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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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Lightning Strikes

Lightning Strikes

(p.72) 3 Lightning Strikes
A Natural History of Revolution

Mary Ashburn Miller

Cornell University Press

This chapter analyzes the meaning of lightning images during the French Revolution. The Revolution, particularly the declaration of the Republic, carried with it a host of new symbols, including tricolor cockades and Herculean representations of “the people.” However, revolutionaries also retained certain images from the Old Regime, especially lightning, long understood as a signifier of sovereignty. It is argued that the trope of lightning demonstrates the attempt of revolutionaries to align their work with the forces of nature, but it also provides a useful case study into the ways in which old symbols and metaphors were reworked and themselves regenerated. In the electrically charged atmosphere of revolutionary France, the lightning bolt allowed for justice and regeneration, wielded by the nation itself.

Keywords:   lightning bolt, French Revolution, natural history, natural world, sovereignty, revolutionary France

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