A Cultural History of the French Revolution

Emmet Kennedy

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Two hundred years after the storming of the Bastille, the cultural legacy of the French Revolution is still with us. A painting by David, the tricolor flag, the refrain of "La Marseillaise"—these are the icons of the culture of the French Revolution. This monumental and beautiful book—the first comprehensive cultural history of the period of the French Revolution—discusses a vast array of cultural activities, from painting, music, fiction, theater, and festivals to philosophy, science, education, and religion. The continuities in French culture during this period serve as a colorful backdrop against which the effects of the Revolution can be better evaluated.
Emmet Kennedy views the culture of the revolutionary epoch through a lens that gradually narrows and sharpens in focus. He begins with the relatively peaceful physical and cultural environment of Paris and the provinces, describing attitudes and institutions that existed long after it had finished: the structure of Paris, the corporations, guilds, academies, and salons of the city, the rural landscape and its work routine and festivals. He next deals with intellectual movements in the century surrounding the Revolution: the secular, anti-Christian Enlightenment, from which the Revolution borrowed heavily; neoclassicism and the bourgeois drama of such individuals as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Jacques-Louis David, and Louis-Sébastien Mercier; and the cult of sensibility, which slid into terror and horror at the end of the century in the hands of the marquis de Sade and Louis-Antoine Saint-Just.
The third part of the book deals with the culture of the Revolution itself. Kennedy shows that this decade was one of disruption—of the church, academies, libraries, universities, and royal and ecclesiastical monuments. But reorganizations and creations also ensued, two examples of which were the National Institute, which came from a restructuring of the academies, and the Louvre, which emerged from the period of art confiscation and vandalism.
The period of the French Revolution has alternatively been called the Great Revolution, the Great Fear, the Great Terror, and the Great Nation, and it has come to assume mythic proportions. This book, published in the bicentennial of the Revolution, sorts out the contradictory evidence and provides a fascinating new perspective on the grandeur of the era.

"Professor Kennedy provides a comprehensive historical and sociological analysis of the repercussions of the French Revolution on every level of French society and culture in the late eighteenth century. . . . Kennedy brings depth to his book by studying the philosophical background of the era."—James P. Gilroy, French Review

"This book is a mine of information for anyone interested in French culture in the later eighteenth century. . . . It has a staggering array of superb illustrations."—Harry Dickinson, Scotsman

"The book offers a remarkable collection of information and insights. The illustrations are extraordinary, and receive fine commentary. Such specific problems as the establishment of museums and the desacralization of religious artifacts receive remarkable treatment. Kennedy directs attention to a variety of neglected corners of revolutionary experience. Whether in agreement or opposition to his views, the reader who find him/herself thinking hard about what the Revolution meant."—Jonathan Dewald, Social Science Quarterly

"In many respects, [this] book answers an important need in bringing together research and argument on a wide variety of cultural phenomena."—Simon Schama, New Republic

"Kennedy’s focus . . . makes for a much more thorough coverage than most, with both intellectual, religious and social ground for the Revolution drawn in intricate detail."—Bookwatch

"[An] excellent album of commentary and analysis of the trends in art, literature, architecture and scholarship."—Arnold Ages, The News and Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

"A fascinating panorama of late eighteenth-century French culture. . . . A beautiful book, highly recommended."—Choice

"Kennedy’s approach is fresh, crisply written and generally accessible. It serves not only to complement, but also to challenge more conventional histories."—Steve Paul, Kansas City Star

"The French Revolution is charged with meaning that ever waits to be deciphered. Dr Kennedy is no mean decipherer."—John Cooney, Irish Times

"A fascinating look behind the political turmoil and assessment of the cultural work and impact of the revolution."—David Anderson, Chattanooga News-Free Press

"This thorough and scholarly appraisal of French cultural values, based on the study of long-term trends, argues convincingly that the main effects of the Revolution were political, but then politics reflect, and are determined by the values of the society. . . . It belongs in the library of anyone with a real interest in the period."—Olivier Bernier, Newsday

"Rich in interesting information about the writing, art, music, etc. of the period ."—Keith Bruce, Birmingham Post

"Elegant writing. . . . An attractive, long-needed synthesis."—Colin Jones, New Statesman

"Emmet Kennedy has given us as lucid and as evocative a study as one could wish for."—Sarah Maza, New York Times Book Review

"A historian’s copious but cautious approach to the Revolution’s noble, sometimes savage but ultimately unsuccessful effort to remake French culture."—New York Times Book Review ("And Bear in Mind")

"High culture and low, philosophers’ reflections and peasants’ almanacs are all part of the ’symbolic representation of value’ that Kennedy defines as the proper subject of the cultural historian."—Daniel L. Wick, San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle

"His clear exposition and numerous illustrations should make this appealing to general readers; the impressive scholarship and sound grasp of issues will impress specialists."—Library Journal

"In this scholarly, ambitious synthesis, Kennedy paints the French Revolution as ’a profound cultural event’."—Publishers Weekly

"Very little escapes Kennedy’s microscope as he glides effortlessly through the architecture of Paris to the corporations, guilds, Masonic lodges, and literary salons to the view from the countryside. Kennedy concludes that the culture that remained in the wake of the Revolution was ’immeasurably richer, more efficient, more variegated, if more confused.’ A sound history, supported also by many illustrations."—Kirkus Reviews

"A well-informed, sensitive, and creative synthesis, unique in its scope and ambitions."— Isser Woloch, Columbia University

"Kennedy has set himself an almost boundless task, and succeeded in it very well. Showing to what extent a cultural revolution occurred in conjunction with the political and social changes of the French Revolution, he traces the elements of continuity and change in both the popular and elite cultures from the Old Regime to the Restoration—-in religion and the church, in daily habits and amusements, in aesthetic sensibility, in literary production, the theater, music, painting, sculpture, and architecture. It is a rich feast to which we are invited."—R.R. Palmer, Yale University

ISBN: 9780300044263
Publication Date: September 10, 1989
448 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4