[identity profile] fatimahcrossin.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] revolution_fr

Following the example of

[profile] estellacatwho made a birthday post for Prieur De La Marne, I have decided to open a serie of posts each one of them dedicated to discuss a revolutionary chosen among the less known (and loved) ones.


 I know many of you will be maybe disappointed with it, neverthless I want to begin this work with a post dedicated to Billaud-Varenne who remains, despite my strong passion for Saint-Just and sympathy for Robespierre, one of my most beloved revolutionaries (-> I know you may find it strange - but this is unrational, so just take it as it comes !).

I don't put here his biography since I believe most of you know it (and if not, you can just have a look anywhere on the web), but I'd like to underline some stereotypes about his figure which doesn't appear so simple and one-faced as many treat it.

He perhaps doesn't embody the type of a tragical hero such as Saint-Just and doesn't possesses that "poetic aura" which makes Robespierre so impressive, he also doesn't has the force of enflaming entire masses like a Marat, but if you consider his action during the whole revolution you can't avoid regarding him as a key-actor in it, despite his role as a last-minute-enemy in Thermidor. More, if you have a look at his entire life - I mean also after the revolution - you have to notice he is a fashinating character, much more complex and nuanced than the square "bloodythirsty traitor" which much of the XIXth historiographical tradition brought to us in opposition to the process of heroicization (or demonization yes, but always with that touch of grandeur) which surrounded Robespierre and Saint-Just as well.
He was among the greatest workers at the Committee, he was a remarkable orator, he was the one who mostly urged Robespierre for the arrestation of Hébert and then Danton, he was also, beyond Robespierre, the real architect of the Terror - that means he officially systemathized the executoning of the opposers as an instrument which had to grant the surviving of the young republic.
More, despite he is often considered close to the demagogy of the Hébertism, he really was one of the few who (in a different way as Saint-Just did with his Ventose Decrees) really took into account a real attack to private properties during the French revolution. Some marxist and more generally left-related historicians recall him as some kind of protoanarchist.
Despite Thermidor, he remained true to his principles for the rest of his life. He strongly refused the amnesty the Consul Bonaparte granted him because he didn't recognize the legality of Napoleon's coup d'état, and he then suffered of dreadful nightmares about Danton and Robespierre's executions for many years. Nobody will give Robespierre back to life again and let him do what he had planned - of course :)- but I think one shouldn't judge with superficiality this late regret of Thermidor.
Billaud died in the free Republic of Haiti whose government had asked for his cooperation (which he promptly accepted).

So I believe his memory should be rehabilitated. Or if not, I hope at least his figure will be discussed again with more objectivity.
Yes I like you, Nick !

Some curiosities about him:
- He appears as a minor character in the novel "Explosion in a Cathedral" published by the excellent Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier in 1962, dealing with the situation in many Latinoamerican countries after the French Revolution.
- He is also the main character of the drama "The Jacobins part II" put on the Italian stages in 2002 by the director Arnald Picchi. The drama is sort of a sequel of Federico Zardi's "The Jacobins" featured in Milan in 1957. In this new 2nd part Billaud is shown in 1816 during his sea-travel from French Guyana to New York at night facing his past represented by apparitions of Robespierre, Danton and the Girondins who torment him.

A quote (about the Terror):
"No, we will not step backward, our zeal will only be smothered in the tomb; either the Revolution will triumph or we will all die".

You can read his memories (with a long and detailed biographical note) here:


Date: 2008-08-05 12:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] livviebway.livejournal.com
I like the fact he raised parrots in his free time after he got deported.

Date: 2008-08-05 01:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] missweirdness.livejournal.com
ahh..more information on one of the 12..lmao

he was another that sparked my interest but what a fine idea..=)

Date: 2008-08-05 06:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] citoyennemiyuki.livejournal.com
Oh dear, you have already known my opinion about him. :D
I didn't know that biography is in french XD I'm sure I can't read it. Maybe later....

Date: 2008-08-17 06:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] citoyennemiyuki.livejournal.com
Maybe in Russian? ... At first I didn't know it is his memories, because I didn't read your comment well. I'm sorry for I can't speak many languages and I'm not good at them...but you know what if I speak french, I will read this first in french.....


Date: 2008-08-14 11:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hanriotfran.livejournal.com
I like Billaud, even if he wasn't a tragic heroe like Saint-Just was. In fact, if we study his character a little more deeply, you may notice he was not so different ideologically speaking, than Robespierre or any of his close colleagues of the Committé.

I don't exactly know WHY did he find himself deep into Thermidor conspiration, but maybe he was TRULY convinced that Maxime wanted the dictature . Nick was a heavy supporter of Legislative power against to give too many attributions to Executive one, so he was very angry at anyone who could seem to want a little more power than his other colleagues. Maybe he was a little jealous of Maxime, too...Who knows? All we can say are conjectures and only conjectures.

Salut et Fraternité!
HanriotFran (Vanesa)
(deleted comment)

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-16 12:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hanriotfran.livejournal.com
I liked your insight a lot. In fact, I think you left very little to say concerning our dear Nicky.

Yes; I was thinking to "Acephalocratie" when I quoted his strong dislike of powerful Executive Power. But as you've said, Billaud HIMSELF was part of a strong Executive Power. Hmmm...:D Maybe he never tought about this being a contradiction, but surely it was...

I also share your opinion about an atmosphere of paranoia the previous weekd before Thermidor "coup". I've noticed this too. Some authors pointed out about "paranoia" of some people, like Robespierre or Billaud, but I think that it was beyond that. "Paranoia" was there, flying in the air not in any specifical individual.There was in all things and people. Only few of them escaped to this desastrous state of mind.

A Voodoo rite? Why not? :D

HanriotFran (Vanesa)

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-16 08:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] victoriavandal.livejournal.com
I think many of the Thermidoreans just thought, "kill or be killed, now, today", in an atmosphere of sleepless paranoia. Not logical, just fear. They don't even seem to have thought through the consequences, neither that day nor for the Revolution - it's just about physical survival.

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-16 07:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hanriotfran.livejournal.com
Every time I watch some movie on French Revolution and it reachs the moment of Danton's death, and Thermidor approachs, I feel badly myself. The discussion of our "twelve" at the Committé ALWAYS gets on my nerves, even knowing what will happen. There was an hysterical atmosphere. I always tought that if they could have taken some nerve pills just before entering the sessions, they would be more relaxed...:D

HanriotFran (Vanesa)

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-19 09:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] victoriavandal.livejournal.com
Yes, write a screenplay! I've often imagined his strange tropical afterlife as though it were a film by Werner Herzog...

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-17 01:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chip-squidley.livejournal.com
I couldn't pass up a chance to comment on this since I listed him as one of my interests and stumbled across this discussion while browsing.

Some months ago I was lucky enough to find a copy of Arthur Conte's biography of Billaud-Varenne (_Billaud-Varenne, Geant de la Revolution_) and I was left with the impression of a man who had a very clear idea of where he wanted the Revolution to go and how to get it there (According to Conte BV was way ahead of the other major players in wanting to get rid of the monarchy, for example).

Up until the elimination of Danton it was a question of things not going far enough. But then with Hebert and then Robespierre it became a matter of things going too far off track...as much as it was also a matter of self-preservation. The problem was that even if, from BV's poing of view, the Robespierre faction had to be disposed of control could not be maintained without it...and so BV also ended up falling. But at least he kept his head in Haiti!

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-19 09:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] victoriavandal.livejournal.com
At the risk of sounding incredibly trivial (no! the revolutionary politics of hair are really important!) - any truth in the oft-quoted story that he wore a tiger-coloured wig? And, indeed, a puce coat? (SuperFly!)

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-20 11:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chip-squidley.livejournal.com
That's unusual? No wonder my co-workers stare at me when I wear that outfit to my job!

I don't remember any detail like that...but it has been going on a year since I read the book.

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-21 02:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] victoriavandal.livejournal.com
I was wondering a year or so ago about the popularity of tiger imagery in the 1790's - Blake's 'Tyger' and "tygers of wrath", comparisons of Robespierre and Marat to tigers, tiger imagery in revolutionary speeches: I wondered if it had anything to do with the death-by-tiger of the son of the head of the British East India company, an event celebrated in 'Tippoo's Tiger', the amazing automaton made for Tipu Sultan, now in the V &A - but that was in 1792, and tiger imagery was already popular by then - in the end I think it's just that they're big and savage and don't have the royal connotations of 'lion'...but in the course of looking I came across the line that Billaud was nicknamed Le Tigre because of his two-tone hair (I found it on google, so it may well be a mistake - he doesn't even appear to be wearing a wig in most portraits, unless it's a 'natural' unpowdered one). I can't remember where I came across the puce coat - but I have a puce suede 70's coat with big buttons and huge lapels so it stuck in my head!

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-23 06:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chip-squidley.livejournal.com
I did find your "Le Tigre" reference on a French version of Wikipedia, but it didn't cite a specific source for that information. So I don't know if it came from Conte's book or not.

I did, however, find a site with Billaud-Varenne's horoscope!

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-24 08:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chip-squidley.livejournal.com
True...we can't know the Ascendent. But it's still fun to know what the moon and planetary signs are.

I sometimes dabble in that sort of thing.

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-23 08:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] victoriavandal.livejournal.com
If he wore a red wig over his black hair - with his black hair showing underneath, in the tail or whatever - that could be the 'tiger' combination! My young cousin had 'Emo' hair like that last year!

I found this clip of 'Tippoo's Tiger' on youtube, with a very posh woman playing a tune on it! Tipu Sultan became a Jacobin supporter, and the man being eaten by the tiger may be meant to be the son of the head of the British East India company, killed by a tiger in 1792 - there are better pictures of the mechanical tiger on the Victoria and Albert Museum website, but their webite is offline today for some reason. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mrO5a5k1z0

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-25 02:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chip-squidley.livejournal.com
The tip from Fatimahcrossin about the September Massacres did allow me to pinpoint something in the Conte book describing BV's presence at those events:

"La silhouette droit dans son severe habit puce, coiffe de sa celebre perruque fauve...."

But Conte doesn't list a source either...so I don't know if that's much help!

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-26 09:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] victoriavandal.livejournal.com
Well, at least it suggests there was, at some point in his career, a punk wig!

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-09-03 11:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] victoriavandal.livejournal.com
Thanks - I've got a book by Lenotre but I haven't been through it yet (I'm a slow reader in French! And a friend pointed out that I now know the 18thc words for things, but not the modern ones...)

Re: Billaud-Varenne

Date: 2008-08-20 11:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chip-squidley.livejournal.com
I actually stumbled across it in a used bookstore in San Francisco. I remember browsing the titles in the French section and not really believing what I was seeing. It took a second to register in my brain. I knew the book existed, but I never expected to just come across a copy like that.

As far as I know it's the only book out there about him.

You might be lucky too!

Date: 2008-08-24 08:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chip-squidley.livejournal.com
I couldn't resist ordering a couple of things from amazon.fr and I noticed that they claim to be able to get the Billaud-Varenne book for you.

Despite the brutal monetary exchange rate (since I have the fortune/misfortune of living in the USA) I decided to pick up biographies of Collot d'Herbois and Saint Just since my nomadic interests seem to have wandered back to the Revolution.

Re: You might be lucky too!

Date: 2008-08-26 11:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chip-squidley.livejournal.com
I hope you don't have any problems. I also tried to order a book about Claire LaCombe, but they refused to get it for me!

But I am looking forward to the Collot book...he's another one that doesn't often get a good look...even though he was in the center of the storm as well.

Somehow I missed this one...

Date: 2008-09-03 01:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chip-squidley.livejournal.com
You wrote:

"They refused to get the book for you ? Why ?"

I don't know...they didn't give a reason. So I hope they send you the BV book!

"I feel some kind of repulsion for Collot in the same way I feel so attracted to his close friend Billaud... maybe it is the very bad impression of Lyon's massacres or, more, a personal rejection of his mercurial personality too...
It would be very interesting to know more about him, though. Btw., despite his evil fame there is a site entirely dedicated to him with much love: http://www.collot-dherbois.org. It's a pity it is still uncomplete..."

The Collot book is supposed to be on the way...so I'll see what I think!


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