- Revolutionary Tradition and Les Mis
of the Bastille
- -- Fall of Robespierre
in Les Miserables
Names and Games
Re-naming the streets
Street names in any city often appear
to be insignificant and only present to guide lost travelers,
however the history behind the names often reveals a past that
reflects their true importance. A perfect example of these phenomena
is found in eighteenth and nineteenth century Paris.
Street names give character and life to the space they occupy,
often serving as historical markers for a city. Street names
are the ultimate manifestation of a cities politics, culture
and ideologies. Street names provide a common language for a
city and its inhabitants; they are meters of change often reflecting
dynamic struggles of power within the city limits.
The streets of revolutionary Paris became the revolutionaries'
way of starting over from the ground up. The centuries of monarchies
had left their mark upon the streets of Paris with names dating
back to the first Bourbon king Henri IV. Names like rue Christine
named after Henri IV's daughter and Place Dauphine for the then
prince Louis VIII were common street names of the era of monarchs.
Eventually aristocrats close to the thrown would receive honorable
mention and even prosperous merchants received their own rues.
In an 1850 guide book to Paris the estimated number of streets
was 1,688, with 32 boulevards, 21 places and about 105 carrefours.
"It is important for
sensitive hearts and ardent
In 1791 the revolutionaries started to lend the streets of Paris
their interpretations. The original reforms were very well intended
and often reflected the popular revolutionary attitude at the
An example of how the revolutionary spirit manifested itself,
is when the owner of the house that Voltaire died in partitioned
the city of Paris to change the street name of his house from
Theatin (named after a nearby religious order) to Voltaire. The
man justified it with a bit of revolutionary enthusiasm: "We
shall always have a Voltaire, and shall never again have Theatin
monks!" (Ferguson 26).
Similarly the occupants of Rousseau's old street were encouraged
to change their street name from rue de Platrieres to something
more fitting to the hero. This change too was supported with
Souls crossing this street to know that Rousseau
Used to live here on the fourth floor, and what does it
Matters that plaster used to be made there?"(Ferguson 27)
This wave of enthusiasm swept all through out Paris leading to
changes like: Monmarte to Montmarat, Hotel Dieu to Mirabeau-le-Patriote,
and Sainte-Anne to Helvetius. These names not only reflected
changing political ideologies but changing values and virtues
within Parisian society as well.
Sometimes however the revolutionary
spirit backfired as is the case when Mirabeau's counterrevolutionary
activities were discovered and his street and place in the Pantheon
became an embarrassment. The constant changing of names and places
became confusing and eventually the Paris streets needed to become
more reasonable and have a better method to their madness. However,
no matter how disorganized Paris appeared to foreigners or visitors,
the significance behind its street names was overly apparent
to its inhabitants.
The revolutionaries had made their mark
in the streets of Paris, a mark that displayed power and eagerness.
The city that Gregoire had previously envisioned for the national
assembly, one that "instituted reason and popular sovereignty
each as a term of the other" had been created.
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