Jean-Paul Marat: A Study of a Radical Journalist in the French Revolution

Houston, Patricia
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
When polite young Charlotte Corday plunged a kitchen knife into Jean-Paul Marat's chest on July 13, 1793, as he sat working in his medicinal bath, she ended more than just an individual's life. She had carried out what France's leaders had despaired of ever doing--she stilled the pen of the radical journalist who sent some nine hundred issues of his newspaper into the streets of Paris to fan the flames of the French Revolution. A Marat cult sprang up to mourn his death, and France exploded with emotion. His heart, separately embalmed, was enshrined like a religious relic in the Cordeliers' chapel, and his wasted body soon lay, if only temporarily, alongside Voltaire in the Pantheon of France's heroes. Yet this same Marat, who inspired the reverence of the revolutionary common people and the respect of contemporaries, was reviled by a large segment of European society. Historians would call him "scum," or a homicidal maniac who went mad in the cellars of Paris. To some the most inflammatory journalist of the French Revolution, Marat to others was a moderate in the revolution's radical wing. How this unkempt, humorless and apprehensive little man, who called himself and his newspaper "the friend of the people," provoked such controversy is the subject of this paper.
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