Anyone who has perused this blog should know who Louise Michel is by now. Feminist. Radical. Communard. A genuine egalitarian who believed that all women had a place in the revolution, moving beyond bourgeoisie Republicanism and welcoming the lowest orders of women, who really were the most justifiable recipients of a socialist revolution. Frontline soldier, defending the barricades of the Paris Commune until the last minute, when she was struck unconscious and left for dead.
And then, Victor Hugo. World champion litterateur. Author of the monumental Les Miserables (the original volume, not the musical nor the verdammt American movie). A massive influence on modernist fiction, and considered the mother of all French novelists. And incidentally, a fierce proponent of the Paris Commune, committed socialist, and more or less utterly disdainful of the bourgeoisie that may have bought his books, but hated his sociopolitical stance.
There is something lyrical about French heroines, as they have pushed against injustice and particularly against the casual misogyny of European culture. The women thrash valiantly, tearing apart the reactionary impulse (and the very real, physical defenders of such regressive politics). Women such as Louise Michel leave indelible marks, marks and foundations that cannot be erased by anything including death. Foundations are laid for future generations of fighters, and Michel set the hallmark for revolutionary women apres 1871. Hugo was eventually captured by the reactionaries, and rather than be let off the hook and betray her comrades, Michel actually bragged about a series of fictional offenses during her trial: the latter poem deals with this event.
Hugo produced the following writing in praise of the indomitable Michel and the warriors of the Commune who did so much in such little time. Michel was as indestructible as Hugo describes, and to the best of his efforts Hugo elevates Michel into something that will last forever.
Having seen the vast massacre, the combat
the people on their cross, Paris on its pallet bed:
Tremendous pity was in your words.
You did what the great mad souls do.
And wearying of fighting, dreaming, suffering,
You said “I killed!” because you wanted to die.
You lied against yourself, terrible and superhuman.
Judith the sombre Jewess, Aria the Roman
Would have clapped their hands while you spoke.
You said to the lofts, “I burnt the palaces!”
You glorified those who are crushed and downtrodden.
You cried “I killed! Let them kill me!” – And the crowd
Listened to this haughty woman accuse herself.
You seemed to blow a kiss from the sepulchre;
Your steady eyes weighed on the livid judges:
And you dreamed, like the great Euminedes.
Pale death stood behind you.
The vast hall was full of terror.
Because the bleeding people detest civil war.
Outside could be heard the sound of the town.
This woman listened to the noisy life
From above, in an austere attitude of refusal.
She did not understand anything other than
A pillory erected for finale:
And finding affront noble and agony beautiful,
Sinister, she hastened her steps toward the tomb.
The judges murmured “Let her die! It is fair
She is vile – at least she is not majestic,”
Said their conscience. And the judges, pensive
Facing yes, facing no, as between two reefs
Hesitated, watching the severe culprit.
And those who, like me, know you to be incapable
Of all that is not heroism and virtue,
Who know if they asked you “Where are you from?”
That you would reply “I come from the night where there is
Yes, I come from the duty which you have made an abyss!”
Those who know your mysterious and sweet verses,
Your days, your nights, your cares, your tears given to all.
Your forgetting yourself to aid others
Your words which resemble the flame of the apostles;
Those who know the roof without fire, without air, without
The bed of webbing with the fir table
Your goodness, your pride as a woman of the people.
The acrid emotion which sleeps beneath your anger.
Your long look of hate at all the inhuman people
And the feet of the children warmed by your hands:
Those people, woman, facing your timid majesty
Meditated, and despite the bitter fold of your mouth
Despite the one who cursed you and hounded you
Who hurled at you the undignified cries of the law
Despite your high, fata voice with which you accused yourself
They saw the angel’s splendor beneath the medusa.
You were tall, and seemed strange in these debates;
For, puny like those who live down there,
Nothing bothers them more than two conflicting souls,
Than the divine chaos of starry things
Seen at the depths of a great inclement heart,
Than the radiation seen in a blaze.