Time to reconnect Posted on: Tuesday 21st Mar 2017
A few days ago Mohsin Hamid discussed his latest novel Exit West on BBC Radio 4. When asked how he maintained a sense of optimism in the work despite its bleak descriptions of migration he urgently replied that it was his political duty to be optimistic. Demagogues, he said, exert more power and influence when we feel pessimistic. In a world increasingly ruled by demagogues, at a time when people are being encouraged to unite in ever narrower groups, when issues such as global warming are a fearsome reality, I thank him for the challenge of finding optimism to control my rising dismay.
Olympe de Gouges, like us all, referenced the past to illuminate her present. Now we use her to shed a light on ours. The play I co-wrote, Olympe de Gouges porteuse d'espoir, is still attracting audiences, five seasons after it's first performance. This is entirely due to her voice. French theatre-goers, despite the tragedy of her death, leave the show uplifted by her strength and dogged energy, her optimism if you will. Their resolve is strengthened by her words.
Next Saturday I will March through London to express my sorrow at separating from the EU and to exort the British government to be collaborative rather than combative when it seeks to negotiate its exit. Pessimism nearly kept me at home, why bother when the decision is taken, but optimism and Olympe's spirit have got the upper hand. Go, she says. When did sullen silence ever win the day?
Good News Posted on: Tuesday 15th Dec 2015
City of Joy
The City of Joy in the Congo is a ground-breaking community that heals women survivors of violent trauma. Despair and damage are tranformed into hope and strength. The community has 10 guiding principles
1. TELL THE TRUTH
2. STOP WAITING TO BE RESCUED; TAKE INITIATIVE
3. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
4. RAISE YOUR VOICE
5. SHARE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED
6. GIVE WHAT YOU WANT THE MOST
7. FEEL AND TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH
8. USE IT TO FUEL A REVOLUTION
9. PRACTICE KINDNESS
10. TREAT YOUR SISTERS’ LIFE AS IF IT WERE YOUR OWN
If there was an Olympe de Gouges prize for inspirational women then this community would be a winner.
To share in their joy go to drc.vday.org/about-city-of-joy
Friday 13th November 2015 Posted on: Friday 20th Nov 2015
Violence cannot kill peace, only disturb it for a time.
'Dans les siècles de l'ignorance les hommes se sont fait la guerre; dans le siècle le plus éclairé, ils veulent se détruire. Quelle est enfin la science, le régime, l'époque, l'âge où les hommes vivront en paix?'
'Throughout the centuries of ignorance men have declared war on each other; in the most enlightened century they want to destroy themselves. Where is the science, the regime, the epoch or the age that will allow men to live in peace?
These words were written by Olympe de Gouges in 1792 - tragically they are still relevant today. She lived through violent times but never gave up hope that peaceful cooperation and fairness could create a better world than bayonets and bombs. She died too soon to see Paris flourish again. The guillotine silenced her in November 1793, yet we can still hear her voice. Let us have the heart to listen and face our challenges with equal humanity.
No Honour for Olympe Posted on: Sunday 2nd Mar 2014
Can her ideas really upset people today?
Olympe de Gouges was not one of the women immortalised in the Panthéon in Paris last week; M. Hollande uncontroversially chose two remarkably courageous women resistance fighters Geneviève de Gaulle and Germaine Tillion. I wonder if de Gouges would have had much truck with a system that confers enduring fame on a few while excluding the many of equal merit. Nonetheless the debate that has raged around her 'panthéonization' has increased her reknown. This has led to some unfortunate repercussions. France is currently in an electoral phase (municipals) and feelings are running high: vocal groups are marching in favour of 'family values' and in fear of homosexuality; gender equality is again on the agenda. In some parts de Gouges's outspoken support for divorce and dislike of marriage (in an 18th century context) are deemed sufficient to consider her opinions, polemical in their time no doubt, polemical today. A festival in her honour has been cancelled along with a series of performances about her due to be played to a student audience. When I discovered the work of this extraordinary woman, a few years ago, such a thing would not have seemed possible.
Research in Paris Posted on: Saturday 1st Feb 2014
another play online soon
A week in Paris reading de Gouges's texts in the city of their creation sustained by delicious pastries and cheese is, despite the endless rain and rather arcane library rules, a very privileged form of work. Many of her texts are available online thanks to Gallica but some remain tucked away including a manuscript version of La Nécessité du Divorce, bound together with other plays and wrongly attributed to a Monsieur Prévost. I had the good fortune this week to meet Professor Verdier, from Milwaukee, who discovered the manuscript several years ago. I hope to have its translation online in a few weeks.
Debate rages in France regarding Olympe de Gouges and the possibility of placing her in the Panthéon, a mausoleum to the great and the good men of France. Marie Curie is alone in representing female achievement within its hallowed walls and while no one denies that women are under-represented, de Gouges is far from being universally approved. On the one hand she discomfits those who still see in her views ideas that are, even now, considered to endanger familiy values, on the other she upsets the notion that all revolutionary trials and subsequent executions were fair and legal. The decision will probably be taken in March; heated debates have raged on the blogosphere.
Forthcoming texts. Posted on: Tuesday 10th Dec 2013
Zamore et Mirza/Black Slavery/The Fortunate Shipwreck
Having decided to translate L'Esclavage des Noirs I realised that it would be interesting to do both the 1788 and the 1792 versions in order to make clear the progression of de Gouges's ideas, both political and theatrical. The later version also highlights the changes that had taken place in France, and her colonies, during this period. I have since come across a version of the play (L'Harmattan, 2007) based on the original prompt copy used in 1789. This is a wonderful edition; it clearly marks all the changes to the text that took place during performance, as well as subsequent publishing. The complexities of translating even more alterations defeated me for now, though I may feel less fainthearted later on. The texts should be availabe online in a couple of weeks.
Olympe de Gouges was the first playwright to put slaves on stage as fully rounded individuals with voices that deserved to be heard; her aim was to highlight the horrific nature of the slave trade in order to stimulate an argument against it. The powerful men behind this trade effectively silenced her play.
Slavery is still very active today despite its global ilegality; www.walkfreefoundation.org and its global slavery index make it only too clear that the fight is not remotely over.