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Discourses of Barbarity and Travel to England in the Formation of an Elite French Social Identity: A Recontextualisation of Voltaire’s 'Lettres philosophiques'

Pauncefort, Emma Lavinia Elizabeth; (2016) Discourses of Barbarity and Travel to England in the Formation of an Elite French Social Identity: A Recontextualisation of Voltaire’s 'Lettres philosophiques'. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Drawing on sociological conceptualisations of the formation of group identities, this study investigates the formation of a ‘French’ identity in the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Whilst championing a symbiotic relationship between theoretical frameworks and the historical case study, I consider how a twin discourse of barbarity, both forged and recorded in the first French monolingual dictionaries, was invested in a social practice in order to form an elite and restricted intra-European ‘social identity’, which would later be rearticulated as a national identity at the end of the eighteenth century. My main thesis is that the methodisation of – what I typologise as – Gallocentric travel to distant extra-European lands and the accounts resulting from such travel was mirrored in the culture of travel to England and travel writing, itself a practice employed as a further vehicle in the assertion and consolidation of the language of ‘Frenchness’. To evidence this, I examine how the language of barbarism, first employed in the sixteenth century in relation to Eastern and Amerindian peoples, was reattributed to the lower English classes in the seventeenth century to construct a sense of superior ‘Frenchness’ within Europe and with it, a French ‘social identity’. In turn, I study how in the wake of the Glorious Revolution exponents of a counter-culture of anti-Gallocentric travel challenged this particularised narrative on ‘Englishness’ and looked to upturn the language of barbarity. Overall, my study drives towards putting forward a fresh analysis of Voltaire’s 1734 Lettres philosophiques. I argue for a new reading of this canonical text in light of my study of the language of ‘social identity’ and cultures of (anti-)Gallocentric travel and travel writing. In this, I suggest Voltaire’s ambivalence in the face of increasingly ‘enlightened’ thought.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Discourses of Barbarity and Travel to England in the Formation of an Elite French Social Identity: A Recontextualisation of Voltaire’s 'Lettres philosophiques'
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: Anglo-French relations, early modern, travel writing, Voltaire, cultures of travel
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1530172
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