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The Crowd in French Politics and Imagination, 1870-1945

Module Code: FR255

Module Credits: 15

14 July 1880


What makes a crowd take to the streets? And when they do, how do others react? Do they see the sovereign people, democratically expressing their will? Or a violent rabble threatening to undermine society and politics? What shapes the behaviour, representation, and political importance of the crowd in France, the country of revolution?

This module offers a chance to explore the real and imagined history of the crowd at a time when the crowd was of vital importance in street politics, literature, and film. Émile Zola brought the angry proletariat to centre stage in his controversial Germinal (1885), Romain Rolland made the crowd the collective hero of his 1902 play Le Quatorze Juillet, while Jean Renoir brought idealistic revolutionaries to the screen in La Marseillaise (1938). Meanwhile, mass movements and parties began to develop on both left and right, bringing thousands to the streets in demonstrations, festivals, and riots, and transforming the political experience of French citizens.

In our analysis of literature, theatre, film, and journalism, we will explore:

  • How the French Revolution continues to shape where crowds form, how they behave, and how their actions are interpreted
  • Why left and right view the crowd differently, and why this matters
  • How writers, playwrights and filmmakers have grappled with the problem of representing popular violence
  • How mass politics has developed in France
  • Why populism is transforming politics today

Set texts

  • Emile Zola, Germinal (1885, various editions)
  • Gustave Le Bon, La Psychologie des foules (1895), Book I
  • Romain Rolland, Le Quatorze Juillet (1902)
  • Jean Renoir, La Marseillaise (1938)
  • Press dossiers on demonstrations, 1918–45 (provided in module sourcebook)

Assessment Method:

TBC