The Objects

31st May 1815

Source: gallica.bnf.fr, with permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Novel writing at a time of political upheaval

Contributed by: Katherine Astbury

Journalistic comment during the 100 days on the production of novels is heavily reminiscent of discussions during the French Revolution 25 years earlier. Commentators in both instances felt that it was wrong to be devoting attention to something as trivial as novels at a time of such political turmoil. Nevertheless, the production of novels continued both during the Revolution and in the 100 days and occasional reviews of novels did still appear.

In May 1815, the Journal de Paris remarked that its reading public only wanted political news, but it did review Charles-Antoine-Guillaume Pigault-Lebrun’s novel 'Adélaïde de Méran'. Pigault-Lebrun was one of the most prolific writers of the period, a big name whose publications were too significant to ignore. The novel (which had come out in March 1815) was criticised for containing a villain worse than that to be found in any contemporary melodrama...

Other new novels appeared during the brief months of Napoleon's return to power but they do not generate reviews in any of the press - Madame de Méré’s Madame de Lignolles ou fin des aventures de Faublas and Roussel’s Marguerite de Rodolphe, ou l’orpheline du prieuré, both published in late May or early June 1815, are not deemed worthy of displacing reviews of works on Constant’s constitution for instance.

History writers were also affected by the enthusiasm for politics. Séphanie-Félicité de Genlis brought out her 'Histoire de Henri le grand' during the 100 days. She too was a big enough name to have the work reviewed but the reviewers’ comments remind us of the difficulties of timing a publication: Madame de Genlis had, we are told, started the novel years ago but only returned to it in 1814. A year later, when it was ready to publish, it was not really the right time for a royalist publication. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that the publisher brought out a second edition in 1816 once Louis XVIII was firmly established on the throne once more...

Geolocation

The lack of major novelistic production during the 100 days is of course above all a result of the brevity of the period. The 100 days did, however, subsequently inspire some of France's best-known novelists. Stendhal uses the battle of Waterloo in the opening chapter of La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma); Alexandre Dumas uses the 100 days as the context for Le Comte de Monte Cristo (The Count of Monte Cristo) and Hugo has Jean Valjean retrace Napoleon's march north, the vol de l'aigle, in Les Misérables.


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