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Open Access Execution, Sovereignty and Sacrifice: Balzac's Un épisode sous la Terreur and El Verdugo

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This article analyses Balzac's representations of the figure of the executioner in two early short stories, Un épisode sous la Terreur and El Verdugo. It is argued that these representations pick up on Joseph de Maistre's (in)famous discussion of the figure of the executioner in Les Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg — as helpfully glossed by Roger Caillois in his 'Sociologie du bourreau', a lecture delivered to the Collège de Sociologie — and also Maistre's broader discourses of sovereignty and sacrifice. The article starts by investigating Balzac's possible engagement with Maistre's ideas, especially in Les Deux Rêves, a text that foregrounds the continuity between archaic and modern power (sovereignty). The article then goes on to trace our contemporary theoretical discourses of sovereignty and sacrifice back to their earlier sociological analogues, showing, in part after Owen Bradley, how these in turn relate to Maistre's attempts to rehabilitate the concepts of sovereignty and sacrifice in the wake of the Terror. The article next analyses Maistre's pen portrait of the executioner before turning to Balzac's own account of this figure in Un épisode sous la Terreur, as well as to the discourses of sovereignty and sacrifice circulating in what might otherwise appear to be his no more than frivolously frenetic representations of execution in El Verdugo.
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Keywords: BALZAC; EXECUTION; JOSEPH DE MAISTRE; ROGER CAILLOIS; SOVEREIGNTY; TERROR

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 19, 2013

More about this publication?
  • The Irish Journal of French Studies is an annual international refereed journal published by the Association des Études Françaises et Francophones d'Irlande. Articles in English, French or Irish are welcomed on any aspect of research in the area of French and Francophone culture, society, literature and thought. Articles published within the last two years are available free online to members and may be purchased by non-members. All other articles are available on an open access basis.

    Please note that the Print ISSN listed for the journal on this website applies to volumes 1 to 10, and part of volume 16. All other volumes are published, in their entirety, on-line only.

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