Flora Tristan, Utopian Feminist: Her Travel Diaries and Personal Crusade

Flora Tristan, Utopian Feminist: Her Travel Diaries and Personal Crusade

Flora Tristan, Utopian Feminist: Her Travel Diaries and Personal Crusade

Flora Tristan, Utopian Feminist: Her Travel Diaries and Personal Crusade


"The entries not only illuminate the career of a remarkable woman, but yield insights into the early industrial system of the 1830s and 1840s." -- Library Journal

A child of both the French and Industrial revolutions, Flora Tristan (1803-1844) became a bold social critic and political activist. Assuming personal freedoms enjoyed by few women contemporaries, she devoted herself to the cause of universal justice. Tristan traveled widely and tirelessly strived to organize French men and women workers. Several of her writings are here translated into English for the first time.


Flora Tristan was a French writer and surprisingly prophetic social critic who attracted attention in the 1830s and '40s, a time of responses to the challenges of the revolutionary and Napoleonic decades and the onset of industrialization. In retrospect—for she has been rediscovered twice, once in the 1920s and again after World War II—she may be seen as holding an honorable, even a remarkable, place in that nineteenth-century period of romantic and speculative reappraisals.

Flora Tristan herself reflected the shifting values and class alignments of that era. She retained childhood impressions from an aristocratic lineage yet came of age in relative poverty among artisans and small shopkeepers. Through talent and aggressiveness she attained recognition in Parisian artistic and intellectual circles. Initially she was mainly a defender of her personal freedom. Her battle to escape from an unfortunate marriage and to earn a living drew her into travels on the Continent, to England, across the Atlantic, and around Cape Horn to Peru. Her intelligence and thirst for knowledge made of her an observer, and her hard knocks a relentless one. She was largely self-educated but her personal attractiveness and compelling personality eased her relationships with others, especially with men of ideas and ability, and enabled her to learn from them. Flora Tristan was ambitious and combative but her personal quest opened her eyes to the plight of women and then to the problem of workers at a time when the old artisan brotherhoods, the compagnonnages, were in decline and labor's role in society was demanding fresh thought. She became a socialist in her own manner, conversant with the more famous Utopians while independently developing her own conceptions of class structure and struggle, of nonviolence, and of internationalism and humanitarianism, a faith supported by her religious convictions. Far more than the self-styled "pariah" of her earliest autobiographical writings, she became a perceptive social critic and in her way an apostle.

If Flora Tristan anticipated Marx, as some have said, it was simply because she called for workers to unite and constitute themselves as a class, as the aristocracy and bourgeoisie had done before them. What she came to propose, however, was the climax of personal experiences through a long learning process. In one respect she anticipated the behavior of the early Russian Populists who went in person to peasant villages to awaken the inhabitants to an understanding of their condition. This she did by going directly to French men and women workers on her own "tour of France," recording along the way in her journal, which was to remain unpublished until 1973, a remarkable account of her organizing efforts in some twenty cities in 1843 and 1844. The reader's direct contact with this mind and personality through these travel notes written day by day and for her . . .

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