Monthly Archives: November 2014

Liberation, Occupation—Inspiration Bonaparte? Literary and Artistic Responses to Napoleon

Liberation, Occupation—Inspiration Bonaparte? Literary and Artistic Responses to Napoleon

California State University Long Beach

14-15 November 2014

Devon Cox, PhD candidate on the ‘French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era’ project at University of Warwick recently attended a conference on artistic and literary responses to Napoleon Bonaparte hosted by the Department of Romance, German, and Russian Languages and Literatures at California State University Long Beach. Being a multi-cultural, multi-lingual department, the scope of papers and presentations was pan-European, leaning heavily towards German responses, particularly those of Schiller and Kleist, but incorporating an engaging mixture of British, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish responses as well.

The conference began with a series of readings of literary responses to Napoleon Bonaparte from writers across Europe. These included excerpts from Napoleon’s meeting with Goethe (1808), ‘German Catechism’ (1809), ‘War Songs of the Germans’ and performed scene from The Prince of Homburg [1809] by Heinrich von Kleist as well as:

  • Excerpt from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
  • “In the Desert” by Herman Melville (1876)
  • Excerpt from Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis by Ugo Foscolo (1802)
  • “Spanish Civil Catechism in Questions and Answers” (1808)
  • Excerpt from “Memoires of Friedrich von Hoven” by Friedrich von Hoven (1840)
  • “Napoleon” by Walter de la Mare (1906)
  • Excerpt from Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
  • Excerpt from Ten Years of Exile by Madame de Stael (1804)
  • Excerpt from “Of Tombs” by Ugo Foscolo (1807)
  • “To Karl Theodor von Dalbert” by Friedrich Schiller (1804)
  • “Letter to Otto August Rühle von Lilienstern” by Heinrich von Kleist (1805)
  • “Ode to Buonaparte” by Lord Byron (1814)
  • Excerpt from Act II of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini (1899)

The conference illustrated the overwhelming diversity of responses to Napoleon in literature, drama, art and architecture across Europe and beyond.  These included responses during the Empire period and in the subsequent two centuries.

Day One focused on German responses to Napoleon at the outset of the nineteenth-century. Professor Jeffrey High (CSULB) presented on “Napoleonic (pre-)Occupations: Schiller’s Aesthetic Vision of Bonaparte and German Unification” followed by Laura Anna Maco’s (Università di Padova) paper on “Friedrich Hölderlin and The French Revolution, and Napoleon: Biographical Encounters and Literary Responses” exploring the work of writers in an anti-Napoleonic milieu.

A familiar theme in many of the papers was that of Napoleon’s central role in the development of nationalism and national identity in early nineteenth-century Europe. Noah Ziggy Gentele (Yale University) presented on “Ingres and the Perspectives of Bonapartism” in which he unpacked portrayals of Napoleon Bonaparte in the paintings of Ingres as a manifestation of visual propaganda in Napoleonic France.  Gentele’s paper tied in closely with that of Devon Cox (University of Warwick) who presented a paper on ‘History, Nationalism and the Napoleonic stage’ wherein he discussed the portrayals of historic figures on the Napoleonic stage in both Britain and France as mechanisms of propaganda and nationalism.

Day Two of the conference hosted an interesting battery of papers dealing with post-Revolutionary interpretations of the French Emperor. These papers included Professor Clorinda Donato (CSULB) presented on a fascinating paper on fame and the intellectual role of women in Napoleonic France with her paper “Fame, Writing, Creative and Political Foils: Madame de Staël and Napoleon Bonaparte” and Wolf Kittler (UC Santa Barbara) “Napoleon’s Take on Partisan Warfare: An Analysis of His Letters” presenting responses from Napoleon’s legions in the French islands of the Caribbean.

These were followed by a mixture of artistic responses to Napoleon’s Italian rule manifest in Italian art and architecture with Pasquale Palmiere (Università di Napoli) presenting “The Cult of Saints in Italy during the Napoleonic Age” and Richard Wittman (UC Santa Barbara) presenting “Napoleon, Roman Architecture, and the Catholic Church’s Place in the World”.

The afternoon of Day Two took a distinctly literary turn with posthumous responses to Napoleon Bonaparte with Joannes Endres (CSULB) “Friedrich Schlegel and the Musée Napoleon”, Alana K. Eldrige (University of Nebraska, Lincoln) “Under Napoleon’s Shadow: Balzac’s Young Hero and the Post-revolutionary Lens of La Comédie humaine”, Harold Schefski (CSULB) “Napoleon as Villain in Tolstoy’s War and Peace”, Priscilla Sanchez (CSULB) “Identity Theft: Bonapartism in Maupassant’s Boule de suif” and Enrico Vettore (CSULB) “Acquainted with the Emperor: Napoleon Bonaparte in Carlo Emilio Gadda’s Work”

The questions and concerns raised from this conference have illustrated a staggering amount of research being done in the field of Napoleonic art and literature. It also revealed a host of work yet to be done and I look forward to future conferences on the subject.

Devon Cox

The actress in France and Britain in the 19th century

On the 4th November 2014 the Sorbonne’s Theatre Studies research seminar PRITEPS (Programme de recherches interdisciplinaires sur le théâtre et les pratiques scéniques) held its first general seminar of the academic year on the subject of the actress. The two speakers were Florence Filippi, who has worked extensively on the Napoleonic star actor Talma, and Muriel Pécastaing-Boissière, whose research concentrates on Victorian theatre, an interesting comparison given our project’s interests. Leaving Talma to one side to concentrate on his female counterparts, Filippi’s paper was entitled ‘Emergence du vedettariat théâtral sur la scène française (XVIIIe-XIXe siècles)’. She argued that although French actors gained the status of citizen in 1790, were no longer judicially excluded as they had been under the ancien régime, and women gained emancipation, female celebrity was a new means of continuing the pre-existing marginalization. For Filippi, actresses were in an ambiguous position being both adored and hated, since they went against the bourgeois ideal of a good woman and wife. In examining this ambiguity, Filippi delved into the tension between the reality of the actress and the illusion of her performance onstage, and its relationship with the real world, concluding that the illusion can inform reality. Muriel Pécastaing-Boissière highlighted the continued social exclusion of actresses in Victorian Britain in her paper ‘Les Actrices victoriennes : entre marginalité et conformisme’. After Filippi’s paper it was evident that British actresses occupied a very different position in society principally because of the rigorous class system and strong protestant ideas. For example, a British actress once divorced could only be re-hired if she were to remarry, regardless of whether she actually lived with her new husband or not. Whereas the large French theatres were supported by the State, the British theatres were funded by their performance. This relegated the actress into an even more ambivalent position because she had to simultaneously attract an audience but separate herself from them to maintain an acceptable position in society: she was both marginalized but had to conform. According to Pécastaing-Boissière the refusal of star actresses to perform problematic roles such as Lady Macbeth had an active influence on the development of British playwriting, either hindering strong female roles or forcing the creation of ‘melodramatic’ plays where virtue and order reign at the end after subversive female actions. This led to an interesting discussion comparing the female roles of the two tradition’s repertoire. It was suggested that French theatre had a stronger tradition of dominant women such as Phèdre and Roxane, and as such perhaps it was more acceptable for a French audience in the nineteenth century to contemplate the convincing illusion of the challenging woman, which Victorian society could not tolerate.

Clare Siviter

Prisoner of War theatricals at Portchester castle

On 27 October 2014, Project Investigator Kate Astbury and PhD student Devon Cox went to Portchester Castle (English Heritage) to find out more about the prisoners of war held their during the Napoleonic wars. The prisoners performed theatre in the basement of the keep,. Locals came to watch performances of well-known plays and recent Paris productions, with the prisoners writing their own music to Pixerécourt melodramas for instance, Archival material allows us an insight into the creation of the plays and the conditions in which the prisoners performed. The basement space would have had seats and boxes for the audience but there would have only been 2 entrances on to the stage. Devon’s PhD will look in more detail at the prisoner of war theatricals so watch this space!