In the history of the French Revolution, the 14 July 1790 Festival of the Federation has the distinction of being the only event upon which everyone seems to agree, when people across the country unanimously supported the new nation. This article analyzes three of the best-known fictional accounts embroidered upon the festivities in order to demonstrate that literary analysis does more than generate what Daniel Gordon calls the "glow" of history. Literature allows us to "get it": to get the jokes, the innuendoes, and the sarcasm relayed by contemporaries on socio-political issues of their day. Historians have detailed the elaborate physical land works and the propaganda campaign that prepared the site and the spectators of the July 1790 ceremonies; but Julie philosophe (1791), La Boussole nationale (1790), and L'Isle des philosophes (1790) depict the gossip and political jockeying that likely went on behind the scenes, and announce bedfellows that are rarely conjoined today: Voltairean wit, Catholicism, and Freemasonry.

Contributor's Note

Professor of French at the University of Notre Dame, Julia V. Douthwaite's most recent publications include The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster: Dangerous Experiments in the Age of Enlightenment (2002) and articles in European Romantic Review, Littérature et engagement pendant la Révolution française (ed. Brouard-Arends and Loty), and Annales de la Société Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Of Candide ILLUS.doc (2220 kB)