Unruly women of Paris: images of the commune 9780801483189, 9780801432286

The petroleuse is the most notorious figure to emerge from the Commune, but the literature depicts the Communardes in ot

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Unruly women of Paris: images of the commune
 9780801483189, 9780801432286

Table of contents :
Illustrations (page ix)
Preface (page xi)
Introduction: Rereading the Commune (page 1)
Synopsis: La Commune de Paris (page 14)
1. The Women of March 18 (page 24)
2. Remembering and Representing (page 57)
3. The Symbolic Female Figure (page 74)
4. The Femmes Fortes of Paris (page 120)
5. Les Pétroleuses (page 159)
6. Women on Trial (page 191)
7. The Unruly Woman and the Revolutionary City (page 218)
Notes (page 229)
Selected Bibliography (page 263)
Index (page 277)

Citation preview


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The Symbolic Female Figure 85 the piéta; a third clutches her children to her. ‘he woman who buries her face in her hands resembles several iconographic figures (see fig. 2). Like Daumier’s representation of a grieving France (see fig. 5), she is turned

away from the viewer and holds her face in her hands. Like that of Delacroix’s Liberty (see fig. 2), her bodice has slipped down from her shoulders to her arms, leaving her back bare. But her dark skirt differs from Liberty’s traditional white clothing and her hair flows down her back,

likening her also to representations of Marianne (the Republic). In any case, the message is clear: Thiers has triumphed over the Commune, the Republic, Paris, and Liberty at the cost of many French lives. Thiers, the artist assumes (as did the Communards), having proven his manhood, will reinstitute the monarchy. In political acts as symbolic as they were practical, the Commune organized fund-raising concerts and events for the widows and children of the dead. It adopted children who were completely orphaned by the death of their fathers and undertook to provide for their care and education. It established pensions of 600 francs for the widows and 365 francs per year for each child of the men who died in battle. Enshrining a working-class notion of marriage that did not require legal sanction, the Commune made all widows and orphans eligible for aid, regardless of the formal marital status of the man and woman. While the claims were being verified, needy widows and orphans could apply for an immediate fifty francs.*! Seen as sanctioning illegitimacy, the law provoked an outcry from conservatives and provided a field day for anti-Commune caricaturists, who reversed the image of the widow from victim to villain and quickly produced cartoons of women urging their men to go and fight and complaining when they returned alive.

Dangerous Women Symbolically the opposite of the women who bore witness to the evils of Versailles and the toll of war in Communard texts were the Parisian women who fought for the Commune in one way or another, and conservative and anti-Commune writers paid them considerable attention. The willingness of theses “amazons” to participate in the taking of life violated bourgeois conceptualizations of woman’s nature and called into question a basic assumption of nineteenth-century Western civilization—that aggression, bellicosity, and courage were masculine, not feminine, attributes. Particular-

ly disturbing was that men found many of these woman to be physically attractive. For conservatives, the combination of violence and beauty was

86 Unruly Women of Paris both evil and compelling, and when they wrote about the female warriors of Paris, though the tone varied from outright denunciation to sarcasm,

the condemnation was always clear. | In contrast, pro-Commune writers were ambivalent. Only the truly radi-

cal Parisian journalists who welcomed any challenge to the status quo praised them wholeheartedly. Most did not know quite what to do with these champions of the Commune whose words and deeds challenged patriarchal culture. When they could, they ignored the women. When they could not, as was particularly the case when they wrote about the final week of fighting when women defended the barricades, they presented them as women of the people whose actions would save the revolution. But male commentators were not entirely comfortable with this portrayal. “Amazon” was the word most commonly applied to the female defenders of the Commune. They were known as the amazons of the Seine, the amazons of Paris, the amazons of the Commune, the amazons of the rabble, and there was talk of forming a battalion of amazons.** Although other terms were also used, including virago, fury, harpy, and vivandiere, the primary reference point was the Amazons of ancient Greece, the world’s most enduring representation of the powerful woman.

More malleable, perhaps, than most images, the female warriors of Greek mythology have appeared over time as everything from free spirits

| who created their own society and desired only brief encounters with men in order to beget children to powerful, man-hating demons, willing to sacrifice their right breasts in the pursuit of a straight shot in archery. Liter-

, ate and literary French, English, and American men in the nineteenth century were well acquainted with the amazons of antiquity as their scattered

references to Queen Penthesilea attest. This familiarity had many sources—an education in the classics; the popularity of Heinrich von Kleist’s 1808 poetic drama Penthesilea; and warrior-maiden representations of the French national heroine Jeanne d’Arc.

In the writings of Herodotus, Homer, Hippocrates, and Aristophanes, the Amazons were a society of skilled and fierce warriors who lived without

men, rode horses, fought ferociously in battle, and eventually were defeated by the Athenians. Sculptors created scenes of these battles for the Parthenon and other civic buildings, and carved statues of individual ama-

zons dressed in short tunics that left one breast uncovered. This artistic convention entered into Roman portrayals of the Amazons as riding into battle with one breast exposed.*° The belief that Amazons cut or burned off one of their breasts in childhood is a later tradition.** In myth, the beauty and strength of the Amazons, despite their warlike ways, exercise considerable appeal among the Greeks. The strength and

The Symbolic Female figure 817 steadfastness of more than one young man is tested by sending him on a quest to capture something from the Amazons. And more than one falls in love with an Amazon. When Heracles captures the sacred girdle of Queen

Antiope (also called Hippolyta), he gives her to Theseus, the king of Athens, who falls in love with her and marries her. In another history, written by the fourth-century Greek poet Quintus, Achilles falls tragically in love with the beautiful queen Penthesilea after he has fatally wounded her in the battle of Troy.*° In KMeist’s play Penthesilea leads her forces into battle against the Greeks

during the siege of Troy, to capture young men who will become their lovers and the fathers of their children. During the battle, Penthesilea falls in love with Achilles. Aroused by passion, she pursues him in battle only to be conquered by him. Achilles, for his part, overwhelmed by her courage and beauty, becomes emotionally enslaved to her. When she discovers that she is a prisoner, she goes mad and tears Achilles limb from limb. When she comes to her senses and discovers Achilles is dead, she kills herself.*° Elements of these stories are interlaced with the legend of Jeanne d’Arc. In 1429 the seventeen-year-old Jeanne, from a village in the duchy of Lorraine, inspired the young Charles, heir to the throne of France, to victory over the English at Orleans. Jeanne said she had been inspired by the divine voices she heard. Some time after the victory, Charles’s enemies, the Burgundians, captured Jeanne and sold her to the English; they turned her over to the Inquisition, and she was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in the marketplace in Rouen. A variety of circumstances led to the association of this young martyred heroine with the Amazons, the other maiden warriors of legend. The association begins with her independence from men, symbolized by her virginity, cropped hair, male clothing, and direct communication with God. It continues, of course, with her role as a warrior at the battle of Orleans, where she inspired victory, and it concludes in the alteration of her name. Jeanne herself said that her family name was Darc. Over time Darc was transformed into d’Arc. The de awarded noble birth to the peasant girl, and the Arc, meaning “bow,” “arch,” and “curve,” associated her with the Amazons of antiquity whose weapon was the bow. Enhancing the connection were Renaissance texts, engravings, and statues that presented Jeanne as an armed classical warrior and sometimes explicitly compared her with


Like the men of ancient Greece, bourgeois journalists, essayists, and his-

torians were drawn to the fierce, beautiful female warriors of the Commune and were convinced that they were man-hating, independent, dangerous, and mad. Anti-Commune writers left Jeanne d’Arc out of their

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LES JEANNE [ARG ce La CONMUNE.o G1. Ficure 7. H. Nérac, “The Virgin... Mad: The Joan of Arc of the Commune, S.G.D.G.” Les signes du Zodiaque. Bibliotheque Nationale.

representations of the communardes, since she represented valor, goodness, and purity and the female warriors of the commune represented evil, but her legend and image hovered somewhere in the background, com_ plicating their representations and reactions. The one place where the communardes were explicitly identified with Jeanne d’Arc was in a drawing by the anti-Commune caricaturist Nerac representing Virgo or the Virgin (La Vierge) in his series on the signs of the zodiac (fig. 7). The frame of the picture includes a bit of doggerel: “On the field of battle as on the boulevard, / I can shoot a man at a thousand meters without mistake.”

The Symbolic Female Figure 89 Like most unflattering representations of the communardes, Nérac’s caricature reveals what conservative men found disturbing. The title, “La Vierge... Folle” (The mad virgin), is not meant to be read ironically, but the allusion to Jeanne d’Arc is. This cold-blooded, cigarette-smoking woman with the Medusa-like curly hair and phallic shotgun is no androgynous, vir-

ginal Jeanne d’Arc. But neither is she a true warrior. Only men (and the saintly Jeanne) can be warriors. In thinking she is one, and in taking on the outward appearance of a man, the communarde has violated her female nature and become mad.

Cantinieres and Ambulanciéres The cantinieres and ambulancieéres, who provided food and drink to the National Guard and cared for the wounded, were the least controversial of the Commune’s female warriors. These women were a customary part of

the nineteenth-century warfare and were easily identified. Cantiniéres wore uniforms and often carried small casks at their waists. Ambulanciéres were less likely to wear uniforms, but they carried red crosses and medical supplies. Both groups braved the battle alongside the men in their battalions. Some cantinieres and ambulancieres regarded their work as a job; others were volunteers who wanted to be near their husbands or to defend the Commune. Like the guardsmen who were ordinary workers and had little training in the art of warfare, these women were often il prepared for battle. Cantiniéres were simply women who knew how to cook. Ambulanciéres had little if any real training to guide them, since nursing had yet to be established as a profession. They purchased their own supplies and did what

they could to aid wounded men. Women (not the government or physicians) organized permanent and mobile ambulance stations in Montmartre and Issy, and the Union des Femmes pour la Défense de Paris et les Soins aux Blessés (Union of Women for the Defense of Paris and the

Care of the Wounded) recruited ambulanciéres and cantiniéres to support | the battalions.*®

As early as March 19, cantiniéres could be seen marching through the streets with their battalions. In April and May they accompanied them into

battle. The Commune newspapers carried accounts of their bravery throughout April and May. In Neuilly, a cantiniere who was “wounded in the head bound up her wound and returned to the combat post.” On the Chatillon plateau, a cantiniére fought with the National Guard, “loading her weapon, firing, and reloading without stopping.” The cantiniéere of the

go Unruly Women of Pans 68th Battalion was “struck and killed by an artillery shell.” The body of a young cantiniére, “riddled with bullets,” was taken to the Vaugirard maine for identification.*? Like the references to grieving widows, reports about the cantiniéres in the Commune press better demonstrated the treachery of Versailles than did the more numerous deaths of men, which were to be expected. In addition, of course, they represented the zeal and selflessness

of the Commune’s troops. ,

Because they wore uniforms, the cantiniéres attracted more attention than the ambulanciéres. Outsiders and critics of the Commune were inclined to see them as objects of curiosity and ridicule. Gibson described their attire as early as March 19: “Preceding most of the battalions” that marched through the streets “were young women (one to each battalion) dressed in kepi and Bloomer costumes, with a small cask suspended by a strap flung over the shoulders.”?° Another Englishman provided more detail: “Very trim and neat they looked in their pretty costume; a black jacket trimmed with red, fitting tightly to the figure, black trousers with a broad red stripe, covered to the knees with a petticoat of the same stuff, and a broad red band running round it, —all this, together with a Tyrolese hat and feathers, and the little barrel slung across the left shoulder.”?! The cantiniére in her distinctive uniform was easily and frequently caricatured, her representations used to ridicule the National Guard, the Com- _ mune, and of course, cantiniéres themselves. Typical of these drawings 1s

Léonce Shérer’s depiction of a cantiniére handing out liquor to already drunk guardsmen (fig. 8). Juxtaposing the cantiniére’s naive cheerfulness to the slovenliness of the men, Shérer simultaneously ridicules the working-class guardsmen and the women who supported them. Paris, not Versailles, would have to worry about a city that was defended by men such as these. Maxine Du Camp played with the same themes of alcohol and stu-

pidity but singled out the ambulanciére instead of the cantiniére for attention. In his portrayal, “under the pretext of ‘reviving’ them,” she kills the wounded by giving them eau-de-vie instead of the “simple medication that would have healed.”°*

Although the cantiniére was most often caricatured as a young, silly, perky girl, other images were also used. The same anonymous Englishman who described the cantiniére’s costume in such detail, created a maternal image. He reported that he “struck up a great acquaintance with the cantzniére of the battalion, a kind, motherly woman, who lived in the canteen with her husband and children; ... [during] the past siege [she provided | her services in the double capacity of ambulanciére and cantiniere. She had been decorated, and wore her scrap of red ribbon on her breast. .. . her

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only wish was for peace and quietness, to enable her to gain her living hon-

Charles Bertall, for his part, created three cantiniéres, foregrounding a forbidding-looking, solid, older woman (fig. 9). Behind her, sketched in lighter tones, are two other figures whom we are presumably supposed to see as other cantiniéres, inasmuch as the one-word title of the drawing is in the plural. One of the other figures is a young, slim, stylish woman carrying a small basket; the other is a working-class femme agée, clothed in the

long dress and kerchief of her class and sex and carrying a large market basket. Whatever Bertall’s intent may have been, the harshness of the foregrounded figure makes the cantiniére look ominous rather than nurturing. The anonymous English editor of Bertall’s caricatures declared that “there were some among [the citoyennes]| perhaps ... who had Sincerity and Faith in the Cause they espoused. ... Such as these however were not Cantiniéres, on Whom the Men depended for their hot Coffee and Brandy, and to be useful in the thousand and one odd jobs, scarcely suitable for any not already half or wholly unsexed.” He went on to blame them for “much _ of the prolongation of the Strife, and of the wilful destruction of Life and Property in the last days.”°*

Cantiniéres’ and ambulanciéres’ presentations of themselves and their

experiences differ markedly from those of the caricaturists. Some, perhaps many, women who adopted these roles were following their husbands. Alix Milliet Payen, the daughter of a republican family and the young wife of a

national guardsman, was one. When her husband’s battalion was sent to the Issy front in April, she purchased medical supplies, outfitted herself as an ambulanciere, and persuaded the authorities to let her follow the men. Like other women who accompanied the troops, she shared their dangerous and primitive conditions. We know something about her experiences from letters she wrote to her mother.°° At Issy, Payen and the men camped in a cemetery, without tents or blankets, sheltering when they could in the damaged mausoleums. It rained constantly. At night, she reported, the Versailles bombardment continued unabated and she could not sleep. One man was wounded in the leg and she assisted a doctor in amputating it. She and the doctor then spent the night in a trench, the only safe place available. She worried about her husband, Henri, who had been wounded in the eye by his own gun when it _ misfired (a common accident). “I assure you,” she told her mother, “that I have never heard the shells, balls and bullets so well; the shells from the ramparts are especially fearsome. Our campsite 1s very picturesque, but the

men are very tired. They will be relieved tomorrow morning.”°°© | Victorine Brocher, who was also at the battle for Issy, reported that the

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pay would be 1.5 francs per day (half what the men earned in the National Guard). A female doctor would be attached to each battalion. Appropriate weapons would be selected for the women. And special uniforms with black and orange jackets, pants, and hats would be created for them.%° The battalions came into existence only in the public imagination and the drawings of caricaturists,?' where they lived on well past the end of the war with Prussia. One anonymous caricature was particularly popular (fig. 10). It depicts a small but fully clothed Napoleon HI reviewing a collection of female recruits, clad only in boots. The women range from short and chubby to tall and skinny. Some look rather shyly at the ground, others at Napoleon; one peers down at him as though at a small oddity, while another, chubbiest of them all, looks longingly over her shoulder at a shapely “amazon” clad in the proposed uniform.?* The messages are multiple. The women themselves are ridiculed, as is the idea of female soldiers. They stand at attention (it is a military review), but their size and shape demonstrate their unfitness—and, by extension, all women’s unfitness—for military service. These are no athletic amazons. Their interest in the battalion,

102 , Unruly Women of Paris the artist suggests, lies not in serious political convictions but in looking at-

tractive in military uniforms. The role model in the group seems more qualified for display than for combat. Napoleon III is also lampooned in

, the cartoon, although he is not subjected to the indignity of nudity. Not only is he placed in the company of these inappropriate warriors, he is shorter than all but one of them, putting his manhood in question. Ernest Vizetelly represented the women quite differently, but he was no less focused on their physical attributes. He visited Belly’s office on the rue | Turbigot one day while women were registering for the battalion. There, he reported later, he saw “a staircase crowded with recruits, who were mostly muscular women from five-and-twenty to forty years of age, the older ones sometimes being unduly stout, and not one of them, in my youthful opinion, at all good-looking.”?? The ridicule surrounding the proposed battalion of amazons was heightened by Jules Allix’s plan to arm them with prussic acid. Allix, mayor of the eighth arrondissement and a member of the Commune, was a genuine sup-

porter of women’s causes. During the Prussian siege he founded a Committee of Women whose goals were to advance the work, education, social welfare, and rights of women.?* He was also an inventor and a bit crazy. In 1870 he proposed that the Amazons of the Seine be armed with doigts prussiques, rubber thimbles tipped with a small pointed tube full of prussic acid, which they could use to kill Prussians.?° “The Prussian advances towards you,” Allix said, “you put forth your hand, you prick him—he is dead, and

you are pure and tranquil.”?° The hilarity generated by this plan in the grim days of the Prussian siege is easy to imagine. Nor has it escaped historians, who have looked for similar relief in telling the history of the two sieges of Paris. The pro-Commune historian Frank Jellinek, for instance, commenting on Allix’s election to the “feminine” club at the Gymnase Triat during the siege, observed that “the tall scraggy figure with the venerable beard and wild glare of the crazy prophet was just the sort of solitary

, male a women’s club would elect!”°’ While the meaning of this statement is obscure, Jellinek’s attempted humor, like that of the caricaturists, 1s clearly at the expense of women. Memory of the proposed battalion lingered to undermine and ridicule women who wanted to participate in the city’s defense in April and May.

| The anonymous caricature continued to appear in the streets.°° On April 12 André Léo took the press to task for ridiculing the idea of a battalion of amazons. It was particularly offensive that men who had celebrated women’s heroism in the past now criticized women’s desires to defend the Commune. The case in point was Jeanne Hachette, who, like Jeanne d’Arc, was a fifteenth-century French heroine.’? In 1472, when Beauvais was los-

The Symbolic Female Figure 103 ing its battle against the duc de Bourgogne, Hachette climbed a wall, seized the Burgundians’ standard, and rallied the city’s defenders.'°° The Commune press may have been persuaded by Léo, but critics of the Commune certainly were not. They knew a good opportunity for ridicule when they saw it. Gatulle Mendés’s eyewitness description of the caricature is liberally sprinkled with misogynist associations and remarks. Allegedly upset by the caricatures that adorned the walls of Paris, he nevertheless described their contents for his readers. ‘The artists, he likened to “highborn and depraved women [who] wear masks and engage in hideous orgies.”!°! Then he turned to the Amazons of the Seine. Whereas the artist made fun

of the women, Mendes criticized with a heavy hand. The lampooned but not completely unappealing women of the caricature became “formidable monstrosities,” “Himalayan masses of flesh,” “pyramids of bone,” and “creatures of ugliness and immodesty,” as though the objects of the artist’s

imagination were themselves to blame for their appearance and their nakedness. Horror of horrors! “Review of the Amazons of Paris,” it is called. Oh formidable monstrosities! if the brave Amazons are like these, it will suffice to place them undressed in the first row in battle, and Iam sure that not a soldier of the line, not a guardian of the peace, not a gendarme will hesitate a moment at the sight. But in the field, everyone, without exception, will flee in terrified haste, forgetting in their panic even to turn the butt ends of their rifles in the air. One of these Amazons—but why has my sympathy for the amateurs of collections led me into the description of these hideous creatures without clothing?—one of them... but no, I prefer leaving to your imagination those Himalayan masses of flesh and pyramids of bone, these Penthesileas of the Commune of Paris!!°?

The number of women who took up arms to help the National Guard, or wanted to, is unclear. ‘Their existence, however, is not. Women carrying

ouns, sometimes in uniform, sometimes not, were a fairly common sight in Paris. On May 1, for instance, Edmond de Goncourt saw a woman with a rifle on her shoulder in a group of exhausted national guardsmen returning from Issy.!°° In addition to the women who were injured and killed

in early April, the Communard papers reported favorably on several women who fought with the National Guard. A woman with the 61st Battalion fought “energetically,” “killing several gendarmes and gardiens de la paix.” The widow of Colonel Rochebrune fought with the 192d Battalion to revenge the death of her husband. A cantiniére was shot in the leg when she led the 208th Battalion into battle, shouting, “Vive la Commune!” An-

104 Unruly Women of Paris other cantiniere, when she killed a gendarme who was pursuing her in Neuilly, won an ovation from the crowd watching from behind the city wall. | And Louise Michel, who fought in many battles with the National Guard, received considerable attention from the Parisian newspapers./°* By the middle of May, rumors about battalions of women were circulating, although reports about the number and size of these groups are contradictory. Vizetelly had heard the rumors and reported that arms were distributed “to a considerable number of female volunteers, who marched to

the Hotel-de-Ville.”!°° Sébastien Commissaire, a pro-Commune republican, reported that “companies of women were organized militarily” toward

the end of the Commune.'°° The Times reported on May 18 that the twelfth legion of the National Guard had formed a battalion of women, “who in addition to their other military duties are to disarm publically all runaways.”!°7 Communard Benoit Malon reported similarly in his history of the Commune that “on May 12, a company of women organized and

| armed voluntarily, marched with the twelfth legion.”'°® Jules Simon, a member of Thiers’s cabinet in Versailles, reported in his memoirs that the Union des Femmes “turned out a battalion of 2500 women, commanded by men, well armed and equipped, who were reviewed on the 15th May in the courtyard of the Tuileries by two general officers, and a delegate of the Commune.”!°9 How much fighting these groups were engaged in before the semaine sanglante is unclear, but groups of women armed with rifles did defend the barricades during the final week. Reactions to the Commune’s female defenders varied. André Léo regarded them as perfectly normal. “Great causes excite the same sentiments

in all human hearts,” she said, and women experience “the same passions : as men.”!!° Her husband, Malon, echoed her thoughts in his memoir: One sees this revolutionary action by women only in the great days of the peo-

ple,” and then it spurs the men on."'! Jules Claretie, on the contrary, regarded the women as distinctly abnormal. “When we remember,” he moaned in 1872, “squads of women, armed, uniformed, bedecked with scarfs around their waists and red cockades, running through the streets. and, like hysterics in politics, preparing for the implacable resistance of the last eight days, we can only wonder from what slime the human species is made and what animalistic instincts, hidden and ineradicable, still crouch

in the dark soul of mankind!”!?* Catulle Mendes was similarly appalled; the women warriors, it seemed to him, had abandoned their female roles and were “drunk with hate.” “What are these extraordinary beings who give up the housewife’s broom and the seamstress’s needle for a rifle,” he asked. “Who leave their children, to kill beside their lovers and their husbands? Amazons of the street,

The Symbolic Female figure 105 magnificent and abject, they take their place between Penthesilea and Théroigne de Méricourt [a flamboyant supporter of the revolution of 1789 who wore a red cape and pistols]... . What is this rage that seizes these furies? Do they know what they are doing? Do they understand why they are dying?”!?*

Laid out explicitly in Mendés’s text and underlying his and Claretie’s hyperbole is a fascination with these female warriors. For Claretie, they raised questions about human nature and the origin of the species. For Mendés, they had a kind of nobility. The Commune “has its cantiniéres as ’93 had

its tricoteuses,” he wrote, “but the cantinicres are preferable. In their hideousness, they have a kind of savage grandeur. Repulsive because they

are fighting against fellow Frenchmen, against a foreign enemy, these

women would be sublime.”''*

Lest women be attracted to such behavior, Mendés hastened to include a moral tale about the consequences of such passion for women. When one of these “viragoes” entered a shop “with her gun on her shoulder and her bayonet covered with blood,” and was challenged by a woman, “she sprang upon her adversary, and bit her violently in the throat,” and then, before she could fire her gun, “she suddenly turned pale, dropped her gun, and

sank to the floor. She was dead. Her fury had caused a rupture of an aneurism.”!!° The wages of sin (and this behavior was sinful in Mendés’s

eyes) were death. ,

Like the bourgeois literary men who criticized the Commune, antiCommune caricaturists were also drawn to the female warriors and barricade fighters. In his zodiac series, Nérac presented the female warrior as Jeanne d’Arc, but only to distinguish between the two (see fig. 7). Bertall emphasized the crossing of gender lines in a drawing of a woman with her hair coiled tightly on her head, dressed neatly in an officer’s uniform that comes close to disguising her sex (fig. 11). The male and female figures sketched in behind her—men in similar uniforms (albeit not officers’ uniforms) and a woman in a dress and shawl—point up the oddness of the colonelle. Her right arm and foot mimic those of the woman (although the colonelle has only her thumb tucked in her pocket, while the skirted woman has her full hand concealed), but her head and left side repeat the posture of a man who stands on the far right of the drawing. Neither male nor female, she stands alone, an unnatural figure who demonstrates the unnat-

uralness of the Commune. , Bertall’s drawing “The Barricade,” places the female warrior in action, capturing the passion and fury that Claretie and Mendes associated with these women (fig. 12). A disheveled amazon, brandishing the red flag of revolution and a burning firebrand (which instantly identifies her not just

6 Unruly Women of Paris

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Céline and Alexandre corresponded almost daily. She sent him news from Paris: the successful attempt of the women of one quarter to free their curé (parish priest) from jail so he could say the Easter mass, the arrest of their own curé, the unending noise of the bombardment, the arrests of var-

ious members of the Central Committee, the suppression of opposition newspapers, and the National Guard’s harassment of other women whose husbands had fled the city. What upset her the most was seeing priests and nuns marched through the streets surrounded by the National Guard. That Céline was prepared to cope with the difficulties of life in Paris under the Commune was clear from the beginning. She got rid of the National Guard by telling them Alexandre was “usefully occupied at [his] factory.” Told to “make him return,” she replied, “Very well, gentlemen, I will

alert him, but I doubt that my letter will reach him promptly.” Then, instead of summoning him, she warned him to stay away, and continued to undertake hazardous trips out of Paris to meet him.?* On April 18, however, she told Alexandre that her trips in and out of the city would have to end. Edouard (an employee) had advised her not to leave again, she wrote, though “there is no danger for the moment” in remaining in the city.®% In the beginning, Céline was cheerful about the constant bombardment of Paris. Even on April 18, when she perceived that it was no longer safe for her to come and go from the city, she wrote to Alexandre that she had heard no cannon or gunfire, “except two cannon shots” while she was entering the train station. These she wryly remarked were “probably to celebrate our arrival.”°* But the constant shelling of the city by the Versaillais eventually began to take its toll on her. On the twenty-fourth she wrote to Alexandre, now in Lille, that she was fine, “except for a small nervous tremor that I have had for two or three days, caused probably by the cannon fire of the night of Friday to Saturday that was frightful, but it is nothing.” She signed her letter, “your poor love.”®°

At this point, Alexandre’s concern about Céline turned to alarm. On April 26 he wrote to Victor Pillon-Dufresnes, whose wife was also in Paris,

, that he was “uneasy about the condition of the women” there. He thought it was “absolutely necessary that they leave that place, that they close the business.”°° But Céline had regained her equilibrium and sent Alexandre

The Femmes Fortes of Paris 143 a reassuring note: “T assure you, dear love, that I see no danger in remaining in Paris; | am risking nothing.”’’ Alexandre was not reassured. On the twenty-ninth, he wrote Céline, “You do not know how cruel it is to be separated from you, especially in such terrible circumstances. I am constantly in a state of anxiety; I feverishly open your letters which only reassure me a little, being written two or three days before I receive them.” Alexandre was adamant. He asked Céline if she had done what he said and left Paris. “It is not necessary to push energy and courage to excess. .. . Let us be content at Ronquerolles for the moment; come what may in Paris.”°° Having confided on April 27 that she was “very very afraid,”®9 Céline acceded to Alexandre’s wishes on May 1 and left the city. What kept Céline de Mazade and other bourgeois women in Paris when

it was no longer safe for the men to remain there was a twofold concern , with the family’s property and business. Rumors and Versailles press accounts of the pillaging of churches and houses provoked fear that their homes would not be safe if they were left unoccupied. This fear was exacerbated late in April when the Commune decided to house evacuees from Neuilly in abandoned apartments.?° More central, however, at least in the correspondence of Céline and Alexandre, was a desire to keep the family’s textile business operating. Alexandre repeatedly asked Céline to send him silk. “Press our silk throwers,” he wrote on March 24. “About the silk, quickly, quickly... urgent,” he wrote on April 18, and on the next day: “About the silk, send us the silk! Always as much as possible! It is absolutely necessary that you find, if not raw sulk, at least weft yarn, send even partially prepared rovings, ... Spur on our silk throwers also. ‘Think how without silk all our factories will be stopped!”?! On the twenty-fourth, he praised her for having begun to “buy so well” and encouraged her to buy as much as possible since they could “buy less later.” Even in his letter of April 29 in which he

demanded that she leave Paris, he went on to tell her about a trip he had just made to search out markets for the future.%” Celine was obviously a competent and resourceful businesswoman. She kept the Paris shop open, shipped silk whenever she could, and by April 20 was bribing officials with twenty-sous pieces, and arguing her case (this time unsuccessfully) with the “very decorated” National Guard commis-

sioner of the train station.°? On the twenty-fourth when she complained of a “small nervous tremor,” she reported that business was fine, although the shop lacked merchandise.°* On the twenty-sixth she reported that the other manufacturers could not find workers because they had all joined the National Guard, but she herself apparently still had workers.9° Alexandre relied on Céline and was well aware of her competence, taking her role

144 Unruly Women of Paris | in the business, if not her safety, for granted. On May 12 he wrote to a friend in Etampes that Céline had spent an “infernal April in Paris, where her presence was a benefit because of the lively revival of business.”?° The published versions of Céline’s letters contain little reflection on the political and military struggles of the Commune. Her allegiance to Versailles is not in doubt, however. She opposed the Commune’s arrests of priests and nuns, sympathized with those around her who opposed the National Guard, and considered herself the social and intellectual superior of the guardsmen and Commune officials whom she met. To her the men

seemed more like recalcitrant children than serious opponents. Their “rage against religion” was “stupid,”?’ and she believed she could outwit them. Indeed, she did outwit them when they came in search of Alexandre, and she frequently succeeded in sending him silk despite the obstacles. When she could not convince the officials with logic, she tried bribing them with alcohol and money. Her tactics did not always work, but she felt no compunctions about trying them. She was a bourgeoise who knew what she wanted and how to get it. If the National Guard tried to arrest her, she had, she said, no intention of allowing herself to be “taken.”?® The Mazade correspondence does not allow us to determine fully the gender conceptions of Céline and Alexandre and their friends. Nevertheless, it is clear that their views were complex and verged on the contradictory. For this young bourgeois couple, male and female spheres of activity were not sharply differentiated, although there was some division of responsibility between them. Alexandre appears to have been the one to travel in search of suppliers and customers, and Céline dealt with the Parisian end of the business. Alexandre clearly recognized and relied upon Céline’s experience and competence. She knew how to run the family’s textile business and did it ably. Indeed, the visit by the National Guard which precipitated Alexandre’s permanent absence from Paris occurred while she was working in the shop. None of her family or friends thought her work peculiar. She was a resourceful businesswoman and in her rightful place. Despite Céline de Mazade’s competence and independence of spirit, she lived in a world that assigned character traits on the basis of sex. These assignments were not so rigid that they could not be manipulated in extraordinary circumstances such as the Commune, however. Courage is an in-

teresting case in point. When Victor Pillon, another manufacturer, undertook to praise the women who had remained in Paris, he could only say that they had “demonstrated a more than masculine courage.”°? This praise was not unlike Malon’s and Rossel’s praise of “cetoyen” André Léo.

The mutual decision for the women to remain in Paris allowed them to possess the masculine virtue of courage without becoming unfeminine.

Lhe Femmes Fortes of Paris 145 But only temporarily. No one in this bourgeois group expected or wanted women to be more courageous than men on a daily basis. Nor did they want women to be exactly like men in other ways. Alexandre could and did express both his and Céline’s sadness over the death of a friend’s child and his concern for her safety, but he revealed no personal fears or fancies

as Céline did when she wrote notes about the cat and revealed the toll the bombardment was taking on her. Femininity and masculinity were distinguishable, albeit occasionally overlapping, hierarchically related con-


Notably missing from Céline de Mazade’s published letters are references to Communard women. She mentions only some who managed to free a priest. The April posters and newspaper articles alternately urging women to take up arms and to work for peace, the cantiniéres and ambulanciéres who marched through the city with the troops, the club orators— none of these women who attracted the attention of other bourgeois commentators, including Blanchecottc, appear in her correspondence. It is unlikely that she approved of any of these women (with the exception of those who called for peace), for she had no sympathy for the Commune and its supporters. The differences in class interests were too great for her to bridge. The Communards were her enemy, but she saw them as more inept than evil. She had no wish to treat them very harshly. Even when she had had a bad day, her most fervent desire was for their incarceration (a byproduct of victory), not execution. “I am coming to wish that all the national guardsmen were prisoners at Versailles,” she wrote to Alexandre.!°° But by the end of the Commune, Céline de Mazade had become vindictive, like many other bourgeois women and men. Bombarded with reports that pétroleuses were burning houses, fearful for their own homes, and removed from Paris with its columns of bedraggled prisoners and mass executions, women and men alike were drawn to vengeance in thought if

not in deed. On May 30, a month after she had left the city, Céline had come to support the executions and mass arrests that were taking place, and she made no exception for women. She wrote to a friend in Paris: “T never believed that these abominable communards would be such vandals as to commit these atrocious deeds. I hope that [the government] will continue to give no mercy to these monsters, men and women, and that they

are going to take their children and make them learn better sentiments.”!°! Berthe Amiard-Fromentin, a friend of the Mazades, expressed even harsher sentiments. Writing to her father on April 29 from Etampes, she declared: “I have finally obtained a passport, and I intend to leave tomorrow morning for Paris, to see with my own eyes the irreparable disaster! How the blood flowed and still flows! One is without pity for these mis-

146 Unruly Women of Paris erable incendiaries, and with reason. ... On their part, it was a war to the death of those who are property owners.”!0? What bourgeois men thought of bourgeois women who expressed vin-

dictive sentiments but remained inactive is not clear. Alexandre de Mazade’s inclusion of vengeful letters among those he published suggests his approval, but on what level is unknown. Perhaps he (and other bourgeois men) regarded such feelings as human, shared by men and women alike. Perhaps he associated them with women, regarding vengeance as a

peculiarly female trait. Perhaps he viewed them as another aspect of women’s defense of their homes. _ When bourgeois women moved from advocating “no mercy” to inflicting punishment, however, many bourgeois men found themselves as uncomfortable with this “unladylike” behavior as they were with that of the communardes. Journalists, essayists, and ordinary citizens described the “long caravans of prisoners [who] were to be seen wending their way to Versailles, innocent and guilty alike, to the great delight of substantial citizens... [who] revenged [them ]selves indiscriminately.”’°° Most of these observers singled out the behavior of the women among these “substantial

| citizens” for criticism. Gaston Cerfbeer, who was only twelve years old in 1871, recalled in 1903, “Above all, the women were without pity, screaming ‘Kill them! To death!’”’°* Maxime Du Camp, one of the Commune’s harshest critics, reported that “the women were, as always, the most agitated; they broke through military ranks and beat the prisoners with umbrellas, crying: Kill the assassins! Burn the incendiaries! ”!9° Whether the bourgeoises who taunted and abused the prisoners acted in any way differently from the men in the crowds is unclear. What is clear is that women’s behavior was perceived differently. It may have been acceptable for women to protect their homes and families and to have fleeting hopes of vengeance, but it was not acceptable for them to attack men and women who, as prisoners, were defined as nonthreatening. To strike out at them was to move across the line from defense to offense. For bour-

geois men, as for the National Guard commanders who tried to keep women away from the front lines, women who acted aggressively had crossed the boundary between female and male behavior. This boundary did not confine Parisian bourgeois women to domesticity in 1871, as Bonnie Smith has found it did in northern France.!® Alexandre’s reliance on Céline to run the Parisian business and protect their home demonstrates that it did not. But bourgeois culture certainly did restrict military and violent action to men. When women acted violently, their identity as women was called into question. So, correlatively, was men’s identity. If women were not defenseless (as both the communardes and the vengeful bour-

The Femmes Fortes of Parts 147 geoises seemed to demonstrate, then men could not be their “natural” protectors. Since the heroic part of male identity was already shaky for bourgeois men who had fled conscription and left their women behind, vengeful women posed a serious threat to their sense of how society should work. Whereas Alexandre de Mazade may have understood and supported his wife’s vindictive feelings, Augustine-Melvine Blanchecotte would not have. She believed that women and men were fundamentally different from each

_ other in this regard. For her, vindictive sentiments and actions in women were incomprehensible and unacceptable. She disapproved of both the young communardes who spurred men on to battle and bourgeoises who taunted and attacked prisoners. She had seen such behavior on May 3 when she visited Versailles, and she saw it again in late May and early June. Both times, powerless to stop the taunting and attacking of prisoners, she tried not to see and hear what was going on. From her pacifist perspective,

such action (and the thought that preceded it) was wrong whether done by men or women. But her bifurcated view of male and female nature led

her to expect such behavior from men and not from women. Where women who encouraged or joined this male behavior fit in terms of gender was unclear, but they were no longer “true women.” “Creatures” was the best word Blanchecotte could come up with to describe them and it seemed to deny their humanity altogether.

Louise Michel

The most famous femme forte of the Commune was the woman who stepped most firmly and willingly across the gender line, Louise Michel. In the grand tradition of female French revolutionaries, she was the illegiti-

mate daughter of a nobleman.'°” Born out of wedlock in 1830 to Marianne Michel, a domestic servant, and Laurent Demahis, a young man of noble descent who left his parental home after Louise’s birth, Louise

Michel was raised by her mother and paternal grandparents in the Demahis’s (formerly de Mahis) decaying chateau in the village of Vroncourt in the Haute-Marne. She was allowed considerable freedom by her mother and the republican Demahises, and her childhood appears to have been carefree and happy. Well-read and educated as a teacher, she ran a variety of small schools in the Haute-Marne and then moved to Paris.'°* Michel’s political activities began during the later years of the Second Empire. By 1870 she was traveling in radical political circles and enjoying the friendship of men like the mayor of Montmartre, Georges Clemenceau,

148 Unruly Women of Paris and the poet and novelist Victor Hugo, to whom she sent her poetry. Deeply committed to republican government and social revolution, she opposed France’s declaration of war against Prussia and participated in antigovernment demonstrations after the war had begun. In August she and André Léo led a demonstration of women to show support for the besieged city of Strasbourg. Well versed, as all Parisians seem to have been, in the power of symbolic acts, the women marched to the Strasbourg statue in the place de la Concorde, where they signed a book of names and placed it in the lap of the statue. Michel and Léo then proceeded to the

Hotel de Ville, where they demanded weapons so they and the other women could go to Strasbourg’s defense. Thinking them quite mad, the authorities first arrested them and then let them go.'9° The Government of National Defense, which replaced Napoleon III’s government on September 4, did little to inspire the confidence or hope of radicals like Louise Michel, and so their political activities continued. During the Prussian siege, Michel, her mother, and Malvina Poulain ran the school she had founded in Paris, which now had two hundred students, having taken in the children of families that had sought refuge in Paris during the war. For these children and for all the people who came to her for help, Michel beseeched Clemenceau, Hugo, Malon, and anyone else who would listen for food.!!° She also presided over the Women’s Vigilance Committee in Montmartre, attended the meetings of the Men’s Vigilance

Committee,/!! and was a member of the Association for the Rights of Women and the Society for the Victims of the War. She practiced marksmanship at the city fairgrounds, carried a gun, and joined the January 22 demonstration that ended in bloodshed at the Hétel de Ville.1!” The demonstration had been called to protest the slaughter of Parisian national guardsmen at Buzenval on January 19. When the Government of National Defense had decided to send the guard into battle, the Parisians had been elated. Edmond de Goncourt had thought it a “grand and glorious sight, that army marching toward the cannons that we could hear in the distance, an army with, in its midst, grey-bearded civilians who were fathers, beardless youths who were sons, and in its open ranks, women carrying their husbands’ or their lovers’ rifles slung across their backs.”!!% What began so joyfully ended in slaughter. On the twenty-first, Goncourt noted elegantly that Paris had become silent. “Iam struck most of all,” he

, wrote, “by the silence, the silence of death, which a disaster creates in a great city. Today one can no longer hear Paris living.”!!* The radicals were | not content to mourn silently, however. Instead, they marched on the H6-

tel de Ville demanding the installation of a communal government and provoked the fire of the Breton guards stationed there. In a foreshadow-

Lhe Femmes Fortes of Paris 149 ing of things to come, Louise Michel, dressed in a National Guard uniform,

fired back.''° Michel’s participation in the Commune began at the beginning. Sleep-

ing at the National Guard post on the rue des Rosiers on the night of March 14-18, she was among the first to know that the army troops had invaded Montmartre. When Georges Clemenceau arrived to examine the wounded guardsman Turpin, he found her at his side. When he left to get a stretcher, Michel spread the alarm, running down the hill, her rifle under her coat, yelling, “Treason!” Then, having played Paul Revere for the fledgling Communards, she joined the throng as it climbed the hill to confront General Lecomte’s troops.'!° Had she been a man, Michel’s activities during the Prussian siege, her commitment to revolution, and her prominence in radical circles might have resulted in her election to the Commune. She might even, given her commitment to the National Guard, have been one of its commanders. Since she was a woman, these formal political and military roles were closed to her. The barriers to governmental and national guard service did not stop Louise Michel, however, She was elated with the Commune and devoted herself to its survival. She debated policy with her friends, some of whom had been elected to the Commune; presided over the Montmartre Women’s Vigilance Committee; and prepared a plan for the reorganization of education under the republic.!!” Her commitment to the revolution was greater than it was to debating and governing, however, and after April 4 she devoted most of her time to the armed struggle against Versailles. She believed the Communards should send her to Versailles to assassinate Thiers. Théophile Ferré and Raoul Rigault, among the most violent of the Commune members, persuaded her not to carry out this plan, but she traveled to Versailles anyway, dressed as a respectable bourgeoise, just to prove that she could leave and reenter the city and that she actually might have been able to kill Thiers if they had wished her to.'!8 As her actions on January 22 had presaged, Louise Michel became the

great female warrior of the Commune, alternately performing “men’s work” and “women’s work” on the battlefield, firing at the enemy and helping the wounded. From the moment the war between Versailles and Paris began, she was in the fray. The earliest battle accounts praised her “heroic conduct.” “Citoyenne Louise Michel,” the newspapers reported, “picked

up the wounded under the royalist shells and, when necessary, returned fire.”119

Michel fought with the 61st Battalion of Montmartre in major battles at Neuilly, Les Moulineaux, Clamart, and Issy. When she was not fighting, she

150 Unruly Women of Paris found pianos and organs to play, rescued stray animals, cared for the wounded in the field, and helped organize ambulance stations in the city.!*° Despite her connections with the Commune’s male leaders and her reputation as a tireless soldier, her services were not always welcomed by the men whose cause she shared. When the ambulanciéres of Andre Léo’s article arrived in Neuilly, they discovered that Louise Michel was already there and that she, like them, had been denied the right to help in any way. When asked what was happening, she reportedly said, “Ah! If they would even permit me to care for the wounded! You would not believe the obstacles, the torments, the hostility.”!7! In her memoirs, Michel confessed that it was excitement that drew her to battle. “Was it sheer bravery that caused me to be so enchanted with the sight of the battered Issy fort gleaming faintly in the night, or the sight of

our lines on night maneuvers, ... with the red teeth of the machine guns flashing on the horizone” she asked rhetorically. “It wasn’t bravery; I just thought it a beautiful sight. My eyes and my heart responded, as did my ears to the sound of the cannon. Oh, I’m a savage all right, I love the smell of gunpowder, grapeshot flying through the air, but above all, I’m devoted to the Revolution.”***

She defended the Commune to the end, patrolling and defending the Montmartre cemetery and fighting behind the street barricades. When the war was lost and she was still alive, she changed into a clean skirt without bullet holes and went in search of her mother. At Marianne Michel’s house the concierge told her that soldiers had come looking for her, and “since you weren’t here, they took your mother to shoot in your place.”**° Frantic to save her, Michel ran to the nearest army post and from there to another (accompanied by soldiers), where she successfully substituted herself for her mother. Now a prisoner, she was marched to Versailles and held for trial.

Much of Louise Michel’s emotional and moral support came from women, her mother first and foremost among them. Before the Commune, she and Marianne worked and lived together in Montmartre. Like many a radical young woman, she tried to protect her mother from the most dangerous of her activities and wrote her cheerful letters that were meant to conceal her undertakings as a soldier and ambulanciere. It seems unlikely that Marianne Michel was much deceived or much comforted by such ruses, but she supported her daughter no matter what, helping her with her school, searching for her in the crowds on March 18, visiting her in prison, and writing her letters in exile.‘** Her death in January 1885 plunged Louise into depression. Feeling responsible because she had not been there to take care of her for so many years, she invoked her “dear

, The Femmes Fortes of Paris 151 mother” and “poor mother” over and over again in her memoirs. Finally, in a statement that spoke at least as much to her own grief and loneliness as it did to her mother’s past emotions, she lamented that “when | Marianne] came to Montmartre, all broken from the death of my grandmother, the Revolution came [and] I left her alone during the long evenings; then, these became days, then months, then years. Poor mother!”'*° One wants to add, poor daughter. As the accepted, but illegitimate, granddaughter of the Demahis family and as the director of impoverished schools, Louise Michel was accustomed to crossing class lines and seeking support wherever she could find it. What concerned her were women’s politics, not their class. “Heroic

women,” she declared in her memoirs, “were found in all social positions.”!*° She was comfortable with all of them. During the siege, a group of women “from all social classes” formed the Society for the Victims of the War at Mme Poulain’s école professionnelle. “All of them would have preferred death to surrender,” she later wrote. “They dispensed all the aid they could procure, plundering those who could be plundered, saying: —Paris must resist, resist forever.”!*” The Society for the Victims of the War was one of three organizations Michel created with bourgeois and workingclass women. The other two were the Women’s Vigilance Committee of Montmartre and the Association for the Rights of Women. Her continuing

respect for the women who worked with her appears in her decision to name only those who remained public radicals or who later switched sides, in her memoirs. Thus, we learn that the founding group of the Association for the Rights of Women included Mme Jules Simon (the wife of Thiers’s minister of education) and the radicals André Léo and Maria Deraismes,

but those who might have been harmed by their association with her are identified only as Jeanne B and Madame F.!?® Michel was equally supportive of working-class prostitutes who wanted

to help the Commune. When men objected to their employment as am- bulanciéres because they did not have “pure hands,” she was incensed. “Who had more right to give their lives for the new [world],” she asked, “than those who were the most wretched victims of the old world?” In a show of solidarity she divided her own red sash into smaller sashes for the women, and found ambulance positions for them through the Women’s Vigilance Committee.'?? It is difficult to determine exactly what Michel thought about her society’s conceptualizations of gender in 1871, since her reflections on the Commune were written well after the fact. But her reported response to the ambulanciéres in Léo’s article and her friendship with feminists like Léo and Maria Desraimes (one of the founders of the Association for the

152 Unruly Women of Paris Rights of Women) indicate that she was well aware at the time of the norms

she was breaking and of men’s disapproval. By the mid-1880s when she wrote her memoirs, she based her call for an end to discrimination against women at least in part on her experiences during the Commune. She knew many of her male friends had not championed women’s rights in 1871. “How many times, have I gone to meetings where women were excluded?”

she asked. “How many times, during the Commune, did I go, with a national guardsman or a soldier, to some place where they hardly expected to have to contend with a woman?”!°° By 1886 Michel believed deeply that a revolution in the position of women was needed. She foresaw a future in which “men and women will walk together through life, as good companions, hand in hand, no longer arguing... about who is superior to whom.”!*! Challenging male radicals, she asked, “Are we not beside you fighting the great fight, [making] the supreme struggle? Will you be bold enough to play a part in the struggle for women’s rights, after men and women have won the rights of all humanity?”!9* She knew the answer to this question had been “no” in 1871.

Not only had she and other ambulanciéres faced opposition from the commanders of the National Guard but, she wrote in 1886, “at the [meetings] of the Rights of Women, as everywhere where the most advanced of men applauded the idea of equality, I noticed (I had noticed this before and I have noticed it since) that men, despite themselves, and because of the force of custom and old prejudices, gave the appearance of helping us, but they were always content with just the appearance.”!°° Despite their failings on the question of women’s equality, Michel held her male comrades in high esteem. She was especially respectful of the men who belonged to the Montmartre Vigilance Committee. During the Prussian siege, she attended their meetings as well as the women’s meetings, and spent long afternoons discussing issues with them. “Never have I seen minds so direct, so unpretentious, and so elevated,” she wrote in her memoirs. “Never have I seen individuals so clearheaded. I don’t know how | this group did it. There were no weaknesses.”!*4 She had generous praise for her female comrades, too, but whereas she

complimented men for their intelligence, she lauded women for their courage. “I salute... all these brave women of the vanguard,” she wrote in her memoirs. “Watch out for the old world on the day the women say, “That’s enough!’ They will not slack off. Strength finds a refuge in them; they are not worn out. Watch out for the women. From Paule Minck who crosses Europe waving the flag of liberty, to the most peaceful daughters of Gaul, sleeping in the great resignation of the fields. Yes, watch out for

Lhe Femmes Fortes of Paris 153 the women, when they rise up, disgusted with everything that has happened. On that day, this [world] will end and the new will begin.”!%°

The differences in her accolades for men and women reveal some of Michel’s thinking about gender differences. The men of the Montmartre Vigilance Committee, the finest men she knew, were brilliant. They were theorists. Women, in contrast, were courageous, strong, and practical. They knew what needed to be done, and when the appropriate time came, they would do it, regardless of danger. In her history of the Commune, she declared: “Women do not ask if something is possible, but if it is useful, then they do it.”!%° Michel was more an intuitive than a systematic thinker. While she praised the women of the Montmartre Vigilance Committee for their courage, she also believed them to have had “remarkable intelligence.” Unfortunately, most women did not have the same education as men. That they did not seemed nonsensical to her, for the world needed women’s intelligence: “I have never understood why there was a sex whose intelligence people tried to cripple as if there were already too much intelligence in the world.”!°7 Michel’s emphasis on women’s courage was both a reflection of her experiences during the Commune and a criticism of her male friends who had not believed in women’s equality and had even opposed their efforts to defend the Commune. But in praising the intelligence of the commu-

nards and the courage of the communardes, she was also contradicting standard bourgeois conceptions and prejudices. One expression of the bourgeois notion of womanhood can be seen in Blanchecotte’s writings. “Real women” shrank from war and tried to end it. They did not want to take up arms to support any cause.'°® Men like Victor Pillon might praise bourgeois women for their “more than masculine courage,”!*? but it was their endurance, not actions, that was being praised. ‘To have gone farther would have been unfeminine and abnormal. Michel disagreed with these assumptions. She viewed all women as potentially strong and courageous. For her, femininity did not entail passivity, endurance, or pacifism. She also disagreed with the conservative assumptions that the leaders of the Commune had been fanatics driven by class prejudice and emotion. She “knew” them to have been rational political theorists motivated by humanitarian ideals.

Michel’s statements about men and women are self-revelatory and selfprotective. She regarded herself and other women as the men’s equals in their willingness to defend the revolution. Her refusal to minimize her actions when she was tried in Versailles earned her the right to this opinion. But her defense of women’s courage and activism can also be seen as a de-

154 Unruly Women of Paris claration that she was like other women and that she and they were not abnormal, not, to use the word of her day, “pathological.”!4°

Where Michel succumbed to the culture of her day was in seeing her male colleagues as her intellectual superiors. She respected the intelligence of other women, had the self-confidence to send her poetry to Victor Hugo, the most famous French poet of her era, voiced her opinions at public meetings, championed female education, and believed the men were wrong about women’s rights. Still, she believed men, or at least these men, were smarter—not better educated, more intelligent. Louise Michel was, of course, an extraordinary femme forte as her life

and especially her unflinching defense of the Commune before her accusers in Versailles demonstrate. She was represented as extra- or non-ordinary, too. Conservatives questioned her femininity, thereby hoping to discredit her. The political Left, in contrast, saw her as the embodiment of the social revolution. When she returned from exile, the conservative press called her “the angel of petrol,” “the virago of the rabble,” and “queen of the scum,” while Ferdinand Gambon, a former member of the Commune,

compared her with Jeanne d’Arc, and Edmond Lepelletier repeated the

identification in 1911.)¥ |

The most lasting representation of Michel was the vierge rouge or the Red Virgin. So compelling was this image that liberal and conservative histori-

ans have used it in their histories of the Commune, even though the nickname was not created until long after.!** The title appears to have dual origins. The journalist Félicien Champsaur represented Michel as une nonne rouge (a red nun) when she returned to France in the general amnesty of 1880. Devoid of personal life aside from her love for her mother and her cats, she was devoted to “the people.”!*° The title was given visual substance by caricaturist Alfred Le Petit in his cover illustration for Champsaur’s article in Les Contemporains (fig. 16). Clothing Michel in a red habit and large white wimple, placing her right hand around a rifle and her left around a wounded national guardsman, Petit captured the two sides of Michel’s activities during the Commune: she was both warrior and nurturer. In the contradiction lay what many saw as her essence and her deviance. Just as she was not a true nun (her cause was revolution, not reli-

gion), she was not a true or real woman (she fought like a man). , In a separate but perhaps related development, a terra-cotta statue of a young girl was erected on the Ducos Peninsula where Michel and other prisoners were held when they first arrived in New Caledonia. It was a memorial to a young girl, Emma Piffault, who died there when her family joined her deported Communard father. The color and subject matter of

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