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Revolutionary Yoke

William Doyle: Le Nationalisme, 27 June 2002

The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism 1680-1800 
by David A. Bell.
Harvard, 304 pp., £30.95, November 2001, 0 674 00447 7
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... government rather than opposition was memorably analysed ten years ago by Linda Colley in Britons. David Bell, a colleague of Colley when she was writing that book, now offers a parallel analysis of the French case. It has often been claimed that the French Revolution invented nationalism. Bell goes further, arguing ...

Short Cuts

John Sturrock: At the Test Match, 6 September 2001

... In the piece by David Bell elsewhere in this issue, a number of lines from an 18th-century French poem are quoted fearlessly in the original. At one time, the question of whether or not to translate them would never have arisen, the editors of a paper like this assuming that a sufficiently high proportion of its readers were comfortable with French for a translation to be both patronising and redundant ...

Ruling the Roast

David A. Bell: A Nation of Beefeaters, 25 September 2003

Beef and Liberty: Roast Beef, John Bull and the English Nation 
by Ben Rogers.
Chatto, 207 pp., £17.99, April 2003, 9780701169800
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... At moments of stress, depression or grief, my thoughts turn irresistibly towards the golden arches of McDonald’s. Usually, I find the food repellent, but there are times when nothing can soothe my wounded American spirit like the famous ‘two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame-seed bun’. Yes, the burgers are assembled from the meat of dozens of separate animals, then flash frozen in a distant factory ...

Come and see for yourself

David A. Bell: Tocqueville, 18 July 2013

Tocqueville: The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty 
by Lucien Jaume, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Princeton, 347 pp., £24.95, April 2013, 978 0 691 15204 2
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... the glass. In Tennessee, he noted that the people had elected to Congress ‘an individual called David Crockett, who had received no education, could read only with difficulty, had no property, no fixed dwelling, but spent … his whole life in the woods’. Yet Alexis de Tocqueville also found America ‘a most interesting and instructive country to ...

Simple Facts and Plain Truths

David A. Bell: Common Sense, 20 October 2011

Common Sense: A Political History 
by Sophia Rosenfeld.
Harvard, 337 pp., £22.95, 0 674 05781 3
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... colleagues. They were horrified by the progress of philosophical scepticism, exemplified by David Hume, which they saw as corroding the foundations of Christian faith. Reid, in An Inquiry into the Human Mind, on the Principles of Common Sense of 1764, argued in response that ‘there are certain principles … which the constitution of our nature leads ...

A Long Silence

David A. Bell: ‘Englishness’, 14 December 2000

Englishness Identified: Manners and Character, 1650-1850 
by Paul Langford.
Oxford, 389 pp., £25, April 2000, 9780198206811
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... The Americans have ‘American exceptionalism’. The French have ‘l’exception française’. The Germans have ‘der deutsche Sonderweg’. The English, on the other hand, have no equivalent catchphrase: it seems they take their exceptionality so much for granted that they don’t even bother putting a name to it. Does such a thing as ‘Englishness’ really exist? Most current thinking on national identities suggests that it doesn’t ...

Twilight Approaches

David A. Bell: Salon Life in France, 11 May 2006

The Age of Conversation 
by Benedetta Craveri, translated by Teresa Waugh.
NYRB, 488 pp., £17.99, October 2005, 1 59017 141 1
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... There is a fable about the French past that goes as follows. Sometime in the 17th century, the country’s proud noble caste was humbled and tamed by imperious ministers and kings. Where once it had swayed the destinies of Europe, it was now confined to the gilded cage of the royal court, and the elegant salons of Paris. Others might have raged against this fate, but the French nobility adapted to it ...

Fallen Idols

David A. Bell, 23 July 1992

The Fabrication of Louis XIV 
by Peter Burke.
Yale, 242 pp., £19.95, May 1992, 0 300 05153 0
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... The French, a people normally not plagued by a lack of national pride, revere very few of their past leaders. Consider the following list: Richelieu, Louis XIV, Robespierre, Napoleon, Clemenceau, De Gaulle. Which of them enjoys anything like the adoration from their countrymen that Americans give to the secular canon of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy? Napoleon himself is today remembered as a vainglorious tyrant who squandered his achievements ...

A State Jew

David A. Bell: Léon Blum, 5 November 2015

Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist 
by Pierre Birnbaum, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Yale, 218 pp., £14.99, July 2015, 978 0 300 18980 3
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... The​ newspaper Action française habitually referred to Léon Blum, France’s Socialist leader, as the ‘warlike Hebrew’ and the ‘circumcised Narbonnais’ (he represented a constituency in Narbonne). On 13 February 1936, Blum was being driven away from the National Assembly when he encountered a group of ultra-right-wing militants who had gathered at the intersection of the rue de l’Université and the boulevard Saint-Germain for the funeral procession of Jacques Bainville, one of the founders of Action française, a reactionary political movement as well as a newspaper ...

Frege and Analytical Philosophy

Michael Dummett, 18 September 1980

Philosophical and Mathematical Correspondence 
by Gottlob Frege, translated by Hans Kaal, edited by Brian McGuinness.
Blackwell, 214 pp., £15, March 1980, 9780631196204
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Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege 
edited by Peter Geach and Max Black.
Blackwell, 228 pp., £12, July 1980, 0 631 12901 4
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Frege’s Theory of Judgement 
by David Bell.
Oxford, 163 pp., £8.50, July 1979, 0 19 827423 8
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Gottlob Frege 
by Hans Sluga.
Routledge, 203 pp., £12.95, July 1980, 0 7100 0474 5
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... rendering a great deal of commentary unintelligible. Of the two books about Frege under review. Bell’s is decidedly the better. It is ambitious in scope, but modest in tone, and engages seriously both with Frege’s thought and with the philosophical problems he tried to solve. The title is unpromising. Frege complained of the conventional use of the word ...

One Does It Like This

David A. Bell: Talleyrand, 16 November 2006

Napoleon’s Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand 
by David Lawday.
Cape, 386 pp., £20, September 2006, 0 224 07366 4
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... there. The two most familiar images of the men express the contrast eloquently. First, there is David’s brilliant portrait of Napoleon on his rearing charger in the Alps, seemingly master of the wind, rocks and sky; second, Chateaubriand’s acid description of Talleyrand hobbling into the presence of Louis XVIII with the help of Napoleon’s sinister ...

Handsome, Charming …

David A. Bell: Beaumarchais, 22 October 2009

Beaumarchais: A Biography 
by Maurice Lever, translated by Susan Emanuel.
Farrar, Straus, 411 pp., $26, May 2009, 978 0 374 11328 5
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... and the playful novels of Marivaux, while displeasing those who preferred the neoclassicism of David, and the stern Roman cadences of Rousseau’s Discourses. The paradox of Beaumarchais was that he sought to insert himself into the most exclusive circles of French society even as he crafted his public image before a largely middle-class reading ...

He wouldn’t dare

David A. Bell: Bloodletting in Paris, 9 May 2002

Blood in the City: Violence and Revelation in Paris 1789-1945 
by Richard D.E. Burton.
Cornell, 395 pp., £24.50, September 2001, 0 8014 3868 3
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... in which he died on a makeshift altar; the brazenly Christ-like representation of his dead body by David; the renaming of Montmartre (Martyr’s Mount) as Montmarat; the chant of ‘cor de Jésus, cor de Marat’ as members of the Cordelier club carried his heart through the streets of Paris. What did this imitation really amount to? Did it simply express a ...

Her face was avant-garde

Christian Lorentzen: DeLillo’s Stories, 9 February 2012

The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories 
by Don DeLillo.
Picador, 211 pp., £16.99, November 2011, 978 1 4472 0757 3
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... a road novel midway and ends with a sloppy orgy in the Texas desert. The ever ironical narrator, David Bell, is fond of making statements like ‘I was an extremely handsome young man,’ and worships at the altar of Burt Lancaster: ‘Burt in the moonlight was a crescendo of male perfection but no less human because of it.’ ‘I don’t think my ...

Who mended Pierre’s leg?

David A. Bell: Lourdes, 11 November 1999

Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age 
by Ruth Harris.
Allen Lane, 473 pp., £25, April 1999, 0 7139 9186 0
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... On the surface, no two people in 19th-century France had less in common than Louis Pasteur and Bernadette Soubirous. Pasteur, the great icon of modern biological science, was a French national hero, a pillar of the academic establishment: the very embodiment of modern, rational, liberal civilisation. Soubirous was a miserably poor, tubercular peasant girl, illiterate, unable to speak anything other than Pyrenean patois, who claimed, in February 1858, to have seen a miraculous apparition in a grotto near the village of Lourdes ...

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