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A cross-channel marriage in limbo: Alexandre d’Arblay, Frances Burney, and the risks of revolutionary migration

Faculty Advisor




migration, French Revolution

Abstract (summary)

In late 1801, as the prospect of a truce between Britain and France raised the hopes of émigrés throughout the French Revolutionary diaspora, Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard d’Arblay took a momentous gamble. After a decade abroad, he crossed the English Channel in the hopes of resurrecting his military career back home. It all went spectacularly wrong, and he, his wife—the English writer Frances Burney—and their son found themselves stranded in Napoleonic France after the collapse of the Peace of Amiens in 1803. Then as now, d’Arblay usually warrants mention as General Lafayette’s aide-de-camp or Burney’s trusted scribe. His status as an émigré had a undeniable impact on his famous wife’s later life and work, but d’Arblay’s fraught homecoming also provides a revealing window into the messy return and reintegration of those who left France during the Revolution. Their mass re-migration has been largely neglected in the otherwise flourishing field of émigré studies. What is more, as committed partners pursuing a new form of marriage—one based on affection and intellect rather than property or parentage—d’Arblay and Burney were forced to tackle the perils of bi-national marriage in the dawning age of nationalism and total war. While navigating competing loyalties and tenuous finances, the fate of their family hinged on contingencies like the Brumaire coup d’état; partisan patronage networks; and the proliferating demands of revolutionary bureaucracy and the Napoleonic “security state.” The Burney-d’Arblays’ recurrent reunions and separations offer firsthand insight into the dizzying upheavals of the 1790s and the complexities of political reconciliation that followed.

Publication Information

Summers, Kelly. 2020. “A Cross-Channel Marriage in Limbo: Alexandre d’Arblay, Frances Burney, and the Risks of Revolutionary Migration.” Selected Papers of the Consortium for the Revolutionary Era (2020), George Mason University.



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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)