Today I went for my third Paris walk, following the steps of Olympe, Manon, and Sophie. The first at taken me to their homes, prisons, and place of execution. The second to the Conciergerie, where Manon and Olympe spent their final days before being taken to the Guillotine. Today was about final resting places.
In Sophie's case, it was fairly straightforward. Together with my mother, children, my sister, her boyfriend and my niece and nephew, we walked through the Pere Lachaise. My daughter and nephew who'd distinguished themselves in our investigations of the missing hospital of the Conciergerie found Area 10, where the grave was. But it was my sister who saw the grave first. It stood out, luridly, because someone had gone over the simple engraving of her name (she'd wanted a cheap burial) with light blue chalk.
Visiting the bones of Olympe and Manon had to be just that: going to see their bones, or at least, a bunch of bones that probably included theirs. Because they were first buried in a common grave, then moved to another common grave, then removed to the Paris Catacombs, it is not clear that there bones are where the sign says they might be, Nonetheless, we walked down the 230 steps to the catacombs, and then 1,5 kilometers in the underground corridors built under Louis XVI and the Medieval quarries to the galleries where the bones of dead parisians are artfully arranged. There are plaques indicating which graveyard was emptied where, and the section I was looking for was that of the old Madeleine cemetery.
A friend's mother, whose job it is to identify bones, tells me that it might be possible, in principle, to reassemble the skeletons in this area, and figure out which were women, which had been decapitated, and which had born children. This would be a way to narrow down the number of bones possibly belonging to Manon and Olympe. As it is, they are mixed up with Brissot and the 21, decapitated in a fateful half hour in late October 93, and those of everyone else who lost their heads between 1792 and 1793 (except for Louis and Marie-Antoinette, whose bodies were taken elsewhere by their brother, Louis XVIII).
I did, however, like the look of a line of skulls, down on the left hand side of the stone pillar bearing the sign. I thought they might well be the heads of Olympe, Manon, perhaps Brissot and a few others who died at the Guillotine in the Autumn 93, carrying on their conversations, and perhaps wondering what on earth the world was coming to.
This is where I live blog about my new book project, an intellectual biography of three French Revolutionary women philosophers.