Crisis in Representation: Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, Helen Maria Williams, and the Rewriting of the French Revolution

Overview

This study describes how three prominent Anglo-American writers changed their early views of the French Revolution after the Terror of 1793-94. Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Helen Maria Williams illustrate the crisis in representation confronting writers who had previously committed themselves to the Revolution of 1789. They were the principal participants in the ongoing revision of the French Revolution, not only because of their contemporary prominence, but also because they were living in ...
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Overview

This study describes how three prominent Anglo-American writers changed their early views of the French Revolution after the Terror of 1793-94. Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Helen Maria Williams illustrate the crisis in representation confronting writers who had previously committed themselves to the Revolution of 1789. They were the principal participants in the ongoing revision of the French Revolution, not only because of their contemporary prominence, but also because they were living in revolutionary France during the Terror. The crisis in representation was, for them, intensely public and personal. All three responded by "writing out" the crisis - in the simultaneous sense of erasure and exposure - by reconceiving the Revolution through strategies and themes of repetition. Wollstonecraft and Williams explained the Terror as a "counterrevolutionary" return to the past, and both represented it as a repetitive version of Shakespeare's Macbeth. This intertextual revision is also resonant in the works of Thomas Paine. His historical contribution to the crisis was the recreation of himself as the revolutionary writer who had literally authored the American Revolution that, in turn, had "caused" the French Revolution. For Paine, Wollstonecraft, and Williams, the crisis in representation was actually a variety of representational crises. That they returned to the paradigms of the past to resolve the crisis signified that they were rewriting the Revolution within the textual space of the tradition they had originally opposed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611471434
  • Publisher: Fairleigh Dickinson
  • Publication date: 10/1/1997
  • Pages: 273
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Abbreviations
Acknowledgments
Introduction 13
1 In the Beginning: Thomas Paine's Two Revolutionary Careers 25
2 Paine's Revolutionary Comedy: The Bastille and October Days in the Rights of Man 45
3 Revisionist Patricide: Thomas Paine's Letter to George Washington 57
4 From the Beginning: Paine's Obsession with Origins and The Age of Reason 74
5 Wollstonecraft and the French Revolution 89
6 Wollstonecraft, Macbeth, and the Death of Louis XVI 102
7 The Bastille's Blood: The October Days, Barriers, and Marie Antoinette 120
8 The Inevitability of Progress: A Revolution Within, Happier Far 139
9 Helen Maria Williams and the French Revolution 153
10 Comedy, Tragedy, and Romance in William's Letters from France 163
11 The Sublime and Beautiful in Williams' Letters from France 180
12 Feminine Representation: Helen Maria Williams' Letters from France 199
13 Rewriting the Revolution: Contextual Contradiction in Williams' Letters from France 215
Epilogue 236
Appendix Paine's Letters to Burke 240
Notes 243
Works Cited 261
Index 269
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