Decipher the duchess

We would like to give our blog readers the chance to work with the Elbeuf Letters for themselves – with a little help from us. As you will see, the duchess’ script has idiosyncrasies in shape, spelling and grammar that are a challenge when it comes to transcribing her writing. Why not have a go yourself at deciphering this entry from 16 July 1789? In it, the duchess reflects on scenes of violence and tension on the streets of the capital in the aftermath of the storming of the Bastille two days previously.

Detail from AN F7 4775/1

Click on the image to enlarge it. And here are some clues to help get you started:

  • Line 1 is an entry heading. A very similar (and more legible) heading can be seen below     line 6
  • The first sentence (line 2) reads: J’[essai] Mde que ce petit papier vous passe. Translation: ‘I will try to get this note to you, Madame.’ [Square brackets] indicate a questionable or assumed reading of the manuscript by the Project team.

We will post more clues next week, followed by the full transcription complete with our English translation. Why not subscribe to this Project Blog (see right) to receive updates automatically?

If you are interested in learning more about palaeography (the study of old handwriting), there is an excellent interactive guide to reading English scripts from c.1500-1800 on the National Archives website: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/default.htm. See also the Newberry Library’s offering for French scripts: https://paleography.library.utoronto.ca/.

What did the duchess of Elbeuf look like?

Simon Macdonald writes:

Although her Letters survive, and a lot can be traced about her life history elsewhere in the archives, we have no portrait of the duchess of Elbeuf. In the eighteenth century, pseudo-scientific theories were emerging which linked the shape of the face to character, intelligence, and so on — and the links (or not) between beauty and virtue were an endless subject for poets. Our interest is born of a simpler curiosity: we’d like to put a face to the name!

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Exhibition review: Ruth Scurr in The Spectator

Ruth Scurr, author of Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (2006), has reviewed the UCL exhibition for the latest edition of The Spectator, 28 March.

Unfortunately, this exhibition is of course currently closed due to UK-wide restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The details in Ruth Scurr’s review can be complemented by the excellent set of high-resolution images from the exhibition available on the UCL Art Museum’s own website (including the basket of blood red wool), so do take a look at these too.

New London exhibition opens, featuring the Duchess

Photo © Hydar Dewachi

MARCH UPDATE: This Exhibition is currently closed due to the UK-wide restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

A new exhibition, ‘Witnessing Terror: French Revolutionary Prints,1792-4‘, opened its doors to the public on 27 January 2020. It will run through to 12 June 2020 at the UCL Art Museum in central London. The exhibition draws on the Art Museum’s very rich collection of prints from the Revolutionary decade. It explores contemporary reactions to the Terror (1793-94) through a sampling of a wide range of visual and material sources: paper money, passports, maps and placards as well as a range of prints, including striking images of the murdered politician Jean-Paul Marat. The latter provided the source for the exhibition poster, which you can see in the photograph above (taken on the opening night) along with, from left to right: Dr Nina Pearlman (Head of UCL Art Collections), Dr Andrea Fredericksen (Curator, UCL Art Museum), and the three curators of this exhibition, Dr Richard Taws (UCL), Professor David Bindman (UCL) and Professor Colin Jones (QMUL).

After close discussion between the Elbeuf project and UCL (and with Colin Jones acting as a co-curator), a series of translated quotations from the Duchess of Elbeuf’s Letters were selected to run through the exhibition as an additional exhibit and to offer a thread of contemporary commentary. This is the first time any selection of her writing has been presented to the general public since she put pen to paper over two hundred years ago. Her astringent and frankly counter-revolutionary testimony is all the more intriguing in that for the period of the Terror she lived at the heart of Paris close to the Tuileries palace where the country’s elected representatives met daily in the National Convention.

The exhibition is free. It is open Tuesday-Friday weekly from 1.00 p.m.to 5.00 p.m.

MARCH UPDATE: This Exhibition is currently closed due to the UK-wide restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Welcome to the ‘Revolutionary Duchess’ Blog

The project team is delighted to announce that we have now completed a first draft of our transcription of the Duchess of Elbeuf’s Letters. We look forward to sharing our findings with you over the next year, and to hearing from many of you through the comments section of this blog (the links in the ‘Meet the Team’ tab also give you the details for contacting any of us individually).

Here is how Innocente-Catherine Rougé, Duchess of Elbeuf’s distinctive commentary on events in Revolutionary France begins:

Detail from AN F7 4775/1

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