# 28415

BERGASSE, Nicolas and A.-M.-J. CHASTENET DE PUYSEGUR (attributed); [La Pérouse, Jean-François de Galaup, comte de, 1741-1788]

[LA PEROUSE] La journée des dupes : pièce tragi-politi-comique : représentée sur le Théatre National par les grands Comédiens de la Patrie.

$800.00 AUD

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[Paris] : s.n., 1790. Octavo, modern marbled wrappers; 86 pp, engraved head-piece; a fine copy.

Attributed to N. Bergasse and to A.M.J. Chasténet, marquis de Puysegur, this satirical play counts amongst its main characters the French explorer La Pérouse and his “Indian” (i.e. Polynesian) servant, O Paria. The other characters, all important figures in the French Revolution, have their names thinly disguised, but they include Mirabeau, Lafayette, Bailly and Montmorency.

The ships of La Pérouse’s expedition left Port Jackson in early March, 1788. This was presumably their last contact with Europeans. La Pérouse’s last letter, dispatched from Sydney on the British ship Alexander, informed the French authorities that he expected to return to France by June 1789. However, the expedition of d’Entrecasteaux in search of La Pérouse did not depart France until the end of September 1791.

During 1790, the year in which La journée des dupes was written, performed and published, nothing of the fate of La Pérouse and his men was known, and speculation must have been rife that the expedition was either shipwrecked or had perished somewhere in the Pacific. In the play, the character of La Pérouse represents the aristocracy. A figure as distant and “out-of-touch” with reality as could possibly be imagined at the time, he is unable to comprehend the enormous transformation that has taken place in French society in his absence, blind to the fact that the Ancien Régime has been subverted. When he describes himself as “a traveller”, the mob demand to see his passport, informing him that since the people have obtained their freedom, every citizen must carry this form of identification. At the end of the play the barbarism and extreme violence of the Revolution is viciously parodied when O Paria, La Pérouse’s Polynesian servant, exhorts his master to return to France with him, where, as an “authentic” cannibal, he may partake in the feast of severed heads, mutilated corpses and human flesh, accounts of which have piqued his appetite.

Three copies are recorded in Australian collections (National Library of Australia; University of Melbourne Library; State Library of New South Wales).