- Revolutionary Tradition and Les Mis
of the Bastille
- -- Fall of Robespierre
in Les Miserables
Names and Games
Elephant of Revolutionary Oblivion
This image is a
water-color drawing by Jean-Antoine Alavoine, anticipating what
the completed elephant would look like.
1813 Watercolor, (Schama, 2)
intended the elephant to be cast in bronze and be big enough
for visitors to ascend on an interior staircase to a tower on
its back (Schama, 3). Unfortunately, when the time came for the
monument to actually be erected, France was engaged in an unsuccessful
military campaign in Spain. So the elephant was cast in plaster
instead of bronze, and two years later when Napoleon's Empire
collapsed the "Elephant of Revolutionary Oblivion"
was left to rot. It became overgrown and infested with rats.
Locals petitioned for it to be removed, but it remained even
when a column memorializing the dead of July 1830 was erected
on the other side of the place de la Bastille. In 1846, the great
unwieldy mass was finally removed.
was not an enduring monument in Paris, but it was loaded with
meaning. Intended to be a symbol of Napoleon's might, its creation
in plaster indicated the dire situation of the Empire. It was
meant to be a marvel, but it became a home for vagrants and vermin.
Most of all, the deterioration of the elephant and all it stood
for countered the perseverance of revolutionary ideology in France.
Napoleon Bonaparte was at
the head of the French army and government from 1799-1815. During this time France experienced
tremendous success in war-Napoleon's campaigns were masterful.
To commemorate his conquests at home and abroad, and to obliterate
lingering ideas about the superiority of the Republic, Napoleon
decided to build a great elephant on the site of the Bastille.