Women: Conformity vs. Resistance

Women's Voices in 1848
Women Writers
Sand vs. Tristan
--Rebels I
--Rebels II
--George Sand
--Flora Tristan

Works Consulted














Women's Voices in 1848*
*A summary of Whitney Walton's article
The Events of 1848 and its Impact on "Women of Letters"
In 1848 Louis Philippe's July Monarchy ended and the Second Republic began. Now in power was the Provisional Government, a group of Bourgeois politicians. The "Women of Letters" (Walton's name for the four women below) "hoped that republicanism might cleanse government of selfish intriguers. With the creation of the Provisional Government they all expected a new type of leader to emerge who was honest, hard-working, and dedicated to serving the people." (Whitney, 1009) This new leader, the "Women of Letters" believed, would eventually liberate women. But in June of 1848, a worker's revolt ended in violence, provoked by the Provisional Government. The June Days, as they were later to be known, marked the failure of the government to live up to the expectations of it's people. "Leaders of the republic had, perhaps understandably, failed to live up to an ideal of selfless public service, but worse, they engaged in a civil war against the very people who had brought them to power." (1012) After the June revolt, the "Women of Letters" still refused to support the women's suffrage movement, despite their new understanding that the Provisional Government was not going to be the women liberators after all. If the educated, economically independent and politically experienced men could not govern democratically, the "Women of Letters" did not believe the ignorant, dependent and politically excluded women of 1848 could do any better. (1015) For these women, writing became their substitute for political action.
George Sand
"Should women participate in politics some day? Yes, some day,... but is this day near? No, I think not, and in order for women's condition to be transformed, society must be radically transformed."

George Sand was the romantic idealist who stood for socialism, equality, social justice and democracy. "Her romantic socialism maintained that ordinary people eventually would overcome the barriers of social inequality, economic injustice and political hierarchy." (1008-09) She was opposed, however, to political action on the part of women, arguing that the public would view it as a form of promiscuity. She believed that female liberation began at home and so she encouraged the provisional government to change the laws of the households in order to grant equality to women.

As for her own action, she felt that she could better help the cause of women's freedom by writing rather than fighting in a man's power game called politics. She wrote: "Novels speak to the heart and to the imagination, and when one lives in an era of egotism and callousness, one can, in this way, strike hard to awaken consciences and hearts." (1017)

Marie d'Agoult
"...all progress toward democracy in France will lead to corresponding progress in the condition of women. The day that the people can express its feeling in the making of laws, equality and fraternity will no longer apply exclusively to one sex."

 D'Agoult felt that both the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie failed at national leadership. The aristocrats were too self-interested and the bourgeoisie, too obsessed with money. She believed that it was left up to the women of these two classes to stimulate their men into leadership. Similarly to Sand, D'Agoult "believed that political equality should be the culmination, not the starting point, for the advancement of women." (1014) She felt that women should start with subtle reformation of those around them by rational persuasion rather than political activism. (1014)

D'Agoult took it upon herself to write the history of the 1848 Revolution. She intentionally tried to remain unbiased in her accounting and felt that for once her gender was helping her. After all, she was female and so technically would have no political biases.


Mme Delphine de Girardin
"Oh! French men are always the same--envious tyrants over their wives that they pretend to love....The most abject cretin, if his imbecility has the honor of being masculine, counts more in their eyes than the most noble woman gifted with the greatest mind."

Until 1848, Girardin was simply a witty newspaper columnist, writing under the pseudo name Vicomte de Launay. That all changed, starting in May, when she first began to verbalize the faults she found in the Provisional Government. "Instead of working hard for a new government of simplicity and honesty, they had maintained rituals and relations that were no different from practices under the monarchy. For their personal advancement they had exploited the people who fought on the barricades, according to Girardin." (1010-11) She later went on to directly blame the leaders of the Second Republic personally for the working men's deaths during the June Days.

Girardin went on to further accuse the Provisional Government of incompetence: "Proof that they do not understand the republic is that in their fine promises for universal suffrage, they forgot women." (1015) Even male servants were free but all women, regardless of class, were still un-liberated. She later went on to say that "men must stop being jealous of their power and generously allow freedom and responsibility to others. The reward is harmonious families and society." (1021)


Hortense Allart
"As in earlier times women's culture advanced civilization [and] gentled manners, so this new age of culture for women will lead society far toward justice and equality; as before coarse an warlike man was gentled by women, so the free man will be moralized by them."

Contrary to the other three "Women of Letters," Allart was not a supporter of democracy. She felt that democracy drove genders and classes away from their appropriate roles. Instead, she believed that government should be left up to great statesmen and women in order to bring about social and political reform. (1007) Also unlike the three women above, Allart was not against women's suffrage but instead, saw it as a way to get intelligent women into politics.

Allart looked to history, specifically Greek, to point out the faults of democracy. In her history of the Anthenian republic, she pointed out that governmental success came out of the ruling leadership of men and women of genius. (She also pointed out, approvingly, that the Anthenian's allowed divorce.) (1022)

Today, Hortense Allart is virtually unknown except amongst an elite few. Her private life lacked the adventuristic nature of other feminists of her time and as a result, she has mainly been overlooked.