search the archive
search the archive
The English Civil War in the Romantic and Victorian Period. France-England, 1789-1901. University of Rouen, 9-10 October 2014
full name / name of organization:
University of Rouen, France.
Nowadays the English Civil War is a mostly forgotten episode in British history on both sides of the Channel. Yet, this has not always been the case. In the nineteenth century, the “Great Rebellion” was a reference point that helped contemporaries to make sense of the political upheavals on the Continent; it was also an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a wide range of artists and writers. The phrase “English Revolution” – which echoes the “French Revolution” – was coined by François Guizot to refer to the period spanning the years 1640-1660. It reflects the social, religious and political changes that affected the British Isles in the middle of the seventeenth century.
The French Romantics, who were enthusiastic about national and European history, viewed the English Revolution as a watershed in European civil history. Even before 1789, this moment of upheaval was thought to portend the momentous events that deeply transformed French society at the end of the eighteenth century. Still what most Romantics learned from the English Revolution was its utopian dimension. Hugo was so fascinated by Cromwell that he gave him the leading role in his first “drame” in 1827, and on several occasions he returned to this enigmatic figure in his work. In Le Rhin he wrote: “On admire Charles ler; on ne peut que plaindre Louis XVI. Quant à Cromwell, l’enthousiasme hésite devant ce grand homme difforme. Ce qu’il a de Scarron gâte ce qu’il a de Richelieu; ce qu'il a de Robespierre gâte ce qu’il a de Napoléon”. Indeed, many writers were led to rethink the French Revolution in terms of the English Revolution, which may account for why so many Restauration publications were concerned with Cromwell (Villemain, Histoire de Cromwell, 1819 ; Guizot, Histoire de la Révolution de l’Angleterre depuis Charles Ier jusqu’à la restauration de Charles II, 1826-1827). In the same way, on the stage, Dumas and Mérimée imagined Cromwell as a Romantic hero.
In nineteenth-century Great-Britain, the English Revolution was also vividly remembered. In socio-political debates, it aroused either fascination or abhorrence as striking parallels were drawn between Cromwell and Napoleon, between Charles I and Louis XVI, or between Henrietta-Maria and Marie-Antoinette. After a century of denigration, the character of Cromwell eventually had gained some supporters, first among Dissenters, then among a wider audience, especially Whig sympathizers. Moreover, Thomas Carlyle’s publication of Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches in 1845 contributed decisively to rehabilitate a historical figure that had been generally viewed as Charles I’s murderer. But the reassessment of Cromwell did not mean “Charles the Martyr” was eclipsed. The feast day of Charles the Martyr was only removed from the Book of Common Prayer in 1859 and is still commemorated by members of the “Society of St Charles the Martyr”.
The nineteenth-century revival of interest in the English Civil Wars also resulted in the edition of primary sources such as Memoirs, letters, and collections of pamphlets that had never been published before. Civil Wars were used as settings for several paintings, plays and novels, among which Sir Walter Scott’s novels are the most famous. They also constituted a source of inspiration for romantic poets, from Wordsworth to Shelley.
Even though the appeal of the English Revolution has its own history in France and in England, the editorial history of a number of Civil War texts shows interactions between the two nations. For instance Guizot’s History of the English Revolution (1826) was translated into English in 1838 and until the publication of S.R. Gardiner and C. H. Firth’s histories at the end of the 19th century, Guizot’s History was deemed the most authoritative narrative. Conversely, during the French Revolution, texts by Milton, Harrington and Needham were translated into French and in the 1820s, Scott’s novels were translated into French as soon as they were published in England. This was for instance the case of Woodstock, or The Cavalier (1826) which was adapted for the French stage as early as September 1826. In many respects, in both countries, the troubled history of the Civil War was essential to make sense of rapidly changing times.
Contributions (in English or French) may concern France or England and address the following issues:
This international conference is rganized by the CÉRÉdi (« Centre d’Études et de Recherche Éditer/Interpréter » - EA 3229) and ERIAC (« Equipe de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Aires Culturelles » – EA 4705)
Please send abstracts (300 words) and a short bio-bibliographical note by 1 February 2014 to Claire Gheeraert-Graffeuille, Tony Gheeraert and Sylvain Ledda.