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Visions of Revolution: Writers and the French Revolution of 1848

Date and Time: 
2016
Meeting Location: 
Pigott Hall, Room 216
Meeting Description: 

Jonathan Beecher will give an overview of a book that he is now completing: Visions of Revolution: Writers and the French Revolution of 1848. The book consists of a series of linked essays on writers who witnessed and wrote about the revolution of 1848 and its aftermath. Some of the writers he discusses are familiar (Marx, Tocqueville, Hugo, George Sand, Flaubert); others less so (Lamartine, Marie d’Agoult, Proudhon, Alexander Herzen). The book has two aims: first of all, to convey a sense of the experience of 1848 as the writers lived it. In particular, he wants to try to recover the sense of possibility they felt at a time when the future was still open—when it was not yet clear that the republic had no future. Secondly, he looks closely at the texts produced by each writer, taking account of the narrative structure, voice, imagery, rhetorical strategies and literary conventions that shape each text. The main question: How do these writers account for the rapid and inglorious failure of the Second French Republic and the collapse of the dream of romantic radicals that a “democratic and social republic” might usher in a new age of class harmony and social justice?

Jonathan Beecher is Professor Emeritus of History at UC Santa Cruz. His recent publications include articles on Melville and the Haitian revolution, on Courbet and the Paris Commune, and on “The Making and Unmaking of a Christian Bolshevik.” But the central focus of his research is on French intellectual history: 1800-1850. He is the author of Charles Fourier: The Visionary and his World (1986) and Victor Considerant and the Rise and Fall of French Romantic Socialism (2001). These two intellectual biographies grew out of an attempt to understand the origins of the romantic radicalism that culminated in the revolution of 1848; and the current work is something of a post-mortem on that revolution, asking what explanation (explicit or implied) contemporaries offered for the failure of the Second republic to make good on the hopes inspired by the February Revolution.

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