Cecilia A. Feilla
Department of Literature & Language
Marymount Manhattan College
221 East 71st Street
New York, NY 10021

The Sentimental Theatre of the French Revolution: Virtue, Performance, Politics (Ashgate)

Smoothly blending performance theory, literary analysis, and historical insights, this book explores the mutually dependent discourses of feeling and politics and their impact on the theatre and theatre audiences during the French Revolution. Remarkably, the most frequently performed and popular plays from 1789 to 1799 were not the political action pieces that have been the subject of much literary and historical criticism, but rather sentimental dramas and comedies, many of which originated on the stages of the Old Regime. Feilla suggests that theatre provided an important bridge from affective communities of sentimentality to active political communities of the nation, arguing that the performance of virtue on stage served to foster the passage from private emotion to public virtue and allowed groups such as women, children, and the poor who were excluded from direct political participation to imagine a new and inclusive social and political structure. Providing close readings of texts by, among others, Denis Diderot, Collot d'Herbois, Voltaire, and Beaumarchais, Feilla maps the ways in which continuities and innovations in the theatre from 1760 to 1800 set the stage for the nineteenth century. Her book revitalizes and enriches our understanding of the significance of sentimental drama, showing that it was central to the way that drama both shaped and was shaped by political culture.

La tribu indienne, ou Edouard et Stellina (MHRA)

By Lucien Bonaparte (edited and presented by Cecilia Feilla)

En 1799, Lucien Bonaparte, frère cadet de Napoléon, publie un roman sentimental et exotique, La Tribu indienne, ou Edouard et Stellina. Pour son début littéraire, écrit quand il a 24 ans, il prend pour sujet un thème très populaire à l’époque : une jeune indienne sauve la vie à un européen, mais au lieu de lui en faire récompense, il la vend comme esclave. Loué dans les pages des Soirées littéraires pour ses qualités sentimentales et sa voix de la nature (« Toutes ses peintures, ses images, ses expressions, tantôt énergiques et tantôt gracieuses, sont animées sans jamais cesser d’être naturelles »), le roman de Lucien fait date dans l’histoire de l’exotisme sentimental. À la fois héritière de Rousseau et de Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, et précurseur du romantisme initié par Chateaubriand, qui publie Atala deux ans après (1801), La Tribu indienne marque une étape intéressante avant la mise en place du paradigme romantique. Mais sa parution plusieurs mois avant le coup d’état du 18 Brumaire, dans lequel Lucien joue un rôle clef, a porté ombrage et préjudice à sa diffusion. Devenu ministre de l’Intérieur sous le Consulat, il veut effacer cette oeuvre de jeunesse : il rachète et détruit tous les exemplaires disponibles. Seulement trois exemplaires de cette première édition en ont survécu. Cet unique roman du frère du premier Consul, devenu fort rare, apparaît ici pour la première fois depuis la fin du dix-huitième siècle avec les cinq superbes illustrations du grand artiste Pierre-Paul Prud’hon.

Translating Communities: The Institutional Epilogue of Abelard and Heloise

This article explores the relationship between literary and juridical translation from the twelfth to the eighteenth century through examination of one paradigmatic textual corpus: the institutional epilogue to the letters of Abélard and Héloïse, the twelfth-century lovers and clerics from 1143 to 1817. This corpus survives in the many literary translations of their letters, and in the institutional letters written at each translation of their bodily remains to a new site or tomb. The two epistolary archives enact a "reading" of the letters of Abélard and Héloïse at the same time that they continue the work of those letters, albeit in and for a new episteme. In discussing these two archives, I am concerned with the semantic shift in the meaning of translation from the twelfth to the eighteenth century, as evidenced in the articulations of the religious community of the Paraclete monastery regarding the tomb of their founding members, but also in the articulations of the literary community that embraced the letters of Abélard and Héloïse as a model of passionate love. This article thus explores the ways in which successive generations have edited, collected, and re-membered the bodily and literary corpus of the two clerics through acts of translating.

From `Sainted Maid’ to `Wife in All Her Grandeur’: Translations of Heloise, 1717–1817

The story of the seduction of Heloise by her tutor, the renowned philosopher, Abelard, experienced a remarkable vogue in eighteenth-century France due to a wave of translations at the end of the seventeenth century, and to Alexander Pope’s enormously influential verse epistle, “Eloisa to Abelard” (1717). The interest in the couple’s lives and letters spawned a miniature publishing industry: 58 translations of Pope’s poem alone were published in France between 1751 and 1825. This article charts the transformation in the portrayal of Heloise over the course of the eighteenth century through examination of several key translations of the letters. I explore in particular the way in which the pedagogical applications of the letters in the early eighteenth century illustrate the juxtaposition between their reception as positive examples of writing and rhetoric, on the one hand, and their reception as negative examples of illicit and unhappy love on the other. As authors sought to “correct” the unregulated nature of their love and the perilous joining of passion and education, the letters were chastened and harnessed to middle-class values. As a result, the writers and their letters were transformed into a positive example of the happy marriage that can result from good epistolary practice.

Literary Monsters: Gender, Genius, and Writing in Denis Diderot’s ‘On Women’ and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

This paper focuses on the way in which Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein (1818) engages and rewrites the main tropes and notions of female genius in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The emergence of a gendered notion of genius by the end of the eighteenth century exemplified and articulated in Denis Diderot’s essay `On Women’ (1772), defined genius in women as something monstrous and unnatural. Haunted by visions of women in `hideous’ and `disfigured’ states of transport (in moments of inspiration, orgasm, or hysteria), Diderot’s text both allows for and limits women’s potential for genius by casting creative production in terms of procreative reproduction. Turning to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and her account of the novel’s origin in her preface, I argue that Diderot’s image of monstrous female genius provides a useful framework for elucidating issues of genius, monstrosity, and women’s writing raised in and by Mary Shelley’s work.

Sympathy Pains: Filicide and the Spectacle of Male Heroic Suffering on the Eighteenth-Century Stage

This chapter focuses on an extreme form of fatherhood depicted in heroic and bourgeois tragedies of the long eighteenth century--that of the filicide, or father who kills his offspring. I use the term filicide instead of infanticide or child murder because the deaths depicted in the plays under consideration here primarily involve adolescent and adult offspring rather than infants or children. Although tragic plots involving filicide appeared throughout the eighteenth century, reactions to this dramatic subject were complex and varied, and provide evidence of a significant shift over the course of the century in both the representation and the reception of filicide on stage. These plays pivot on the heroic civic virtue of the original characters, but their form and representation are altered and adapted—sometimes slightly, sometimes completely—for modern sensibilities. I argue that the sentimentalization of stoicism, and the focus on conflicted paternity, placed emphasis less on the severity of the father who kills his offspring (in the tradition of Plutarch) and more on the extreme suffering of the father forced to such an unnatural act (in the tradition of Livy). This heroic and sympathetic suffering of the paternal filicide paradoxically made formerly painful actions acceptable on the theatrical and, later, political stage.

I Weep therefore I am: Tableau and the Eighteenth-Century Invention of the Tearjerker

This article concerns the development of the “sentimental tableau” as a literary and visual form, the primary function of which is to elicit sympathetic tears from viewers and readers. My approach is theoretical, drawing upon the work of Roland Barthes, Michael Fried, and Peter Brooks to map a genealogy from the first “weepies” of the eighteenth century to the early era of film. Of particular interest is the different emotional reaction the tableau seeks to draw from the audience: not tragedy’s purgation of the passions through pity and terror, nor the laugh of comedy, but the sympathetic response of tears. Whereas comedy and tragedy appeal to our reason and judgment—we are moved by the tragic or comic dilemmas the characters face—the sentimental aesthetic (like the melodramatic) appeals directly to the heart. The spectator weeps before he or she can process the “reasons” for it and thus is moved physically and emotionally in a way that is independent of—and even sometimes in contradiction to—reason. Tears are the outward manifestation of the sympathetic response and reflect the way in which the tableau (or frame) is carefully constructed thematically and compositionally to foster greater identification and sympathy with the seen and the scene, to turn viewers into participants, spectators into actors.

Valid XHTML 1.0!