The Women of the French Revolution
Compiled by Aly Michaud
Meet the historical figures who inspired the four femme fatale characters fighting for freedom in The Revolutionists:
Olympe de Gouges
A badass activist playwright and feminist, Olympe was a widow who never remarried to ensure her personal freedom. Her politically and socially provocative plays focused on subjects considered taboo at the time, including slavery and women’s rights. She also holds the bragging rights for the first-ever written Declaration of Women’s Rights, which she read in front of the National Assembly demanding that women be included in the new democracy. Her plays and writings, including an unfinished play about Marie Antoinette called La France Sauvee (France Saved or The Dethroned Tyrant), were eventually turned against her to prove she was a royalist and send her to the guillotine. Her famous, well-chosen last words were, “Children of the fatherland, you will avenge my death.”
A young, badass country girl, Charlotte was a Girondist sympathizer responsible for the assassination of the radical Jacobin publisher and politician Jean-Paul Marat. The Girondists were a less radical faction of the Jacobin revolutionists who supported overthrowing the monarchy but resisted the chaos that ensued. Charlotte stabbed Marat to death in his bathtub because she believed his writings were catalyzing extreme violence, and she saw his murder as saving the lives of many by ending the life of one. Counterproductively, this rendered Marat a martyr to the Jacobin cause. Charlotte was beheaded, and she was immediately slapped after her execution, causing her face to blush and inciting the first theories about whether people remain alive or conscious for a short time after decapitation.
The “less-badass-but-still-fascinating” former queen of France, Marie was born the Archduchess of Austria. She became a widow when her husband, King Louis XVI, was executed by the Jacobins in 1793. Marie’s beauty, charm and social standing made her an infamous figure in France, and her political ties and lavish spending habits in times of financial and political crisis made her a controversial figure as well. Not long after Louis was put to death, she was tried for a number of crimes, including a notorious accusation of incest with her son. She was found guilty of enough political charges to condemn her to death.
The character of Marianne is an amalgam of the badass free women of color at the time. According to playwright Lauren Gunderson, she “lets us explore the parallels of the French people rebelling against their government, while that same government is managing a rebellion by Haitian people in their colony.” The historical people of Haiti revolted against the French and achieved the only successful country-sized slave rebellion on earth to date. The United States was the only other colony to rebel and win.
Painting of Charlotte Corday by Jean-Jacques Hauer; painting of Marie Antoinette by Louise Elisabeth Vigée le Brun; painting of Olympe de Gouges by Alexandre Kucharski. All images are in the public domain.