Napoleon Harlequin: Theatre and the Battle for Legitimacy, 1814-15 – 10 June 2019

Lecture by Professor Katherine Astbury

 Napoleon Harlequin:

Theatre and the Battle for Legitimacy, 1814-15

 6 -7.30pm, Monday 10 June 2019

Keynes Library, School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square. WC1H 0PD

The Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Research Group is delighted to announce a forthcoming lecture by Kate Astbury, Professor of French Studies, University of Warwick.

After the allies entered Paris at the end of March 1814, the city witnessed a flood of pamphlets and prints denouncing Napoleon as ‘tyrant’, ‘monster’, ‘assassin’ and ‘comedian’. This final ‘crime’ might, at first sight, seem somewhat out of place but the battle for legitimacy that was taking place hinged on who had the greater claim to rule France, Napoleon or Louis XVIII. To accuse Napoleon of being a charlatan and an actor merely playing a part was to undermine his right to reign and it thus becomes a repeated element of royalist attacks on the person of the Emperor.  It would however, also be a weapon Napoleon’s supporters could turn to their advantage and this paper will outline the ways in which theatrical metaphor was used by both sides in 1814-15.

The lecture will be followed by questions, and drinks.

All are very welcome!

For further information, please contact Dr Ann Lewis:

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London 18th-Century Postgraduate Reading Group: ‘Resentment & Regard in Low-Life’, 11 March 2016

London 18th-Century Postgraduate Reading Group, 11th March – Resentment & Regard in Low-Life (1750)

When: 12.30pm, Friday 11th March
Where: Room 112, School of Arts, Birkbeck, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD

The London 18th-Century Postgraduate Reading Group is a student-run reading group organised in collaboration with the Centre for Enlightenment Studies at King’s and Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Research Group. Staff and students at all London universities are very welcome.

The reading group concentrates on a different theme each academic year, with an emphasis on primary texts and recent criticism. The theme for what’s left of this year will be ‘Resentment and Regard’. More about the theme can be found on the reading group’s blog here.

In this year’s first session we will be discussing excerpts from Low-Life: Or, One Half of the World Knows not how The Other Half Lives (London, ?1750, 1754, 1764) – a fictional hour-by-hour documentary account of a putatively specific day in London.  We will concentrate on hours I-III (pp. 1-19), VI-XI (pp. 27-51), and XIX-XX (pp. 80-87).

The 1764 ‘Third Edition’ of Low-Life has an engraved frontispiece depicting a relaxing Saint Monday. Low-Life’s writer announces in the prefatory address to Hogarth that the book is modelled on Hogarth’s Four Times of the Day series (1736, 1738).  So, for the first session, we will be looking closely at the frontispiece and Hogarth’s images along side the written text.

Topics for discussion might include: the relations between different modes of depiction and description that these materials signal; the affective loading of the point of view they indicate (or don’t); the ways of looking and accumulating knowledge that they model; how they encourage their readers and viewers to think about the lower classes, work, and holidays; and their differently oblique engagements with narrative in the service of enjoyment, social description, and moral correction.

For optional critical material which engages some of these questions in relation to Low-Life, see: Carolyn Steedman, ‘Cries Unheard, Sights Unseen: Writing the Eighteenth-Century Metropolis’, Representations, 118.1 (2012), 28-71.

The 1764 ‘3rd Edition’ of Low-Life  (including a poor-quality version of the frontispiece) is available on Historical Texts here.  A clearer image of a nineteenth-century copy of the 1764 frontispiece can be found on the National Library of Congress website here.  Lastly, images of Hogarth’s engravings after his Four Times of the Day paintings are available on the British Museum website: Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night.

On the 11th, we will also be talking about what we want to look at in further meetings of the reading group. So, if you have suggestions for primary materials in any format, or recent scholarship that has a bearing on the theme of the group, then please come along to the first session and share these ideas, or email suggestions to Robert Stearn and James Morland.

Ideas so far include: gender and resentment in 17th- and 18th-century engagements with translations of Lucretius and philosophical atomism; resentment and charlatanism in the 18th-century literary marketplaces; the mutual resentment of Swift and Pope and the suspiciousness of inauthentic resentment adopted as a literary persona; regarding ‘The Dark Side of the Landscape’.

For further information (and for copies of the readings if you cannot access them through your institution), please contact Robert Stearn ( or James Morland (

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