Hewitt, Martin (2008) Max O’Rell and the performance of Frenchness on the late nineteenth-century Anglo-American lecture platform. In: Regards des Anglo-Saxons sur La France au cours du long Dix-Neuvième Siècle. Cahiers du CICC (22). L’Harmattan, Paris, France, pp. 147-180. ISBN 978-2-296-06628-1

This chapter seeks to examine the significance of the lecture/entertainments of ‘Max O’Rell’ (Paul Blouet) for Anglophone ideas of Frenchness and French national character from the mid-1880s to c.1900.

As ‘Max O’Rell’, Blouet established himself as one of the most popular of the late Victorian platform performers, in Britain, the British Empire, and America. His stock in trade was humorous reflections of national characteristics and their contrasts, via stereotypical pen portraits of ‘John Bull’, ‘Sandy’, ‘Jonathan’ etc. Ostensibly O’Rell devoted the bulk of his time to studies of Anglophone characteristics, but these were nearly always situated in the context of comparisons with French models, an identity that O’Rell gave more sustained attention to in his lectures on ‘Jacques Bonhomme’ (published as Jacques Bonhomme. John Bull on the Continent. From My Letter Box (1889), and in a number of his other published works, including The Dear Neighbours! (1885) and English Pharisees, French Crocodiles and other Anglo-French typical characters (New York, 1892).

On the surface O’Rell appears to epitomise the ways in which national stereotypes were reinforced in late century Anglophone culture, and hence Anglo-French relations made more difficult. Yet Blouet considered himself as a champion of greater cross-Channel and trans-Atlantic understanding, and made a number of high profile interventions, not least during the Fashoda crisis of 1898, in support of diplomatic and cultural entente between France and Britain. This chapter considers how far his lectures and writings constructed a positive view of France and the possibilities of stronger Anglo-French relations, and the extent to which such ideas were taken up by his hearers and readers.

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