Receiving revolution : the newspaper press, revolutionary ideology and politics in Britain, 1789-1848.
Through a close reading of Bristol newspapers this thesis considers the intrusion of
revolutionary idioms into the English language. This was a far more hesitant and
nuanced process than the 'logocide' argued for by Burke whose notion of a 'linguistic
terror' is overly dramatic. In adopting a longer term perspective and considering the
revolutionary examples of 1830 and 1848, the violence of Burke's model is replaced
by a more nuanced understanding of the range of idiomatic choices presented to
British politics by the French experience.
A brief introductory section addresses key historiographical and methodological
issues. Chapter one explores the development of revolutionary reporting in the Bristol
newspapers between 1792 and 1848. The first half of the chapter examines the subtle
combination of idioms and rhetorical devices evident in the five Bristol titles for
1792. Reports on French and British affairs operated within a consciously circular
discourse founded on the interchangeability of 'signified' and 'referent'. In this way
the revolutionary example was fictionalised, demonised and emptied of any political
value. The second half of the chapter then focuses on the decline of this discursive
loyalism over the period to 1848.
Later chapters concentrate upon the trajectory of specific terms into British political
discourse. Chapter two addresses two inter-related questions. Firstly, how did the
polarised discursive structure identified in chapter one incorporate examples of
British interaction with, and sympathy for, revolutionary France? Secondly, how did
the revolutionary notion of fraternite interact with, and influence, existing British
idioms of inclusion and exclusion?
Chapter three explores the revolutionary signifier, egalite, and the associated concepts
of democracy, meritocracy, socialism and communism. Finally, chapter four
examines the interplay of an egalitarian, revolutionary liberte with older British
conceptions of liberty, liberties, privilege, property, and patriarchy. In examining the
interplay of liberte and egalite with analogous British terms both chapters suggest
that by 1848 British political discourse owed more to the French paradigm than the
editors of the Bristol press cared to admit