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Bals des Victims

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Bals des Victims

Post  Bunnies on Wed Jun 05, 2013 12:40 pm

A close friend of mine concocted this post for their blog the other day:


The department of Does it Even Matter What You Say: saw a link to this post about the bals des victimes. “The celebratory atmosphere following the ‘Reign of Terror’ gave way to a number of frivolous yet gruesome fashions and pastimes, one of which was the Victim’s Ball. In order to qualify for admittance in one of these sought after soirees one had to to be a close relative or spouse of one who had lost their life to the guillotine. Invitations were so coveted that papers proving your right to attend had to be shown at the door, and some were even known to forge this certificate in their eagerness.” etc. etc.

The first source they cite is an article that comes to the conclusion that these balls never existed. No, really. Schechter found no contemporary references to this huge “fashion.” The story popped up all over the place in the 1820s and after in dramatic memoirs of the Revolution; earlier than that, Schechter found a couple of 1797 newspaper references to such balls as things that happened in the past, but found no mentions in the daily entertainment papers or the extremely thorough police reports for the relevant period.

I don’t know that I buy everything Schechter discusses in this article but when I read it a while back it really amazed me: good heavens, people just…they just make things up. And it gets passed on and on and on until it’s completely woven into quite respectable histories.

So I guess it makes a kind of perfect sense for someone to casually cite Schechter’s “these things didn’t exist” paper without mentioning the whole “didn’t exist” part.

Of course, what probably happened is this: the Schechter paper is behind a JSTOR wall—here it is, if you can access it—and the only publicly-accessible portion just describes the “phenomenon” without getting to his point.

Now, I for one have never researched the phenomenon personally. I had heard of the alleged parties but didn't bother to verify them. They didn't really interest me one way or another, call me callous.

Still, that's just it: I heard of them and didn't bother to verify them. It's just a piece of legend bandied around so often that it gains legitimacy through repetition.

Which brings us back to what I've been saying since the beginning. Nothing goes without saying. There is no contention that can stand on its own without support.

And also, to tie back to what I was harping about in another thread: Primary sources. Use them. Historians can be mistaken or, once you start brushing against those with an ideological ax to grind or a book to sell, they can make things up.

Golly lolly, I know in the scheme of things the bals des victims aren't cornerstones of the period and arguing their existence one way or another is of negligible importance, but to just lie? To become such an ingrained part of the public consciousness because nobody wants to dip through the archives? Ick.
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Re: Bals des Victims

Post  Sophie on Wed Jun 05, 2013 4:30 pm

Bunnies wrote:Golly lolly, I know in the scheme of things the bals des victims aren't cornerstones of the period and arguing their existence one way or another is of negligible importance, but to just lie? To become such an ingrained part of the public consciousness because nobody wants to dip through the archives? Ick.

Pffff, the whole idea sounds so sick and morbid... if I read something similar in a Heine poem, I would say OK, but I simply don't want to believe that something like that ever could have existed in reality. (Wikipedia writes: "To be admitted to these societies and balls, one had to be a near relative of someone who had been guillotined during the Terror." So the alleged guests would have been permitted to prove this and that relative's death? A little chat between two quadrilles about their guillotined family members? It's so weird...)
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Re: Bals des Victims

Post  Bunnies on Wed Jun 05, 2013 4:40 pm

Weird and untrue. Which just tells us something about wikipedia's validity, too. That people use that thing for research...pugh. Mad
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Re: Bals des Victims

Post  Sophie on Wed Jun 05, 2013 5:13 pm

Bunnies wrote:Weird and untrue. Which just tells us something about wikipedia's validity, too. That people use that thing for research...pugh. Mad

The article also mentions that a historian denied their existence. "They were an invention of early nineteenth-century romantic authors", he (David Bell) says. They really sound so. But the way people use Wikipedia as a reliable source is more than horrible. I remember, some high school fellows of mine were proud of cutting Wikipedia-statements together and calling it a history or philosophy paper... *headshot* I even gave up years ago to write down the failures in some "historical" articles on the "Talk" sites of the Hungarian Wikipedia, because no one listened to me... pale Or they told me rudely that I shouldn't rewrite their articles. OK, I understood Rolling Eyes
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Re: Bals des Victims

Post  Bunnies on Wed Jun 05, 2013 5:29 pm

Yeah, like my friend said. In the article about the bals des victims, it cites an historian who denies their existence.

Incidentally, Carlyle seems to be the first popular historian to seriously allege that these dances happened. He's becoming a bad penny, I swear.

As to wikipedia: I suppose it's pretty good if you just want a brief and maybe questionable overview of a topic - an introduction, perhaps - but trusting it for anything more is pretty silly.

I remember, some high school fellows of mine were proud of cutting Wikipedia-statements together and calling it a history or philosophy paper... *headshot* I even gave up years ago to write down the failures in some "historical" articles on the "Talk" sites of the Hungarian Wikipedia, because no one listened to me... Or they told me rudely that I shouldn't rewrite their articles. OK, I understood

Well, if someone wants to wallow in their ignorance I guess there's really nothing you can do. But it's terrible that the wikipedia staff itself treated you rudely. Evil or Very Mad
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Re: Bals des Victims

Post  Elena on Fri Jun 07, 2013 8:27 pm

Thank you for this fabulous research! cheers

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