|Title:||Nature's Fury: Violence and Natural Metaphor in the Rhetoric of the French Revolution.|
|Name:||Mary Ashburn Miller|
Visiting Assistant Professor of History and Humanities Reed College firstname.lastname@example.org
This project seeks to answer the question of how participants in the French Revolution
explained, understood, and justified the radical violence in their midst. In analyzing
political speeches, government-sponsored plays, festivals, and popular newspapers, it
reveals that revolutionaries drew allusions between violent transformations in the natural
world and destructive events in their political one. Thus crowds involved in the 1792
September Massacres were called an unstoppable "torrent" that cleansed the earth;
journalists made analogies between the Terror and a hailstorm, suggesting that it would,
"purif[y] the atmosphere, destroy[ing]... the good grain as well as the sterile hay." Even
the meaning of revolution itself could gesture towards the natural world; a "revolution of
the earth," a term used to describe floods and earthquakes, was simultaneously
constructive and destructive, devastating and yet unavoidable. These allusions allowed
enactors and supporters of revolutionary violence to make violence seem like a natural
and necessary part of the revolutionary process, while simultaneously deflecting
responsibility for bloodshed.
Ultimately, this research demonstrates that the logic of the natural world offered the revolutionaries a crucial means of explaining and justifying revolutionary transformation and violence that seemed, at first glance, inexplicable. It gave them a way to acknowledge the fact that revolutionary events often spun out of control, belying the persistent image of the Revolution as a process driven entirely by human will, while still defending the necessity of these events, and their place in a larger historical pattern. What is more, this project suggests that the language we use to describe violence can in turn lead to more violence, and that rhetoric can limit opposition to violence by making it seem as unavoidable as an earthquake.
Miller, Mary Ashburn. A Natural History of Revolution: Violence and Nature in the French
Revolutionary Imagination (Cornell University Press, 2011).
Miller, Mary Ashburn. "Mountain, Become a Volcano": The Image of the Volcano in the Rhetoric of the French Revolution. French Historical Studies 32.4 (Fall 2009).