The Angel-Assassin of the French Revolution
Art and the Gendering of Historical Perception
Friday, 29 April, 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Join Us for Lunch, Reflection, Discussion, and Intellectual Socializing
How do frames of gender or ideology affect our knowledge of the past? How have gendered perceptions of bodily appearance been used to valorize (Judith, Joan of Arc) and stigmatize (Eve, Marie-Antoinette) powerful women? Our spring event will draw upon history, art history, and feminism to investigate how perceptions informed by bodily and gendered stereotypes may distort our understandings not only of everyday life but also of key events in the history of the West.
|Our workshop leader will be Nina Rattner Gelbart, Professor of History and the Anita Johnson Wand Chair in Women's Studies at Occidental College. An expert on the leading women of eighteenth-century France, Professor Gelbart has published works on women journalists, royal midwives, and female natural scientists. She will share with us her current research on Charlotte Corday, who famously murdered French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub. We will read and discuss Professor Gelbart's provocative essay, “The Blonding of Charlotte Corday.” (See below for information on obtaining the essay.)|
Nina Rattner Gelbart
Depictions of Corday and her act vary greatly: while many with immediate experience of Corday painted her with dark or at least brunette hair, a handful of early portraits presented Corday as blonde or with powdered hair. This fair image of Corday – sometimes evoking an angelic sense, sometimes connoting the decadence of the French aristocracy – has marked the historical memory of the French Revolution. Writers, even up to the present day, seem mesmerized by the image of the assassin with voluptuous blonde locks.
Why has the gaze of historical memory needed to remake Corday’s body in a stereotypical way - and those of so many other powerful
A Brunette Charlotte Corday (1793)
women (and men) of the past? Why, in particular, has blondeness exercised such a grip on the imagination? More generally, how might careful attention to the gendering of perception and historical understanding help us to critique the foibles of western societies and to navigate better the challenges of our diverse orders? The workshop will open up possibilities for exploring questions like these – while giving us visual confirmation of the strangeness of the historical gaze, in the form of a lively introductory slideshow of artistic renderings of Corday.
A Blonde Charlotte Corday Awaiting Execution (1889)
ΦBK Deliberation Workshop
Lunch will be available in Slocum Commons starting at 11:45 a.m. The session will begin at 12:10 sharp with a 15-minute introduction from Professor Gelbart. Then attendees at each table will have 25 minutes to discuss the reading and presentation amongst themselves. At 12:50, Professor Gelbart will take questions and moderate a large-group discussion until about 1:30 – though we understand that many may need to leave early for 1 p.m. appointments.
Click HERE to visit the Project Muse website, where you can view or download our common reading, "The Blonding of Charlotte Corday." If you are on the CC network, you should have direct access to the Project Muse files.
If you don't have access to Project Muse, click HERE to visit the Phi Beta Kappa PROWL site to download the article. You will need to log onto the PROWL site.
If you have problems accessing or downloading the reading, write to Dennis McEnnerney. (Alumni will likely need to write for copies.)
Thoughts from "The Blonding of Charlotte Corday":
"Joanna Pitman, in On Blondes, tracing the evolution of blondness as a cultural code, stresses its mixed message. 'Every age has restyled blonde hair in its own image, invested it with its own preoccupations.' Never a mere color, it was and is always a blazing symbol, but a profoundly ambivalent one. Because so few are truly blonde, light hair often indicates artificiality, hence deception. Blondeness had early erotic connotations in both Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures (the golden-haired seductress Aphrodite, the disobedient, lascivious Eve, the sexually sinful Mary Magdalene) but it was also a fairy tale symbol of youthful charm, innocence and sweetness (Goldilocks and Cinderella) and of immaculate saintliness and virtue (the Virgin Mary, the female martyrs, and the ubiquitous angels). So blondness could signify the root of all evil, or the brightness and luminosity of the divine. It could code vanity and folly, or incorruptible purity..."
"What is happening here? Some have made the case that colors reside in the beholder’s eye rather than in the perceived object. Umberto Eco, in his essay, ‘How Culture Conditions the Colors We See,’ argues that we are very bad at discriminating between colors, that our 'chromatic competence' is severely limited by our words for different hues, and that the names we give to colors have no chromatic content. Instead, our chromatic perception is shaped by language, and by the requirements of the moment and the surrounding culture."
Faculty - Join Us and Invite Your Students!
Faculty members are encouraged to bring interested students to join our discussions. Students who have attended past sessions report that these discussions were among the most intellectually stimulating events they attended while at CC. Seniors may especially benefit, since they will be in a position to reflect on their years at the College; however, students of all years have enjoyed these events.
Faculty: Make it easy on yourself - click HERE for a draft invitation to send your students. Copy and paste it into an email message and send it out. Or revise it and send it out. Or send your own message. But please be sure to RSVP for yourself also, using the Faculty RSVP form below.
David's Death of Marat (1793)-- with an absent Corday
Students and Alumni: If you are interested in attending, please use the Student-Alumni RSVP form below.
RSVPs Required - Space Is Limited
Only a limited number of spaces are available - reserve now! We need an accurate attendance list a few days in advance to be able to order lunch. We will attempt to acknowledge your RSVP and confirm your space confirmed within 24 hours.
FRIDAY, 29 APRIL, 12 - 1:30 PM
This workshop is co-sponsored by the Beta of Colorado chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the Crown Faculty Center, the departments of History and Art, and the program in Feminist and Gender Studies.