Henri Grégoire’s Mémoires have never been included in lists of great French autobiographies. Written around 1808, but first published some fifteen years after the author’s death in 1831, Grégoire’s text lacks the imaginative qualities of a literary classic, and it is too episodic to constitute a real source of insights into the politics of the revolutionary period.1 Scholars writing specifically on Grégoire have of course made use of his Mémoires, although they have pointed out that the work does not always represent his activities accurately;2 other revolutionary historians have generally ignored them. My purpose here is neither to try to elevate Grégoire’s recollections to a loftier literary status, nor to evaluate their factual accuracy, but to use them to elucidate some questions about the connection between the revolutionary experience and the writing of first-person narrative.


French Revolution Christian Faith Jewish Question Narrative Strategy Ancien Regime 
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  1. 1.
    The first edition of Grégoire’s Mémoires was edited by the nineteenth-century republican Hyppolite Carnot in 1847. References in this paper are to a more recent edition: Henri Grégoire, Mémoires de Grégoire, ancien evêque de Blois, député à l’Assemblée Constituante et à la Convention Nationale, Sénateur, membre de l’Institut, suivies de la Notice historique sur Grégoire d’Hyppolyte Carnot, éd. Jean-Michel Leniaud (Paris: Editions de Santé, 1989).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, for example, Ruth F. Necheles, The Abbé Grégoire, 1787–1831 (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Publishing Co., 1971), p. xiv.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Philippe Lejeune, “The Autobiographical Pact,” in Lejeune, On Autobiography, trans. Katherine Leary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. 4.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Henri Peyre, Literature and Sincerity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), p. 205.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    James Olney, Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 38.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Karl Joachim Weintraub, The Value of the Individual: Self and Circumstance in Autobiography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. xii.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Philippe Lejeune, L’Autobiographie en France (Paris: Armand Colin, 1971), p. 10.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Daniel Roche, “Bruch und Kontinuität im Zeitalter der Französischen Revolution: Der Beitrag der Autobiographien zur Präzisierung der politischen Visionen,” in Rolf Reichardt and Eberhard Schmitt, eds., Die Französische Revolution als Bruch des gesellschaftlichen Bewusstseins (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1988), p. 380.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Jacques Guilhaumou, La Langue politique et la Révolution française (Paris: Méridiens Klincksieck, 1989), p. 159.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Sergio Luzzatto, II Terrore ricordato: Memoria e tradizione dell’ esperienza rivoluzionario (Genoa: Marietti, 1988), p. 8.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Necheles, Grégoire, p. 274.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    On Grégoire’s role in creating the notion of a national artistic patrimony, see Anthony Vidler, “The Paradoxes of Vandalism: Henri Grégoire and the Thermidorian Discourse on Historical Monuments,” in this volume, pp. 129-156.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See, for example, the essays in Kathleen Ashley, Leigh Gilmore and Gerald Peters, eds., Autobiography and Postmodernism (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Michael Sheringham, French Autobiography Devices and Desires: Rousseau to Perec (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Lynn Hunt has emphasized this characteristic of the Revolution in a key passage of her Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 27.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    The fact that David’s portrayal of his gesture was not factually accurate — the monk, Dom Gerle, whom Grégoire was shown embracing, had not been present on 20 June 1789 — does not seem to have bothered him. Warren Roberts, Jacques-Louis David: Revolutionary Artist (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), p. 52. On the reasons for David’s abandonment of the project, see ibid., p. 58.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    On the different “plots” used to explain the Revolution, see Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class, pp. 34-37.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    On the significance of the model of the bon curé, see Timothy Tackett, Priest and Parish in Eighteenth-Century France (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 168-169.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    This aspect of the Jansenist tradition has been brought out particularly in the work of Dale Van Kley.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Among the few hints of his interest in apocalypticism is the inclusion of the English millenarian Vaughn, author of a book entitled Of Twelve Scriptural Prophecies, in a long list of men of letters with whom he corresponded. (66-67) Maistre’s earliest meditations on the divine significance of the Revolution were written in the 1790s, but his work was not known in France at the time when Grégoire was writing his Mémoires. Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Peyre, Sincerity, p. 205.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

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  • Jeremy D. Popkin

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