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The Majesty of the PeoplePopular Sovereignty and the Role of the Writer in the 1790s$
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Georgina Green

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199689064

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199689064.001.0001

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‘I Am the People, Myself’: Embodying the People and the Letters of Helen Maria Williams

‘I Am the People, Myself’: Embodying the People and the Letters of Helen Maria Williams

(p.89) 4 ‘I Am the People, Myself’: Embodying the People and the Letters of Helen Maria Williams
The Majesty of the People

Green Georgina

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses Helen Maria Williams’ Letters from France. In the early volumes, Williams attempts to produce a textual version of herself analogous to the authentic selves who participate in Rousseau’s social contract and in the anti-representational spectacle of the popular festival. However, in taking up this cue, Williams’ textual strategies come to resemble the strategy of embodiment that Robespierre took from Rousseau. With the death of Louis XVI, Williams seems to become aware of the tyrannical potential of claims to transparency and embodiment as she witnesses inclusive cosmopolitan ideals collapsing into, and even becoming complicit with, increasingly exclusive versions of the nation. Ultimately, Williams modifies her ambition to embody universals to an ambition to historicize her own reflections, developing authorial strategies designed to demystify such claims to transparency and to introduce a necessary, conspicuous, and self-conscious process of mediation.

Keywords:   Helen Maria Williams, French Revolution, Louis XVI, Robespierre, representative democracy, totalitarianism, justice, festivals, Rousseau

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