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Revolutionary Romances

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Revolutionary Romances

Post  Bunnies on Tue Apr 02, 2013 9:02 pm

We are often surprised, in studying the Revolution, to find that those who appear in public as violent demagogues, or bloodthirsty monsters, are at home the mildest of men, with the reputation of kind husbands, indulgent fathers, and faithful friends. To many of these men their revolutionary activities were a business which they left behind at the committee room, or at the doors of the House...If they were savage they were savage officially. They were no more addicted to bloodshed (generally speaking) than is a public executioner. If they acted a part in the public eye, we cannot hastily of being hypocrites: all officialism and all professionalism, from that of religion downwards, stand in danger of the same judgment.

So remarked historian J.M Thompson. For all that his sentiment was probably shared by his peers, the personal lives of the revolutionaries is a comparatively shallow historiography, having attracted little scholarly examination. The Revolutionaries' critics are uninterested in humanizing antagonists. The Revolutionaries' admirers, by contrast, have a tendency to dismiss their heroes' personal lives, preferring their Jacobins to be marble martyrs of the people without restraining sentimentality. Leaving aside ulterior political motives, both schools have attracted criticism when they break the trope and attempt to trace a love affair.

It's not serious history. Marie Antoinette's fictional tryst with Fersen will sell books, Danton's turbulent relationship with Gabrielle will not.

But I'm not an historian and I don't have any books to sell so, to be blunt, I can research whatever I want. So nyah. And I've decided to research the Revolutionaries' personal lives, focusing primarily on their significant others. And since I'm a narcissistic generous soul, I figured I'd post my findings here for possible discussion at best or as a go-to record for myself for future reference at worst.

At the moment, my targets are:
Jean-Paul Marat and Simone Evrard
Maximilien Robespierre and Eleonore Duplay
Georges-Jacques Danton and Antoinette-Gabrielle Charpentier

I might do Camille and Lucile Desmoulins, but unlike the others on my list they actually have been given extensive attention so I'm not as interested in redoing what is already common. On the opposite end of the scale, I'm interested in Jacques Hébert and his wife, Marie Marguerite Françoise, but they have been given so little attention that I'm not sure I could concoct anything decent without flying to Paris and shifting through the archives personally. Something that I'm not much inclined to do at this juncture...
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Re: Revolutionary Romances

Post  Bunnies on Tue Apr 02, 2013 11:04 pm

The woman who would become the beloved of Marat was born sometime early in February 1767 and baptized on the sixth of that same month as Simonne Evrard. She was the daughter of a carpenter and was the product of his second marriage. It is highly likely that she received her education from the local Tournus Charity.

She was orphaned at age 12. Her trail goes cold here, the histories not even consistently recording who was appointed as her guardian - although according to unsubstantiated urban legend, she was sent along with her younger siblings to earn her keep in the very charity she was educated in, working as a laundress. Whatever the case, it is clear from subsequent events that a powerful bond was forged between Simmone and her sisters, which is to be expected from navigating through such a turbulent childhood.

But until her brush with Marat, Simmone drops out of contemporary sight. Beyond the basics of her appearance, described in official revolutionary documentation as being of "1m62" height with "brown hair and eyebrows, forehead ordinary aquiline nose, brown eyes [sometimes described as gray], big mouth, an oval face" her very person is elusive.

In both the figurative and literal sense. Marat probably appreciated her elusiveness, as his freedom relied on being elusive and of avoiding the arm of the law. His incendiary journal was blacklisted as illegal material and since Marat had no intention of laying down his pen he would have to take care to elude the police. To this end, he often took refuge in the homes of radical patriots, eagerly accepting a brief respite from the hounds and a warm bed. One such safehouse was that of Simmone Evrard and her two sisters, the doors first opening for the People's Friend in 1790.

And so, Simmone's entry into history is as the Bonnie to Marat's Clyde. She became a reliable companion, always ready with an open door or tall tale to throw the "Feuillants" off his scent.

Doubtlessly, her fascination with Marat was initially in his capacity as the fabled People's Friend rather than the scraggly Jean-Paul. As of their first meeting, Simmone was 26 and Marat was 47; their relationship was not founded on physical desire but political allegiance. One Jacobin observer, Alexandre Rousselin, noted, "It was in a cellar that gratitude gave birth to that virtuous love to which Marat was so faithful!" Another Parisian observed in a speech, "Obliged to fly, did not the People's Friend then find a friend amongst the people? A generous and affectionate woman welcomed and saved him. And enthusiast of liberty, this woman had conceived a high idea and the virtues of Marat! A noble passion succeeded to sentiments of esteem, and engaged her heart in love for a man whose misfortune still further endeared him."

The relationship, founded on political expediency, promptly grew into something more. It cannot be said that Marat's affection was merely an ostentatious front in order to manipulate Simmone into offering him continued support. Once the Convention declared war with Austria, Marat declared that France was lost and ceased publishing his paper - as far as he was concerned, his life as a political journalist was at an end. He absolutely disappeared from public view for two months, leaving Simmone in her apartment on 243 St. Honore while he traveled about.

For all that, he left her a promise that he would return:


Since the beautiful qualities of Mlle. Simmone Evrard have captivated my soul, which has paid homage to her, I leave her as a mark of my good faith, that during the voyage that I am forced to make to London, this sacred promise that I will marry her immediately upon my return, should all my tender feelings for her not suffice as a guarantee of my fidelity.

May I be covered with infamy should I renege upon this promise.

Paris, January 1, 1792
J.P Marat, the People's Friend.

The document was signed by several witnesses, including Guffroi, Collot d'Herbois, and Hebert.

Upon his return, the two did marry, albeit outside the auspices of church and state ("Marat," said the Journal de la Montagnde no. 53, "...did not believe that a vain ceremonial constituted the condition of marriage" and it is highly likely that the practical, secular Simmone would have refused such a legal bond herself). Marat alluded to a private, Rousseuist ceremony and the pair maintained a permanence of affection as well as fidelity.

They enjoyed private conjugal bliss for two more months before L'ami du Peuple hit the streets again in April 1792. That it was able to return from such a long hiatus with so little trouble was primarily due to Simmone's financial support. In all things she was Marat's partner.

For all this, Marat did not heed Simmone's very sensible warning on the 13th of July, 1793. A young woman from Caen wished to have a private audience with the People's Friend, won't they please let her in?

Simmone refused her entry. A quarrel sparked between the visitor and the women of Marat's household (Marat's sister also resided with them). The noise reached Marat, who had been taking a medicinal bath. He called Simmone to his side and asked what the trouble was. She told him about the Caenese woman, and Marat - remembering a letter he had recently received from just such a woman - decided that he would like to speak with her.

It was to his wife that Marat addressed his final words, a cry for help when Charlotte Corday's knife struck him in the chest. And so Simmone became the Widow Marat.

For all that, she didn't bow out of politics quite yet. Marat was hardly cold in his tomb before his title, that of the People's Friend, was seized by men such as Jacques Roux. Men such as Roux, who Marat had denounced just before his death for excessive bloodlust and radicalism! Men who Marat denounced were claiming to be Marat's heirs! Simonne was demonstrably furious.

It has been speculated by some that Simmone's speech to the National Convention was little more than a political gambit by Maximilien Robespierre, a final attempt to use Marat's memory to quash the growing Hebertist movement. While it is true that Robespierre had ample enough motive to combat Hebertism - he even introduced Simmone to the Convention - to narrow the speech to nothing more than a Robespierrist grab is to ignore Simmone's well-demonstrated political instinct. She had fallen in love with Marat's politics first, Marat as a man beingsomething of a bonus prize.

So the speech, for all that it may have had Robespierre's blessing, was also Simmone, the political activist once again.

"I have not come to ask greedy favors or to claim indigence," she began, "Marat's widow only needs a tomb."

And then she spoke against the Hebertists' violence, how they were tarnishing her husband's name by conniving at blood a true friend of the people would never want spilled: "I have come to seek justice against new attacks committed against the memory of the most intrepid and the most outraged defender of the people! These monsters, how much gold they have provided! How hypocritical libellers they are, that the cover his name with shame for a pittance! How awfully hard they try to make his politics and fame hideous, to dishonor the people's cause, to cover what he so faithfully defended with blood. They pursue him within his tomb, they murder his memory...The cowards! First they flatter the suffering of the people by praise, they draw some true evils of the country, they denounce some traitors dedicated to its contempt, they speak the language of patriotism and morality, so that people still believe that it is Marat they hear, but it is only to defame the most zealous defenders.... "

She admitted that Marat himself sometimes used course language, but only because "his sensitive soul gave vent to just anathemas against public blood suckers and against the enemies of the people!" but Roux and Leclerc, under the protection of Marat's name, were preaching the "extravagant maxims that his enemies had imputed to him but all his conduct had disavowed" thereby perpetuating the "murderous calumny" that he was an "insane apostle of disorder and anarchy."

The journals of Roux and Leclerc did not long survive the bitter denunciation of the Widow Marat.

Her job done, Simmone then retired from public affairs, living comfortably with Marat's sister, his family formally recognizing her as his widow ("We declare, then, that it is with satisfaction that we fulfill the wishes of our brother in acknowledging the Citoyenne Evrard as our sister, and that we shall hold as infamous those of our family, should such be found, that do not participate in the sentiments and esteem of gratitude we feel towards her," wrote Marat's surviving siblings). She tried, albeit in vain, to defend her husband's memory until her death in 1824 after a fall down a flight of stairs.
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Re: Revolutionary Romances

Post  Sophie on Wed Apr 03, 2013 12:24 pm

Bunnies wrote:
Jean-Paul Marat and Simone Evrard
Maximilien Robespierre and Eleonore Duplay
Georges-Jacques Danton and Antoinette-Gabrielle Charpentier
Camille and Lucile Desmoulins

I've just found the topic and I find this things really interesting! I think people are more interested in Antoinette's and Louis's private life than the revolutioners leaders', because 1. the royals' life was openly lived even in their era, and 2. instead of most of the kings and queens, they died on the scaffold. They were born as royals and ended their life as average people. If I want to be rude to my darlings, I could admit that there would be nothing exciting in Louis and Antoinette for today's people if they hadn't had such a "bloody" ending No On the other hand, the revolutioners started their lives as average people and ended up as politicians. It wasn't important if they had an heir, a family life or lovers - it couldn't destroy their popularity or endanger the future of their power. So I must admit, I have never read any serious work about their private life...

So please share your informations about them! Did Robespierre really have a love life? (There was a time in my life, when I suspected him as a latent homosexual, but I don't know why... I don't think there's any historical debate about his sexuality.) How could Marat's wife live in harmony with Marat if even his fellows Jacobins found him terrible? I would add Mirabeau on your list, too... as I remember, even Schama writes about his love life in his Citizens. So go ahead, I'm quite curious! What a Face
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Re: Revolutionary Romances

Post  Bunnies on Wed Apr 03, 2013 1:07 pm

I will get to Robespierre and Eleonore in a few days, but I did want to comment and your suspicion of Robespierre's homosexuality. You're incorrect to say that no historian has ever speculated: assertions about Robespierre's intimate life has varied wildly. He is simultaneously accused (it is definitely meant to be derogatory) of having no capacity for sexual impotency yet having at least one mistress, of being very attractive to women yet somehow physically repellent, etc.

The Thermidorians, immediately upon his death, liked to hawk pamphlets detailing Robespierre's wild orgies, although in a few months they erred to the opposite extreme and dubbed him absolutely impotent. The thing that is notable, for all their rampant speculation and slander, no contemporary of Robespierre's ever called him a homosexual. This hasn't stopped historians from ignoring contemporary evidence and making reaching speculations, Jean Artarit going so far as to say that Robespierre's misspelling Lantillette as Languillette (baby eel) in an electoral pamphlet indicates that he wanted to cut off his own penis, presumably to make himself more like a woman. The Freudian theory victimized Marie Antoinette, most famously in Stefan Zweig's fantastic biography (It all went wrong, you see, because Louis XVI didn't sexually satisfy her) and has similarly victimized Robespierre, transforming him into an apparently repressed homosexual with a castration complex who is searching desperately for a father figure while he chops everyone's head off.

It is difficult to prove a negative, but frankly: we can't even prove that Danton wasn't homosexual. Yes, he had children, yes, he had a wife, but we all know that this isn't necessarily proof of heterosexuality. If the presence of these do not prove sexuality, how could the absence of these prove the same?

Proof is one thing, evidence is another, and Robespierre flirted with a myriad of women when he was a young man in Arras. During the period of the Revolution he had a fiance.

Once again, neither is definitive proof of heterosexuality, of course, but I reiterate that there is no evidence that Robespierre had any inclination towards other men. I imagine that had he so much as held a man’s gaze for too long we would have been reading about the ‘bugger tyrant Robespierre’ in all the Thermidorian pamphlets - something like that would be too juicy for them to ignore. For once omission is telling. Robespierre was accused of hosting orgies, drinking blood, sewing britches with human skin and a whole host of other impossibilities but not one of his inventive enemies decided to accuse him of buggery. Apparently, even Robespierre’s most hostile contemporary critics could see no sign of what would be considered a grievous more.

As I alluded to, Robespierre has been “accused” of homosexuality once or twice in the 20th century (that’s real contemporary) and in nearly every instance the trope was employed by an anti-Robespierrist homophobic historian who was under the impression that proving that Robespierre was gay was tantamount to proving that he was evil. "Look, I know some historians have been uncovering evidence that mitigates Robespierre's role in the Terror but, like...he was gay. And if he's gay he's evil. And if he's evil, and there's a reign of terror...Do the math, people!" A flawed thesis in itself, but also "proved" with flimsy evidence like one questionable witness’s complaints that Robespierre had nosebleeds - here comes Freud again, reminding us that nosebleeds in men indicate a desire to menstrate like a woman.

In favor of Robespierre's homosexuality, we have him misspelling a man's name and having nosebleeds. Calling that flimsy evidence is to pay it too high a compliment, but that the argument always touted by a homophobe who wants to prove Robespierre's depravity also makes me question the validity.

I suspect the argument is the natural heir to the 19th century historiography, where unpopular political leaders were compared to women. There's something very chauvenistic in this particular line of anti-Robespierrism; he didn't ride a horse like Saint Just, he didn't roar with the crowd like Danton - he preferred to write at his desk, and since he employed a more "feminine" (read: laissez-faire) method of government, he was clearly villainous. Saint Just receives a more direct approach in Michelet's history, becoming physically compared to a woman, whereas Robespierre is just emotionally compared to one.

After all, what is worse than a woman? If Robespierre had feminine traits, what more evidence do we need to prove his depravity? Come the 20th century, such a line of thought was more frowned upon (although David Lawday's Danton definitely harkens back to the century before) and so Robespierre went from a woman to a homosexual who wants to be a woman.

...All very interesting exercises in the historiography, I must say, but not accurate.
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Re: Revolutionary Romances

Post  Sophie on Wed Apr 03, 2013 2:24 pm

Thank you! So there was/is a debate about him... I simply can't remember in which book or article I could meet them. Anyway, I've never read any biographies of Robespierre, all my informations come from books about the French Revolution and some contemporary documents. I'm sure I've never met some homophobic historians and I personally against homophobia or any form of exclusion. For me, it's only a fact if someone likes women or men, not a question of judgment. The same is with Louis XVIII, who also had a debated love life (and possibly never consummated his marriage). But the portrayal of Antoinette as a lesbian is something I hate - not because I'm against homosexual love but I can't avoid the original aim of those pamplets. They were made to destroy the reputation of Antoinette, her friends, the Court and even Louis XVI. Homosexual love was called "the German sin" - no doubt they connected it with poor Antoinette pale

(And anyway: 18th century men were much more emotional than 21th century men. I've been doing some research about Hungarian Enlightenment poets and conspirators... how they addressed each other! "My sweetheart", "Wind, tell him I love him", embraces, hugs, kisses on mouth... today we would think it's more than a friendship, but for them it was friendship. Or platonic love, as you like it Rolling Eyes )
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Re: Revolutionary Romances

Post  Bunnies on Wed Apr 03, 2013 2:43 pm

Well, it's really not debated in historical circles. One or two psycho-historians have speculated, but I don't know if that qualifies as a debate.

I am also against homophobia, and so my quarrel with this line of argument, in regards to Robespierre, is very similar to your objection to Antoinette's depiction as a lesbian: historically, it has always been used derogatorily. They don't speculate that Robespierre may have been homosexual as a genuine theory meant to allow a better understanding into Robespierre's psyche but rather to insult and demean him. If you dislike Robespierre, feel free to do so by all means: but don't use homosexual as an insult. If he was homosexual that shouldn't change anyone's opinion as to his politics. In any case, if we do want to argue that Robespierre was in any way sexually "abnormal" I think the most tenable argument would be asexuality, because while his interest in women seemed to be muted compared to say, Mirabeau, his interest in men certainly was not piqued. But even this argument requires an acceptance that men are necessarily promiscuous beings and are incapable of enjoying a monogamous relationship, which Robespierre's life (first with Anais Deshorties in Arras and later with Eleonore Duplay during the Revolution) is sprinkled with. If Robespierre did not enjoy the company of dozens of women, obviously this means he did not enjoy the company of any woman.

Once again, an argument I'm unwilling to subscribe to. I don't see how Robespierre not actually hosting a Thermidorian orgy is proof of asexuality --- surely there's a nuance between libertine and agamic, a nuance that the majority of the human population falls into? But then, many of Robespierre's biographers refuse to recognize the nuance between Bloodthirsty Dictator and Secular Saint, so this really shouldn't surprise us.

Antoinette's depiction as a lesbian has at least, in the past few years, been meant more as praise. In some places she's almost considered an anachronistic Lady Gaga, her struggles as a queer teenaged queen meant to inspire. It's complimentary, not insulting: but again, it is backed by little contemporary evidence. It's easier to support than Robespierre's homosexuality, since there were at least accusations during her lifetime, but considering all the accusations are meant to read "Gay people are bad and the queen is gay therefore we know the queen is bad" I'm reluctant to give them any credit.

Truly, Antoinette and Robespierre suffered, both during their time and by posterity, to a very similar pattern of slander and we could make a thread discussing that sometime, if there's enough interest? Such a discussion wouldn't do for a "parallel lives" biography, and I don't begrudge a biographer of one from neglecting to mention the other, but I do think that the discussion could be fun...
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