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  • Days of Glory? Imaging Military Recruitment and the French Revolution by Valerie Mainz
  • Christopher Tozzi
Days of Glory? Imaging Military Recruitment and the French Revolution. By Valerie Mainz. (War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850.) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. xvii + 298, ill.

For decades, scholars have known much about military recruitment and enlistment in Ancien Régime and Revolutionary France: André Corvisier, Samuel Scott, and others have unpacked how French military institutions attracted and enlisted troops, willingly or not. They have also (albeit less frequently) considered how recruitment affected families. This book attempts to expand on these studies of military recruitment in three chief ways. The [End Page 460] first is methodological. Whereas most previous studies of military recruitment in Revolutionary France are rooted in textual sources, Valerie Mainz draws heavily on graphic representations of military recruitment and enlistment, with written documents serving as a complement to these sources. The visual sources that Mainz studies — more than forty of which are reprinted in the book — include images produced by elite artists, as well as less frequently studied images associated with print culture. Second, Mainz is keen to examine how notions of gloire helped to condition military recruitment. Although the study of gloire is not a new topic, it has played a surprisingly small role in previous work on military recruitment and enlistment in France. In addition to considering how shifting understandings and perceptions of gloire impacted recruitment processes, the book aims to offer what Mainz calls a ‘detailed genealogy’ of the concept stretching back to the Roman Republic (p. 11). Third, Mainz is interested in the representation of women within images associated with recruitment. Although women (except in a very small handful of extraordinary cases, which Jean-Paul Bertaud has written about) never enlisted in the Revolutionary French army, they played an important role in recruitment imagery as signifiers of what male enlistees were forced to leave behind when they transformed from civilians into soldiers. In this way, Mainz argues, depictions of women reinforced ‘masculine-engendered Republicanism’ (p. 19). She further contends that, although artistic traditions within recruitment imagery changed following the introduction of conscription, the gender divisions within the images did not, and women therefore remained symbolically excluded from the realm of citizenship. While some specific facets of Mainz’s interventions are novel, by and large her work merely confirms the findings of previous studies of Revolutionary military institutions and recruitment, albeit through a somewhat different methodological lens. That women were denied citizenship rights and excluded from the male public sphere during and for long after the Revolution is not news to any historian of France. Nor are obvious statements, such as: ‘gloire has never been a single, uncontested concept and the French soldier’s patriotism and courage have not always been taken for granted’ (p. 3). In addition, when Mainz attempts to intervene against specific scholarship, her efforts often fall short. For example, she argues that the fact that changing understandings of gloire during the Revolution did not immediately translate into new perceptions of recruits disproves the thesis of Tim Blanning that the French Revolutionary wars marked a radical break with previous modes of warfare (p. 15). The argument here is unconvincing: what Mainz says about attitudes towards recruits hardly undercuts Blanning’s much wider and more significant claims about the disruptive nature of French Revolutionary warfare as a whole. Combined with the book’s factual errors (we are told on page 189 that Maria Theresa was the Empress of Russia, for example), the weak arguments and scant originality within the work make for uncompelling reading. Apart from the novel methodological angle, the book has little to offer scholars beyond what other, better studies of eighteenth-century military recruitment have already achieved.

Christopher Tozzi
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
pp. 460-461
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-21
Open Access
No
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