2012-08-23

Women's World

On 10th June, 1871 - a bit of a time for the continentals - we have some of what's going on in Volume 3, Number 80, of The Graphic.

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The End of the Commune - Execution of a Pétroleuse

The report (buried much further inside the newspaper) took its time getting to the matter of the cover art. Throughout the year, the tone of what was being written about the communards was broadly antipathetic. Pesky troublemakers and all that. Indeed the editorial position was such that the spot of bother between the French and the Prussians - just before the birth of the German Empire - was largely the fault of the French and they deserved everything they got. The British in the nineteenth century, given a choice between the Teutonic or the Gallic, would always root for the toots. France had been Britain's enemi du jour for centuries. This would of course change after 1914.

Notwithstanding antipathy to the French, especially toward its civilians, the writer of this article seems - if not broadly sympathetic - at least not unsympathetic to both French radicalism and to French women. Doesn't think a lot of the chaps though.

LA PÉTROLEUSE

A CORRESPONDENT of the Times observed the other day, while speaking of the courage and ferocity shown by the women of Paris during the late insurrection, that the French nation would be indeed a terrible nation if it consisted entirely of Frenchwomen. The fair sex certainly occupies a more prominent position in France than in any other European country. In peaceful times the lion’s share of the work is performed by the women. While Jules and Alphonse are lounging in cafés and cabarets, sipping pernicious absinthe, or smoking caporal tobacco, Marie and Celestine are hoeing and weeding and digging in the fields, or busily attending to the wants of their customers, if they are in the shopkeeping line. Shopkeeping, indeed, is almost a feminine monopoly in France, and you may walk along a street and glance into shop after shop without seeing an assistant of the bearded sex. Some of the large establishments which have risen up of late years in the great cities are, it is true, provided with a numerous array of counter-jumpers, and the English visitor might for a moment fancy himself at Shoolbred's or Peter Robinson’s, but such places of business are avowedly modelled after the London fashion. In time of war the Frenchwoman still more strongly asserts her prominence. Every regiment is accompanied by its vivandières and its cantinières, personages of a very different type to the Moll Flaggons who attend a British army in the field. During the Prussian siege of Paris the women, it can scarcely be denied, showed a more determined and undaunted spirit than the men, and it is not impossible that if Trochu had modified his plan of operations to the extent of allowing the Amazons of the Seine to march against the enemy, some of the old fervour of 1792 would have been revived and the besiegers would have been discomfited. During the siege, however, the women of Paris got no chance of showing their true mettle, and this is probably why, when the Revolution of the 18th March took place, they sided with Rouge rather than Tricolour. Here we cannot help asking how it is that the Salic law should prevail in such a country as France, where the women are the working bees, and the men are, comparatively speaking, the drones of the hive? Why was not a woman placed at the head of the Communal Insurrection, instead of incapables who spent their precious lease of power in denouncing and arresting each other? ...

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