Showing posts with label Mary Wollstonecraft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary Wollstonecraft. Show all posts

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Damn, Girl-Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges was essentially the French Mary Wollstonecraft, if Mary Wollstonecraft had been a pacifist who published inflammatory material during one of the most violent times in history. Abolitionist, feminist, and children's rights activist, Olympe de Gouges fought for the rights of the disenfranchised during the height of the Reign of Terror through her pamphlets and plays. Though she remained a semi-loyal monarchist until her death, her writing was a big part of the French Revolution, and her writings on gender and racial equality continue to influence civil rights thinkers to this day.

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Olympe de Gouges
Olympe was born Marie Gouze in the French town of Montauban. The daughter of a butcher and a lady's maid, Olympe was given a cursory education, and was raised speaking the regional language of Occitan. Not much is known about her early life, but it is known that at age 17 she married Louis Aubrey, an officer in the French Army who was much older than her. Their marriage was short lived, with Aubrey dying only a few years later. While Marie and Louis did have a son, it was evidently an unhappy marriage, because after Louis died Marie moved to Paris, changed her name, and vowed never to marry again.¹

 Now named Olympe de Gouges--a mash up of her mother's first name and father's last name-- Marie set about trying to become a writer. Though she wasn't well read, and didn't have the most thorough of educations, Olympe was hardworking and determined By 1778 she had had her first play published.

One of Olympe's favorite mediums was the theater. She wrote around 40 plays, twelve of which survive, ten of which were published, and only 4 of which were ever produced. Writing exclusively for the Comédie Française, Olympe had to deal with the sexism of Comédie Française producers and actors, which severely hindered the publication and production of her plays during her lifetime.

Olympe's plays adhere to the proud tradition of theater as activism. Her plays covered the controversial subjects of the time--slavery, divorce, the immorality of debt imprisonment, political extremism, and inequality of the sexes. One of her plays, L'Esclavage de Nègres, ou l'Heureux naufrage [Black Slavery or the Happy Shipwreck] was sabotaged by both performers and outside protesters because of its controversial advocation for the freedom of African slaves.

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Dedication page of The Declaration of
the Rights of Women
Around the time of her arrival in Paris, rumors started flying that Olympe was the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis de Pompignan, or King Louis XV. While most likely untrue, these rumors gave Olympe access to the higher echelons of pre-Revolution French society. It was here where Olympe found patronage, and made friendships among the nobility that would influence her moderate, soft-monarchist views.

Olympe believed that a monarchy was essential to a country's survival, but she didn't believe in the French monarchy of the time. She repeatedly warned and entreated the House of Bourbon to treat its citizens, especially the women better. Her seminal work The Declaration of the Rights of Woman was even dedicated to Queen Marie-Antoinette, in hopes that the Queen would identify with Olympe's writing as a woman, and move for political change.

The Declaration of the Rights of Women was a direct, rage filled response to the glaring omission of women and women's rights in The Declaration of the Rights of Man. In it, Olympe revised the declaration, and gave specific rights to women that echoed the same rights assigned to men. In it, she also advocated for a revision of the marriage contract, and wrote her own marriage contracted which brought two people together in an equal union where property and children were shared.

Loyalty to the monarchy aside, Olympe's real loyalty lay with France. She abhorred violence, and believed that war was a violation of the social contract between nation and citizen. She repeatedly advocated for peaceful methods of resistance, and her thinking influenced the great activists of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Olympe was considered a political moderate for her time, though being a moderate during the French Revolution isn't really saying much by today's standards. She often satirized political extremism in her writing, and condemned the political violence happening during the revolution. However, moderate or no, Olympe did eventually end up on the side of the revolution.

It was after the revolution that Olympe's writing switched from plays to pamphlet's, and her work became dangerously political. Her assertions that injustice against women was the root of societies ills, and criticisms of The Declaration of the Rights of Man brought her to the attention of the revolution. Her advocacy for equality of the sexes, and criticisms of Revolution leaders led to her imprisonment, trial, and eventual execution.

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The execution of Olympe de Gouges
Though she was executed for crimes against the revolution, Olympe was, in no way, unsuccessful. Not only has she had a lasting legacy, but she was successful in her own time. She heavily petitioned for the right to divorce through plays and pamphlets, and in 1792 France was the first country to legalize divorce. Civil rights were also given to illegitimate children, and a voluntary tax system proposed and outlined by Olympe was also adopted.

But not only successful in her own time, Olympe's legacy has impacted the world for generations. Along with Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympe was one of the founding mothers of feminism. She encouraged women to band together, and identify as women, something that has influenced the modern idea of citizenship. Her work is studied among philosophers and feminists theorists today.



¹I have been unable to find any information on Olympe's son--Pierre Aubry de Gouges-- during this time. Whether or not he went to Paris with her is unknown, however he did end up serving as a General with the French Army in South America. If you have any further information about him, please share in the comments!

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Sources
Olympe de Gouges Biography
Marie Olympe de Gouges Facts
Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)
Welcome to Olympe de Gouges
Olympe de Gouges--French Writer

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Damn, Girl-Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was an Enlightenment writer, philosopher, and reformer best known for penning The Vindication of the Rights of Women--one of the first, if not the first book on feminism. Throughout her life she petitioned for education reform for women, and was politically involved in both France and England--quite unusual for a lady of her era.

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Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary was born in 1759 to Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon. Her grandfather had been a successful weaver, but her abusive father had squandered away the family fortune on his unsuccessful attempts to become a gentleman farmer. He moved his family all over England and Wales in his attempts, giving Mary a chaotic upbringing. This, combined with the way Edward bullied his wife, would later inform Mary's distaste for marriage.

When she was 19 years old Mary left home against her family's wishes to become a lady's companion to a Mrs. Dawson in the resort town of Bath. She worked for Dawson for three years before having to return home in 1781 to take care of her sick mother.

Elizabeth died in 1782, and Mary moved in with the Blood family, where she met her lifelong friend Fanny. A few years after helping her sister escape from her abusive husband, Mary, Fanny, and her sisters Eliza and Everina opened up a school in the Dissenter community in Newington Green. The Dissenters believed in combining reason with religion, which appealed to Mary.

Image result for mary wollstonecraft schoolMary's experiences teaching led her to write her first book Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct in the More Important Duties of Life. Mary's own education had been scattered and sporadic, but she was very well read. Her own experiences combined with the poor prior education of her students made her realized the inequality inherent in the education of boys and girls. This is a theme she would later write about in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

Shortly after starting their school, Fanny married, and left for Portugal. She was soon pregnant, and in early 1785, Mary boarded a ship to Portugal to care for her. Mary wasn't overly fond of Portugal, and she certainly didn't like it any better when Fanny and her daughter died in childbirth. She went back to England to find her school in shambles, and the school closed the next year.

Mary then moved to County Cork, Ireland to serve as a governess for the Kingsborough family. While the children adored her, Mrs. Kingsborough didn't, and Mary was sacked after ten months, leaving her with a distinct distaste for domestic life. Mary moved back to London, and started her life as a writer.
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Joseph Johnson
A year later, in 1788 Mary's publisher, Joseph Johnson, took her on as an editor and translator for his magazine Analytical Review. She was a frequent contributor of articles, but it wasn't until 1790 when she published A Vindication of the Rights of Man that she started to gain notoriety.

A Vindication of the Rights of Man was Mary's irate response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Edmund Burke was a member of parliament who had supported the American revolution, but argued in favor of a monarchy in France. Mary, didn't like his ideas or his hypocrisy, and she published her work, first anonymously, but she put her name to it on the second printing.

Reaction literature became a common theme in Mary's life. When she wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, it was in resnse to Rousseau's Emile.  Emile argued that a woman's role was to support the men in her life, and should be educated for that role. Education was a pet topic of Mary's, and she really let Rosseau have it. In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary argued that not only are women equal to men, but that the miseducation of women caused them to be unhappy, and to inflict misery on their families and servants. This book was shocking to Georgian England, but remains a staple of feminist literature to this day.

Later that year, Mary went to France to observe and write about the Revolution. While there, she met Charles Imlay, an American writer and frontiersman. She loved him a lot more than he loved her, and though they had a child--Fanny--together, and she became his common law wife, he left her in 1795, and Mary returned to England.

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In England she met William Godwin, and their affair was much happier. They married after Mary fell pregnant for the second time, this time with her daughter Mary, who would go on to write Frankenstein. Unfortunately, ten days after the birth of her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft died from complications with her pregnancy.

A year later William released the first biography written about Mary Wollstonecraft. Unfortunately, it was not well received. Details about Mary's personal life, her child born out of wedlock, her long term affair with Imlay and Godwin before they were married scandalized 18th century audiences, and for a long time the scandals of her life eclipsed the genius of her literary work. It wasn't until the 1900s that people began to reexamine her work, and she was accepted for the literary genius she was.

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Sources
Wollstonecraft, Mary
Mary Wollstonecraft-Stanford
Mary Wollstonecraft-Biography
Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797
Mary Wollstonecraft-"A Speculative and Dissenting Spirit"
Mary Wollstonecraft-Britannica