A French fem­i­nist loses her head

The out­spo­ken opin­ions of play­wright and so­cial re­former Olympe de Gouges see her end up on the guil­lo­tine

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

TheFrench play­wright Olympe de Gouges was, by any stan­dards, one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary women of her day. Born in 1748, she es­tab­lished her own theatre com­pany, cam­paigned against slav­ery and even pub­lished a pam­phlet, Dec­la­ra­tion of the Rights of Woman and of the Fe­male Cit­i­zen, which be­gins with the words: “Women are born free and re­main equal to men in rights.”

But as the French Rev­o­lu­tion slid into sec­tar­ian blood­shed, Gouges’ out­spo­ken­ness made her dan­ger­ous. By 1793, hor­ri­fied by the ex­trem­ism of Robe­spierre and the Ja­cobins, she had pro­duced a sub­ver­sive poster de­mand­ing a na­tional ref­er­en­dum that would let peo­ple choose be­tween a repub­lic, a loose fed­er­a­tion or a re­stored monar­chy. That was too much for the regime. Shortly af­ter her friends in the mod­er­ate Girondin fac­tion had been ar­rested, the Ja­cobins came for her, too.

On 4 Novem­ber a Parisian chron­i­cler recorded her fate. “Yes­ter­day, at seven o’clock in the even­ing, a most ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son called Olympe de Gouges who held the im­pos­ing ti­tle of woman of let­ters, was taken to the scaf­fold,” he wrote. “She ap­proached the scaf­fold with a calm and serene ex­pres­sion on her face, and forced the guil­lo­tine’s fu­ries, which had driven her to this place of tor­ture, to ad­mit that such courage and beauty had never been seen be­fore.”

It was a tragic end for such a brave woman. One Ja­cobin de­clared that her fate was a les­son for every woman who “aban­doned the cares of her home, to med­dle in the af­fairs of

the Repub­lic”.

A late 18th-cen­tury por­trait of Olympe de Gouges. The play­wright and so­cial re­former was ex­e­cuted af­ter she “med­dled in the af­fairs of the Repub­lic”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.