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October 18, 2008

Femme of the Week: Olympe de Gouges

Marie-Olympe Grouze was born in May of 1743. Born into scandal she was reported to be the illegitimate child of Louis XV. Her life would follow a fast and rough road to fabulousness, humiliation, and to politics.

Marie-Olympe’s mother went from door to door selling charms and small ornaments. As for her father, he was either a merchant or the poet Le Franc de Pompignan. Orphaned at age 16 and she was married right away to Louis Yves Aubrey, a man of 60,000 pounds and old enough to be her grandfather. Marie-Olympe was blossoming with incredible beauty and before she reached her 1 year anniversary her husband died. The ambitious seventeen year old went to Paris in search of love, and popularity.

Love and popularity were waiting for her! Paris embraced the vibrant beauty and her money, and she was never in want of a companion or admirer. She arrived with southern charms, dark eyes and hair that stood out beautifully against her pale complexion. Her own affairs kept the Parisian gossips busy-like Amy Winehouse on Perez. The affairs were turbulent, passionate and full of jealousies and rivalries – you either felt bad for her or enjoyed her solely for the entertaining stories she created.

In Paris she chose to drop her married name and birth name to go only by Olympe de Gouges. And Olympe de Gouges had goals and ambition to attain them. Her first major goal was to become a famed play writer. She wrote dramas, rather dictated them to her secretary, for she was raised with a typical education and could not read or write well, if at all. Her dramas were the products of 48 hours of work. The Comédie Française was overwhelmed with the pieces she submitted and turned them down with out hesitation. Olympe was persistent and continued to submit. She resorted to flattery and bribery, spending money and having it accepted, but still her works were not accepted and she herself became overwhelmed with anger, frustration and a bit of despair. Voicing her feelings the shocked committee decided to remove her from their register and sent all her works back. (Right Image: Olympe and Antoinette)

She wrote and voiced her complaints constantly until she became known as the “standing nuisance of the time.” No one wanted anything to do with her, and possibly in a moment of maturity she realized she was not handling the situation well. She humbled herself and asked for forgiveness and another chance. She wrote a book on her experiences, the bribery, flattery, and rejection.

With the revolution growing she put her energy into politics. She found herself for womens rights and wrote up pamphlets and brochures, distributing them at her own cost. Olympe constantly planned and organized pageants and parades for womens rights, including planning the costumes that would be worn. She thought the Kings household needed to be reformed by removing princesses and duchesses to replace them with “an armed national guard of women citizens.” She suggested that a state theatre was made which was run solely by women and only works written by, “moral and esteemable males,” might be considered for production. Another outrageous idea she had was to have a Women’s Journal. She composed, in September 1791, the Declaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne. She felt she could knock down the social system if it would allow for reform but her feelings changed after seeing the unhappy King in person in Paris.

Olympe realized was against the execution of the King, and proclaimed her position against Robespierre.

“With ball and chain to our feet let us bathe together in the Seine: your death will calm dangerous spirits, and the sacrifice of a pure life will disarm heaven.”


She insisted to serve as the Louis Capet's defense at his trial motives alongside Malesherbes. The action raised suspicion of her. Her pamphlets now stirred the revolutionaries and her sudden change of sides caused much jest.

The fear of death suddenly hit Olympe. Somewhere she heard women were being excused from the scaffold if they were found to be enceinte. Feeling it was her only chance she became pregnant, I believe by a friend. The surgeons at the trial declared if she was in fact pregnant – which I believe she was – it had occurred to recently to be detected by any medical exam, and therefore was void.

Olympe defended herself at her trial, but was found guilty and on 3 November 1793, 19 days after Antoinette was executed, she was led up the scaffold. Her last words were spoken, “Fatal desire of renown,” she was noted to glance at the trees on the boulevard, “I wished to be something.”

3 comments

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Hola

    Me gusta mucho tu blog. Tengo que decir que Olympe de Gouges fue una figura esencial para la historia de los derechos de la mujer.
    Yo sólo sé un poco de inglés y lamentablemente no puedo leer tu blog en su totalidad.

    Hasta pronto.

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    Hello

    I like much your blog. I have to say that Olympe de Gouges was an essential figure for the history of the women's rights.
    I only know a bit of english and lamentably I cannot read your blog in its entirety.

    Coming Soon

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  3. ¡Gracias! ¡Estoy alegre tienes gusto the blog!

    Espero el Widget de la lengua, a la izquierda, está de ventaja....

    I agree that Olympe was not monumental in womens change, but her ambitions certainly secure her a place among early womens reformers. Please come by again I would love to hear more from you!

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