Séverine (1855–1929)

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Séverine (1855–1929)

French writer and lecturer, in her time the most famous female journalist in the world, who was the first French woman to run a newspaper and to earn a living as a regularly featured columnist in major newspapers. Name variations: Caroline Rémy or Remy; Caroline Rémy Guebhard; Mme. Adrien Guebhard or Guébhard; Severine. Pronunciation: say-VREEN. Born Caroline Rémy on April 27, 1855, in Paris, France; died at Pierrefonds (Oise) of uremia on April 24, 1929, and was buried there in the village cemetery; daughter of Marie-Joseph-Onésime Rémy (a civil servant) and Mlle Villiaume-Geniès; educated at home and at the Biré (Neuilly) and Bessières (Paris) boarding schools; married Antoine-Henri Montrobert in 1871 (divorced c. 1885); married Dr. Adrien Guebhard, in 1885 (died 1924); children: (first marriage) two sons, Louis-Georges-Auguste Montrobert (b. 1872); (with Guebhard) Roland Guebhard (1880–1926).

Fled Paris with her parents during the Commune and married to escape from home (1871); had a son with Adrien Guebhard and met Jules Vallès (1880); tried to commit suicide (1881); launched Le Cri du Peuple with Vallès and began to write (1883); married Guebhard (1885); directed Le Cri du Peuple (1885–88); descended into a mine to report on a disaster (1890); interviewed Pope Leo XIII (1892); raised money for unfortunates (1894–96); came under severe personal attack during the Lebaudy Affair (1896); covered the Dreyfus Affair for La Fronde (1898–99); became converted to political rights for women (1900); was especially active in peace and women's causes (1912–14); advocated a negotiated peace (1916–18); spoke in honor of the Russian Revolution (1917); spoke at a women's reception for President Wilson, and joined l'Humanité (1919); joined and then left the Communist Party (1921–23); gave her last speech, at arally protesting death sentences for Sacco and Vanzetti (1927); published her last article (1929).

Writings (collected articles published in Paris unless otherwise noted):

Pages rouges (H. Simonis Empris, 1893); Notes d'une frondeuse (H. Simonis Empris, 1894); Pages mystiques (H. Simonis Empris, 1895); En marche (H. Simonis Empris, 1896); Affaire Dreyfus—Vers la lumière—Impressions vécues (P.-V. Stock, 1900); Sainte-Hélène, pièce en deux actes, en prose (V. Giard & E. Brière, 1904), a two-act play; Sac-à-Tout (1906), a children's story; with Ferdinand Buisson, Victor Bérard, and Paul Painlevé, Pour l'Arménie indépendente (Ligue des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen, 1920); Line, 1855–1867 (G. Crès, 1921), an autobiography of her childhood; with Comtesse de Noailles, J.-G. Frazer, and Paul-Louis Couchoud, Quatre Témoignages sur Anatole France (La Charitésur-Loire: A. Delayance, 1924); Choix du papiers, annotés par Évelyne Le Garrec (Éditions Tierce, 1982).

Selected important collaborations:

Le Cri du Peuple (1883–88); Le Gaulois (1888–92, 1897); Le Gil Blas (1888–92); Le Figaro (1890–94, 1895); l'Éclair (1890–93, 1894–1901); La Presse (1890–91); Le Journal (1892–1901); l'Écho de Paris (1892–96); Le Matin (1892–94); La Libre Parole (1893–96); La Fronde (1897–1901); Le Figaro (1901–03); Le Gil Blas (1903–05, 1911–14); Le Petit Parisien (1906–07); l'Intransigeant (1909–14); l'Oeuvre (1909–11); Le Matin (1911–14?); Excelsior (1912–13); Le Bonnet Rouge (1913–14); Le Journal (1914–15); La Guerre Sociale (1915); La Victoire (1916); La Vie Féminine (1916–19); Le Journal du Peuple (1917–22); La Verité (1917–18); Le Populaire du Centre (1917); l'Humanité (1919–22); Le Journal du Peuple (1917–22); l'Humanité (1919–22); La France de Nice (?–?); Le Petit Provençal (?–?); l'Ére Nouvelle (1922–25); Paris-Soir (1923–?); La Volonté (1925–28); La Fronde (1926–27); Le Cri des Peuples (1928–29).

Jean Lorraine snidely dubbed her "Our Lady of the Tear in the Eye." And a fellow journalist who disliked her once mockingly (but not inaptly) caricatured her approach to their profession: "Séverine is always for the unfortunates against society, for the washouts against the winners, for the thieves against the policeman, for the cat against the naughty children, for the mice against the cat, for the crumb of bread against the mice." Indeed, heart-wrenching descriptions of misery and moving denunciations of injustice were core staples of the fare she served up to her readers in the more than 6,000 articles she wrote over a span of 46 years. She was no mere "sob sister," however; her utter sincerity, fiery courage, high intelligence, and formidable writing skill won her an uncontested right to be numbered among the greatest journalists of her time. Moreover, she attained a place no woman before her had reached in the thoroughly suffocating, masculine world of la grande presse.

Suffocation was the leitmotif of Caroline Rémy's childhood and youth until she providentially met the revolutionary socialist journalist and novelist Jules Vallès (1832–1885). Nothing in her early life would have predicted her destiny. She was born on April 27, 1855, in Paris. Her father, Marie-Joseph-Onésime Rémy (1819–1881), from Lorraine, made a modest career in the Paris Prefecture of Police as chief of the bureau overseeing wet-nurses and then as inspector of insane asylums. Honest and hardworking, he and his wife, formerly Mlle Villiaume-Geniès (1822–1913), from a well-regarded Parisian family, were archetypical specimens of Victorian respectability. They had no fortunes to fall back upon and thus were captives of the status conferred by a position in Napoleon III's bureaucracy. Late in life, Caroline, their only child, described them in her autobiographical novel, Line (1855–1867), as "wellbeloved jailers"; she felt herself to be "made of their flesh" but not "of their race."

Not until her mature years did she appreciate her parents' plight, remembering especially how hard her father worked and understanding how strong were the forces binding them to a monotonous routine of work and professional social obligations. They loved her, no doubt, but it was her maternal grandmother (d. 1867) and a peasant nurse who brought light into a tightly disciplined life bereft of siblings or playmates. Of her grandmother, she wrote, "She taught me … kindness. She had it in the blood toward people, toward animals, toward plants, toward everything which suffering can touch … toward the wicked." That lesson reached deep into her soul.

Caroline learned to read even before being sent at age eight to the Biré boarding school in Neuilly. She spent two dull years there, followed by even more dreary years at the Bessières school in Paris. She received a sound education in geography, arithmetic, Latin, classical French literature, Victor Hugo (whom she worshipped), and sewing, while secretly devouring the latest works. The theater, her parents' sole diversion, led her to dream of an acting career. Her father quashed it: "I would prefer to see you dead!" He gave her two choices, virtually the only ones available to respectable young ladies outside the walls of a convent, namely, schoolteaching or marriage. The classroom

spelled monotony. Then, to her parents' mortification, in 1870 she compromised the second choice by secretly writing love letters to a boy. They packed her off to a penitentiary convent but released her when they discovered she had written the letters for a cousin. Presently, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) effectively ended her girlhood.

During the siege of Paris (September 1870–January 1871), she rolled bandages and cared for the wounded. She never forgot the sight of a student near her on the street whose brains splashed onto his briefcase when he was struck by a shell fragment. Her experiences left her with a permanent revulsion against war. The revolt of the Paris Commune (March–May 1871) impressed her also, for when her family fled the city she found the Communard fighters at the gates to be brave, good-natured fellows, not the monsters of murder and lust imagined by her parents.

The year 1871 dealt her one final shock: marriage. Sixteen and desperate to escape, she agreed two months after their introduction to marry a charming gas company employee in his late 20s, Antoine-Henri Montrobert. Her wedding night, October 26, was a disaster, in effect a rape of a pitifully naïve girl. Montrobert revealed himself as a hypercritical bully who treated her (as the law allowed him to do) as his property. Nine months later, on July 28, 1872, she had a son, Louis-Georges-Auguste Montrobert. She gave him to a nurse, returned to her parents, and obtained a separation which granted Montrobert custody of their child.

I shall remain, according to the verse of the poet, "The voice which says Misery! the mouth which says No!"


Forced now to earn a living, for six years she gave piano lessons and did embroidery while sometimes acting in amateur productions. In 1878, she became a reader-companion to a Madame Guebhard in Neuilly, where she met her son, Adrien (1849–1924), later a distinguished archaeologist and anthropologist. Love blossomed. To avoid publicity, in late 1879 or early 1880 she went to Brussels with the Guebhards to bear a son, Roland. While there, she met Jules Vallès, a Communard now in exile, at the home of her physician, a Dr. Sénerie. She was not impressed, but Vallès was.

In 1880, the exiled Communards were granted amnesty. Vallès returned to Paris and in late October called on Caroline to ask her to act in a charity benefit. She complied and then, becoming fascinated with this famous rebel, novelist, and journalist, agreed to become his apprentice. Her parents, appalled, forbade it. Desperate, she tried to commit suicide by shooting herself in the chest. To Vallès, she wrote, "I die of what makes you live: revolt and hatred…. I die from having been but a woman while there burns in me a virile and ardent ideal [pensée]." Miraculously, she recovered in two months. If she had subconsciously intended to extort her parents' consent, she succeeded. (Her father died later that year.) Her direction in life set, she advanced from Vallès' apprentice to editorial assistant to collaborator. Gossip to the contrary, she was his worshipful disciple, not his mistress.

On October 28, 1883, the first issue of Le Cri du Peuple rolled out, principally financed by Adrien Guebhard. A month later, on November 23, Caroline's first article appeared, signed "Séverin"; but on December 15 she adopted the feminine form, "Séverine." She began her first weekly column on February 15, 1884, devoting it to arts and letters, a staple for the rest of her career. Writes Claude Bellanger, the Cri was "the first of the socialist dailies to acquire an important audience in the working world." Vallès opened his paper to all shades of socialist opinion. Séverine warmly embraced his eclectic, tolerant approach. A socialist she was and would remain, but she had no truck with technical social analysis, historical exposition, or the exegesis of dogma popular among the rising Marxists. Rather, factual descriptions of real people and situations comprised the bedrock for any generalizations she chose to erect. Nor did she theorize about the future; the Revolution, when it destroys the bourgeois fortress, will usher in the reign of equality and justice. In the meantime, expose inequality and injustice and work to eradicate them: that is task enough.

Séverine and Adrien nursed Vallès, a tubercular diabetic, during his last year. At his death (February 14, 1885), he left her in charge of the Cri and with the text of an unfinished novel, l'Insurgé (1886), which she prepared for publication. Vallès' influence on her can hardly be overstated. She confessed she habitually asked herself, "What would Vallès have done or thought?" A year after his death, she wrote: "He was certainly, indeed, the tutor of my mind, the creator of conviction. The little I know, the little I want, it is to him I owe it. He drew me out of the mud of the bourgeoisie, he took the trouble to fashion and to mold my soul in his own image, he made the sort of doll that I was into a sincere and simple creature, he gave me a heart of a citizenness and the brain of a citizen" (Le Cri du Peuple, February 15, 1886).

Séverine was now the first French woman—possibly the world's first—to direct an important newspaper. Vallès had taught her journalism, and she loved it, finding it a "peculiar malady" in which the roar of the rotary presses becomes "the most beautiful music" and the smell of printer's ink a "perfume" beyond compare. Problems with the staff and a public airing of her personal life, however, finally led her to resign after three years (August 29, 1888). She tired of trying to conciliate all brands of socialism in the face of the Marxist faction led by their "pope," Jules Guesde (1854–1922). Her sympathy toward the anarchists, whose notoriety peaked between the mid-'80s and mid-'90s, particularly offended them, as did the presence of Georges de Labruyère (b. Poidebard) on the staff.

After passage of the divorce law in 1884, Séverine had divorced Montrobert and on December 2, 1885, married Adrien Guebhard, now a research professor on the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris. But soon thereafter she hired Labruyère away from l'Echo de Paris to enliven her paper. The same age as she, a good journalist and popular novelist, and by contemporary accounts "a strapping blade," he had a murky past, having been a soldier who reportedly abandoned a wife and three children, and was rumored to be an informant for the Sûreté Générale. They began a liaison which lasted until his death in 1920. Meanwhile, by 1888, she separated from Adrien, who went off to study geology in the Alps but still sent her 500 francs a month. They corresponded regularly, especially because of their son, whose custody he retained.

Meanwhile, Guesde's faction withdrew from the Cri in 1887 to found a short-lived rival, La Voie du Peuple. They denounced Labruyère as a police spy and tarred Séverine by repeating steamy details of their affair which had first appeared in l'Echo de Paris. She refused to cave in. Still, the struggle at the Cri took its toll.

By the time she resigned, she had begun earning extra money by writing for Le Gaulois (as "Renée") and Le Gil Blas (as "Jacqueline"), fashionable major papers whose directors coveted her talents. From 1888 until 1900, Séverine was at the peak of her popularity and earning power, "a unique figure in the annals of the French press," writes André Billy. She contributed weekly columns to a number of major papers, usually several at once (seven in 1892, six in 1893–94), with an original for each, and sometimes contracted for special assignments with other papers. This immense labor paid her 3–4,000 francs a month, five times the pay of members of Parliament. She leased a fine apartment, supported her mother (to 1913) and, not infrequently, Labruyère, and bought a mansion ("Les Trois Marches") on the outskirts of Pierrefonds near the forest of Compiègne, a residence which Marguerite Durand later would purchase from her heirs and convert for a time into a retreat for women journalists.

Séverine would write for any paper, whatever its coloration, providing she could choose her subjects and freely express her opinions. Vallès, she said, had taught her the merit of preaching to the world at large, not just to the converted. Such was her talent and reputation that publishers were willing to suffer her anarchist-tinged socialism in order to have her on board. This mutual forbearance explains why she appeared not just in left-wing papers but in the royalist Le Gaulois, conservative society papers like Le Figaro, mass-circulation giants like Le Journal or l'Echo de Paris, and Édouard Drumont's rabidly anti-Semitic La Libre Parole. Her subjects were as diverse as her outlets, although she infused them all with a reforming message, even when writing literary or art criticism. She would never let her readers forget: "Each paving stone of our streets is a heart of a wretch over whom passes—spirited, pretty, dressed up—the retinue of the rich." She wrote against the exploitation of children, the abuse of women, and (to a scandalized public) in favor of a right to abortion; against vivisection, cruelty to animals, and blood-sports (especially bullfighting); against the oppression visited on Native Americans, Armenians, Bulgarians, and Algerian Arabs; against maltreatment of soldiers in disease-ridden barracks and transports. Despite critics who accused her of publicity-seeking, in the "Carnet de Séverine," a regular feature from July 1894 to May 1896, she described needy cases and raised huge contributions; female "visitors" checked out the stories, and the funds were carefully controlled. It has been said that, especially because of the "Carnet," she was, save for the actress Sarah Bernhardt , probably the best-known woman in France in the 1890s.

As a reporter, she won notice for her walk through the smoking ruins of the Opéra-Comique in 1887. In 1890, she became the first woman reporter to descend into a mine when she reported on an explosion at St.-Étienne which cost 150 lives; two days later, it exploded again. Her greatest coup came when she, a nonpracticing Catholic, obtained an exclusive interview with Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878–1903) on July 31, 1892 (in Le Figaro, August 4), in which, among other things, she elicited a condemnation of rising anti-Semitism, causing a commotion. Later, on September 28 in Le Journal, she described disguising herself as a worker in a sugar mill to report on the terrible conditions causing a strike. And in May 1897 her visit to the scene of the horrific Charity Bazaar fire, which incinerated over 100 society women, resulted in gruesome depictions which set a standard for realistic reportage.

In politics, she would neither support nor condemn General Georges Boulanger (1837–1891), behind whom gathered a motley protest movement (1886–89), threatening the Third Republic (1870–1940) with populist military rule or a monarchist restoration. Her failure to denounce Boulanger led the Possibilist Socialists at the Cri to resign. (Meanwhile, Labruyère left to help found the Boulangist Le Cocarde, whose title she suggested.) In her opinion, Boulangism was the product of widespread disgust over the politicians' corruption and failure to address social questions, a sentiment she shared. Boulanger, she thought, was a decent fellow, but shallow. When his movement collapsed, she predictably defended him against his persecutors. His suicide on the grave of his mistress struck her not as ridiculously theatrical but as a testimony to love; she dedicated Notes d'une frondeuse (1894) to "The Memory of Two Lovers." It was she, too, who fingered Mermeix (Gustave Téry) as the author of the exposé of Boulangism's inner workings, Les Coulisses de boulangisme (1890).

As for anarchism, she admired the courage and free spirit of its advocates. When bomb-throwing and assassinations ensued, she would not praise these acts directly but wrote of their causes in the vast swamps of desperation-breeding slums which cried out to be eradicated. Amidst the uproar, hers was an unpopular position.

Ultimately, it appears she found herself paying for this stance. Combined with the Max Lebaudy affair and her ongoing involvement with the erratic Labruyère, it caused her to lose contracts; by 1897, she was down to 1,200 francs per month. In 1891, Labruyère had been sentenced to 13 months in prison (overturned on appeal) for aiding, on Séverine's advice, the escape from France of one Alexandref Padlewski, the nihilist assassin of a Russian intelligence paymaster, General Seliverstoff. Later, in 1893, Labruyère fought a duel in defense of Séverine's honor over an article she wrote in 1885. It was the Max Lebaudy affair in 1895–96, however, that caused Séverine the most trouble. She had raised an outcry over protracted sick leaves given by the army to this dissolute heir to a vast sugar fortune. When he suddenly died of typhoid fever on December 24, 1895, criticism rained down on her. She retorted that debauchery on his numerous leaves had fatally undermined his constitution. Then, on January 11, 1896, Labruyère was arrested for allegedly having tried to extort funds from Lebaudy via another journalist. The famed polemicist Henri de Rochefort (1831–1913) rushed to attack Séverine, who maintained that Labruyère had been framed by the journalist in an attempt to bribe him to get her to drop the Lebaudy affair. Rochefort and others dragged her private life through the press again, and again she fought back. Labruyère was acquitted in March 1896 for lack of evidence, but, on April 25, a fatigued Séverine resigned from La Libre Parole, citing doctors' orders.

She continued at l'Eclair and Le Journal until 1901, but her association with Marguerite Durand's La Fronde and the treason case against Captain Alfred Dreyfus occupied center stage. She had known Durand—her first close female friend—since the Boulanger days. Durand needed her for her daring enterprise, the world's first daily entirely written and produced by women. Séverine bargained hard (business was business) but came aboard and appeared in the first issue, December 9, 1897. Coincidentally, the Dreyfus Affair was now exploding after lying dormant since the wealthy Jewish captain's conviction in December 1894. (The Dreyfus Affair began in 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the French army, was convicted of passing military secrets to the Germans. The possibility that Dreyfus had been convicted by army officials who deliberately used falsified evidence created a deep split in the French population. The "Affair," as it came to be known in France, ended with the exoneration of Dreyfus, but not before France had almost come to civil war.)

Séverine was at La Libre Parole in 1894 when it broke the news of the army's arrest of Dreyfus. She disliked "the Jewish Spirit," which she equated with exploitive capitalism and arrogance, and thought Jews often invited persecution, although she deplored violence against them or any minority. Like virtually everyone, she had rejoiced at Dreyfus' conviction. She ignored subsequent attempts to interest her in the case, but the army's rapid trial and acquittal of Major Esterhazy (the real author of the incriminating bordereau) followed by Émile Zola's denunciation of this farce in his letter "J'accuse!" on January 13, 1898, led her to grasp the issues and demand the truth (January 15). Through the main phase of the Affair (1898–99), she was a prominent member of the band of journalists who fought to get Dreyfus a fair retrial. She experienced, as she put it, "the immense ecstacy of confronting the cries for death and the brutal violence of imbeciles." She was threatened with assassination (June 3, 1898) and carried a pistol for defense. Victor Basch, a colleague, described her as "the great comfort of the little Dreyfusard army. She had in the midst of anguish the heroism of the smile."

The Dreyfus Affair was probably her finest hour, for she fought for justice while conquering her own anti-Semitism as she came to appreciate its malignant power even in a nation as enlightened as France. Her articles, many republished in Vers la lumière (1900), remain valuable troves for historians, notably for the Rennes trial (August–September 1899), which convicted Dreyfus again before he was pardoned (September 19) by an embarrassed government.

Séverine's support of Dreyfus, when added to her trouble over anarchism, Lebaudy, and Labruyère, alienated many readers. After 1900, she was much less in vogue than she had been in the 1890s. Probably sensing La Fronde's coming financial failure, she left it in late 1901, although she remained friends with Durand. Her efforts became somewhat scattered; she wrote a play, Sainte-Helène (1904), and a children's story, Sac-à-Tout (1906), and in 1905–08 she seems to have experienced bouts of depression. Still, she was hardly unemployed. From 1900 to the First World War (1914–18), she appeared at one time or another in 29 newspapers and periodicals, including some of the largest, as usual treating all manner of subjects. Also, a series of lectures on the Dreyfus Affair in Brussels in October and November 1899 opened an auxiliary career. She became a fine lecturer and spoke frequently in France, Belgium, and Switzerland on such disparate subjects as Vallès, vivisection, poverty, world peace, the Armenian massacres, women writers, and feminism.

She came to feminism surprisingly late. In 1885 and 1893, she declined calls to run symbolically for Parliament, professing disdain for universal suffrage ("a wormy apple") and politicians: to be a deputy "is to be a zero, a zero that is always suspect and often harmful." Women have a healing and consoling mission, "the power to inspire, but not the creative force." She cherished her utter independence, would join no organizations (save for the League of the Rights of Man and of Citizen, formed during the Affair), and, besides, intensely disliked "unladylike" behavior. It was the Fifth International Congress on the Condition and Rights of Women (1900), organized by Durand, which finally converted her fully to political action and the vote for women, lacking which, she now admitted, their economic and social condition—which she had long deplored—could not be remedied. It was one of her virtues that she never feared admitting an error or changing her mind. In 1912–14, she was a leader in the fight for the vote. In 1912, she went with Hubertine Auclert and Durand and 20 others to the Chamber of Deputies to demand it. On May 20, 1914, in a speech to the National League for the Vote for Women, she proposed a federation of all women's suffrage groups; and on May 26 she chaired a meeting of the French League for the Rights of Women, containing delegates from 18 associations, which passed a resolution creating such a federation. Furthermore, she initiated the Condorcet demonstration in Paris on July 5, 1914, when some 6,000 women marched for the vote, the largest such event in France to date.

Séverine linked feminism to pacifism. She strongly supported the prewar peace movement inspired by Bertha von Suttner . The outbreak of war in 1914 appeared to her an unmitigated tragedy. It also affected her personally, as both her sons served at the front and invasions forced her to abandon Pierrefonds for Sauges (Haut-Loire) in 1914 and Savigny-sur-Orge (Seine-et-Oise) in 1918. Her pacifism relegated her to small, left-wing papers. She railed against the lying propaganda and the rigid, often stupid, censorship which cut swaths through her articles, and wrote of suffering soldiers, civilian heroism, and humanitarian work by women. She spoke, too, making a great address (November 28, 1915) at the Trocadero in honor of the heroic English nurse Edith Cavell , and another at a demonstration on April 1, 1917, hailing the Russian Revolution. From January 1916 until the government shut it down in July 1917, she joined a study group of about 20 intellectuals devoted to ferreting out the truth about the origins and conduct of the war. Through the last two years of the war, she advocated a negotiated peace to save what could be saved and thus was labeled a "defeatist." Her article "Prayer to the Unnamed," i.e., to peace (January 1, 1917, in Le Journal du Peuple), became a fixture in postwar secondary school textbooks. She ardently championed former premier Joseph Caillaux, who sought a negotiated peace but was prosecuted for treasonous communication with the Germans. She also defended fellow pacifists like Charles Rappaport and Lucie Colliard and courageously testified (with Durand) on March 26, 1918, at Hélène Brion 's trial for sedition.

When the war ended, she felt no joy, only relief. At a women's reception for President Woodrow Wilson on January 25, 1919, she spoke in support of his projected League of Nations. Fearing that the war had terribly distorted people's thinking, she ridiculed the rising cult of the Unknown Soldier, charging that it was only sanctifying future butcheries: "Since the people need a religion, they offer a new idol to the fervent." Instead, wounded soldiers, widows, and orphans, victims of a war fought to enrich capitalist profiteers, should be given better treatment.

Revolted by what the capitalist world had wrought, she seized upon the Russian Revolution, currently in its most idealistic phase, as humanity's new hope. In an uncharacteristic act, she joined the Socialist Party (and the staff of l'Humanité) in 1919 and on January 12, 1921, joined the Communist Party when it split from the Socialists. She even wrote (November 5, 1922) that she looked "toward Moscow as one consults the pole star, in order not to deviate from the right path." Two months after this effusion, however, she was excommunicated for refusing Moscow's order to resign from the League of the Rights of Man and of Citizen. "I am not made for discipline," she wrote in 1925, "and all compulsion rouses in me immediate insubordination." Still, she never repudiated the Soviet Union, although she did express regret that it remained a dictatorship.

Through the 1920s, she faithfully reflected mainstream leftist views. She warmly supported the League of Nations, criticized any stern treatment of Germany as likely to plant seeds of war, and deplored the rise of dictatorships in Eastern Europe. Benito Mussolini's movement, which confused so many in the '20s and '30s, deceived her not at all: "Fascism is not only the enemy of our liberties—it is war!" (La Volonté, November 28, 1925).

Her personal life had settled down without losing its unorthodox flavor. Her relations with Labruyère became episodic after the late 1890s and remained stormy. They often lived apart, for he was a difficult man. He died in 1920. The ever-forgiving Adrien then returned to spend his last years with her, dying on May 28, 1924. She admired him—"my best friend"; they simply had different temperaments, she explained. Sadly, their son, Roland, probably embittered by his mother's abandonment of him as a child, sued over the inheritance. He died in 1926, but his widow continued the suit.

Séverine worked until the end. She joined the briefly revived La Fronde in 1926–27, and in 1927 she and Durand had the satisfaction of being the first women invited to the Association of Journalists (la Maison des journalistes), where they spoke. She made her last speech at a huge rally on July 23, 1927, at the Cirque de Paris protesting the impending execution in the United States of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. The ovation for her went on for ten minutes. In 1928, she joined her grandson-in-law Bernard Lacache's new Le Cri des Peuples, which boasted a roster of big names—H.G. Wells, G.B. Shaw, Albert Einstein, Henri Barbusse, and Stefan Zweig. Her last article, decrying King Alexander's establishment of a dictatorship in Yugoslavia, appeared in the Cri on February 10, 1929.

During 1928 her health declined. In February 1929, she began to hemorrhage and suffer from uremia. She rallied in March but died at "Les Trois Marches" on April 24. Her last words were, "Always you must work. Always you must tell the truth." Some 2,000 people, many in official delegations, followed her casket to the Pierrefonds cemetery after civil rites. Her epitaph reads, "I have always struggled for Peace, Justice, and Fraternity." In Paris, a park along the boulevard Mortier in the 20th arrondissement was named for her.

Séverine was an attractive, stylish woman to the end of her life, with reddish-blonde hair—until it suddenly turned prematurely white following a hysterectomy on March 16, 1899—violet blue eyes, dark eyebrows, thick lips, strongly defined features, and a fine figure. Given her upbringing, one can well imagine her remaining the decorative "doll" she described herself as being. Beneath that pleasing exterior, however, brewed a volcano of energy and will. She made her way against all odds in a man's world to the highest reaches of her profession. By chance, she met Jules Vallès. To him, she owed her life, she believed. It is hard to disagree. An anarchist in spirit, he taught her to love independence. She once defined anarchism: "The core of the doctrine is, in a word, to leave to each the independence of his temperament, his character, his judgment." He also taught her to heed the compassion whose first stirrings had been awakened by her grandmother. In temperament, she was sentimental and romantic, a daughter of Victor Hugo and George Sand . Critics complained that her sensibility overrode her reason. She paid them no heed. In 1887, she had stated her credo: "With the poor always, despite their errors, despite their faults, despite their crimes!" For 46 years, through thousands of articles and speeches, she remained true to her vision of her mission: "The voice which says Misery! the mouth which says No!"


Braude, Beatrice. "Séverine: An Ambivalent Feminist," in The Feminist Art Journal. Vol. 2, 1973, pp. 14–15.

——. "Séverine, 'écrivain de combat,'" in Nineteenth Century French Studies. Vol. 4, 1976, pp. 404–412.

Delfau, Mireille. "Séverine journaliste: Une héritière méconnue de la Commune," in Les Écrivains français devant la Guerre de 1870 et devant la Commune: Colloque, novembre 1970. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1972, pp. 164–172.

Le Garrec, Évelyne. Séverine, une rebelle (1855–1929). Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1982.

Offen, Karen. "Séverine," in An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers. Edited by Katherine M. Wilson. NY: Garland, 1991.

Rafferty, Frances. "Madame Séverine (1855–1929)." Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 1974. University Microfilms 75–01866.

——. "Madame Séverine: Crusading Journalist of the Third Republic," in Contemporary French Civilization. Vol. 1, 1977, pp. 185–201.

Séverine. Choix de papiers, annotés par Évelyne Le Garrec. Paris: Éditions Tierce, 1982.

suggested reading:

Bellanger, Claude, et al. Histoire générale de la presse française. 3 vols. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969–72.

Billy, André. Les Écrivains de combat. Paris: Les Oeuvres représentatives, 1935.

——. l'Époque 1900. Paris: J. Tallandier, 1951.

Bonnefon, Jean de. La Corbeille des roses, ou les dames de lettres. Paris: Société d'éditions de Bouville, 1909.

Braude, Beatrice. "Séverine, the Independent." Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1971. University Microfilms 72–5069.

Bredin, Jean-Denis. The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. NY: George Brazillier, 1986.

Brogan, Denis W. The Development of Modern France, 1870–1939. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1967.

Cazes, Albert. "Une Princesse du journalisme: Séverine (1855–1929)," in La Grande Revue. June 1930, pp. 361–385; July 1930, pp. 105–124.

Guerlac, Othon. Trois Apôtres: Drumont, Rochefort, Séverine. Paris: Alcan-Lévy, 1896.

Kleeblatt, Norman L., ed. The Dreyfus Affair: Art, Truth, and Justice. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987.

Lacache, Bernard. Séverine. Paris: Gallimard, 1930.

Lecigne, Chanoine C. Madame Séverine. Arras: Suer-Charruey, 1902.

Néré, Jacques. Le Boulangisme et la presse. Paris: A. Colin, 1964.

Salomon, Michel. Études et portraits littéraires. Paris: Librairie Plon, 1896.

Seager, Frederic H. The Boulanger Affair: Political Crossroads of France, 1886–1889. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969.

Vallès, Jules. Correspondance avec Séverine. Préface et notes de Lucien Scheler. Paris: Les Éditions français réunis, 1972.

Wright, Gordon. France in Modern Times. 4th ed. NY: W.W. Norton, 1987.


In Paris: Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand; microfilms of the newspapers for which she wrote are available through the Association pour la conservation et reproduction photographique de la presse (ACRPP).

David S. Newhall , Professor Emeritus of History, Centre College, author of Clemenceau: A Life at War (Edwin Mellen, 1991)