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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Death of Malvina: Suicide, Gender and Nationalism in the French Reception of the Ossian Poems

  • Author(s): Goralka, Robin
  • Advisor(s): Greene, Jody
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-SA' version 4.0 license

This paper examines three different French translations of James Macpherson’s Poems of Ossian, those of Pierre Le Tourneur (1777), Antoine Vincent Arnault (1796), and Pierre Baour-Lormian (1801). Building on the relationship between Romanticism and nationalism, and Ossian’s well-established connection to both, I use three different versions of “The Death of Oscar” as case studies to examine how Ossian’s reception in France before, during, and after the French Revolution reflects shifting social as well as aesthetic values. The three versions show not only an affinity between French nationalism and the stories of Ossian, but also a growing anxiety in France about women’s political involvement. Arnault’s and Bour-Lormian’s versions restrict the character Malvina’s participation in heroic action in a way that reflects the political marginalization of women in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, specifically through reforms in the French army, as well as cultural discomfort around the issue of women’s suicide and suicide more broadly.

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