Entre terreur et fascination : la foule dans le monde d’hier / Terror or Fascination: The Crowd in Nineteenth Century Europe

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Elena BOVO


Nowadays the crowd no longer takes to the streets and overruns the squares and public places, or at least only occasionally. My intent in this paper is not to study the concept of ‘crowd’ as such, even supposing this were possible, nor is it to undertake a lexical analysis of the term ‘crowd’. I shall adopt a different point of view, partial, as any point of view is bound to be. At a specific historical period, the turning point of the nineteenth century, and in a restricted area of the world, Italy and France, the crowd, or what is meant by the term ‘crowd’, was a source of terror and fascination. Today, this very same term has none of its past resonance and strength, nor does it conjure up the same powerful images as it did then. However, it is precisely these images, which will always go beyond the strict meaning of the term to which they refer whilst being inextricably bound to it, that I shall discuss. From an examination of two emblematic Italian paintings of the period, my analysis will focus on the famous Psychology of Crowds by Gustave Le Bon published in 1895. What of his sharp and troubling analysis of crowd behavior is still pertinent to the world we live in today?


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