The Body Politic: Corporeal Metaphor in Revolutionary France, 1770-1800

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Stanford University Press, 1997 - History - 363 pages
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This is a remarkable history of the French Revolution told through the study of images of the body as they appeared in the popular literature of the time, showing how these images were at the very center of the metaphoric language used to describe the revolution in progress.

The author draws upon some 2,000 texts, pamphlets, announcements, opinions, accounts, treatises, and journals to exhume the textual reality of the Revolution, the body of its history. The deployment of bodily images--the degeneracy of the nobility, the impotence of the king, the herculean strength of the citizenry, the goddess of politics appearing naked like Truth, the bleeding wounds of the Republican martyrs--allowed political society to represent itself at a pivotal moment in its history.

Searching for "the body of history," the author finds three forms of political representation: first, the metaphysical representation of the body as an anthropomorphic symbol of the political system--the transition of sovereignty from the body of the king to the great citizen body; second, the metaphorical representation of the body as a tool of discourse for persuasion--the embodied tale of the revolutionary epic; and third, the representation of the body in public ceremonies--street carnivals and funerals.

The introductory chapter studies the symbolic defeat of the king's body and the transfer of virility to the Republican body. Later chapters examine the new patriotic body as described in medical terms; paintings by David that show the revolutionary hero as "political body"; the Revolutionary subject conceived in terms of regeneration; its opposite, the aristocratic body, conceived as monstrous; and the bestial images projected onto Marie Antoinette.

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About the author (1997)

Antoine de Baecque is Professor at the University of Saint Quentin in Yvelynes, France.

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