Saturday, November 03, 2007

November 3

olympe de gougeThe revolutionary French essayist and playwright Marie Olympe de Gouges was executed by guillotine two hundred and three years ago today. An abolitionist and advocate for women's equality in public as well as in all matters of love and marriage, de Gouges went so far as to insist that married women had the right to divorce their husbands and have affairs with other men -- and that the children of such illicit unions be regarded without legal discimination or public scorn. Equally scandalous were her beliefs that women "must be equally admitted to all honors, positions, and public employment according to their capacity and without other distinctions besides those of their virtues and talents." In works such as the Contrat Social and D├ęclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne, de Gouges challenged not merely the traditional conventions of French society, but ran afoul as well of the morality of the Jacobins, who had begun severing the heads of their political opponents a few months before. Courting danger, de Gouges criticized the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793.

Accused of "having composed a work contrary to the expressed desire of the entire nation," de Gouges was arrested and tried on 12 Brumaire (2 November), Year II of the Republic. Her writings were introduced as evidence that de Gouges had violated Article I of the laws of March 29, which ruled that "whoever is convicted of having composed or printed works or writings which provoke the dissolution of the national representation, the reestablishment of royalty, or of any other power attacking the sovereignty of the people, will be brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal and punished by death." Throughout the trial, according to the official court record, "the accused, with respect to the facts she was hearing articulated against her, never stopped her smirking. Sometimes she shrugged her shoulders; then she clasped her hands and raised her eyes towards the ceiling of the room; then, suddenly, she moved on to an expressive gesture, showing astonishment; then gazing next at the court, she smiled at the spectators, etc." The verdict of the court affirmed the charges against her.

Around 4:00 p.m. the following day, Marie Olympe de Gouges was led to the scaffold. After crying out for the assembled crowd to avenge her death, de Gouges' head was lopped off into a basket.

Reporting on her execution in the place de la Revolution, one source judged that "Olympe de Gouges, born with an exalted imagination, mistook her delirium for an inspiration of nature. She wanted to be a man of state. She took up the projects of the perfidious people who want to divide France. It seems the law has punished this conspirator for having forgotten the virtues that belong to her sex."

More than 250 150 years later, on November 3, 1954, Godzilla -- awakened by a nuclear test arose from the sea and destroyed Tokyo.