Wonder, horror and the hunt for La Bête in mid-18th century France

Dixon, D.P. (2013) Wonder, horror and the hunt for La Bête in mid-18th century France. Geoforum, 48, pp. 239-248. (doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2012.12.018)

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In this paper I want to present a case study of one particular monster – La Bête du Gévaudan, which stalked the Margeride Mountains in pre-Revolutionary France – as a means of grounding certain Enlightenment ideas on monstrousness as they were manifest in this remote fastness. Certainly, the hunt for La Bête reveals how a literate cohort close to events drew upon concepts and ideas that can be traced back to an emerging cadre of savants and philosophes associated with Le Jardin du Roi, and particularly the work of Le Comte de Buffon, in order to make sense of events. And, the purported corpse of Le Bête became yet another wondrous object to be collected and catalogued, testimony to the far reach of the French state. Yet, this written world was itself predicated upon the bodily experiences of those at the ‘sharp’ end of phenomena such as La Bête. The places from which these objects were collected, therefore, should not simply be rendered as collection sites, ordered and categorised through an emerging natural history; these were also the setting for often intense emotional registers, such as fear and horror. What is more, while it is tempting to note how, through the course of the Enlightenment, these scientific framings of the world came to overshadow other modes of knowing – such that science becomes both ‘future’ and ‘global’ in character, while superstition remains within the ‘past’ and the ‘local’ – the complex geographies of La Bête serve to query these expectations.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Dixon, Professor Deborah
Authors: Dixon, D.P.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Journal Name:Geoforum
ISSN (Online):1872-9398

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