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The Melodramatic Thread

Spectacle and Political Culture in Modern France

James R. Lehning

Publication Year: 2007

In France, both political culture and theatrical performances have drawn upon melodrama. This "melodramatic thread" helped weave the country's political life as it moved from monarchy to democracy. By examining the relationship between public ceremonies and theatrical performance, James R. Lehning sheds light on democratization in modern France. He explores the extent to which the dramatic forms were present in the public performance of political power. By concentrating on the Republic and the Revolution and on theatrical performance, Lehning affirms the importance of examining the performative aspects of French political culture for understanding the political differences that have marked France in the years since 1789.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Interdisciplinary Studies in History


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p. vii

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p. ix

The completion of this book owes much to people who have helped me along the way. Harvey Graff first suggested to me that I write a book that became this one, and offered a place for it in his series with Indiana University Press. Harvey and Bob Sloan of IUP have both been supportive as I have written the book, and...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-19

On June 8, 1794, at the height of the Terror, the leaders of France and the people of Paris celebrated a Festival of the Supreme Being in central Paris. With Jacques-Louis David as impresario, the houses of Paris were decorated with tree branches, flowers, and tricolored flags to demonstrate the productivity of the soil of France and the glory of the Republic....

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2. Varieties of Performance in Nineteenth-Century Paris

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pp. 20-44

The period from the end of Napoleon’s Empire to the Second Empire of the 1850s and 1860s marks a contradictory prehistory of Parisian spectacle, with limited examples of explicitly political demonstrations supplementing a flourishing Parisian theater life. While there were exceptions, such as the ceremonies associated with the restored monarchs or the return of Napoleon’s remains...

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3. Boulevard Spectacles of the Third Republic

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pp. 45-75

The reconstruction of Paris during the Second Empire created a stage on which political French culture could become more performative. Certainly in retrospect we can see the theatrical aspects of public ceremonies or the actions of a political leader. But through social types such as the...

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4. Spectacles of Light and Darkness between the World Wars

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pp. 76-99

The First World War dramatically impacted the culture of all Europeans. Some scholars, such as Paul Fussell, have argued that it created a new form of understanding, a modern one, replacing the romantic forms of the nineteenth century with the irony that has marked the twentieth. Others, notably Modris Eksteins and Jay Winter, have tried to show...

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5. Commercial Spectacles in Postwar Paris

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pp. 100-125

An underlying theme of this book has been the parallels between the dramatic culture of France—the development of genres and styles that marked French theater and film—and the country’s political culture. The performances I have examined thus far illustrate how, both in theaters and in more obviously political spaces, the melodramatic form, with its...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 126-134

This book has been explicitly interdisciplinary, drawing its emphasis on political culture and spectacle not only from historians but also from political theorists, art historians, and literary critics, and its interpretive methods from historical, cultural, and literary studies. Disciplines, we know, are not natural, preordained forms of inquiry that...


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pp. 135-158

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 159-174


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pp. 175-180

E-ISBN-13: 9780253117014
E-ISBN-10: 0253117011
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253349002

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Interdisciplinary Studies in History
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OCLC Number: 216934940
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Melodramatic Thread

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Subject Headings

  • Theater -- France -- History -- 20th century.
  • Theater -- France -- History -- 19th century.
  • France -- History -- Revolution, 1789-1799 -- Theater and the revolution.
  • France -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
  • France -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
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