The prison de l'Abbaye was a 16th century prison, which was taken down in 1854 to make space for the Boulevard St Germain, On 1 June 1793, Manon Roland was arrested at her home on the Rue de la Harpe, a building which stood where number 35 now is. She was taken to l'Abbaye, on the corner of St Germain des Pres.
In June 93, there were only eighty prisonners left in l’Abbaye. A few months earlier, before the September massacres, it had contained over 400. That is not to say that the prison was deserted when Manon first arrived, as one of her first sight, when she was brought in, was of five men lying on camp beds next to one another. The prison wardess apologised that she was not expecting her, and so has no room for her yet. But she found her a sitting room. There Manon set up a writing table, and her maid brought her Plutarch’s Lives, her favourite book since childhood, and Hume’s History. She’d have preferred Catharine Macaulay’s History of England, a republican text she had started reading the first few volumes in English, and that she greatly admired. But it was Brissot who had lent them to her, and an edict had been made for his arrest, along with twenty-one other Girondins, so Madame Roland surmised that he was probably not home.
A week later, more prisonners arrived and she was moved to a smaller room – her sitting room could take more than one bed. Again, she set up a place to write, and in the little cell, which she kept as clean as she could, she recalled her childhood spent writing in her bedroom. Healthy and comfortable, and only worried for the sake of others – she read and wrote. Twenty-four days after she was arrested, she was set free again. She was almost reluctant to leave her peaceful cell, and only later did she learn that its occupants after her were her friend, Brissot, and then the famous Charlotte Corday. And on 20 July, Olympe de Gouges was brought to the Abbaye.
As soon as Manon reached her front door, however, she was arrested again, and taken this time the the Pelagie Prison. She only left Pelagie to go the Conciergerie, the last prison of those who were condemned to the guillotine.
I went to look at the Prison de l'Abbaye, or at least the space where it once stood. Rather incongruously, it is now a restaurant serving mussels and chips.
This is where I live blog about my new book project, an intellectual biography of three French Revolutionary women philosophers.