Thesis

Furies of the guillotine: female revolutionaries in the French Revolution and in Victorian literary imagination

Thesis (M.A., History)--California State University, Sacramento, 2016.

The idea of female revolutionaries struck a particular chord of terror both during and after the French Revolution, as represented in both legislation and popular literary imagination. The level and form of female participation in the events of the Revolution varied among social classes. Female participation during the Revolution led to an overwhelming fear of women demanding and practicing democratic rights in both a nonviolent manner (petitioning for education, demanding voting rights, serving on committees), and in a violent manner (engaging in armed protest and violent striking). The terror surrounding female democratic participation was manifested in the fear of the female citizen, or citoyenne. In 1793, these apprehensions led to a severe backlash, in part due to confusion between competing images and contrasting roles of revolutionary women produced by the revolutionary government. The first image was the respectable Republican Mother calling for education and citizenship through publications, speeches, and petitions. This argument was a strong manipulation of revolutionary language; women were conceding to the biological differences between men and women and acknowledging that they were mothers, but arguing that they must be educated and involved in public life in order to educate future Republicans. The second image of women conflicted with the first; this was the more intimidating plebian woman of the streets, armed with pikes, exercising her right to vote. These conflicting and inconsistent accounts confused and alarmed many male revolutionaries to the point of the resilient backlash and crackdown on female freedoms in 1793. The legacy of women actively inserting themselves into the events of the Revolution extended into the nineteenth century across the Anglophone world. Many novels reveal the popular literary imagination in the post-revolutionary nineteenth century. Most notable was the connection of these dichotomous images of revolutionary women to the Victorian Era “Angel in the House” and the “fallen” woman, manifest notably in Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, reflecting the male anxieties of women exercising democratic liberties.

The idea of female revolutionaries struck a particular chord of terror both during and after the French Revolution, as represented in both legislation and popular literary imagination. The level and form of female participation in the events of the Revolution varied among social classes. Female participation during the Revolution led to an overwhelming fear of women demanding and practicing democratic rights in both a nonviolent manner (petitioning for education, demanding voting rights, serving on committees), and in a violent manner (engaging in armed protest and violent striking). The terror surrounding female democratic participation was manifested in the fear of the female citizen, or citoyenne. In 1793, these apprehensions led to a severe backlash, in part due to confusion between competing images and contrasting roles of revolutionary women produced by the revolutionary government. The first image was the respectable Republican Mother calling for education and citizenship through publications, speeches, and petitions. This argument was a strong manipulation of revolutionary language; women were conceding to the biological differences between men and women and acknowledging that they were mothers, but arguing that they must be educated and involved in public life in order to educate future Republicans. The second image of women conflicted with the first; this was the more intimidating plebian woman of the streets, armed with pikes, exercising her right to vote. These conflicting and inconsistent accounts confused and alarmed many male revolutionaries to the point of the resilient backlash and crackdown on female freedoms in 1793. The legacy of women actively inserting themselves into the events of the Revolution extended into the nineteenth century across the Anglophone world. Many novels reveal the popular literary imagination in the post-revolutionary nineteenth century. Most notable was the connection of these dichotomous images of revolutionary women to the Victorian Era “Angel in the House” and the “fallen” woman, manifest notably in Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, reflecting the male anxieties of women exercising democratic liberties.

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