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FR 343 Anarchist Culture in Belle Epoque Paris

Module Code: FR343
Module Name: Anarchist Culture in Belle Epoque Paris
Module Credits: 15
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Satire and violence; art and terrorism; the defence of liberty and the desire to resist oppressive states intent on excessive surveillance… the concerns of Parisian anarchists in the Belle Epoque sound strangely contemporary. In the years 1880–1914, this group of extraordinarily varied individuals converged on Paris as a symbol of power and government, but also as a city of creativity, political activism, and bohemian communities. Anarchists made national headlines through acts of terrorism. But they also inspired trade unionists with visions of general strikes and working-class autonomy, and attracted artists and writers with their dreams of utopia.

What did it mean to be an anarchist? How and why did anarchism attract both artists and terrorists? What was it like to live in an anarchist commune? How might these groups and individuals help us to understand the meaning and limits of liberty today, the relationship between art and revolt, and the problem of reconciling individual rights with the common good?

This module offers the opportunity to encounter anarchist culture at first hand, using plays, memoirs and pamphlets as well as police reports and contemporary journalism.

  • We will explore why Paris became such a vital focus for anarchism at the end of the nineteenth century
  • We'll discuss what inspired particular individuals to become anarchists: the playwright Octave Mirbeau, the ‘Red Virgin of the Commune’ Louise Michel, the journalist Jean Grave, and the trade unionist Fernand Pelloutier.
  • We will also trace the connections between anarchism and wider social satire through some of the brilliant (and at the time hugely popular) one-act farces of Georges Courteline.
  • At the end of the module there will be a chance to carry out your own original research on anarchism through the online resources of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Core reading

  • Louise Michel, Mémoires (1886, 1977, various recent editions) recommended for purchase
  • Jean Grave, La Société mourante et l’anarchie (1893) (Gallica)
  • Fernand & Maurice Pelloutier, La Vie ouvrière en France (1900)
  • Octave Mirbeau, Les Mauvais bergers (1898) (Gallica) recommended for purchase
  • Georges Courteline, 'Monsieur Badin' (1897), ‘Le Gendarme est sans pitié’ (1899), ‘Le Commissaire est bon enfant’ (1900) (Gallica) (also available in Courteline, Théâtre, various editions: recommended for purchase)
  • John Merriman, The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in fin-de-siècle Paris ignited the Modern Terror (2009)
  • Reg Carr, Anarchism in France: The Case of Octave Mirbeau (1977)
  • Richard Sonn, Anarchism and Cultural Politics in Fin de siècle France (1989)
  • Alexander Varias, Paris and the Anarchists: Aesthetes and Subversives during the Fin de siècle (1997)

Assessment Method:

These final-year modules will be examined EITHER by a combination of assessed work (50%) and formal examination (50%) OR solely by assessment (100%).