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A Natural History of RevolutionViolence and Nature in the French Revolutionary Imagination, 1789-1794$
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Mary Ashburn Miller

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449420

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449420.001.0001

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“Mountain, Become a Volcano”

“Mountain, Become a Volcano”

(p.139) 5 “Mountain, Become a Volcano”
A Natural History of Revolution

Mary Ashburn Miller

Cornell University Press

This chapter analyzes the meaning of the image of the volcano during the French Revolution. Like the images of lightning and mountains, revolutionaries drew on the symbolic language of volcanoes in ways that demonstrated shifting ideas about authority, justice, and political virtue; in even more striking ways than the previous images, the volcano's connotations transformed with changes in the political realm. During the early years of the Revolution, it symbolized the potential for unbridled force and destruction; it represented volatility, and a fear of cataclysm, playing a crucial role in the revolutionary language of watchfulness and surveillance. Yet, for a brief period that began with the call for terror as the order of the day, the volcano became a positive symbol of revolutionary transformation, emblematic of patriotic passion and republican virtue. The image of the volcano was deployed as a symbol of constructive and purgative change at the very moment at which “terror” itself became a positive and regenerative concept.

Keywords:   volcano, political transformation, politicization, French Revolution, natural history, natural world, political rhetoric

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