Saturday, April 14, 2012

FEMINIST WRITERS DURING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

As I’m writing in the Georgian era at present, I’m learning more about this fascinating era and the complex and world-changing French Revolution.


MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT 1759-1797 
Mary Wollstonecraft was the granddaughter of a respectable manufacturer in the Spitalfields weaving trade. Her father, she labeled a domestic tyrant. When he lost his inheritance through a series of unwise investments Mary sought to make her way in the world. She attempted unsuccessfully to run a school and work as a governess.
After publisher Joseph Johnson paid her 10 guineas for her first manuscript, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, she became a respected member of London’s rationalist intelligentsia.
The Great National Debate on the French Revolution was opened by Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. Mary Wollstonecraft replied to this attack on the French National Assembly and on the English radicals for rejoicing at the events across the Channel by writing A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) expressing the passionate conviction that the power of reason is the common possession of men and women. Mind, she argued has no gender, but women’s reason had been stolen from them. Her contemporaries regarded her defense as one of the most forceful and persuasive contributions to this famous public argument.  She later wrote History and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution (1793).
Upon her return to England, Mary joined a radical group whose membership included Blake, Paine, Fuseli, and Wordsworth. Her first child, Fanny, was born in 1795, the daughter of American Gilbert Imlay. After his desertion, she married the radical activist William Godwin, a long-time friend in 1797. Wollstonecraft died a few days after the birth of their daughter, Mary (who later married Percy Bysshe Shelley and wrote Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and other novels).
 

Olympe de Gouges 1748-93 was an early feminist who demanded that French women be given the same rights as French men. In her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen (1791), she challenged the practice of male authority and the notion of male-female inequality. She was executed by guillotine during the Reign of Terror for attacking the regime of Maximilien Robespierre and for her close relation with the Girondists. In addition to these provocative writings, her defense of the king was one of the factors leading to her execution. Early in the Revolution she suggested a voluntary, patriotic tax, which was adopted by the National Convention in 1789.

 
Madame Roland (aka Manon or Marie Roland) 1754-93 was another important female activist. Although she did not specifically focus on women or their liberation, she was a feminist by virtue of the fact that she was a woman working to influence the world. Her personal letters to leaders of the Revolution influenced policy; in addition, she often hosted political gatherings of the Brissotins, a political group which allowed women to join.
Madame Roland took it upon herself to spread Revolutionary ideology. Roland attributed women’s lack of education to the public view that women were too weak or vain to be involved in the serious business of politics. She believed that it was this inferior education that turned them into foolish people, but women ‘could easily be concentrated and solidified upon objects of great significance’ if given the chance. As she was led to the scaffold, Madame Roland shouted "O liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!" Her writings were finished by others and published posthumously.
Although women did not gain the right to vote as a result of the Revolution, they still greatly expanded their political participation and involvement in governing. They set precedents for generations of feminists to come.
  Women and European Politics: Contemporary Feminism and Public Policy by Joni Lovenduski
 Mary Wollstonecraft, Political Writings: A Vindication of the Rights of Men; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; and An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, ed. by Janet Todd (Toronto, 1993
Images from Wikipedia


HOSTAGE TO FORTUNE my historical romance set during the French Revolution is now in print!
AMAZON in Print & Kindle
Viscount Beaumont has buried himself in the country since his wife died. As the French Revolution rages, French actress Verity Garnier is ordered to England to seduce him back to France. She despises men, but she must not fail. 
Excerpt:
Dancers gathered for the Roger de Coverley, and Henrietta had time to study Mr. Hartley at closer quarters as they advanced and retreated, performing the intricate steps. When they held hands for a brief moment, his gaze found hers. “Why, your eyes are green, Miss Buckleigh.”
Henrietta flushed, forgetting she’d been covertly noting the blue-grey color of his. “As you see, Mr. Hartley.”
“I am delighted,” he continued, when they next came together, “for I thought them blue.”
Henrietta twirled away.
When they met again, he said, “And blue is a most common found in England, don’t you think?”
“Yours are blue, Mr. Hartley.” Henrietta didn’t feel inclined to admit they were more grey than blue, not like the sky, but shadows over a deep lake.
For some reason, she wanted to get the upper hand with this man.
He grinned. “So you noticed.”
“One could hardly fail to. This dance is so long-winded.” Unable to sustain a fiery gaze when his was so pleasantly warm, she fixed on his satin waistcoat, admiring the silver buttons.
“Your hair is as fair as a Greek goddess,” he said when the next opportunity arose. “I like the way you wear it, with the ribbon.”
“Yours is as black as a devil’s,” she responded.
A man dancing next to them coughed.
Mr. Hartley chuckled. “I prefer yours flowing free. As you wore it when I first spied you on your balcony. Like Juliet in Shakespeare’s play, I felt tempted to play Romeo and climb up to you.”
“A good thing you didn’t, Mr. Hartley, for I would have thrown a pitcher of water over you.”
The neighboring man’s cough turned into a guffaw which made his partner frown and inquire what ailed him.
The dance ended, and they left the floor. “Why someone has trod on your shoe, Miss Buckleigh. I do hope it wasn’t I.” He bent at her feet to dust her shoe with his handkerchief. Her cheeks grew hot as she stared down at his dark head. Her fingers itched to touch his unpowdered black locks, and she
hurriedly looked away.
“Oh, I don’t doubt that it was you, Mr. Hartley,” she said to control her disturbing urges. “But please don’t concern yourself.”
“Then I apologize profusely.” Mr. Hartley returned his handkerchief to his pocket, his eyes brimming with laughter. “It’s been a pleasure, Miss Buckleigh.”
Henrietta swept him a deep curtsy. “And mine, Mr. Hartley.”
“I trust we will meet again.” He offered her his arm and escorted her back to where her aunt sat among the dowagers.
“London is a big town. I doubt that’s likely.” Henrietta’s heart fluttered with the hope of meeting him again, but she dismissed the thought as quickly as it arose.
“Oh, we will, for the ton tends to flock together, in ballrooms or on horseback.”
Henrietta watched him walk away. She didn’t know his first name. What would it be? His handkerchief bore the monogram ‘C. H.’. Cornelius?
Christopher? Charles? Cuthbert?She giggled. She dared not ask her aunt, for that lady was far too observant.

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