The Ricochets


Felix Vallotton-jour de boire

The Ricochets[1]

Yesterday while I was watching the boulangist demonstration from my sixth floor window, the cops were agitating the bystanders by hitting and kicking them. Someone said to me, “Bah! Let it go! You’re wrong to be upset. It’s just boulangists that they’re hitting after all.”

I know very well that they are boulangists being hit, but I have, like with many other things, very particular ideas about it.

When the police bash a crowd, I do not care what the crowd is. My Parisienne rebel blood starts to boil. I clap my hands and shout Bravo—if the roles are reversed for one minute; if the bonapartists, royalists, anarchists or boulangists get to dish some out to the officers who have such heavy hands and ready feet.

Then I look a little farther.

In the old Gospel that they make us learn when we are little children, there is a pretty sentence that can be translated thus: “Do not do unto another what you do not want them to do unto you.” That is very fair… and very crafty.

For, there are some cops—with all due respect to them!—who are like all animals trained for the hunt: they take a liking to it.

There is training for bashing heads like there is training for battle. Whoever likes drumming on a voter’s skull will love “knocking” on a socialist noggin. And when an officer’s boot makes direct contact with a citizen’s seat, the impact is always felt before the citizen has had time to voice his opinion.

That is why I am wary whenever I see the guardians of the peace in a warlike mood. That is why I consider every police intervention in the streets as a threat to us others… even when it is directed against adversaries or the apathetic.

And that brutality of April 9 is quite simply—unless the government is kneading the Revolution out of fear of the Baking[2]—the appetizer of our May 28[3].


But that is not all.

My outrage is struck, frequently, by what they call, in government style, the national interest; and what they call, in revolutionary style, the Party gossip.

Now, it is precisely this gossip that I would like to lay aside. Every time a bad or vile deed is committed I would like the Social Republic to take the floor and denounce the infamy—let it take a direct interest in this infamy!

We others are not politicians and it is because we are not politicians that we do not have to hem and haw or cheat and con. We do not have two moralities like the academics; we have only honesty, which is made half of logic and half of integrity. Integrity rarely goes wrong for us—logic often does. However, it is logic that I hear calling.

We are witnessing right now a curious duel between the opportunists and the boulangists: the former have force on their side, the latter the crowd. In my humble opinion, there was no need to ally yourselves with Ferry [the President] or to indenture yourselves to Boulanger; the socialist party could have crossed its arms, remained bystanders and waited for the outcome of the fight to play its role as the third thief[4].

Others thought otherwise—and the Supreme Being keeps me from discussing the slogans of leadership!   I am giving my personal opinion here, which I never tried to impose on anyone else and I give it for what it is worth without sitting around defending it.

But what I strive to support for example, with all the energy of my conviction, is our duty to protest against certain acts: first because they are hateful, and then because they are a threat to us and our ideas.

In the battle that I just mentioned, there was police intervention and awful things were done that we have to raise our voice against without worrying if they were done to this one or that one.

To get a letter of General Boulanger the police faked a robbery, rifled the desks and broke the locks—let’s call it an infamy!

To get a case either before the Board of Inquiry or the Chamber, the postal service reinstituted the black chamber, stealing letters and holding onto telegrams—let’s call it an infamy!

To fight a candidacy that we, too, fight, but in good faith, the Secret Fund bribed the reptilian press, bought newspapers, acquired consciences—let’s call it an infamy!

That is our role, a role full of grandeur and that the people alone can play, to tell the whole truth, plainly and openly. It is when you stand up that you learn how tall your enemy is… and woe unto those who do not feel the supreme force of justice!


In these smear-worthy actions there is, I said, a threat to us. It is that, in fact, no measure has been taken against such or such person without it turning into heavier, darker practices.

The fake robbery of this person by the police is the brother of the bomb planted by an officer in searching someone else’s room. The black chamber reinstituted means the letters of Kropotkin stolen just like Boulanger’s mail. The Press being sold means the life of any socialist can be dragged through the mud like the general.

Let’s defend our security! Let’s defend our secrets! Let’s defend our honor!

I went to the school of a man who said, “The deputies who voted for Article 7 likewise voted to banish Lawroff[5]. Every law or every revolutionary action has its ricochet against us.”

Think about that, you who are clapping!


[1] Included in Notes d’une frondeuse, 1894.

[2] Play on “boulanger”, a baker, like boulangerie, a bakery.

[3] The fall of the Paris Commune.

[4] Like in La Fontaine’s fable where two thieves argue about a stolen donkey while the third thief comes to ride off with it.

[5] Piotr Lavrov (1823-1900), Russian philosopher in exile in Paris, was expelled in 1882 for helping Russian political prisoners and exiles. Article 7 states: The exercise of civil rights is unrelated to the exercise of political rights which are acquired and kept in accordance with constitutional and electoral statutes.


Letter to Boulanger


General Boulanger:Tunis

Letter to Boulanger[1]

Dear General,

Three days ago now the word hatred was printed next to your name. In this newspaper everyone is free to feel what he wants and so interpret as he sees fit. I acknowledge no right to revise their writing, just like I do not acknowledge their right to modify mine. But seeing that they have expressed their opinions, I am going to say what I think, without beating around the bush, in all simplicity.

I do not hate you. I feel worried about your young popularity and I feel a little of that anxiety that mothers feel as they watch over their threatened brood. I love my poor like others love their children; they are my soul, the flesh of my flesh, and (keep this in mind) whoever might think of attacking them better watch out!

They are distrustful of the sword—however much it is tolerated! The people are like a faithful but proud dog. Because they have been beaten they stop, arch their backs, growl and snarl at the sight of the whip. There was no intention of whipping them? It does not matter! They were not threatening, they were remembering!

The people remember. Every time the pages of history are printed with the pommel of the sword, these pages are illuminated in red like the pages of a gothic missal.

It knows the legend of the gladiator’s sword by heart—the sword that was hard on the poor in antiquity just like it is today.

They told people in school about the words of Brennus[2] as he threw his heavy blade into the scales crying out, “Woe to the vanquished!” whereas he, the pariah, had respect and love for the vanquished—who were always his own people. And they taught them about the harsh words of the great knight in white armor who leaned on Charlemagne’s mighty sword, looked out over the Vosges at France and proclaimed, “Might makes right.”

They know by experience in our working suburbs (go on and see) that might makes right!


That is why, general, you have the population with you, the indecisive, fickle mass that shouts Long Live this one and Long Live that one; that goes everywhere a racket is being made; that is headed by a sorry cook in a chef’s hat, a grocer in a brown smock; that at tragic times, once in a while, out of its childishness turns ferocious and can both shoot Lecomte and stone Varlin on the Rue des Rosiers[3].

You, however—for, I do not wish to be unjust—you have all those who are tired of the present state of things: the small shopkeepers threatened with bankruptcy, the politicians threatened with elimination, the women who love the unexpected, and also the fanatics of patriotism who see in you, I would swear to it, with your blue eyes, red hair and white skin… a living French flag!

All of them follow you because you speak well, you look good, your gilding blazes in the sun—you incarnate, my general, the heroic follies of warrior France.

But this is the crowd, not the people! While the one is awed by your scabbard, the other thinks of the sharp, cutting sword that sleeps inside it—and that this blade was brandished against it in 1871…

Oh, I know what your people may say: that you were thirty years old, which is just a kid for a man of state; that whoever belongs to the army has to choose between obedience and death whereas because of his education and the barracks he has no choice—the brain, barely developed, received that dreadful helping hand of discipline.

I know all this and do not say that these arguments are insignificant. I come from a family of soldiers and only have to remember the words that enraged me as a child to know what, from the philosophical point of view, an officer’s baggage weighs.

There is more.

My teacher in literature and politics, Vallès the citizen who knew how to write and the gentleman who knew how to think, Vallès had more hatred for the vile bourgeoisie sweating fear and cowardice in the aisles of Versailles than for the soldiers launched against him who risked their lives in the streets of Paris. His only exception was for the one who was not content with waging a civil war like they wage a foreign war, an inroad here, some headway there, but who was the virtuoso of slaughter, the champion of massacre, applying his incomparable expertise in cutting the throats of women, children and old men.


However, the logic is simple and inescapable. They see the deed: the commander’s cross[4] received after 1871—go on and tell them that they only rewarded your service record abroad and that it was much more for blood spilled before the Prussians than for the two bullets caught in Paris.

Here I am slandering my people by treating them as implacable. No one is less so than they are; and the good people believe in all the conversions—that is what defines their glory and their saintly goodness. On reproaching you for your past, I forgot about Cluseret[5] who after having been decorated for his part in the repression of the rebels of June ’48 became one of the most ardent generals of the Commune. I forgot about that young orator of the socialist party, a former noncommissioned officer in the Versailles army who today is defending his adversaries of seventeen years ago.

That is the proof that they are certainly not implacable! And what you said during the strike in Decazeville[6] did more for your popularity than the song of Paulus[7] and the articles of your bootlickers! It was human, that idea of making the soldiers share their slop with the striking miners, of ameliorating the insurrection of hunger by putting them in the mess line.

They said more to me. Everyone knows that you are penniless; maybe that is what makes your glory good and cheerful.   They told me that the big stockholders down there [in Decazeville] would have liked to rinse the black throats with lead and they would have willingly shod a horse in gold for whoever gave them this pleasure. They missed their shot—and you your fortune! If this is true, it is good… you started paying the debt of 1871.

But I am dawdling and I want to tell you this:

If ever, my general, you get the crazy idea to tear down the Chamber, do not bother about the socialists—they will not bother you. I even think that the people will laugh hard and the League of Anti-Patriots will give you a hand… if you are really so inclined.

They will justify themselves afterward, that’s all.

For, I have a strange theory that you might not like at first, but on reflection is really quite nice. In the shooting galleries at the fairs I prefer the one, big, plaster rabbit—the pride and joy of the place—that is easier to shoot down because it is more “substantial”; more flattering, too, because the spectators get more excited. I prefer this big fat object to the hundreds of wretched little targets that are hard to get in your sights and less glorious to hit.

At the Palais-Bourbon[8] there are five hundred glairy heads that stick to your fingers and would be hell to unglue. Whereas only one man…

Be the rabbit, my general!

[1] Included in Notes d’une frondeuse, 1894.

[2] A 4th century Gaul who defeated the Romans. When they tried to ransom back occupied Rome with gold, they disputed about the weights.

[3] General Claude Lecomte (1817-1871), shot by the Communards. Eugène Varlin (1839-1871), lynched, blinded and finally shot by a mob during the Bloody Week.

[4] The Legion of Honor.

[5] Gustave Cluseret (1823-1900), ex-military officer who joined the Paris Commune but was arrested there and then freed by the Republican army which then sentenced him to death. He returned from exile in 1884 and was elected a deputy in 1888.

[6] “Don’t worry because maybe right now every soldier is sharing his soup and ration of bread with a miner.” And see 6—Martyrs of the Mines.

[7] Jean-Paul Habans (1845-1908) was famous for his song about Boulanger, “En revenant de la revue.”

[8] The seat of the French National Assembly.

9-General Boulanger



Séverine was not one to mince words and was always ready to give her opinion on the most controversial subjects of her time, but there was one matter in which she remained undecided and ambiguous, largely avoiding taking sides: General Boulanger.

A decorated military man, General Ernest Boulanger started to rock the national boat when he was appointed War Minister in 1886 under the aegis of the radicals who considered him the only republican among the monarchists and bonapartists of the army. He was fifty-years old, seductive, elegant, and the press loved him. He also had a loud voice that served him well when he shouted out for revenge against the Germans and introduced measures that provoked the Empire. He was so vociferous, in fact, that he earned the nickname General Revenge as he defied Bismark to a point just short of war.

Men and women, rich and poor alike fell victim to his charms when he rode his gleaming black horse, Tunis, down the Champs Elysées. Still hurting after the defeat of 1870 and the Paris Siege, not to mention the loss of Alsace and Lorraine, the French people were easily impressed and attracted to a swashbuckling figure defending their national honor. Of course he had fought against the Communards, but he was wounded early, which kept him from participating in the Bloody Week. And although he had no real political convictions he was extremely ambitious and was able to lure support from both sides of the political spectrum by criticizing the slow progress made for workers’ rights, the insolence of wealthy owners, the corruption of politicians and businessmen, the neglect of social reform and even the colonial misadventures paid for in soldiers’ blood. In fact, he was trying to straddle all sides of the political fence, but it was not seen like that at the time. Some royalists thought he might be used to restore the king. Republicans saw him as the best guarantee of democracy. Nationalists listened to his anti-German rhetoric. Everyone fabricated a Boulanger to fit their needs. And Boulanger flattered them all.

The men in power started getting worried and when just over a year after he took office a new government was elected in May 1887 and it saw the general as a real threat to its stability. He was so powerful, indeed, that he could organize its fall—so they fired him. Huge crowds stormed the train to bid him farewell as he left for Clermont-Ferrand as the new Commandant of 13th army corps. Exit Boulanger. Yesterday’s idol, today’s demon. But it was not so easy to get rid of him.

Suspected of being in league with the royalists the army expelled him in May 1888. But his political career continued to gain momentum. Henri de Rochefort, ex-Communard, future anti-Semite and nationalist, enemy of Séverine, with the help of bonapartists, nationalists, radical republicans and all those dissatisfied and frustrated with the parliament, beat the general’s drum during next parliamentary elections. Along with a number of his supporters in seven different departments he was elected into office. With his electoral triumph in Paris in January 1889, rumors of a coup d’état were being bandied about, but under the influence of his mistress Madame de Bonnemains he missed the boat. In the end he proved an abler horseman than politician.

Where was Séverine in all this? She was still at Le Cri du Peuple for one. Georges de Labruyère, her lover, was a boulangist at the start in 1887. He quit Le Cri to found his own paper, La Cocarde, a thoroughly pro-boulangist paper—the general, too, needed publicity. Georges would later abandon it all for a new anti-boulangist paper, La Jeune République, which was rumored to be financed by the minister of the Interior. Well, Georges was never the bulwark of honest consistency. But in the meetings of La Cocarde Séverine made the acquaintance of George Laguerre and his ravishing new wife, the ex-actress Marguerite Durand. With her feminist and socialist ideas, she and Séverine hit it off right away. Their lifelong friendship and collaboration began in her salon where Séverine met General Boulanger in person with all kinds of his supporters. She could not appreciate his nationalism or his military bearing in all things, but she was attracted to his anti-parlementarism, his hostility to the hypocritical republic that was rife with corruption and was slowly strangling the poor to death.

At Le Cri, however, the socialists attacked Boulanger. Not only could they never forgive him for fighting against the Commune, but they saw in him the menace of dictatorship. Séverine answered them with her “Letter to Boulanger” in the name of freedom of thought and expression. Her “rabbit” made all Paris laugh, including Boulanger, but her stance was unclear. Was Boulanger any better or worse than other politicians? At least he spoke in support of the workers. And the people were behind him, if only for one simple reason: they were all fed up with the Republic. She supported the people.

Séverine was fully aware that her relationship with de Labruyère along with her ambiguous attitude toward Boulanger would cause problems, but she could not be dishonest and bridle her thoughts. Although suspected of boulangism, she kept her distance and her independence of thought. She remained skeptical, but like the people she had a weakness for the underdog, for the victims of power, whoever they might be, and Boulanger was being beaten down.

The government had decided it was time to end the threat once and for all and accused Boulanger of conspiracy to overthrow the government with the royalists. He fled into exile first to Brussels, then to London, later to Jersey and then back to Brussels while being sentenced to death in absentia in Paris. In the face of this and the general’s sluggish reactions, Boulangism was dying out in France. In the general elections later in 1889 most of the boulangist candidates were defeated. By this time Séverine had left her editorial position at Le Cri and was publishing her habitually libertarian opinions in other papers. With Boulanger hiding in England the movement seemed dead and buried. But in 1890 a series of anonymously written articles entitled “Behind the Scenes of Boulangism”[1] was published in Le Figaro, which revealed the intrigues and secret negotiations that Boulanger had with the royalists on one side and the bonapartists on the other, right under the nose of his republican staff. Financed by the bankers as well, Boulanger was manipulating everyone for his personal ambition. Séverine wrote a slanderous jeremiad against the author, revealing Mermeix[2] as Boulanger’s Judas. Georges de Labruyère backed her up and since he and Mermeix had fought an undecided duel once before after the Lissagary affair[3], now again witnesses were sent to demand satisfaction. The outcome of the duel was disputed and Labruyère accused his adversary of perfidy resulting in Mermeix being blasted by the press and losing his credibility. Séverine came out the winner in this round, but she would be haunted by boulangism for years to come.

The Boulanger romance finally ended in tragedy. Marguerite de Bonnemains, his mistress, died of tuberculosis on July 15 1891 in Brussels. Two and a half months later, on September 30, abandoned by his faithful partisans and now forsaken by his beloved, George Boulanger stood over her grave in the Ixelles cemetery and shot himself in the head. A picture of her and a lock of hair were plastered to his bloody shirt. He was buried in the same grave.

[1] Les Coulisses du Boulangisme.

[2] Nom de plume of Gabriel Terrail.

[3] See 5—The End of Le Cri.

Child Killer


Faiseuse des anges

The Child Killer[1]

The somewhat brutal but deeply sincere article I wrote here nine days ago, “The Right to Abortion”, raised a polemic that has not yet died down.

An evening paper, very evening, even wanted to call it a vindication what was only meant as a plea for a defense; and then in good fellowship to call the attention of the courts to my humble prose.

But this does not bother me much since I do not believe that there is a State Morality. If one exists, it is like that savage mist where we struggle, under the official lights in the streets of London during foggy weather. The street lamps are too tall and too dim; you know that they exist and that they shine, but no one can see the light. And everyone holds out his lantern or torch to see where he is going so as not to twist an ankle, step in the mud, trip or fall in the gutter.

Thus the conscience of every human being guides them and points out the obstacles, cesspools and perils. Yet, some people still fall down and get muddy—it is only because the light was weak, flickering, in need of wax or resin or because the wind suddenly blew it out, creating shadows and opening the way for mistakes…

But do you see the Queen’s government forbid private lights on the pretext that it is an insult to the official street lamps?

They would end up nabbing anyone whose little light or candle bothered their neighbor, who threw some oil on their top hats, some tallow on their clothes or lit up those nasty shows. If there were a moral network of roads like there is a physical network, nothing would be better. Children and women walk around and we have to protect their innocence, vulnerability and decency.

As for snuffing out their consciences to establish the monopoly of a governmental conscience—one, indivisible and infallible—not that! Humanity has rights that take precedence over all the artificial legislations of the world. And when a question cuts to the quick, stirs up and inflames the people, go on and defend everyone’s right to say what they think, to scream out their opinions or anger, to march onward, in short, following their nature, character and instinct!

They tried this autocracy in religion and politics. Whoever blasphemed God or criticized the King had their tongue pierced, their throats cut—the stake and the butcher’s block were used as a pedestal for their apotheosis and the platform of their next statue…The blood of martyrs and the tears of the oppressed have fertilized the most unproductive soil—and freedom sprang forth one day, a giant flower flashing purple!

We almost have religious independence; we almost have political independence; but the centuries have marched on and the demands of man have grown just like his intelligence and his pride. Now he cries out for the right to life and all the old struggles, the old crusades start up again, rise from the grave against this demand as they will start and rise up against all the new demands that threaten the established order of things.

“You can choose your representative and you can choose your God,” say the judiciary, army, family and property. “What more do you want?”

“I want to eat,” the man says.

It is because he wants to eat that he does not have any more children and that deep in the heart of Batignolles[2] they just arrested the Child Killer. A bread peddler and abortionist who “operated” in the back of bar! More than two thousand women passed between her hands. Ah, those people who were choked up the other day over the scandal in Toulon and who discussed the pros and cons of the question of “honor” concerning abortion, will they deign to lower their eyes on the mass grave of human seed and discuss the question of “poverty”?

These women did not have 800 F to give to the sterilizer, like Madame de Jonquières had, the poor creatures who come pale out of the goring, leaning against the wall and then leaving a trail of red spots behind them like a wounded deer who had her teats eaten by the dogs but can still drag herself away… They did not have a louis, not ten sous; they paid in kind bringing a wool shawl, a new apron, their Sunday dress, a pound of sugar or a bar of soap—like for the wet nurse!

They were servants and maids of the leisure class who pitilessly threw them out into the street, and more than anything—oh, more than anything—they were workers. Not the worker seduced by rich boys who beguile our mothers, but married workers, legitimate wives who got married in the church and city hall and wear a wedding ring on their finger—they sold it sometimes to go there—and forced into crime, you understand, forced by too much despair, by their hopeless misfortune!

A mother of seven children came to the Child Killer to avoid the eighth. She cried and said, “My God, but the others still don’t have enough to eat!”

So let the poor practice abstinence! Yes, there are people who say this, who dare to utter this blasphemy. And the strange thing, the bizarre absurdity is that they are the very ones who preach repopulation!

But it is the only joy for the poor! The cold pushes them into each other’s arms and when their lips meet, for a little while they forget their troubles, their fatigue and tomorrow’s cares—these beggars are happy like the rich!


The unacceptable vice, you see, is only that the poor have a lot of children and society cannot feed them. What will the President/Judge say—for, they are going to bring these unfortunate women to court!—when one of them tells him what the mother of seven children said: “I killed that one so I could feed the others!”

He cannot tell them to be abstinent; another judge had united this woman to her husband so that they might procreate as much as possible. The law encourages and blesses mating and reproduction. But it is only a matchmaker, not a nanny. Would you like an example? I am sorry for always telling you sad stories, but, alas, life is like that…

Have you read about the suicide of Robin, the accountant, the day before yesterday? He was not rich and had given his half dozen children to the country. The parents and the whole brood were piled into a small room at 3 Rue de Birague—no more work, no more resources, nothing left to sell or pawn—the same, sad story as always!

Welfare services, notified by the landlady, a good woman, had allocated a meager sum when the last child was born in August and then went on to other projects without thinking any more about this poor family than about a litter of starving cats.

What did the father do? Oh, something simple and heroic. He threw himself in the river from the top of the Pont des Arts[3] and drowned to attract the attention and pity of the public for his family. A letter left on a bench explained this.

He succeeded. The welfare services have finally become concerned and are probably going to take the four youngest children. That leaves two—and the sick mother, half-crazy with despair. We can hope that the poor man’s sacrifice will bring them some condolence.

But again what is this social state that forces a man to kill himself to ensure a life for his children?

Yes, justice has subpoenaed the “clients” of the Child Killer. Two hundred women accused! To punish this clandestine scandal, the law is going to make it the most appalling public scandal that has maybe ever been seen. For, not all who resorted to the matron did so out of poverty. Some were sternly raised middle class girls or married women who wanted to hide their mistake. They are going to snatch them away from their parents or husbands and drag them to the infamous bench to tell everyone what they had risked their lives to hide—to cut off their future, wrap them in shame and throw them into the Morgue or onto the streets!

And you will tell me that it is morality! That the bud left to nothingness deserves tearing these mothers away from their children’s cradle whom a steady income or a legitimate family allowed them to have—and this is their absolution!

My word, they would say that women have abortions for fun, just to pester the police and thumb their noses at the judges! But their crime (if it is a crime) was committed in tears, despair and shame. They would have preferred not to commit it, come on!

They are the victims, not the culprits; victims of a social organization that in its desire for repopulation crowns the virgin girls and excommunicates the young mothers; it abolishes the “hatches”[4] and punishes infanticide; it does not recognize but brings disgrace on illegitimate children and forbids abortion; it says to the poor “increase and multiply” and lets their many descendants die of hunger!

It is society that inflicts misery on the poor and then denies them the right to refuse one too many! It is society that instills the fanaticism of honor in women and strikes them down if they are forced not to be dishonored! It is society, the ogress, that feeds on the flesh of young children murdered by its stupid laws and hateful prejudices. It is society that is the Child Killer!

[1] Gil Blas, November 14, 1890, signed Jacqueline.

[2] In the 17th arrondisement of Paris.

[3] A bridge that crosses the Seine from the 1st to 6th arrondisement in Paris.

[4] A small door in the exterior wall of a hospital that allowed women to leave children anonymously.


The Right to Abortion


Journal Illustre 16:11:1890

The Right to Abortion[1]

You have asked me, my dear editor and friend, for my opinion on the tragedy in Toulon. That was a dangerous thing to do—my opinion might be audacious enough to make the most daring stories published here seem innocent and tame.

Because, you know, there are two kinds of immortality: one that laughs while tickling the Senators’ belly buttons—that’s the one that all the regimes encourage—and another that stops, somber, before certain problems, that does not worry about how crude the subject may be but wades waist-deep in the filth without shivers or nausea if some being is drowning there and calling out for help at the top of their lungs in despair and in fear of abandonment.

It is that immortality that is mine and I am boldly and cynically going to give it free rein. It will surprise those superficial people who think that I am somewhat like the virtue of this newspaper, but it will not surprise those who are used to reading between the lines and who understand that what I write here today is only the logical, absolute, inevitable result of what I have written before.


First of all a word on the affair itself that they have called from day one The Scandal of Toulon. Oh yes, a wonderful scandal not so much for the accused but for the judges, the ultimate stupidity of justice, the blunder of Themis[2] all right!

But is it really a blunder? It reeks more of vengeance—provincial vengeance that is rancid and moldy, with the stench of old maids and chafed honors. It looks infuriatingly like class revenge on a once powerful adversary, a man being torn apart by all the furies of the judicial authorities and high society—and the navy. Because the navy is involved as well. Monsieur Fouroux had once been under its command and when he was free of it he had fought against the abuses that he knew so well since he had suffered them.

Remember the Ginailhac affair. The mayor defended the local population and the newspapers against that arrogant second lieutenant—and he was right. Of course the maritime authority could not deny the evidence of the facts, but it was beside itself with anger for having to admit it publicly and punish the wrongdoings of one of its subordinates.

And of course Madame de Jonquières is the wife of a naval officer and the daughter-in-law of a rear admiral. The navy was sure that his choice of this woman had no other motive but to scoff at it and sully its collective marital honor.

Look at it carefully—never has the fight between the civil and military forces reached such a degree of underhanded intensity. Never has an elected city official come up against so much hatred and had to face so many traps laid out by so many tenacious paws clawing at the ground under his feet.

Read the details that were published—and so quickly! “Monsieur Fouroux was a republican…even a progressive republican…he knew how to make himself popular…the dock workers voted for him…” etc, etc.

There is something else in this affair than what they are telling us, believe me. Who turned him in? Who gave the immediate order for the proceedings? Why are they talking now about misappropriation and embezzlement and awful, pathetic slanders that make no sense? So senseless, in fact, that [Arthur] Ranc, Charles Laurent and others besides had to cry out “Silence!” and recall the angry men to some decency.

Do you know what the scandal of Toulon is? It is a warped novel of Malot[3] like Le Beau-Frère or Dr. Claude, a monstrous web of provincial bitterness woven around a man to bind him, hold him fast and suffocate him.

Mind you, I am not pleading his innocence. It very well could be that Monsieur Fouroux did what they accuse him of doing. And then afterward? Did he run his city worse because of it?

Among those who will be present on the day he goes to court—if he goes to court—of all the judges and witnesses, of all the jurors and spectators, including the bailiffs and police who will be in the courtroom, there will be more than a hundred of them, you understand, who are in exactly the same situation.

Abortion! I would really like someone first to tell me where and when it starts. I have got the readers of Gil Blas a little used to it by telling them explicit stories, but, really, I cannot mince my words this time.

A man who protects himself from the consequences of a tryst and a woman who immediately protects her future commitments—are they then abortionists? Logically the law should say yes. And naughty Onan[4] was also an abortionist when he scattered his unripe seed, which did not, however, prevent Israel from sprouting and harvesting! But in this case, the high schools, boarding houses, barracks, ships, convents, monasteries and townfuls of teenagers and adults where the sexes are separated and deluded are all abortion factories.

And at what point is abortion legal or not? The Church, at least, is logical in its ban and its defense. But the Penal Code—ah, what a joke!

As if the conscience (the only law in the world) made these distinctions and hid behind the deception. When a being has been dropped onto the earth so little and frail and so touching in its ugliness and weakness and when it has let loose its first cry, shaken its tiny hands and unclenched its tiny feet, then it is alive and sacred! Before that, there is a woman—and nothing but a woman, do you hear me! This is so true that in case of a problematic delivery the doctors do not hesitate to save the mother and leave the infant in the lurch! They would be sorely amazed to be treated as abortionists.

“But the repopulation…” the economists say.

Repopulation! The miserable hypocrites! What does that have to do with it? And how could you even pronounce such a word?

Repopulation! So, what do they do for all the families, the “oodles” of ten or twelve kids who find themselves in our society with neither food nor housing? The other day my colleague Montorgueil[5] in the headlines of L’Eclair pointed out one of these facts to the public indignation. Listen to this:

“There is an artist in Paris, a worker of great merit, Monsieur Maingonnat, lately residing at 13 rue Bayen, who earned a medal at the 1889 Exposition for his exceptionally delicate tapestries. This honest and hard working craftsman had eleven children; seven are left. For six weeks he has been homeless because they did not want children in the houses he contacted. He rented a small apartment in ten different houses in a row and gave a down payment to the super in each of them, but every time he showed up with his children they refused to accept him. I can cite for example the apartment managers at 74 rue Demours and both 3 and 10 rue Poncelet. The police chief whom he contacted to demand fulfillment of the verbal contracts established by the down payments refused to get involved. This punishment of eviction because of his children has lasted six weeks, during which time the unfortunate worker has used up all his savings—he has not been able to work at his trade as a tapestry repairman even though he is one of the best. So, he piled up his poor family in a room at his elderly father’s house, all except for his wife and two of his daughters who are in the hospital.”

Repopulation! We need to take the last excrement of the Maingonnat family and smear it all over anyone who dares to preach repopulation to people dying of hunger!

What do they do for people with many descendants? Where is the reward and the encouragement they offer them, the support they promise, their generous aide, the lightening of their load, of their oppressive duties and their backbreaking obligations? Nowhere. Nothing—sorrow, misery and finally suicide—that is their fate!

Before clamping down on the unmarried or searching through the dirty laundry of midwives, it would be better for the law to pay its debts!

More working class women—even if married—would increase their posterity if the future Paul would not snatch the bread out of the mouths of Tom, Dick and Mary. Denying oneself everything is hardship; with one more it is misery. Sometimes working women get an abortion purely out of motherly love—they know all about this in the social economy and in the courts as well!

As for those women who risk their lives not so much to save their reputation but to keep the men around them calm, they sacrifice to a prejudice that the Penal Code alone is responsible for because nature certainly has no idea of it. When men placed a man’s honor under a woman’s petticoat, they should have thought at the same time about not making it a crime and punishing every act committed by a woman to save the semblance of this honor. Anything else is illogical and cruel.

After all, I repeat, they risk their lives when they refuse the motherhood hanging onto their guts—and danger ennobles the worst actions.

To be a spy in times of peace is base and cowardly; to be a spy in times of war is heroic and noble. The agents of public morality are hated; the agents of public security are respected. Why? It is the same job that differs only in its motives and consequences.

Yes, but the danger is there! The twelve bullets of the execution squad and the blade on high form its insignia—death legitimizes it.

The woman in sin offers her sinning flesh to the grave. She knows that she can die, she knows that she can waste away for good, lose her beauty, health and strength—and the motive that drives her is stronger than her fear’s revolt.

If you have stones in your yard, throw them at her—I won’t!


“But your pretty girls,” the respectable people say, “who worry about their waistline and their complexion?”

There are few of them. Women today are educated enough to know that a late “accident” often ages them and withers them less than a birth. And—wonderful thing!—the good people in question, who raise their offspring venerating Greek civilization, do not know that the people of Athens voted for Phryne’s[6] abortion because they did not want to risk such a perfect masterpiece being ruined.

We have not got there yet. These poor little Phrynes are everywhere and cannot live without a job for a year. Most of these gallant women have a child—young surprises—but have no more afterward… there would be cancellations!

Change jobs? Seeing that there are more hands than there is work and the honest women workers are dying of misery because of the lack of work, what would come of this competition on the labor market? It is better that they keep doing what they are doing… and avenge the others!

Then their unconscious philosophy is affected by the fate of the children who are born of the doorways. Children of thirty-six fathers? Sons of young girls? Flesh for heartache like they have been flesh for pleasure? Ah, no! And their morality spares them this immorality.

You see, abortion is a tragedy, a calamity—not a crime! The law does not have the right to punish its own work and its work alone. As long as there are illegitimate and starving children all over the world, the flag of Malthus[7] (stained with the blood of premature infanticide) will float above the band of rebel amazons who have been forced by your laws to keep their breasts dry and so have the right to keep their bellies infertile.


[1] Gil Blas, November 4 1890, signed Jacqueline.

[2] The Greek personification of law and order.

[3] Hector Malot (1830-1907) was a French writer whose rather realist novels were very popular until the 1930s. He was a friend and supporter of Vallès, a philanthopist and a defender of the oppressed whom Sèverine called “Malot the Honest”.

[4] Genesis 38. “He spilled his seed on the ground to keep from producing offspring” and was killed by God for it. Onanism is masturbation.

[5] Octave Lebesgue (1857-1933) under his pseudonym Georges Montorgueil.

[6] A courtesan in the 4th century B.C. who became rich and famous for her rare beauty.

[7] Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) and his controversial theories on population growth.

8-Abortion and Feminism



They dubbed her “The Child Killer”. In the backroom of a bistrot in Batignolles Constance Thomas had performed over 2,000 abortions before she was arrested in 1890. Along with this “angel-maker” they summoned 45 women to court: workers, maids, cooks, prostitutes, housewives, milliners, a flower vendor and a bookseller, many of them married and already mothers. They paid between 5 and 50 F to rid themselves of their burdens. Some could only offer a shawl or dress, a pound of sugar or their wedding ring. Officially only three women died in the course of the operation.

When the trial opened in November it was front-page news in all the papers, each participating in the heated debate on one side or another according to its editorial slant. Those calling for a harsh sentence supported the economists and politicians who denounced the crime as a veritable plague against society that was depopulating the nation and depriving it of necessary forces for the next war. With this in mind the government had raised taxes on bachelors, lowered taxes for fathers, made marriage mandatory and tried to enlarge its colonial population (even in the penal colonies). It also encouraged women to stay home and make babies. Abortion, then, was not only illegal, it was unpatriotic.

On the other side, however, the critics of this policy argued the real social causes of abortion. Women were faced with financial ruin if a child came into the world. Families that were barely scraping by could not afford another mouth to feed. Domestic workers would be fired if they had a child. There were also important medical reasons for legalized abortion that some doctors were quick to point out. And the upper classes wanted to avoid scandal, like in the case of Madame de Jonquières whose case had aggravated the issue.

When Constance Thomas, the Child Killer, was arrested, the public was still reeling from scandal of Toulon. Madame de Jonquières, the wife of a naval officer and the mistress of the former mayor of Toulon, was arrested for having aborted the fruit of her extramarital relation. In their privileged milieu they did not have to resort to the backroom of a bar, they paid 800 F for a clean and private operation with a midwife. On top of the abortion she was guilty of adultery, which was illegal, and sentenced to two years in prison. Ex-mayor Fouroux was given five years for complicity in the crimes. It was a tragedy worthy of a novel—with Fouroux’s two other mistresses, one of whom helped find the midwife and the other who turned them all into the police—but it was also an outrageous display of the country’s heinous and hypocritical laws[1]. “Hypocrisy is the thing that disgusts me the most in the world and it is a pleasure to rip off its sweaty mask” (Séverine in L’Eclair, March 23 1893).

With the case of “The Child Killer” and the lower classes, justice was even more heavy-handed. Twelve years of hard labor for Constance Thomas. Séverine was indignant. She had always defended the right to abortion (and the right to suicide as well) against the fetishism of life at any price as can be seen in “The Right to Abortion”, which carried a wave of controversy in its furious wake because Séverine’s stance was rooted deeper than the feminism of the time. Female anarchists sought to emancipate themselves from the role of mother and wife, from their physical and economic dependence on the child and husband. For the most part they went much further than the feminists in their demands regarding the body and sexuality by adding the moral slavery of marriage and prostitution to the material and economic servitude and basing everything on their general resistance to society at large. In short, women’s only hope was in revolution.

Now, Séverine’s feminism was rather unconventional. First of all, she was not a feminist. No one was. The word did not exist until May 1892 when it was invented at the Congrès Général des Sociétés, an international conference, which was organized for women’s rights, the third such congress held since 1878. Séverine had been invited to participate but had declined. Why? Well, it was not the first time she turned down her female peers. Back in August 1885 the Republican and Socialist Federation decided to present female candidates for the legislative elections. They came up with several names included Louis Michel, Marie Deraismes and Séverine. She was flattered but refused, giving three reasons: 1 – She was too much of a woman to do a job that required a more virile female; 2 – She was not and never would be part of any group or organization because she loved her independence too much; 3 – she long ago chose her post in the social struggle and so preferred to stay with the ambulance rather than mount the public platform.

Later we will see how she modified some of these opinions over time: she would join a group and she would speak in public, but she would do so only to support the feminists’ claims for social equality that she was fighting for—the right to work, equal pay for equal work, equal access to scientific and artistic studies, etc. But we will also see one thing she would never compromise: her disdain for the parliamentary system—she would never become a politician.

So, she fought for change in her own way, in her own corner, being the individualist that she was, using her energy and talent as weapons in the service of justice against the powers that be.

[1] Male adultery was only punishable when he was caught at home. A woman’s adultery anywhere could be punished.

Among the Poisoned


Phossy Jaw

Among the Poisoned[1]

The carriage rolls past the animal market, the slaughterhouses, of La Villette by the desolate and sinister steppes of La Plaine Saint Denis. For the casual passer-by it is only dirty and bare; for the observer, especially for someone who thinks, examines and compares cause and effect, there is no region more desolate.

The south of Paris, in spite of everything, has a few open-air cafés, lattice walls, barrel vaults, more than one tree remaining from the woods that were here and whose edge has been pushed back not very far away. So, from the Bois de Boulogne to the Bois de Vincennes there is a thin green line like a strand of lichwort binding the little suburb stuck between “no man’s land” grass and the flowering hills that demark the horizon.

In the northwest Neuilly stretches all the way to the Seine, extending the remains of the royal domain far to the right. Montmartre has its cemetery and the hill with its windmill; the Buttes-Chaumont has its park; Belleville has Lake Saint-Fargeau and the surviving forest of “little houses”; Charonne has Père Lachaise[2], the most beautiful and most shaded park.

Everywhere in these places the poverty and labor have the solace that emanates from the open earth or that falls from the leafy heights onto the saddened faces and weary limbs. Everywhere the social state can pluck off a leaf from a plane tree or a chestnut to hide the cancer that is gnawing away at its belly, the shameful evil that it would rather deny than cure—and that is killing it!

But here, nothing: the razed plain scattered with rocks and broken glass like a cursed land! For trees, like limbless trunks bare of branches and nests, the giant smokestacks of factories squeezed together as far as the eye can see… the organ pipes that carry the lamentations of a desperate people into the heavens!

In the air the eternal stain of soot snows relentlessly, impalpably down. Low houses that humidity plagues with its rashes; sections of leprous walls enclosing more scabby, bumpy land where children dressed in rags try to play: pale children with chlorosis whose lips and pupils have almost no color, whose hair is ashen, and who are afflicted—believe it or not!—with malaria!

The atmosphere throbs with the incessant noise of wheels, reels and belts shuttling back and forth; the grinding gears of life as well as of matter. And while the roadways and alleys remain empty, the countless factory windows pour out the panting of an entire race toiling away under the strain, crushed by the yoke—a race kept in servitude by the scepter of Gold, like Israel in captivity under the Egyptian whips!

For, over all the building fronts, on the sides of all the structures are the famous names that are known for establishing useful industries but whose founders are dead, for the most part, and whose heirs (professional party-goers living far from the busy beehive or stockholders remaining anonymous) squeeze the last drop of blood out of this multitude in order to get the summum of their luxury and leisure!


The meeting of matchstick makers is being held in a little building that was or is, I cannot really say, the community hall of the district.

Two whitewashed walls pierced on two sides with high windows. Across from the door a kind of stage, as wide as a bedsheet, that forms a platform. A table full of papers, with the traditional glass of water, stands there. The five delegates in their work clothes. A few chairs in the back for strangers to the corporation, visitors and friends. Almost the entire contingent of strikers sits on the benches—because out of the 680 men and women working in the factories of Pantin and Aubervilliers, 680 joined the movement.

At the same time, their 500 comrades in Marseille, the 180 in Bègles near Bordeaux, the 320 in Trélazé near Angers and the 220 in Saintines in the Oise followed them. Now, since this is the total number of all the personnel in France, the manufacturing came to a grinding halt.

What, then, were they asking for? What was the basis of their demands, which were obviously absurd seeing that they were denied contemptuously and that for more than a month—while living on such minimal resources that they have almost had to starve voluntarily like heroes—these poor men and women have been waiting, hoping and pleading for?

This: Stop using white phosphorous which is causing necrosis in the workers who handle it.

What is necrosis? As the name implies, it is bone death. Among the male and female workers in matchstick factories it attacks the jaws first.

The Administration foresaw this. Every male and female applicant, in order to be put on the hiring list—EVEN THOUGH THE PAINFUL ORDEAL DOES NOT GUARANTEE A JOB—has to undergo not only a dental examination, but also the extraction of any teeth that might look defective!

Every month the employees undergo the same inspection. As their teeth slowly start to ache, they pull them out… twenty-year old girls smile and show their Carabosse[3] gums.

In 1894 all the personnel in the Factories in Pantin, Aubervilliers and Pont-de-Flandre rose up against the surgical procedures of the dentist attached to these establishments. The mandatory monthly visit forced on them by the rules had become a real session in hell where the employee, under threat of being fired, had to suffer every operation or experiment that the doctor was pleased to inflict. After the doctor was forced to resign, the employees went back to work, content with their minor victory and believing in the old theory of a character defect.

However, since 1888 Magitot[4], the eminent professor, has pointed out to the Academy of Medicine the dangers of handling phosphorous and has proposed preventing the effects not with operations on the mouth but with a set of hygienic rules.

It was too humane. They did not listen to him! The Academy limited itself to republishing its vow already taken on several occasions for half a century regarding the abolition of phosphorous and the use of other products—and that was that for the unlucky workers.

And afterward that they carved them up more than ever. They “prepared” them, which means that they tore out their roots, opened up abscesses and every month performed on these poor jaws what they considered to be favorable to the “needs of the service”… without thinking for a minute that phosphorism, just like diabetes, does not tolerate open wounds or erosion, and the slightest danger can turn fatal.

They are dilly-dallying like that with the disease and gaining time. Did I say that these exploited workers get 3 F 30 for eleven hours of work? But in its motherly way the Administration guarantees them, after thirty years, a pension of 300 F for the women and 600 F for the men, and all this without any deduction in pay. We must admit that such generosity is uncommon, highly edifying, philanthropic and surely prone to encourage the good servants.

Yes, but nobody gets to enjoy it! Those who handle white phosphorous are all dead or gone before the time is up! The lame end up dying in some hovel, poisoned throughout their skeleton and unable to work. And the deceitful promise remains a despicable irony. Because whenever a “subject” is identified as sick, they throw him out! During the time of his forced unemployment he earns nothing. He eats, gets treatment and takes care of his family as best he can. If he gets better, they take him back. And this option lasts until he is utterly doomed, lost, without any hope of being cured. Then they drive him out for good.

Get on the road, old man of thirty years, and look for your living on the streets. Drag your hungry brood behind you—and watch out! The first policeman you meet will arrest you; the first judge you see will sentence you; and you will bear all the torments of hell in your carcass, in your tainted marrow, in your decayed bones.



I saw the medical students, accustomed to lecture halls; I saw the “quacks”, deaf to the cries, who shivered when pronouncing this word. And I heard them rattle on about the series of complications that linked, in such a dreadful way, the first attack to the last convulsion.

As I said, the teeth decay… first. Then the intermittent fever becomes constant; a quenchless thirst devours the patient who, however, can ingest no food. The hair follows the teeth, falls off the scalp by the handful. Then this sort of ghost, with his skin sticking to his ribs, writhes in horrible pain; his joints swell; his fingers and limbs deform. And the necrosis appears: it kills the bones, mortifies them, separates them, hollows them out and erodes them.

“What? Really? These putrefied rags were once a man or a woman?”

Well, yes. This poor body had to accept this martyrdom because he had a stomach to feed… and because it was worth 3 F 30 a day!

So, is it really an inevitable plague? Can’t they try another product? What was the owners’ response to their pitiful complaints?



So, who is this greedy or cruel owner? Who is this heartless exploiter who chooses to earn money over the human beings shuddering in anguish under the tormentor’s lancet, who chooses profit over the little crosses lined up as far as the eye can see in the cemetery next to the factory?

It is the State!


Yes, the State. The same called by Monsieur Ribot[5], its current representative, the “good father of the family.” The State, protector of the weak and the expression of the sovereign people under this regime.

It is the State who refused Billau—operated on four times, part of his lower left jaw amputated and his upper right jaw just hanging, who can no longer eat—the prosthetic he has the right to. Because this prosthetic would cost 1,500 F and the State is too poor so can only give 300!

It is the State that said, “These people will die because I don’t want to make less money off their salary.” And they turn to smuggling, in spite of the law about foreign production, because these wretched, exploited cattle keep demanding the right to live.

A man with a furrowed face, frightfully thin, spoke to me just now, without even knowing it, in Shakespearean words: “We can’t even have children. My wife and I tried three times. They were all born dead and already turned green.”


But this is nothing compared to the procession that I watch, terrified—of the macabre, unforgettable vision I can still see with horror.

One man after another, one woman after another, whom the phosphorism has not yet led to the grave or to prison, whom the hospital did not take or did not take back, march before me. With the identical movement they pop out their false teeth, gums and palate. They tip back their head automatically, showing their injuries like soldiers in the ambulance.

There is nothing but open wounds, gaping holes, scars, voids hollowed out by the surgeon’s knife. On Billau, like I said, they took off the entire left side of his chin. Marie Harpp—a young woman—is missing half of the roof of her mouth. Others, carved up to one degree or another, pass by while they hold in custody a comrade who became blind with rage and whom the nurses are going to pick up.

This is what exists in our country of France at the gates of Paris. This is what I saw. This is the lot of the unfortunates to whom Monsieur Ribot, Minister of the Republic, said, “I have nothing more to say” when they offered to go back to work if they promised, within a month, to stop using white phosphorous—their executioner!



Was there ever a more appalling response? Was there ever a more cynical declaration? Too expensive! To save human beings from such torture! Too expensive! To avoid similar abominations! Too expensive! So that these poor young ladies not lose their youth, their beauty, their health, their living and their life!

These are the words of an ogre.

Don’t fret! There will soon come a time when everything will be less costly…


[1] En Marche, 1896.

[2] The largest cemetery in Paris.

[3] The wicked witch or stepmother in fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty.

[4] Emile Magitot (1833-1897) considered the founder of stomatology (the study of mouth diseases) in France.

[5] Alexandre Ribot (1842-1923) was Minister of Finance at the time.