Flora Tristan: Rebel Daughter
of the Revolution
The nineteenth century is the second wave of the French Revolution. Utopian socialists extended its ideas to the people the revolution had forgotten— women and workers—and thereby deepened those ideas. At this time, one woman, Flora Tristan (1803-44), acting alone, cast upon the political scene a flash of brilliance that lasted but a few years. Through her life and her work, inseparable from each other, she appears the emblematic figure of this second revolutionary wave.
Even more than other feminists of the age, she was erased from the history of ideas and deeds. Then finally, in 1925, the scholar Jules Puech consecrated a serious study to her 1—then silence. In 1946, some excerpts from her writings on socialism were published by Lucien Scheler. 2 Then silence again until 1972. Since that year, on the other hand, theses, studies, and publications on her life and work have multiplied both in France and the United States. 3 And so she is now recognized as perhaps the most vivid, or in any case, the most romantic and talented of the pioneers and founders of French Socialist Feminism. Second to George Sand, you might say? Yes, second to her for talent and renown, but not for conviction or tenacity, in furthering this second wave of the French Revolution.
Flora's writings about her own life—memoirs, a diary, letters—make it seem a novel composed by destiny to illustrate woman's marginality in the early nineteenth century. The gradual recognition of these writings has allowed us to discern behind the blinding sun of George Sand the figure of Flora. Her daily experience, as it appears in the introduction to her memoirs, Peregrinations of a Pariah, 4 sums up all the dramas of the feminine condition, all the denied rights, and all the unfinished tasks of the French Revolution with respect to women—all of them. First, she is an illegitimate child. Then she is unhappily married in a period that outlawed divorce, deprived the mother of all rights concerning her children, and made the father the sole head of the family. She is impoverished in a period that refused to provide trades or
Translated by Judith Pike and Leslie W. Rabine.