We hear tales of Madame de Stael that she is always at the Assembly, where she has admirers to whom she sends notes from the gallery to encourage them to vote for patriotic motions. They say that the Spanish ambassador has reproached her for this at her father's table. You cannot imagine how much weight the aristocrats give such nonsense - that was born from their own brains perhaps. But they would show up the Assembly as led by a handful of scatterbrains, excited and fired up by a dozen women.
In contrast to her aristocratic contemporaries, who hosted the whole of revolutionary Paris in their rich salons, serving champagne and entertaining with music and literature, Manon Roland had the reputation of being a rather prim hostess. The only drink she served was sugared water, and she invited only her husband's colleagues, all men. She herself would sit apart from the men, sewing at her table, listening without talking.
Manon did visit with other Girondin women, such as Madame Petion, Madame Brissot and Louise Keralio-Robert. She even frequented Helen Maria Williams, and through her Mary Wollstonecraft. Her objection to women was not on the grounds that they should not participate in political debates, but because she thought that the public was not ready to accept politicised women, and because she worried that the aristocrats would use women's presence in her salon as a way of ridiculing the revolution as they had done with Madame de Stael in 89.
On 6 April 1791, she justified herself on this point to Bancal:
Our customs do not yet permit women to show themselves publically. They must inspire goodness, ignite all the sentiments that are useful to the nation, but not appear to participate in political work. They will only be able to act openly once every French man will have earned their freedom. Until then, our lightness, our poor morals would turn to ridicule everything they would seek to accomplish, and thereby destroy all the advantage that was to result from it.
Leave a Reply.
This is where I live blog about my new book project, an intellectual biography of three French Revolutionary women philosophers.