borrow 1774 / borrow 1775 / borrow 1776 […] product of these operations: deficit’). In the foreground Necker makes a game out of the accounts – but it looks like the king is not convinced.

For now, at least, artists are still willing to give Louis XVI the benefit of the doubt.

Charlatans, as the ultimate manipulators, are no strangers to brutal reversals of fortunes, and Necker’s own iconographical evolution deserves its own study, alongside the more popular Marat, Mirabeau, or Louis XVI.

[1] BNF, De Vinck, 1396.

[2] 7 mai 1790, p. 539.

The Return of the Academic Hat


I’ve been a bit quiet on this website for the last few months – my poetry and editing hat have rather taken over while my academic one has been gathering dust. This week, these things have turned around, partly because my tour has finished for the year, and partly because I’m off to the Paris archives tomorrow, to work on my monograph Staging Satire: Theatrical Metaphors in Prints of the French Revolution which is nearing completion. I’m very excited about this – my thesis has been hanging over me like a Damocles sword – and I’m glad that my gamble to take time off from regular paid work has worked out for the best where this is concerned!


The other two bits of news that are bringing me back into the academic arena are that firstly my copy of the special issue of Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies on the Clair-Obscur has landed on my doorstep, and that secondly I am frantically transforming a conference paper into an article for the Actes du Colloques: Théâtre et charlatans dans l’Europe moderne to be published by the Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

I feel like a bit of a rogue academic sometimes, so this is a nice reminder that my research is of interest. Now, anyone fancy hiring me?

Transforming your thesis into a book: week 4

I have vague memories of first stumbling on the word ‘procrastination’ as an undergraduate, thinking it sounded like a very sophisticated way of labelling an unsophisticated activity. Many of my friends have found ways to at least bring healthiness to their lives via procrastination: they clean the house, they bake cookies, they knit jumpers, they go for a run. None of these things have ever appealed to me, even at my worst levels, because doing domestic or healthy chores will always be far lower in the food chain than the thesis. My weakness is, I think, far more dangerous because it does not have a clear ending: poetry.

I should probably elaborate: poetry projects.

There is a reason, other than passion (and it is there, obviously), why I often find myself juggling poetry projects. For the same reason why a baker-procrastinator may choose a workspace far removed from a kitchen, I deliberately tried to put a lid on projects during the writing up phase of my PhD. I even handed over the reins (temporarily) to Sabotage Reviews so that the distraction of copy-editing and promoting reviews wouldn’t be my excuse for wasting the day. Did that work? Not entirely, Penning Perfumes was thought up, organized, and launched as an anthology.

Why am I sharing this? I normally try to keep my two worlds, poetry and academia separate, but they do find a way to overlap, and this is a struggle I am facing currently. When I laid out my ambitious plan to revise one chapter a week, I completely neglected to take into account my poetry commitments. Currently I am juggling several projects including the creation (and funding application) of my one-woman show based on my poetry collection The Shipwrecked House, planning the launch of the next issue of Verse Kraken, planning the impending Saboteur Awards as well as the day to day admin of copy-editing and organizing reviews, juggling several writing commissions, planning writing courses, and a new exciting anthology of contemporary poetry inspired by history.

This isn’t a list of excuses, truly, it isn’t, but I am still working out ways in which to make both sides of my life compatible and productive. Things that I’ve realized during this teething phase of the revising process, and which may be useful to others, are that the following things work:

  • waking up at dawn (5/6am) and going into a different room to work on the thesis. No one is online, the house is quiet, and a bonus is the wonderful feeling of having achieved something by 9am. The danger lies in allowing the smugness take over the rest of the day.
  • jotting down thoughts immediately instead of acting on them. This has made a world of difference. Where before I’d suddenly remember ‘oh I forgot to reply to so-and-so’, go on emails, do it, then fall into the vacuum of the internet, this way I get to plough on reassured that I won’t forget. This also goes for enthusiastically thought-up poetry projects.
  • setting aside days or chunks of days to get things out of the way. This may seem like a cop out, but if you get built up guilt like me, it works a treat.

Any other tips?

I’m definitely not saying I’ve worked out a way to balance things well yet, but over the last few days I finally feel like progress is made. At long last my mammoth chapter can be put to (sort of) rest, which was the main structural change I wanted to operate. The work is far from over, I feel like both the introduction and conclusion need some serious work done to them, while the other chapters also deserve some attention. It’s a milestone of sorts though.


Building the first 14th July

I’ve long been fascinated by prints of the construction of the Fête de la Fédération of 1790 (i.e the first 14th July celebration). The construction, sometimes called journée des brouettes, took place over a fortnight during which hundreds of Parisians of different backgrounds worked together to create the venue for the Fête de la Fédération itself. The work involved erecting a large amphitheatre capable of containing eight hundred thousand citizens. This collaborative effort was heralded as a symbol of a nation working in harmony to achieve its Revolution, but what I particularly enjoy are the rather irreverent early responses to it by etchers depicting noblewomen, monks, soldiers, and children, all chipping in to make sure the construction is achieved in time for the Fête.

The construction itself is quite an entertaining nose-up to officials who were proud of the perfectly sober long procession, mass, and oath-swearing ceremony they had organized for the day itself. The Chronique de Paris reports for instance the police and civil servants’ numerous attempts to discourage citizens from volunteering to aid the construction. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for us, their attempts to harness the enthusiasm of the populace failed miserably, and there are now at least twenty different print representations of the construction, not counting depictions achieved in different mediums or the numerous copies in which the original prints were slightly modified. This is a significant number. By comparison, contemporary depictions of the Fête approached sixty different representations (including plans of the site and allegories).

One of my favourites is ‘Aristocrates vous voila donc F…’ (Aristocrats you are now f…), a rough hand-coloured etching which has possibly been made and sold whilst the festivities of the Fête de la Fédération were still ongoing. We know it’s popular as it survives in several copies (one of the few markers we have for a print’s success is how often it’s been plagiarized). The print depicts a few workers in a close-up study of a production line, with a particular emphasis on smartly-dressed female workers engaged in various manual tasks.

T0000001_medium (1)

The most obvious festive element in the print is in the text, with lyrics of songs included within and above the image. Damning anti-aristocratic lyrics appear above the image: ‘Aristocrates vous voila donc F… / Nous baiserons vos femmes / Et vous nous baiseré le C…’ (Aristocrats you are now f… / we’ll fuck your women / and you’ll kiss our ar…..). Within the print, variations on the refrain of the Revolutionary anthem ‘Ça ira’ follow the workers. The lyrics are superimposed on the workers giving the impression that the artist wanted to recreate the atmosphere of the works as infused with singing (which would be accurate according to the reports). In this sense, the print went beyond a simple portrayal of the event by urging the viewer to hear the event happening, and perhaps even to perform a representation of it themselves. There is also a sense that the print mocked as much as it praised these ladies—the derogatory song above the image clashes with the text below eulogizing the efforts of the various volunteers.

T0000001_medium (2)

In crowd scenes such as ‘Vue des Travaux’ (possibly made by Pierre Gentot), the focus is on the joyful disorderliness of the workers. This print is slightly more elaborate in execution, using aquatint as well as etching but it doesn’t dampen the energy.  The eagerness of the workers is such that they are displayed tripping and falling over each other in their attempts to help. The image contains many characters and storylines cohabiting within a single frame, such as the woman who has been knocked off her wheelbarrow and is exposing her buttocks, or the vainqueur de la bastille turning up in costume….

T0000001_medium (3)

What strikes me when looking at these prints created closest to the event is that they captured a recklessness and immediacy lacking in the more high quality scale engravings, such as the ‘Travaux du champ de mars pour la Fédération’ from the Tableaux Historiques de la Révolution Française, drawn by Jean-Louis Prieur and engraved by Pierre-Gabriel Berthault (delivered circa 1793-1796). In Prieur’s engraving, the construction is carefully framed and depicted from a remote vantage point. Respectability led to the viewer’s removal from the crowd. However, it is significant that the earlier prints were anonymous, whereas Prieur put his name to his work. With anonymity came greater freedom of expression. This realization is enhanced by the knowledge that Prieur, an active Revolutionary, was guillotined on 7 May 1795 in the aftermath of a popular uprising. His offense, according to James Maxwell Anderson, was to draw ‘the heads of those accused by the Revolutionary Tribunal (of which he was also a member)’ covered in blood. His claim that he had only been sketching ‘silly things’ was not considered a strong enough basis for acquittal, and his patriotism and links to Robespierre further secured his post-Thermidor fall. This emphasizes the dangerous nature of caricatures in a time where political power constantly shifted under the feet of artists.

Further Reading

Emile Campardon, ed., Le Tribunal Révolutionnaire de Paris, 2 vols. (Paris: Plon, 1866).

Chronique de Paris, 5 July 1790, 11 July 1790.

Claudette Hould, ed., La Révolution par la gravure : les “Tableaux historiques de la Révolution française”, une entreprise éditoriale d’information et sa diffusion en Europe, 1791-1817 (Paris: Musée de la Révolution française, 2002).

James Maxwell Anderson, Daily life during the French Revolution (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007).

Warren Roberts, Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Louis Prieur: Revolutionary Artists: the Public, the Populace and Images of the French Revolution  (New York: State University of New York Press, c2000).

Claire Trévien, ‘Le Monde à l’Envers: the Carnivalesque in Prints of the Construction of the Fête de la Fédération of 1790’, French History 26.1 (March 2012), 34-52.

Transforming your thesis into a book: week 1

Godefroy, François, 'Le Jongleur Pitt, soutenant avec une loterie l'équilibre de l'Angleterre et les subsides de la coalition', 1794, BnF.

Godefroy, François, ‘Le Jongleur Pitt, soutenant avec une loterie l’équilibre de l’Angleterre et les subsides de la coalition’, 1794, BnF.

This week has been very much about remembering the nuts and bolts of my thesis, re-reading it, typing up notes I’ve made over the last year and a half, reading the books that have been piling up, doing a sweep of new books that might be relevant to my research, and so on and so forth. I’ve also been busy on the application front, for funding and conferences.

It’s wonderful to know that I finally have the spare time to attend conferences without having to use up my precious holiday days. On the downside, being in the no-man’s land means that you have to pay full-whack for conference fees and without the support a full-time position gives, there are very few places you can apply for conference funding. Wonderful as it is to see so much support for Postgraduates, it would be a huge financial relief to see more opportunities for help for ECRs too.

Overall, it has been a busy week, not least as it’s my penultimate week in Oxford so I also have to juggle making time for friends and tying up loose ends alongside my other creative projects (giving a reading in Reading tonight for instance, and planning my one-woman poetry show). I remember relishing the variety of my projects during my PhD, but I must admit that after a year and a half of 9-5, my sudden freedom is something I’m still learning to adjust to.

My plan to work on one chapter a week did not work out, mostly as I realized there was extra reading and research I wanted to delve into first. I have high hopes for having something more concrete to report by next week however (if the move doesn’t get too much in the way of course!)…. Fingers crossed!

Transforming your PhD thesis into a book

I am, as the excellent Nadine Muller puts it, in that twilight zone between the end of the PhD and the academic job.

I went straight from my PhD into full-time employment and sometimes it feels as if I took a year and a half break from academia. However, when taking a step back I realize that working full-time didn’t stop me from publishing my first critical edition of a text, a brand new thesis-unrelated chapter in a forthcoming book, reviewing for French History and revising a previously submitted article. I’ve maintained my goal to be Impact-heavy with blogs for IB Tauris and the Voltaire Foundation, as well as a series of videos explaining my research. There is the fact too that my work was in the eighteenth century (i.e my field), and for a world leader for eighteenth-century scholarship, so it’s not as if I swapped footnotes for something radically different. In fact, I think that working on other people’s research and being more disciplined with referencing has been a positive for my own practice. I have also made the most of my workplace’s flexibility to gain more teaching experience as an associate lecturer for Oxford Brookes one day a week. Lining up these cold facts makes the year and a half look more active on the academic front, but it doesn’t shake off the feeling that I’ve been prioritising short-term deadlines over the more pressing need to transform my thesis into a monograph.

So here we are now, just me and the thesis with nowhere to hide. I have a spring deadline to resubmit it to the publisher so have taken the gamble to cut down on all paid work outside of the lecturing and the occasional poetry gig and just knuckle down into re-working it. What I want to do to it is clear to me: give a greater thread of unity to four very different chapters, re-work the introduction and conclusion to make them less thesis-like, hack half of a chapter off as it is already published anyway and is taking all the limelight away from the other half.

I can’t help but feel that there is something missing in my thought-process. You often hear the phrase that the thesis and the monograph are two radically different things but finding a precise way to explain that difference has been hard to find.

Here are some websites that I found useful:

  • The Postgraduate Online Research Training website has got a great section on publishing your thesis. The ‘re-writing as a book’ section is particularly useful. I will especially bear in mind the advice to ‘Embed the references to critical literature more naturally within your argument: the rather crude form of the critical survey or literature review, so necessary to the PhD, is perhaps the single thing that will need most work.’
  • An excerpt from William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book was enough to convince me to buy his book. It’s written in a very engaging style and I like the fact that it’s open to various types of monographs: ‘ An idea for a book can be quiet, noisy, insidious, overheated, cool, revisionist, radical, counterintuitive, restorative, synthetic.‘
  • The website PhD2Published has been often recommended to me. It seems mostly aimed at ‘first timers’ as it says, with very useful advice for submitting to journals and so on. It might not have the exact information I need but it is an excellent community and has given me ideas for other aspects of my career, so not one to be sniffed at.

Do you have any others to add?

My goal then, to keep myself accountable, is to write a weekly report of my progress, outlining what I’ve achieved, anything useful that I’ve found in the process, etc. I’m going to try and dedicate a week per chapter, and then a week for the intro and conclusion, followed by a fortnight of tinkering with references and checking the monograph holds up. This is wildly over-ambitious, so wish me luck!


Anon, ‘Vous aurez mon prince tous les plus nouveaux soit journal ou journaux. Je le lirai tous les jours tu ne manquera pas entend tu postillon’, hand-painted etching, c.1790-1792, BnF.