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Project A5

The ‘Éclat’ of the Hero: Aural Representation of the Hero in France from the 17th to the 19th Century

Jakob Willis

Department of Romance Languages and Literature


This project concerns itself with the term éclat, French for radiance or brilliance. This term conceptualizes a form of articulating a description of the hero in literary and non-literary texts from France between the 17th and 19th centuries, including such genres as tragedy, poetry, the novel, correspondence, memoirs, historiographical texts, treatises and several more. The term éclat is attached to the traditional topos of heroic brilliance; it does not, however, only describe the effect of the hero on society or, more precisely, how he is perceived by society. It denotes, in fact, an essential quality of the heroic deed whose publicity it ensures and is thereby an essential constituent in the semantics of the term ‘heroic’. This is why the term éclat in the sense of a typical manifestation of heroism in all of the Early Modern Period functions as a hypernym for related concepts (for example, gloire, générosité, magnanimité in the 17th century). Furthermore, the perception of the hero is fundamentally caught between the immediate presence of the heroic deed and the necessity to communicate it for the sake of its societal effect, meaning to semanticize and medialize it. Orienting on the main questions of this Collaborative Research Centre and within the framework of Project Group A (Articulations) this project intends to investigate this process of heroization and deheroization associated with the term éclat and its uses. In this context, the term éclat as a performative dimension in the representation of the hero represents a symbol through which the direct effects of the heroic deed are to be made palpable for the present. The term does not, however, only refer affirmatively to the appearance and effects of the heroic figure, whose fame outshines society. Through further meanings of éclat (splinter, din) the term also simultaneously accentuates the ambivalence of the heroic figure which became apparent over the course of time and was considered a public sensation and therefore societal scandal until the modern conception of individual (mis)behavior established itself. The term éclat thereby becomes an instrument by which to reflect on heroic conduct and its historical changes, most of all in the context of the French Revolution and thereafter.