So, a while ago on the Coode St podcast, Jonathan and Gary wondered what it would be like if you tried to write a history of sf through the female writers. I think this is a most interesting idea, and relates to my desire to find women writing space opera.
Which relates to a book I’ve just finished reading called Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France by Lucy Moore. I was expecting it to be a book essentially looking at six women, all very different, and their experiences in the French Revolution. However, what I got was so much more than that. Alongside the bios – and they were really interesting women, all of them – I got a full history of the Revolution itself, almost entirely from the point of view of women. And the really, really cool thing is that it totally, totally worked.
Women were involved at every level of the Revolution. It was working-class women who marched on the palace in 1789 and scared the king and queen terribly. Women were involved in planning and suggesting policy in the convention’s various incarnations, and getting it passed too, thanks to both direct action on the streets and more indirect action in the various salons. Women were directly impacted, of course, by changes made to the laws – although they were not accorded citizenship rights under the great Declaration – and, perhaps more interestingly, perhaps stereotypically, but nonetheless dramatically, fashion was also of huge importance. Especially in the streets of Paris, what you wore was an immediate sign of your allegiances. In a world where there were laws about how could wear what, having women on the street insisting that everyone wear the revolutionary cockade was pretty influential. As was when aristocratic women, formerly the paragons of incredibly expensive haute couture, wore clothes that wouldn’t look out of place on a sans coulotte.
The women under investigation were Germaine de Stael, Pauline Leon, Theroigne de Mericourt, Theresia de Fontenay, Manon Roland and Juliette Recamier (all names missing accents, since I can’t figure out how to add them in). Leon is perhaps the most interesting, in some ways, because she was the most definitely working-class. I had come across her (and Mme Roland) in Marge Piercy’s City of Darkness, City of Light – daughter of a chocolate maker, active on the streets and probably in violence. Mericourt had probably been a courtesan, and was also immensely visible on the streets. The other four were all basically aristocrats, on various levels and with differing views on politics – what they wanted to get out of politics, and how they went about doing it.
Each chapter is based around one woman, but Moore weaves so skilfully that she keeps the larger story of the Revolution moving, and brings in the narratives of the other women as well. It’s a marvellously well-written book, which I thoroughly enjoyed – even though I was reading it for school! – and it’s now covered in (appropriately pink!!) comments in the margins. Hugely recommended to anyone interested in the French Revolution or women in history more generally.
Live from Aussiecon4, speaking from the entirely unsuburban wasteland of downtown Melbourne, Alisa, Alex and Tansy faced an audience of real people, and managed to keep their chatter to a 50 minute podcast. SHOCK. Some awards news, Worldcon gossip, what we are reading and our pet topic: female heroes in SF & Fantasy. You can download it from here or get it on iTunes.
What have we been reading/listening to?
Alex: Beastly Bride, ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling; Legends of Australian Fantasy, ed. Jonathan Strahan and Jack Dann; Secret Feminist Cabal, Helen Merrick;
Tansy: Shades of Milk & Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal; The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins; Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor
Alisa: Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson.
Pet Subject: Female heroes in SF/F
As ever, please send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or to our Twitter account – @galacticsuburbs. We’d especially love to hear your response to our “live” episode, or your highlights from Aussiecon.
Over the next week we’ll be putting up a series of mini-eps from the convention, including our post-Ditmars round up, our post-Hugos round up, a omg-the-convention-is-over round up, and an interview between Alex and Phil & Kaja Foglio of Girl Genius fame. Was Jake Flinthart correct to accuse her of giggling? Find out!*
On a personal note (stolen from Tansy), thanks to everyone who came to the panel, or talked to us at the con about Galactic Suburbia. We were blown away by how many people have listened to us, bought books we recced, and wanted to say hi. Extra special mention to Celia, who apparently DID have an awesome Worldcon, and to the woman who recognised Alisa & me gossiping in the row behind her at the Hugos, because SHE KNEW WHAT OUR VOICES SOUNDED LIKE.
* the answer is yes