Olympe de Gouges

English translations of the original French texts

DeGougerie 1  Posted on: Tuesday 31st Oct 2017

A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.

Welcome to DeGougerie, a monthly collectanea of news or discoveries that caught my de Gouges inspired eye: things that she might have responded to had she come across them.


The fact that the women of Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive was prime news for a few days following their kingdom's announcement that a woman can now apply for a driving licence without reference to her male guardian, and can legally drive a vehicle in public. There is now no country left where women are banned from driving. However, Madawi al-Rasheed, writing in the Guardian newspaper, warns against jubilation. She reminds readers that this is a relatively 'cosmetic reform', dictators often seeking to distance western criticism by promoting women in such ways. Recently Saudi women were allowed for the first time to attend sporting events held in public stadia. Western critics too often accept such gestures as genuine milestones in the democratic process when in reality dictators cynically use women rights to reduce opprobrium. Hope lies in women themselves: they were first allowed to bicycle in public in 2013 but only in authorised places, supervised by men. In response Baraah Luhaidan founded Spokes Hub in 2016; as the name implies it is a centre where women who cycle can meet, share news and buy or repair their bicycles. To fulfil legal requirements the business had to be seen to be run by a man, for men and the 'centre' for women operates from a van. Female peddle power is not straightforward: visit their surreal website spokeshub.co for confirmation. Our century sees cultures elide at the press of a keypad, yet the patriarchal judgements that beset Olympe de Gouges continue to determine the lives of so many women and men, unable to live freely in their world.


On the first day of October a man beset by who knows what demons or delusions, and bereft of the most basic sympathy for others, armed himself to the teeth with the weaponry so freely available in the U.S. and randomly killed and injured vast numbers of his fellow citizens in Las Vegas. They were of all ages, all backgrounds, all races; they shared a common humanity seemingly unavailable to their attacker. Stephen Paddock, aged 64, had no apparent motive; his state of mind will remain a mystery as he killed himself in the aftermath of the attack. Another mystery is the U.S.'s inability or unwillingness to curb firearm sales to private individuals. Violence, as de Gouges attested, is easily aroused but once unleashed, is nigh impossible to contain.


A Muslim feminist, Seyran Ates, imam at the Ibn Rushid-Goethe mosque in Berlin believes we should adhere more sincerely to 'liberty, equality and fraternity' in order to combat the terrorists who attack in the name of ISIS. Curtailing our laws on human rights and civic liberty legislation will destroy the very fabric of the societies we are trying to protect. For her outspoken liberal views Seyran Ates has been attacked, forced into hiding and is unable to travel freely. Enlightenment values ended feudalism in France in the 1790s but liberty, equality and fraternity were, and still are, too often in short supply. In certain circles it is as hard for liberal women to speak out as it was in 1793. To read more about Seyran Ates visit www.stopextremism.eu.


A. C. Grayling writing in the New European (September 7 – 13) argues for voting to be compulsory because '…not voting at all, not being bothered to give the matter some thought and to go out to a polling station, is frankly to be condemned, given it took centuries and much bloodshed to get, and is therefore no trifling possession. Disenfranchising oneself is a sin that should be a crime.’  Many years ago I mentioned, in the presence of an older woman, that I wasn't going to vote. Like a gorgon she rose up: her mother's best friend had died so that I could vote, how dare I be so disrespectful of this precious right. It was a profound and never to be forgotten lesson. De Gouges wanted women in government: women in France had to wait until the end of WW2 before they were entitled to vote; in 1945 thirty-three women were elected as deputies for the first time.


In Bradford, Yorkshire, an exhibition was held to celebrate Musine Kokalari, an Albanian writer imprisoned and brutalised for 16 years for supporting free speech. She was exiled and died in 1983 from a cancer that the state refused to treat. I was grateful to discover this brave and intelligent woman: http:musinekokalari.org.


Two men of big egos and small minds are bestriding their countries, shouting expletives at each other across the globe. They have the power to destroy much that most people hold dear. They both have nuclear arms in their arsenals. Weapons develop: may mankind's intelligence keep pace.


Catalonian independence: and expression of liberty, equality and fraternity? The first is the right, challenged by the Spanish government, of the Catalans to vote on their desire to secede from Spain; the second is their sense of inequality vis-a-vis the rest of the kingdom; the third is the impact on fraternity when nations fragment into ever smaller independent regions. Excessive regionalism can close minds and exclude others, it is not often a nuanced approach to life.


In Myanmar an iconic female leader, viewed as progressive and a winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is unable (or unwilling?)  to protect her Muslim Rohingya people from the grossest persecution at the hands of their mainly Buddhist fellow citizens. Apparently the latter believe the former to be barely human. Does our disappointment come from loading Aung San Suu Kyi with too may of our own expectations? In our need for a hero have we disregarded the complexities of her situation and the ramifications of Burmese culture?  A peace laureate accused of ethnic cleansing is an uncomfortable reminder that persecution of 'the other' remains one of humanities unresolved problem. 


I feel that de Gouges would view with some irony the fact that the Catholic church canonised 35 new saints this month, 33 of whom lived in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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











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.