Charlotte Corday

Jael vs. Charlotte Corday: History’s Heroines or Villainesses?

The Bible’s Jael and French Revolution’s Charlotte Corday committing murder has to gone down with some of the most controversial moves in history.  It’s hard to say if they did the right thing . To understand why they did what they did, we need to look at the overall picture.

Jael

"Jael" by Spillberg

“Jael” by Spillberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barak wanted Deborah to go with him and his troops to face Canaanite army led by Sisera. Deborah agreed and told him, “The Lord shall sell Sisera in the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9).

When Jael saw Siseria approaching, she acted as a friendly hostess. She welcomed him in her tent, gave him milk and blanket, and made sure he’s not disturbed. Then she “took a hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died” (Judges 4:21).

Tissot_Jael_Smote_Sisera,_and_Slew_Him

“Jael Smote Sisera and Slew Him” by Tissot

"Jael Shows to Barak Sisera Lying Dead" by Tissot

“Jael Shows to Barak Sisera Lying Dead” by Tissot

She went out to meet Barak who was no doubt graetful. Thanks to Jael, Israel gained momentum in fighting Canaan.  “God subdued on that day Jabin king of Canaan before the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan” (Judges 4:23-24).

What a wonderful and victorious ending. She killed a key captain making way for Israel to eventually kill the king.

Deborah praised Jael: “Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent” (Judges 5:2)

"Deborah Praises Jael" by Gustave Dores

“Deborah Praises Jael” by Gustave Dores

 

Charlotte Corday

Charlotte Corday

“Charlotte Corday” From Evert A. Duykinck’s “A Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America, with Biographies.”

 

During the French Revolution, a twenty-four-year old gave herself a mission. She planned to kill Jean-Paul Marat.

Charlotte Corday lived in in Normandy. She sympathized with the Girondists, a political group moderates—who were not for an absolute monarchy but didn’t like where the revolution was going. She, like other Girondists, were disgusted with the politics of the Jacobins, members of a radical political club, who used terror and violence to wipe out their opponents in the Reign of Terror such as the nobles and Girondists. Jean-Paul Marat, propaganda journalist and one of the Jacobin leaders, played a big role in that and most notably in the mass killings in Paris in 1792 which became known as the September Massacres. That event and the threat of civil war motivated Charlotte to take action and take out such a threat.

Going for the Most Venerable Leader

Without telling her plans to anyone, Charlotte traveled from Normandy to Paris with the intent to kill Marat. As mentioned before, Marat was a leader of the Jacobins, but he wasn’t the head leader.  Maximillian de Robespierre led the Reign of Terror. It’s been argued if she had to kill someone, it should have been Robespierre. That would have been like going for a king which actually would have made her mission impossible. Like Jael, Charlotte was going to wipe out a captain-figure not a type of king.

You could say both Charlotte and Jael used unorthodox weapons that usually served for every day use. Jael used a hammer and stake, and Charlotte used a six-inch blade kitchen knife she bought when she got to Paris .

Charlotte planned to kill Marat in front of the National Convention.  Due to illnesses, he was unable to make public appearances. He had developed a skin disorder probably from hiding in sewers. Charlotte found out he was staying with his wife Simone.  The first two times Charlotte went to the apartment, Simone turned her away. Charlotte claimed to have a list of Girondists that were plotting an uprising. On her third attempt, Marat wanted to speak with her.

Charlotte Corday et Marat by Jules Aviat 1880

Charlotte Corday et Marat by Jules Aviat 1880

L'Assassinat de Marat by Jean-Joseph Weerts

L’Assassinat de Marat by Jean-Joseph Weerts

Marat’s skin condition was so serious he did his work from the bathtub. As he wrote down the names, he was unaware that he was in such a vulnerable state. Charlotte stabbed him in the chest. He yelled to Simonne, and then he died. This was followed by a huge uproar and the arrest of Charlotte Corday on July 13, 1793.

Triumph?

Charlotte didn’t meet the same triumph as Jael. When Charlotte was tried, she was asked why she killed Marat.  She said she did it to save thousands. This answer had reflected Robespierre’s reaction to executing Louis XVI. Four days after killing Marat, Charlotte’s head went on the scaffold.

Did Charlotte Corday fail in her mission? It’s hard to say. She didn’t get the immediate praise Jael got for killing, but she made an immediate impact. One witness at her execution named Pierre Notelet said, “Her beautiful face was so calm, that one would have said she was a statue. Behind her, young girls held each other’s hands as they danced. For eight days I was in love with Charlotte Corday.”

"Charlotte Corday" by Jean-Jacques Hauer. This portrait was done in prison at her request.

“Charlotte Corday” by Jean-Jacques Hauer. This portrait was done in prison at her request.

Adam Lux, another witness, was so impressed with Charlotte Corday, he published pamphlets that deemed Charlotte’s actions justified and for freedom. He was also executed. I believe this shows that people got thinking who the actual enemy of was. It wasn’t pro-monarchs or true republicans. Those in power during the Reign of Terror didn’t have the French citizens’ best interests in mind. They were dictators who used sources, like the press, to deceive and threaten the people. There were those like Charlotte Corday who called them out.  A year after Charlotte’s death, those who corrupted the government also had a date with Madame Guillotine, including Robespierre.

Charlotte Corday went on to influence others with her patriotic zeal. Writer Alphonse de Lamartine nicknamed her the “angel of assassination” in his 1847 book Histoire des Girondins.

In 1860, France was on the road to a republic that Charlotte had desired. The Jacques-Louis David’s 1793 painting portraying Marat as a martyr that the Jacobins used as propaganda was literally painted at a different angle. In Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudr’s 1860 painting, Corday is portrayed as the heroine.

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“Death of Marat” 1793by Jaques-Louis David. Here Marat is portrayed as martyr.

 

640px-Charlotte_Corday by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry (2)

“Charlotte Codray” 1860 by Paul-Jaques-Aime Badry. Now, Charlotte is seen as the hero.

 

The Verdict

Did Jael do the right thing? Was Charlotte’s act justifiable?
I have studied the biblical text more and the Reign of Terror closer in order to come to a verdict. I’ve also considered the circumstances of war in their cases. I will not be a judge in the final judgement, but I’ve made my personal conclusions,
Jael: By killing the captain of the opposing army, Israel was able to win the battle and the war. She protected a nation by weakening the enemy. Verdict: Not guilty. Heroine.
Charlotte: Murdering a journalist responsible for massacres. It looked like she lost the battle, but her sacrifice was a necessary loss to win the war in finding freedom. She identified France’s true enemies. Verdict: Not guilty. Heroine.

Do you agree with my verdicts?  The situations are in gray areas. I see these two women acting for their great good their country. One lived to see victorious results, and the other died before she could witness the enemies’ downfalls.

Helpful information from
The Bible
wikipedia.com
alstewart.com 

 Images from
http://madameguillotine.org.uk
http://commons.wikimedia.org/

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Poet Profile: Princess Marie-Therese of France

Marie-Therese did not like to think of the time she spent in the cell and would not like to be remembered for being a prisoner in it for so long. Hopefully, she wouldn’t mind being regarded as an example on how to deal with loneliness and painful circumstances.

In an earlier article, I wrote about her aunt Elisabeth helping her find ways to cope and what to do when she was completely alone. Her aunt advised her to keep quiet around guards, When Marie-Therese was alone and needed to voice her frustrations, she turned to writing. Writing was a means of survival. She called herself “the most unhappy creature in the world.” No matter how depressing her writings, writing kept her from going totally insane.

Reading Treasures: A Retreat for Everything Marie Antoinette  included a translation of some of Marie-Therese’s poetry in their post called  “I was your king’s daughter:the poetry of Marie Therese Charlotte in captivity” Her poem “I Was Your King’s Daughter” was found in a book kept by  family of Madeleine Bocquet-Chanterenne. The translation in English reads:

I was your king’s daughter
separated from all my family.
I languish in this sad jail
Alas! I say with good reason
Even though I am alone and sad
My jail would appear happy to me
If I was in this place with my brother.
To my mother, to the Conciergerie
I asked to be reunited
But as an answer, my jailers
Say: this has nothing to do with us.
Spread your blessings on her,
God! Open promptly your jail.
A short time ago, at night
I was sleeping peacefully in my bed.
I got suddenly woken up
By the enraged noise of my locks.
They were coming to my door, they were knocking.
I replied immediately: who is there?
I was asked to open up, I replied:
I am getting up and leaving my bed.
I was hoping that I would get out,
I was expecting to leave the tower.
I go to the door, I finally open it!
They come in with my jailer
I look at them, hoping they would ask me
to follow them and come.
But alas! They stare at me
And suddenly without saying a word, they go out with my jailer.
This poem makes me want to go back in time and say to the teenager that she’ll make it out alive. It was a horrible ordeal but she kept fighting.
This poem also shows it’s important for schools to let their students write poetry. I taught a little English class after school. There was so much material that needed to be covered, I didn’t think about poetry that much. After the last day (when the students actually wrote a poem), I regretted that I hadn’t incorporated  more poetry into the lessons.  Writing poetry wasn’t an academic requirement but I think it would have helped the children more with problems outside of school.
Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France (1778-1851) by Heinrich Fuger 
800px-Salem_witch2 by Joseph Baker

“Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History”—What Does That Mean?

Laurel Ulrich was perplexed that she couldn’t find much information about Puritan women. As a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, she was writing a seminar and then an article on early American women. She wanted to let people know that there were other women instead of just the witches. In her article, she wanted to stress that we need to pay attention to the invisible women and wrote “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

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She wrote that in 1976. Nearly twenty years later, a journalist called her up and asked if she could use that quote. Ulrich said yes and soon got asked by others if they could to print that phrase on t-shirts. “Sure! Send me a t-shirt,” Ulrich replied. It was then that the phrase turned into a slogan and phenomenon. It’s been seen on bumper stickers, quilts, coffee mugs, and used by organizations. (Sometimes without her permission.) People interpreted it a variety of ways, and it was used quite differently than she intended. However, she took an interest in the different views of the phrase and saw why people used it the way they did.

So Ulrich decided to write a book called Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History which explores why some women are remembered and why some are not, how they’re remembered, what has been done for them to be remembered, and what we can do. The book centers around three feminist writers—Christine de Pizan of France who lived in the fifteenth century, American Elizabeth Cady Stanton who lived in the nineteenth century, and Virginia Woolf of England who lived in the twentieth century. Though these three women lived in different time periods and places, they were concerned with the way women were viewed. Ulrich reflects on their lives while branching out to many other women who made a mark on history. I learned about women I hadn’t heard of and new information on subjects I already knew about it.

For example, I knew about Rosa Parks, but didn’t know there were other women before her who refused to give up their seat on the bus, but a journalist decided that she was the best candidate. Since she came from a conservative background, her actions would make a bigger impact.  Lots of times it’s the way people are presented that help them make history. Ulrich points out that it depends on what you mean by “well-behaved.”

Some daring women were almost not remembered—it took years and multiple efforts to publish an early biography of Harriet Tubman. How many other women need biographies? There are just so many women that are waiting for their stories to be told! At an authors’ conference discussing her book, Ulrich said “History is a dialogue between present and past….What we bring to it is our questions and our concerns. If some women are invisible in history it’s because for some reason that link between the present and past has been broken.”

It’s interesting to note that Ulrich doesn’t really discuss royalty—and that is actually quite refreshing! Ulrich uses a huge spectrum of women. From Joan of Arc being a controversial figure to Mormon polygamist wives who were career women and to the extreme 1970s to milkmaids’ contributions to society and back to us in modern times, your eyes will be opened and you will want to get out there and discover stories—including family stories. The importance of writing your own personal history also stands out.

Ulrich succeeded in writing as she put it a “feel good book.” (It’s already being used as a  future reference for this writer!) Her last chapter is powerful. It includes another woman, Jill Portugal, who owns a small t-shirt business. Her t-shirts say things like, “Ignore Celebrities” and “Anti-Porn Star.” Though she’s up against an industry that makes billions, her motto is brilliant: “Taking over the world one shirt at a time.”

Ulrich says, “If well-behaved women seldom make history, it is not only because gender norms have constrained the range of female activity but because history hasn’t been very good at capturing the lives of those whose contributions have been local and domestic.”

The last statement Ulrich makes has three valid points about how people can make history—the last being the most important. “Well-behaved women make history when they do the unexpected, when they create and preserve records, and when later generations care.”

823px-Unknown_maker,_French_-_Woman_Reading_to_a_Girl_-_Google_Art_Project

 

Pictures: Salem Witch by Joseph E. Baker, A Fair Puritan by E. Percy Moran,  and photograph of woman and child reading taken by unknown photographer

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The Aunt Who Saved Her Niece : Princess Elisabeth of France

French Revolution. What comes to mind?
Madam Guillotine,  Marie Antoinette, and sink me–The Scarlet Pimpernal. The 1982 film adaption of the book made me laugh so hard. I was also in awe. Did such heroes exist?

There were those who smuggled nobles into other countries. The films shows that Marie-Antoinette and Louis’s son survived and was taken from their prison to a safer place.

Wrong.

The sole survivor was the king and queen’s daughter, Marie-Therese. who clung on to some hope that maybe her brother and mother who were taken away had survived.

I can’t believed I went on for years not knowing about her–or her aunt Elisabeth, the king’s sister.  Elisabeth made sacrifice after sacrifice for the royal family–refusing to marry or take other available routes that would take her out of the country. She endured violent attacks with them and even posed as the queen to buy her sister-in-law more time during one ambush. It’s little wonder that Marie-Antoinette and Louis counseled their children to listen to their aunt.

All too soon the royal family was taken to the Temple Tower. They endured unfair trials and living conditions grew worse.  the king was executed and little Louis was taken to a separate cell. Marie-Antoinette was taken away and also executed, but Elisabeth and Marie-Therese only knew the king’s fate. However, I believe Elisabeth knew her sister-in-law was dead and had a strong feeling her nephew was slowly dying. Marie-Therese had the best chance of surviving.

The Heroic Aunt

The heroic aunt. Elisabeth de France by Vigee-Lebrun.

 
When it was just Elisabeth and Marie-Therese in the cell, Elisabeth comforted her niece. She was an example of piety and
Marie-Therese later said much of her survival was due to prayer. Elisabeth showed and advised her niece on how to groom herself, keep the cell as clean as possible, and how to handle the guards. It was just a matter of time before Elisabeth was taken away and was prepared to die a martyr. Marie-Therese would not find out what happened to her aunt, mother, and brother till much later. The information that her aunt watched around twenty-five nobles executed before her and was purposely saved for last would be withheld.

Marie-Therese was eventually freed and taken to Vienna in 1795 for safety.

The sole survivor. Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France by Heinrich Furger.

The sole survivor. Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France by Heinrich Furger.

She would go on to help royal refugees and raise troops against Napoleon dubbed her the “only man in the family.” She worked hard to preserve the memory of her family. The following comment about her aunt needs to be remembered.”I feel I have her nature . . . [she] considered me and cared for me as her daughter, and I, I honored her as a second mother.”
I hope I have some of Princess Elisabeth in me. Her story sticks out to me. In times of tough decisions, I have thought of my growing niece and my desire to be a good example. The thought points me in the right direction. I love my nieces and nephew. I’m honored when my brothers and their wives let me watch over their kids. Princess Elisabeth is a wonderful role model.  Her story is inspiring because it can make us think of ways we can be more loving toward our families.

 

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Poet Profile: Rachel Bluwstein

Rachel Bluwstein was born on September 20, 1890 in Russia. She lived in Ukraine, Palestine, France, and Israel. She was a Zionist pioneer and a Renaissance woman of sorts. She drew, painted, worked in agriculture, taught school, and is remembered for her lyrical, yet right-to-the-point poetry.

With with friend, Avraham Cahanowitz

With friend, Avraham Cahanowitz

For thousands of years, Hebrew poetry was dominated by males. The last known Hebrew woman poet was Deborah, a judge in ancient Israel.  Due to illness, Rachel lived in isolation toward the end of her life. She kept some correspondence and saw people here and there, but for the most part felt very lonely.  She died in 1931 at age 40 and is considered the “founding mother” of Hebrew poetry written by women. Many of her poems have been set to songs.  Her Michal poem will be in my book:

“Michal”

“And Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David

And she despised him in her heart”

Michal, distant sister, time’s thread has not been severed,

time’s thorns in your sad vineyard have not prevailed.

Still in my ear I hear the tinkling of your gold anklet,

the stripes in your silk garment have not paled.

Often I have seen you standing by your small window

pride and tenderness mingling in your eyes.

Like you I am sad, O Michal, distant sister, and like you doomed to

love a man whom I despise.

(1927, Israel. Translated by Robert Friend; taken from her book Flowers of Perhaps.)

 

It’s somewhat poetic justice that Rachel the Poetess, the founding mother of modern Israeli poetry, identified with the woman who married the sweet psalmist of Israel.

What do you think of that, David?

 

Photos gathered by deror_avi on wiki commons

 

Phillis Wheatley

Poet Profile: Phillis Wheatley

 April is a very busy month with unique happenings and such! April is also National Poetry Month. I think it is very appropriate to post something about one of our nation’s first female published poets.

 

Phillis Wheatley grew up a slave but soon became treated like a member of the Wheatley household. It became evident that she was intelligent and had a great knack for learning and craved freedom.

She began writing poetry at twelve. She did write a poem praising King George III, but as time went on, she became involved in the American cause and wrote poetry praising General George Washington instead. The general made a point to meet her and looked forward to know someone “so favored by the muses.”  Her patriotic poetry proved to be great morale and became an advocate for freedom.

“God has implanted a Principle which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.”

Remember The Ladies