Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

Savoir C'est Pouvoir: Integral Education in the Novels of Andre Leo

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

Savoir C'est Pouvoir: Integral Education in the Novels of Andre Leo

Article excerpt

Andre Leo (1824-1900), author of over twenty socially conscious novels, is best known as a participant in the Commune; her name is often mentioned alongside that of Louise Michel as one of the "Petroleuses." (1) Her actual role in the Commune was however quite minimal while her activity as a socialist and feminist writer was fervent and prolific throughout her life. Andre Leo expressed her opinions, both in fiction and essays, on a wide range of political topics such as marriage and divorce, the status of women, war and peace, and the conditions of peasants and workers. One of the more prevalent themes in her novels was educational reform. Her works not only provide a critique of the educational practices in vigor in the second half of the nineteenth century, but also advocate such revolutionary concepts as co-education, professional training, the abolition of corporal punishment, the respect of individuality, free education available to all, and the separation of church and state.

Born in the Poitou region, Leodile Bera moved to Switzerland in 1851 to marry her fance, socialist militant Pierre Gregoire Champseix, in political exile in Lausanne. Back in Paris shortly after the 1861 amnesty, Leodile Champseix began her career as a socialist and feminist writer and militant taking as a pseudonym the first names of her twin sons, Andre and Leo. During the final years of the Empire alone, Andre Leo published ten novels as well as essays on education, communism and women's rights, and numerous articles in La Cooperation, L'Opinion Nationale, L'Egalite and Le Rappel. Her activism grew steadily throughout the decade, reaching its height in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War and the Siege of Paris. Unlike Louise Michel, however, Andre Leo probably never set foot on the barricades during the Commune. Her role in the revolution was primarily journalistic. She published a number of articles in left-wing periodicals and, during the final months of the Commune, she co-founded a daily newspaper, La Sociale. Toward the end, her articles were actually quite critical of the Commune's Comite Central, accusing them of creating disorder and divisiveness.

Always an independent socialist, in the years following the Commune Andre Leo shunned the authoritarian doctrine of Marx, preferring the more flexible socialist movement inspired by Bakunin. Though Andre Leo appears not to have been prosecuted for her role in the Commune, she joined fellow Communards in exile in Switzerland and Italy. She was particularly active in the Federation Jurassienne, helping Bakunin prepare for the virulent debate with Marxist factions at the 1872 Congress at The Hague, and worked closely with Benoit Malon to produce a journal, Le Socialisme Progressif. (2) In the final decades of the century, Andre Leo retired from active political life and focused her efforts on promoting her political ideas through the written word from her home in Italy.

Though, to my knowledge, Andre Leo never actually used the expression "integral education," her theories on educational reform closely resemble the theories of "integral education" developed by such key figures in nineteenth-century socialism and anarchism as Fourier, Proudhon and Bakunin. Writing at a critical period in the history of educational reform in France, the period which eventually saw the establishment of l'ecole republicaine, Andre Leo advocated the secularization of public schools, the expansion of education for workers--both children and adults--and for women, co-education, and the development of new libertarian methods of teaching. Andre Leo was very critical of French society, particularly of the reactionary bourgeoisie who defended the Church's role in public education and the established teaching methods and curriculum. In this essay, after a brief introduction to theories of "integral education" in the writings of Fourier, Proudhon and Bakunin, I will explore the various ways in which Andre Leo used the novel to criticize the French school system and to advocate educational reform. …

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