3 November 2011

Louise Michel in Levallois-Perret: Literary Île-de-France #13

Louise Michel (1830—1905) was born in Vroncourt-la-Côte in Haute-Marne, probably the product of the son of the governor of Vroncourt castle and a servant. She received a liberal education and read Voltaire and Rousseau. She studied in Chaumont (Haute-Marne) and qualified as a primary teacher in 1851.

Later, she wrote (mainly poems) under the pseudonym Enjolras, and would probably have preferred a profession as an author rather than a teacher if it had been possible.

She maintained a correspondence with Victor Hugo between 1850 and 1879, and there are several examples of this and her poetry in the Maison Victor Hugo in the Place des Vosges in Paris.

She is perhaps better known, though, as an anarchist, and for her part in the Commune de Paris. Between 1871 and 1873, she spent twenty months in the Auberive Abbey, which had been transformed into a prison. She was then deported to New Caledonia, for which she left on the Virginie with other communards, singing 'Le Temps des Cerises' as they left: 'Le temps des cerises' was written in 1866 with words by Jean-Baptiste Clément, a song that was to be strongly associated with the Commune de Paris. Yves Montand's interpretation of the song is here.

In New Caledonia, Michel created the paper Petites Affiches de la Nouvelle-Calédonie and published Légendes et chansons de gestes canaques. She moved to Nouméa, the capital, and began teaching.

She returned to France (arriving in Dieppe, where there is a plaque on quai Henri IV) and declared her continuing faith in the anarchist cause. In 1883 she led a demonstration against unemployment which led to looting and confrontation with the police. Instead of being imprisoned, she was sentenced to ten years high police surveillance, although she was released from this in 1886. However, the same year she was sentenced to four months imprisonment for giving a speech in favor of the miners of Decazeville.

She was arrested again in 1890 following a speech she gave in St-Étienne and following a meeting which led to violent demonstrations in Vienne. On being offered provisional release, she refused because her fellow male prisoners hadn't been given such an offer too. On smashing up everything in her cell, a doctor pronounced that she should be imprisoned as a 'mad woman', although the authorities — fearing a backlash — refused. By this time, Michel was sixty years old.

She took refuge in London, where for some years she led a libertarian school. She returned to France in 1895, where she was met at the Gare Saint-Lazare by a demonstration of sympathy.

Michel died of chronic bronchitis in Marseille, and thousands attended her funeral in Levallois-Perret.

Square Louise Michel, the huge space in front of the Sacré-Coeur, was originally named 'square Willett', but changed to its present name in 2004 because of Willett's anti-Semitic activities: he had collaborated in the anti-Semitic paper La Libre Parole illustré et been an anti-Semitic candidate in the 1889 legislative elections.

Louise's statue, depicting her in friendly teaching mode in a prominent position in Parc de la Planchette in Levallois-Perret. Michel also has a street and a métro station named after her here.

 'À la bonne Louise. E. Derré 1905'.

A cat snuggles into her dress.

85 rue Victor Hugo, linking the two names.

 'Louise MICHEL 1830—1905
a vécu dans cet immeuble en 1886.
Institutrice, féministe, écrivain,
Combattante de la Commune de Paris de 1871.
Victor HUGO lui dédia le poème Viro Major.
Inhumée au cimetière de Levallois.'

['... lived in this house in 1886.
School teacher of juniors, feminist, writer,
Fighter in the Paris Commune of 1871.
Victor HUGO dedicated the poem 'Viro Major' to her.
Buried in Levallois cemetery.']

And someone using the anarchist symbol mentions the missing word: 'et anarchiste'.

And in the town cemetery, a guy known for a certain tower in Paris is also buried here, but there's no métro station named after him as far as I know.

29 MAI 1830 — 9 JANVIER 1905


                      LOUISE MICHEL'

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