Perfectibility in the Revolutionary Era

in The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2002 | ISBN: 9780226160559
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226160573 | DOI:
Perfectibility in the Revolutionary Era

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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A revolution posits the notion not only that individuals are malleable, but also that the whole body politic may be changed. Revolutionary writers recast the age-old biblical figure of l'homme regenere to underline the nascent republic's rupture with the past. This chapter aims to analyze the dialectical images in the revolutionary period to show how the schemes for human improvement seemed to be coming true, if only in illusion, and if only for a brief moment, before the reality of violence, injustice, and political infighting led people to realize how difficult it was to effect self-reform on a national level. Regeneration assumed multiple meanings in the highly charged politics of these years in France and England; for some it was a metaphor of welcome change and much-needed reforms; for others it was an emblem of reckless disregard for a cherished heritage. This shift in political imagery and agency presaged the increasingly strong-arm tactics that would be adopted by the governments of the Convention, the Directory, and the empire. This chapter further focuses specifically on literary texts that depict misguided, sometimes terrifying efforts to meddle with humankind through aggressive interventions both pedagogical and physiological.

Keywords: revolution; regeneration; political imagery; reforms; human improvement

Chapter.  18035 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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