Rirette

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RIRETTE

Rirette[1]

A nice name, isn’t it? A name right out of another time when the coquettes still wore bonnets, when windmills still had blades and when it was, nonetheless, the bonnets that flew over the windmills. And is it a real name or a nickname given in a good mood during the spring because of that smile that brightens her face?

I thought that was enough because I do not know her. I have never had the chance to meet her, nor any of her friends. I only know her by her pictures, snapshots taken by chance. A sweet, mischievous face, lively eyes, like a little girl—but a girl who is a relative of Gavroche[2], a girl who, after playing well and laughing, loving the sun, drinking cheap wine under the arbor, sighing over slow waltzes, smelling violets at four sous with more enthusiasm than others do a rose at one gold louis, she would die carefree and beautiful… heroically!

Is she from Paris, my neck of the woods? Is she a runaway bourgeoisie or an adventurous worker from a distant province? I know nothing at all. Paris took her, that’s all I know. It fashioned her in its way, gave her its native girls’ zest, their alert grace, that lip turned rosy from Montmorency cherries or Robinson strawberries. There is also the taste for mystery, romance, the unexpected and for risk…

Too much, alas, poor Rirette! Did I tell you that Rirette was in prison? She laughed when they arrested her; laughed in the courts of justice, at the onlookers, the reporters, the photographers; laughed at the light, the free air, the broad daylight! I also did not tell you that Rirette was 22 years old—and with two little girls who were taken away from her.

This alone is serious because this girl loves her girls tenderly and passionately. And yet she condemned herself to never see them again. She accepted being deprived of their arms around her neck, their little mouths on her cheek, their affectionate words that are like hugs. This young mother has cut herself off from her children instead of giving to Justice the little service they demand of her: become an informant.

This was the price, given the levity of the charges weighing on her, whereby she could have doubtlessly obtained her provisional freedom, maybe even an acquittal. The law, for those who bow to it, has a lot of indulgence…

Being serious, this time, she said no. And she repeated it at every attempt, worsening her fate in perfect knowledge of the cause, accepting all charges that her irritating silence brought on.

I mentioned Gavroche… maybe we should speak of Bara[3].

#

What did she do? She did not kill or steal or burn or explode. She was not one of those interesting society women whose guilt or non-guilt is the talk of the town, the subject of controversies and conversations. She is also not a heroine of love: she has harmed no man or woman out of passion.

Her case is less serious and more complex—and therefore more dangerous.

Since her friend has progressive opinions, they reproach her for some suspicious acquaintances. Isn’t that it? Whoever lives in a rather wide and busy circle, should they have to answer for everyone they meet, greet, shake hands with or with whom they happened to be a guest in the same place—which is the case?

Especially when we are talking about the office of a newspaper, a more crowded place than anywhere else in the world! Rirette (I remind you she is 22 years old) was working for a newspaper that was foolhardy enough to rent the space in her name.

“Now, during the search we found two little revolvers in the office of this newspaper and it was established that these guns had been stolen. Possession of stolen property.”

“I’m not a thief!” Rirette shouted indignation. “I didn’t even know that these weapons were stolen.”

“That’s possible,” the judge replied. “But you must have known who had put them there. You were the tenant, legally, and therefore responsible… There could very well be a way to mitigate your responsibility and reduce the charges against you. The thief had no fear of compromising you by dumping stolen goods in a place rented in your name. He had no scruples toward you… why would you have any toward him? Give us a name!”

Rirette looked at the judge, the bailiff, the green walls within which so many unfortunate, so many innocent and guilty had argued. She thought of her little girls, of freedom, of her comrades who remained faithful and whom it would be nice to see walking around the streets of Paris.

The judge waited, thought she was hesitating while she was, in fact, dreaming.

“Come on,” an encouraging voice said.

“No,” Rirette shook her head and her face that had turned pale after so many months in jail. “To denounce someone is a dirty trick! Keep me, condemn me, send me to prison or wherever you want! I won’t do it!”

She was put back in the paddy wagon and back behind bars in that great black house at the end of rue Faubourg Saint-Denis. And if, when the lights are turned out, Rirette is no longer Rirette, if she breaks down and cries, if she calls out to her children, stretches out her arms in the night, nobody will imagine, nobody will know. At dawn she is Rirette like she was the night before, brave and cheerful. If a sparrow alit behind the bars it could chirp, “How are you, little sister?”

#

In these times when character is becoming rare, it is interesting to me to show this wisp of a woman rebelling against becoming an informant. So many men (and good ones at that!) turn themselves willingly into informants.

Oh, I forgot! The newspaper is called “L’Anarchie” and Rirette is officially Mme [Mrs] Maitrejean. But these details take nothing away, isn’t it true, from the reality of the facts or the self-sacrifice of the denial.

 

[1] Gil Blas, August 11 1912.

[2] A street urchin in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.

[3] Joseph Bara (1779-1793), young boy who died fighting for the French Revolution.

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The Cause of Women

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Hermann Paul4

The Cause of Women[1]

I could have written The Cause of “Feminism” but I did not want to because this suffix, however acceptable, however fashionable today, seems to me just another “ism” among all the others, a link in the chain of all those trials, ordeals and schools of thought that the old world is finally being freed of.

Let them understand me well. And if possible, whether by carelessness or malice, let them not make me say something other than what I want to say in all honesty—and in total freedom.

It is not because I am not “progressive enough” that I don’t get more involved with the present feminist action; it is because I am “too much” of one; it is because the desires of the agitators have long been left behind in my dream on the grand path to the future. When (being reserved for the sole usage of men) universal suffrage, eligibility, the electorate, all the old parliamentary mechanism arouses in me nothing but mocking astonishment, a rather aggressive aversion, I do not really see what miracle would change my view of the same things if applied differently.

Everything crumbles along these lines. Respect remains far if it speeds off at the same pace it started. Trust stumbles after it in hot pursuit. To be a deputy today—though no particular advantage for the individual elevates it—is to be a zero… a zero always doubtful, often harmful. The authority comes more from seniority than from any intrinsic value. The member of the lower Chamber is generally a municipal councilor who has not had any scandals just like the member of the higher Chamber is a deputy who has not faced any obstacles. It is a career, pretty well paid, that starts at a public meeting and ends up in a presidential speech: “My dear public, it is with deep regret that we have learned… distinguished competence… a heartfelt loss… consolation for his family… everyone grieves… the country and the Republic.”

So be it! The old men approve, from tip to chin, bobbing their heads, especially sad about what is to come. And this makes one less of them—and one more!

The very rich might escape suspicion of greed, but who is safe from plotting, from wicked ambition, from the need for domination to which everything is sacrificed? Are there more than ten, are there even ten of these elected from the people who burn with ardent faith, prepared for humility, for sacrifice, the denial of all personal gain, for the health of all and the common interest?

Honest men? Certainly, there are some, in the strict and limited sense of the word. But just as faith that does not act is not sincere faith, so honesty that is content “to be” is not a virtue—it is a habit!

#

It is, then, into this that women want to enter? Under the tree of knowledge Eve, when it is her turn, takes back half the apple from Adam… Except that the apple Adam is holding is rotten, gnawed to the core by parasites, stained and poisonous.

I have no taste for these tea parties. And if sharing now is necessary—out of selfishness and man’s ferocity—let’s at least pick a new, healthy and delicious fruit from the branch.

That’s why I am not with the women politicians. That’s why, with all my heart, with all my strength, I am with sensible, intelligent, practical people who strive to improve economically the lot of women, to emancipate them from their present condition—menial, unfair and degrading.

It was very wrong for Jules Bois, in his last article, to reproach me for not getting involved “in this heroic battle”. The sentiment is commendable but the allegation is off the mark. A newcomer, not seeing me in his ranks, he concluded that I was abstaining. The truth is that I have been in the heart of the battle for a long time, long enough that the reinforcements no longer see me!

Oh, in my way I hasten to add: in isolation, independence, not wanting to just change the yoke. But wherever one of my sisters cried out for help, a “victim of her sex”, a single mother alone to bear the sin, an abandoned or battered wife, an employee in a shop or in the administration subject to inhuman regulations, a worker in the same job but paid less than a male counterpart because she’s a woman, even a prostitute suffering shame and hunger, I have highlighted the grievances and taken up arms against the causes of these evils, bringing to light the injustice of our destiny.

What do you want? I believe in the school of actions and that they are the seeds of theories. So much the better if the harvest grows for others; and if others reap it; and if others enjoy the fruit! But don’t come and accuse me of indifference or laziness when I was a worker in the early season, doing my job without expecting any pay.

In seven years of journalism I can count more than 200 articles, almost four volumes, on the condition of women. Is that nothing?

#

Ah, I have joked about the women politicians? Yes indeed—fervently! But again that depends on which. Hubertine Auclert, Paule Minck, Madame Potonié-Pierre have always seemed to me courageous and devoted. But how could I take seriously “attack dogs” who, with touching persistence, criticized me daily because after a controversy I wasn’t on the (textual) field or because I went to see the Pope?

These women are laughable… and I laughed! Whereas Madame Schmall and Madame Cheliga-Loevy make me think, interest me, really impassion me by their logic and their constant effort. Scornful, fearful even of the eccentricity that puts off the simple and frightens the timid, not dressing themselves up like clowns, keeping their feminine and maternal grace that the work benefits from, they do good and useful work.

Personally I am aware of collaborating in it, with my pen—and with my example.

Example does not mean model here. I use the word in the sense of proof, in a very technical and modest meaning. It only means that by diligent work and invincible perseverance I managed to make the public admit, through the world of the press (hardly open to feminine competition nonetheless), that a woman could practice this tough profession of journalist, make a place for herself and live honorably.

Alas, many a young brain underneath little blonde curls, behind brown headbands, has been a little soured by an exaggerated success. But still, thanks to this precedent, when a little, trembling woman shows up in an editing room with her article tied with a ribbon, they do not judge her collaboration as ridiculous or impossible.

Of this, I swear, I am very proud and figure that I have earned the daily blue-stockingism[2]. It is one less prejudice—and there are so many to destroy!

That’s why those of my sex who, without going against the tender, merciful role that nature assigned us, want to conquer the right to live beyond servitude and degradation have always and will always be able to count on me.

As for the Bradamantes[3] with their pipes… where are they going?

 

[1] L’Echo de Paris, February 15 1895.

[2] Satirical term for intelligent, learned women.

[3] Famous female knight in legends about Charlemagne.