NE LE SERA-T-IL PAS ?
The flight of the royal family on 20 June 1791 gave rise to much soul searching. This pamphlet written at the end of June and distributed in early July draws attention to the malevolence she thought was at the heart of the duc d’Orleans behaviour; she believed he was seeking to place himself at the heart of power by unseating others. Fearing discord and violence she begs for the rule of law to be obeyed and the Constitution to be upheld. This wide-ranging work covers the role of women in society and her project for a female National Guard.
Will he, or will he not, be King?
Hippocrates says yes, Galen says no.
Hippocrates, the famous ancient Greek physician, and Galen, a later Roman physician, seem to to represent the old and the new.
WILL WE ACCEPT a Republican Government, will we replace the King on the Throne, will we name a Regent? Opinions are divided and these three Parties rush headlong; the fourth, only wanting the good of the Motherland has no voice and finds itself the weakest: it wavers between the three choices but believes the wisest one is that of mediation. The best system has not yet appeared: only the one that I will present to our Legislators can ensure an imperturbable well-being. . We find ourselves in painful circumstances; I believe it [my system] is necessary, and indispensable, and I am proud to make it known:
It seems to me that no idea has yet been made known to you that is in keeping with the wisdom that you seek to embrace concerning the essential affair that agitates France and interests Europe.
I am not M. Brissot de Varville, I am merely a simple woman Citizen of no consequence but of irreproachable patriotism.
Brissot, influential at this moment, was one of the first to call for the downfall of the king on his return from Varennes.
If you want the confidence that belongs to a great Nation to be given back to the King then it is vital that the Monarch recognises the source
of the vice that has spoilt his heart and mind. I cannot dissimulate my opinion and I would still hold to it even if it were to be condemned by
the three opposed Parties. I have reason on my side and the interests of my endangered Motherland; boldly, I will defend it here, in front
of everyone: I am a Royalist, yes Gentlemen, but a Patriotic Royalist, a Constitutional Royalist, and when I sensed the danger to the King,
from these three Parties, and [wrote] in my Séance Royale that he should resign his Crown I saw the two factions rise up against me, against
my works, crying out ‘what extravagance’, ‘what madness’, ‘what audacity’. Such was my spirit and foresight! So, Gentlemen, you neither decreed,
nor were capable of foreseeing, who you would choose as Regent to the heir presumptive; if you had, the Nation, in its wisdom, would have made
a choice worthy of itself. The King, abandoning the reins of State power and putting himself beyond the reach of enticements, would have
confounded the enemies of the Motherland, and elevated himself beyond the Throne; the Nation, touched by this gesture, would have given the
Monarch the indispensable power required of a King of France.
Olympe de Gouges is arguing the case for a French constitutional monarchy with the king as a figurehead of a state where the legislative powers are separated from the monarch.
Poor King! What has become of you? What have you done?
The lowest citizen was more master of himself than you. Continual vexations may well have led you to lose the equilibrium of your virtue, so long sustained through storms and factions, but your action is one of a hypocrite or liar. If I judge you as a King accountable to the Nation then your departure was a crime; if I judge you as a man who has been seduced, you were unable to withstand the perfidious poison. Who is the man who can say I will never once err in my life? But a King, you will object, should never err. To condemn is easy ... but to be perfect? Never has mankind shown so little perfection than in this time of enlightenment and philosophy. Gentlemen, do not think that my aim is to justify the King: I am not a Brissot de Varville, I do not waver in my opinion, something that seems to be becoming generally acceptable at a time when discord creates hotheads and subjugates reason. I nonetheless condemn the actions of the King, it is appalling in all its secrecy, and washing my hands of it I had promised myself to keep quiet about this affair but how can I remain silent when I see my Motherland overturned, allegedly to save her.
Take a close look at the projects put forward by the three Parties, and on the efforts of the emigrants to unite with the foreign Powers, and pronounce without shuddering, if you can, on the fate of the King. I pity you, true friends of the public good, for our cruellest enemies surround us on all sides. This is how I will utter the truth even though I may become one of its chief victims: my genius is ordinary, my talent is mediocre but I saw, long ago, how things would be; one day perhaps, with my works in their hands, people will cite my prophecies. May my final observations disarm the unkind and convince the fair-minded! My writing related to the King, let me take it up again.
If a true Patriotic Party in the National Assembly can get the better of the troublemakers then it must name a Deputation of its Members and make it responsible for proposing what follows to the King.
Sire, it took only a day for your People to bestow their love upon you; that day was the one of you accession to the Throne. This love has been sustained for sixteen years. You received unequivocal proof of this at a time when, surrounded by a dissolute court, there resounded through your Palace the despair and the general discontent of the French; you learnt from this that the power of a King is nothing if it is not the product of a higher power, one sustained by the confidence of the People.
Throughout the storm the French have respected their King, I’ll say more, they have adored him anew. It is true that the seditious created some, inevitable, hostility, those unavoidable consequences of great revolutions; the majority of the Kingdom was devoted to you, tied to you with indissoluble bonds, yet instigators of the darkest action encouraged you to break them. One day sufficed for you to lose this love, it was the day you left. But trust, Sire, that this love is not altogether extinguished in all hearts if, by reclaiming your virtue, you can guarantee the purity of your intentions. Now is the time for solemn proof: the circumstances, the events, are guiding men who are changing Governments according to their lights; you must submit to these laws that are stronger than empty prejudice, you must change the spirit of your Court, totally reform your household, as well as that of the Queen, of Madame Royale, of Madame Elizabeth and regenerate, like the Constitution, this gangrenous Court by putting patriotic erstwhile Noble families and men and women Citizens, equally known for their patriotism, in place of the Aristocrats.
This change on your part, Sire, would assure the return of the French who could no longer doubt that you had been misled; this is the wish of
the Assembly which has no other concerns than those of the Motherland, the French Monarchy, the achievement of the Constitution and
ensuring the happiness of the People. This, Gentlemen, is the only favourable method left that you have not already tried.
You must therefore unite the executive and the legislative Powers, the King and the People; there must be no more intermediaries
between these two Authorities. This is the principle of the Constitution, it must be your dearest wish: never will any mediation
be so memorable and, at last, so worthy of the French Legislators. Those who no longer want a Monarchy and who, obviously,
tend towards a Republic see the behaviour of the King as a hostile act that should not go unpunished; I wonder if the events
of October 6th were not also hostilities and whether people cried out in equal measure when this affair was forgotten.
Presumably a reference to 6 October 1789 when crowds invaded Versailles and forced the King and his family to leave for Paris.
I repeat, Gentlemen, that the two opposing parties will resist mediation: one will lose the Benefices and the Bishoprics that they are
still chasing – one might as well say to them and hogs may fly; the other, who has only just gained any advantage through its patriotism
is afraid of losing it today and so detests anything that resembles Monarchy.
The original text ‘va-t-en voir s’ils viennent Jean, va-t-en voir s’ils viennent’ comes from a popular song and means that an event is very unlikely to happen. The English version I have used is thought to date from the mid 17th century.
In his Life of Molière Voltaire recounts that the playwright gave a beggar a gold coin, the beggar returned it assuming it to have been a mistake, Molière replied: ‘Où la vertu va-t-elle se nicher’. De Gouges uses ‘loger’ in place of ‘nicher’ which alters the tone more than the sense, ‘nicher’ being more familiar.
Making the National Assembly suspect in the minds of the People was all that was needed to upset the Kingdom; this absurd list of seduced Deputies
that they dare peddle all over Paris shows the names of the most ardent Patriots and is an obvious first step towards dissolution.
Olympe de Gouges believed that the duc d’Orléans was seeking to bring down the Assembly by publicising a list of deputies allegedly corrupted by the court.
They talk of a feeble King, of a King lacking in character. At least he only made one false move and his virtues are well known; I do not want to make any comparisons, the proof is apparent to all. If you name a Regent who is worthy of the public’s esteem you will have been consistent in your principles: let the factious of either party blame or endorse me, such is my opinion. We are dealing with your Constitution not a Republic: no more King, no more Constitution, and then we fall back into chaos, into the dark of new abuses, of anarchy without end, of a Government without principles, without basis and fanatics dictating laws in the streets and public parks. I can see already the frenzied pen-pushers distributing amongst themselves the appointments and the debris of the French Monarchy; France will not be like Poland, a cake shared out by Kings, but a cake shared by the vilest Citizens. Yet, if I saw the question discussed with decency and wisdom, if I felt there reigned a feeling of genuine disinterestedness then, more than anyone, I would ask for a Republic for I was born with a genuinely republican character. However, in general, the spirit of the French Government demands a Monarchy, to destroy this spirit would ruin the Kingdom and the Citizens. This is what my limited knowledge has led me to believe, as opposed to my partiality, which I have surrendered for the good of my Motherland; if I could leave I would go to Switzerland; I would go and live in a place where man is equal and perfectly tranquil but the ties of nature bind me to my home where I never find man as he should be or as you have depicted him according to the principles of the new Constitution. This Constitution is now in danger. What! Can such a precious work, a source of enlightenment that became the guiding light of the world, snuff itself out lighting the torches of discord? No, Gentlemen, such a masterpiece must never perish.
Despotism, through these Republican and Regency Parties, still dangles its bait in front of you: beware of everything, listen only to the voice of your own consciences, show an attentive and astonished Europe, through your unshakeable strength, that the Representatives of a Nation that will forever be a model to all Peoples have been able to simultaneously disarm the thunder of the destructive Parties. Give back to the Monarch his Crown plus his freedom and force the tyrants and despots to recognise that the true foundation of the Motherland cannot originate among their flatterers and their assassins.
It is with these beliefs, Gentlemen, that a woman dares rise up to your level; I will say more, I disapprove of your Committees’ projects, undoubtedly
they would be useful if the Constitution were to be achieved, but can they guarantee that it will exist in six months? You are throwing all of France
into a dreadful state of indecision. Will the King approve of the Constitution or will he not? Must he be left in prison for the time being, turning
all of Europe against our true principles? A party must be chosen and the fate of the King decided. These are the conclusions I have reached, drawn
from public opinion. As for business, it is still in a deplorable state: commerce, recently revived, has experienced yet another setback, payments
are no longer forthcoming; dishonest men profit from these circumstances and honest men become scoundrels; the Tribunals are without energy and the
Magistrates are even more susceptible to bribery than under the ancien régime. Three anecdotes, worthy of inclusion, have been brought to my attention.
An individual places a deposit into the hands of a man respected for his probity; the person wishes to retrieve their deposit, the custodian
pretends to have invested the money and maintains, to the depositor, that he has no right to his own funds; a Justice of the Peace is sought
who pronounces against the depositor; the custodian leaves the next day taking with him the original deposit; however the Society is still there,
can it not be forced to pay back this debt of honour? The second and the third are more interesting although on another subject and merit being
broadcast publicly. The first gave me an idea for a Play in five acts, entitled The Divorce, that I envisaged for the Italian Theatre where I have
been registered for a reading for three months but I was waiting for the result of the Decree; despite its delay I will nonetheless perform my play.
A secular law in favour of divorce was finally decreed on 20 September 1792 by the National Assembly and modified in 1793 and 1794. It was revoked in 1816 during the Restoration and not brought back until 1844 though divorce by mutual consent was not fully re-established in France until 1975. Olympe de Gouges’s play La Nécessité du divorce ou le Divorce, written, and due to appear in 1791, was never staged.
A young woman and a young man were brought up together; since childhood they had felt a tenderness towards each other that age had only strengthened making any parental attempts to separate the two hearts that Nature intended for each other quite useless.
The young woman was orphaned at fifteen so the young man eloped with her and they went to live in a place where hearts were free from persecution. They had several children then poverty obliged the young man to return to France where he threw himself at his father’s feet along with his companion and their children. This inexorable father, sure of his powers under the ancien régime, dictated his terms, made the unfortunate young woman endorse them so that she was obliged, herself, to beg her lover to marry a rich heiress chosen by his parent. He told her that her children’s welfare depended upon this sacrifice. She obeyed and here is what resulted: she retired to a humble hamlet with a small pension from the father; the unhappy young man, doubly forced by nature, united himself to the woman his father had given him. He swore to be a blameless husband and he kept his word; but his wife, born with lascivious passions, took less than six months to show him how foolish he had been to separate himself from a most estimable woman. Despite pointing out to her the virtues of decency and good manners, and the dangers of prejudice, she became even more disorderly; by going as far as to give herself to her valets she led her husband to part with her, but only in private. She became pregnant: the husband, convinced that the child was not his due to the length of their separation, spoke to her philosophically a few days before the birth: ‘Madame, everyone knows our intimacy is ending, you yourself know how things stand between us. I am fair, let us at least be reasonable with each other; you were not able to hide your tendencies and you were aware of my liaison before we met. I had children with the most respectable woman, I was born to be with her: I lament her fate. Soon you will be a mother; let us agree to use our fortune well so that our children are not victimised by our mistakes. I am richer than you; let us divide our wealth equally by signing a contract before a lawyer that will state this august truth’.
This thoughtful intervention should have disarmed the ambitious and culpable woman but the answer she gave her husband was so outrageous that his rationality could not keep him from falling ill; the violence of his emotions gave rise to pneumonia, and three days later, without ever regaining his senses, he was in his tomb. The unreasonable father was also dead. There was no more hope for the unfortunate victim and her two unhappy children, still of this world with two legitimate offspring while the legitimate spouse gave birth to a bastard successor. Such is marriage with its appalling prejudices; I would treat it with care! Under the new order, the companion consulted a Justice of the Peace who cruelly sent her back to the Law. Who will take up the case of this unfortunate woman? An entire people, I hope.
Here is the third, more recent, anecdote of the same type but much worse for it characterises at one and the same time the bad faith and the dishonesty
of a man who has long hidden behind the mask of probity: the present circumstances have unmasked him.
It would seem that Olympe de Gouges is referring to her erstwhile companion Jacques Biétrix de la Rozière and their relationship.
She became a mother; this man was wealthy, he felt authorised to guarantee his child an income, payable to the mother. This liaison was ruptured
and renewed several times. It lasted about seventeen years. A second infant led the man to create new measures for the mother and child ensuring
their long-term security. He agreed to buy assets or to advantageously invest forty thousand francs and to deliver the invested funds at a fixed time.
This time arrived during the Revolution. The woman had committed herself, entirely confident that she could count on the validity of these titles,
on her rights and on the conscience and feelings of the one in whom she had put her trust. She now sees herself in danger of being totally bankrupted
and, at present, the unkind man is putting forward objections that he would not have dared cite during the ancien régime although this kind of
agreement was condemned by its iniquitous laws.
In a bid to deter men from keeping courtesans it was illegal to openly support a woman other than family members especially outside the family home. This led to complex financial arrangements that were prone to fail leaving unmarried women, and their children, at risk of penury. Olympe de Gouges fought to create equality for married and unmarried partners and particularly for the safeguard of all children irrespective of their status, legitimate or otherwise.
Themis was a Greek Titan goddess who represented divine justice, order and good custom; she also had prophetic powers.
Gentlemen, here is a digression longer than I had promised myself on the important question that concerns you at the moment. I will write
a new but more amusing version for one must always end in the style of the French spirit. Women want to amount to something and whatever
the effeminate men may say, when courage and energy are required, these men will not be in the lead: the revolution guarantees it and these
anecdotes that I have placed in front of your eyes, which will effect your hearts even more, only show you how much more there is to do to
help this wretched sex. You would put this work off until there is a new Legislature even though women contributed as much as you to the revolution:
they were not disdained then, they were admitted to the Citizenry when the walls of the Bastille crumbled. It is on these ruins that I want to go
and form a legion of women and show them the path to glory, telling them that men have only left us shameful ways to pursue a living, risking
our honour and our vulnerability, while they can pursue great careers that are only open to them. It is an absurd prejudice; from it comes all
the vice and corruption of Society and Government! A well-born woman without a fortune, I consider a well-born woman to be one who is blessed
with a virtuous soul and heart and a well brought-up woman to be one who has received a good education, is deceived by a villain and dishonoured;
if she has children by him she finds herself fighting for them, pathetic victims of fate and prejudice. Those creatures that prostitute themselves
at a discount of a third or a quarter are more respected than you are [she is?]! In the minds of thoughtless men you are [she is?] often considered
to be the same as these terrible examples. But, Gentlemen, I have said enough for what is only an inconsequential paper; I will soon present you
with my piece on the matter entitled The Women’s Friend. Meanwhile, here is my project for a National Guard: a project that I have already shown,
in manuscript, to several Members of the Assembly, to the Jacobin Club and to the Fraternal Society on the very day the news came that the King
had been arrested. At the same time I present you with a copy of Mirabeau aux Champs Elysées, as I have of all my other works.
De Gouges’s four act prose play was heavily cut by the actors of the Italian theatre and performed as a one-act piece in Paris on 14 April 1791, Mirabeau having died on 2 April 1791. Like many of her works it was written at speed. A critically mixed reception in Paris was followed by greater success in the provinces where it was better appreciated.
PROJECT addressed to the national assembly the day the King was Arrested
Europe is watching you, may it also observe your women. The departure of the King which should have lit the torch of discord everywhere has, by a miraculous effect, changed the fury and frivolity of the French people into wisdom; a moderation that no People has ever seen before, one that will immortalize us for the most far-off centuries.
Let the return of this fugitive King unify beliefs and encourage harmony; through one of your wise Decrees let the People know that they may once again respect this Prince who is either perfidious or deceived. Hasten to pronounce, as French Legislators, on the judgement that must render to the State its splendour and its tranquillity, and which will impress, by its wisdom, our enemies and those abroad.
It is nonetheless vital to change the Queen’s Household, to totally renew it like the rest of the Kingdom.
This observation is all the more important when it is no longer possible to leave her with the same entourage as before; those pre-revolutionary
Duchesses, Princesses, Marchionesses, etc., this class of women enslaved by their outdated prejudices must be replaced by active female Citizens,
zealous in their defence of the Motherland, whose rank will only depend on merit and patriotism. I alone can exempt myself for I do not have
a personality suited to the Court. Doubtless it is still necessary for the well being of this ill-advised Queen that she should have around her
only women who are able to help her recognise harm and who can advise her on the means of recovering the love of the People. Like ‘Belle et Bonne’,
adopted by the original genius who established philosophy in France, I am instructed to attach to this project the plan for a National Guard
of women created to keep watch over the Queen, over Madame Royale, Madame and Madame Elizabeth; clearly it is not intended that they should
mount guard outdoors, but inside, in the apartments as well as accompanying them at all times.
‘Belle et Bonne’ was the name Voltaire gave to his adopted daughter Reine Philiberte Rouph de Varicourt in honour of her goodness, beauty and sagacity. She married the Marquis Charles de la Villette at Ferney on 19th of November 1777. In 1789 the couple espoused the revolutionary cause, abandoned their titles, and, like Olympe de Gouges, expressed their support for divorce, child protection and the marriage of priests.
The circumstances allow all Citizens of any rank, of any age, of either sex, to fly to the defence of the Motherland.
Women may well have contributed the most to the Revolution that guarantees us a Constitution to regenerate the Kingdom and ensure the happiness of all: would it then be so misplaced if they were to contribute more and safeguard the future of France? All is possible in this century of enlightenment and philosophy.
Gentlemen, time will not allow me to develop the mass of ideas that I could submit to your wisdom on the capacity, the strength and the courage of all my sex.
In the name of this sensitive sex, once frivolous now crucial, I ask you, Gentlemen, that their names be inscribed in the Revolution; that one day your wives, sisters and daughters can be proud to bear the glorious title of French women and that these modern Amazons can, today, recreate the fabulous history of their earlier sisters in more noble circumstances.We will not allow ourselves to compete with you in politics or business affairs; our only goal is to be useful. Women today are mingling in the public Assemblies and in the Clubs; they are deserting their homes, they must be encouraged back to them by a noble challenge: women are always more susceptible to points of honour when inspired by glory.
Gentlemen, the illegal incendiary clamour and the bloodthirsty menaces that you hear fill you with indignation: the safety of the Queen
is essential to hold back our enemies and the foreign Powers; to stain us with a heinous crime would be to lose the fruits of all your
noble work and would cover the French People with an eternal opprobrium. There will be an outcry against this plan and what good will
it do the Motherland? I will reply, if Royal-Phlegm and Royal-Bonbon are useless, Royal-Cackle will be even more so, especially when
he will have sworn not to speak when under arms.
BY MADAME DE GOUGES[top]