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Oaths, Odes, and Orations 1789-1830

2020 Paris Symposium of the London-Paris Romanticism Seminar

Ecole Normale Supérieure, rue d’Ulm, Paris

Friday 3-Saturday 4 April 2020

The Tennis Court Oath of 20 June 1789 was the first overtly revolutionary act of the French Revolution and marked the beginning of an epoch in which public speech acts took on unprecedented political significance. The ceremonial odes and hymns of the fêtes de fédération were another manifestation of this renascence of orality, restoring the ancient Pindaric tradition of poetry as public performance and giving new meaning to odic conventions such as invocation, exhortation and apostrophe. In the work of André Chénier and others, this new lyric function produced major poetry. Meanwhile, in the halls of the political clubs, in the National Convention and revolutionary Committees, and from lecterns, pulpits and courtroom benches across France, oratory of all kinds shaped the course of history and decided the fate of individuals. Even on the executioner’s scaffold, rhetorical amplification became the preferred mode of address, a grim illustration of Baudelaire’s subsequent observation about ‘the grandiloquent truth of gestures on life’s great occasions’.

The revitalisation of performative language was not confined to the 1789 Revolution, nor to France. Britain experienced what many still consider a golden age of political eloquence, as orators of the calibre of Pitt, Burke, Fox and Sheridan jousted in parliament and extended their orations through the medium of print. Outside parliament, the growth of the corresponding societies, of other political clubs and associations, and of political lecturing created numerous opportunities for public address, the communicative practices and clandestine rituals of certain organisations attracting repressive measures such as the Unlawful Oaths Act of 1797. Radical writers mimicked French revolutionary styles in odes to Liberty and on the Bastille, while satirists parodied their efforts in mock-odes to the guillotine and pseudo-songs travestying revolutionary enthusiasm. Sermons, notably in the Nonconformist churches, were another front in the oral war of ideas, fusing religion and politics in provocative ways. Educational lecturing also underwent a remarkable boom, in the new Royal Institution and other fashionable lecturing institutions.

This two-day symposium will assess the literary significance of this mobilisation of orality and public utterance, and explore links between the speech acts of politicians, polemicists and educators and the writings of poets and other authors. How is the Romantic revaluation of the ode which produced the famous lyrics of Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Victor Hugo – and of less well-known figures such as Southey, Hemans, Iolo Morganwg and Peter Pindar – connected with the revival of ceremonial ode-writing and public ritual? How are the ‘speech genres’ of everyday life integrated into the more complex genres of imaginative literature, as Bakhtin postulated? Can speech-writing, sermonising or toast-making be themselves a form of literary activity? What happens when legally, morally binding oaths and commitments are broken, forcing the swearer to recant, in public again – are such disavowals part of the culture of apostasy and disenchantment posited by literary historians of Romanticism? And to what extent do these purposive deployments of public speech enter the literary and rhetorical theory of the period?

We invite proposals on any aspect of the literary and verbal life of Britain and France from 1789 to 1830 that relates to this broad set of issues. Topics may include but are not confined to:

•       Oaths, affirmations and other verbal rituals
•       Toasts and toasting
•       Public lectures and lecturing
•       Denunciation, recantation and confession
•       Proclamations, declarations and vindications
•       Odes, hymns and songs
•       Apostrophe, personification and other poetic devices
•       Literature and public ceremony
•       Dialectic of publicness and privacy in Romantic lyric
•       Political, religious and forensic oratory
•       Illocutionary acts and performative language
•       Gendered eloquence
•       Dialogues and dialogism
•       Rhetorical theory of the Romantic period

Papers will be 25 to 30 minutes, followed by 10 minutes for questions.

Send title of paper and abstract (300 words), with brief CV, to marc.poree@ens.fr and d.duff@qmul.ac.uk by 31 January 2020

Organised by Marc Porée (ENS), David Duff (QMUL) and the Paris Steering Group of the London-Paris Romanticism Seminar. For further information, see http://londonparisromantic.com/