A Scary Illiterate
As I'm still catching up with a mound of 'stuff', this week I'm sharing another one in my series of portraits of women philosophers at work, paired with fictional extracts from their diaries. This week it's Olympe de Gouges, proofreading her Rights of Women (which she did and which is evidence against the 'mauvaises langues' that she could read and write perfectly well) with a fictional extract from a diary from the spring 1792.
Standing at the printer again, and again, as I read my proofs, I think of more to add. The printer grumbles, but really he doesn’t mind. He’ll just charge me more, and I’ll be poorer and my text will be full of mistakes, because these words will be set and printed along with the proofs.
I am incensed against the driver who brought me here. He wants to charge me three times what the normal cost is. Just because I am a woman, well-dressed and coming from Auteuil, he thinks he can lord it over me, and threaten me with the lantern if I protest. But I know my rights - I too am a citizen and he’ll answer to the authorities. I’ll see to it even if I have to waste the entire day.
As I scribble furiously, the printer’s son is looking at me, from the corner of his eye. No doubt he’s heard the rumor that I can’t write. Why else would I have a secretary after all? Well, any idiot who checks my handwriting against the neat letters that Jean produces will know: I write messily. And it’s true, I never did learn to write well. The sisters at the school were much more interested in teaching us to embroider, or just keeping us out of trouble. But how dare they assume I can’t write! It’s not even as though I’m only writer who uses a secretary - Condorcet does. His handwriting is not so messy as mine, perhaps, but try copying his tiny dry script, with lines crossed out in thick ink and illegible scribbles in the margins! Except that they know he can write, that he was educated by the best. How could an Academician not know how to write!
I pause and I stare hard at the boy. He looks down and scuffles off to the back of the shop. My reputation maybe that of an illiterate, but a scary illiterate!
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