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LiBRI: Fighting Terror: The Use of Apostrophe in The Mémoires of Madame Roland

Constance Cartmill presents in this paper a deep and careful analysis of the great and impressive work of Madame Roland during the reign of terror of the French Revolution. She wrote about her struggle, pain, and early memories while waiting to be murdered. Her memoires are divided into sections and fragments that were saved from anonymity by her friends.

In one part of her text she emphasises the role of she and her husband during the first year of Revolution up to her arrest. There she wrote about the major events of the French Revolution and the personalities of great influence at that time. The other part is oriented towards her childhood and her youth, namely to the way life was like during the old regime, and where it is emphasised the important role of the author in the political context.

Madame Roland by Philippe-Laurent Roland
Madame Roland by Philippe-Laurent Roland

The author observes that even though the two parts are rather different both in style and subject, there is something Madame Roland used as a personal marker in her writing: the apostrophe. This rhetoric instrument gives the autobiographer the proper context to interrupt her narration in order to address certain people, death or simply absent, or certain abstract concepts. This paper aims at analysing the use of the apostrophe in a projection of the civil virtue, clearly stated by the autobiographer in spite of the fragmented appearance of her unique masterpiece.

There are various examples of apostrophe analysed in this study which are integrated  within the rhetoric indignation that play the role of civic virtue. This stylistic instrument helps dramatizing the conflict on the one hand, between Madame Roland and her political allies, and on the other hand between their common enemies. Besides the fact that the apostrophe brings frequent interruptions within the text, they also play an important role in the narrative structure of her memoires. In addition, despite their decomposed structure, they establish a stable liaison between the autobiographer and her readers.

The main sections discussed within this paper are as follows: Public Memoires (Historical Background, The First Minister, Second Arrest, Stories Following the Second Arrest, My Last Thoughts, Short Remarks Regarding the Presentation of Charges by Amar against Deputies, Defence Project at the Court, Particular Memories) and Personal Memories divided into four separate parts.

The apostrophe is omnipresent in Madame Roland’s writing and even though it may appear as a peculiar case, this rhetoric instrument was commonly used by the those complaining against the violence and cruelty of those times. Within the rhetoric context, the author uses the apostrophe so as to keep the balance between ethos and pathos. Also, one the hand, she uses it to insist upon her sincerity, and on the other hand, to denunciate the tyrants.

The analysis conducted by Cartmill identifies three types of apostrophe emblematic for Roland’s writing. First is the relation between the apostrophe and the affectivity as they are used to show author’s indignation or deception concerning the contemporary events.

Then the relation with dualisms, namely the conflict with her political enemies or the juxtaposition of past and present. Finally, the fragmentation of the text, which may indicate despair of waiting for unjust death. However, at a higher level of interpretation, the fragmentation is just an emblematic way of consolidating a text already broken into pieces. This paper highlights the importance of apostrophe as a powerful means of expression in such a dramatic context. Nonetheless, The Revolutionary period proved to be fruitful with respect to the concerns oriented towards the civic virtues.

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Iuliana-Alexandra Fleșcan-Lovin-Arseni