Tinayre, Marguerite (1831–?)

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Tinayre, Marguerite (1831–?)

French educator and political radical who was condemned for her role in the Paris Commune (1871). Name variations: (pseudonym) Jules Paty. Pronunciation: mar-GREET tee-NAIR. Born Marguerite-Victoire Guerrier at Issoire (Puy-de-Dôme) on March 6, 1831, to a middle-class family; date and place of death unknown; married a notary's clerk named Tinayre (died 1871); children: one daughter and four sons, including engraver (Jean-)Julien (1859–1923, who married novelist Marcelle Tinayre), and painter (Jean-Paul-)Louis (b. 1861).

Licensed as an elementary teacher (1856); published two novels (1864–69?); founded the Société des Équitables de Paris (1867); was active in the Commune as a school inspector (1871); was in exile in Switzerland, Saxony, and Hungary as a governess and teacher (1871–79); condemned in absentia to deportation (1874); sentence remitted (1879); back in Paris (1880).

Marguerite-Victoire Guerrier was born on March 6, 1831, to a middle-class family in Issoire (Puy-de-Dôme) in central France. She adopted "advanced" ideas from her youth, doubtless stimulated by the hopes and disappointments of the Revolution of 1848. A good student, in 1856 at Lyons she received an elementary teacher's license. She married a self-effacing notary's clerk, Tinayre (d. 1871), and ran a private school (école libre) in Issoire for a time until they moved to Paris. There she organized private and " protestante" schools in the Paris suburbs of Neuilly, Bondy, Noisy-le-Sec, and Gentilly. Tinayre was reported to be a woman of good morals and "unusual energy and quickness," but a police note also cited her as "giving vent to her reckless imagination and having always professed advanced ideas." She shared these ideas with her brother Antoine-Ambroise Guerrier and a brother-in-law, Jules Babick, "a slightly crazy adherent of the Fusionist religion," writes historian Edith Thomas .

From the latter 1850s through the 1860s, Tinayre had a daughter and four sons. Under the pen name "Jules Paty" she also published two novels, La Marguerite (1864) and Un Rêve de femme (n.d.), turgid tearjerkers which were completely ignored. According to Thomas, La Marguerite was dedicated to George Sand , who had encouraged Tinayre. It contained some good descriptions of Paris poverty and portrayed the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul as angels of mercy—an indication she was not clearly an anticlerical. Her story of peasants from Auvergne and Issoire struggling in Paris ends happily when they return to their villages. Un Rêve de femme (A Womanly Dream), a tragic tale of idealism, adultery, and suicide, forsook Sandian romanticism for realism, "if realism consists in seeking the ideal of art in the sincere imitation of nature," she wrote in her long-winded manner, "particularly if this inquiry into the physical order should lead to the discovery of harmonies and world balances of which religion and morality are merely formulas brought within the scope of a human understanding obscured by ignorance, tainted by passion, or atrophied by poverty." Tinayre revealed herself as a moralist skeptical about current morality and religion. Writes Thomas, she wanted to "put women on their guard against 'their pointless aspirations, their groundless worries,' and to draw their attention to the necessity of 'physical harmony' in marriage, a delicate subject that was scarcely spoken of in 1860." Tinayre expressed revolutionary sympathies while nevertheless mocking much of vintage 1848 revolutionary verbiage. She deplored the ignorance and selfishness of the masses yet expressed confidence that education would triumph over them: "let the light shine into all darkened minds and you will see to what heights men can rise."

Like many of her generation, she looked to organization to help raise the masses, particularly mutual aid societies. In 1867, with some help from former Saint-Simonians, she founded a consumer cooperative, the Société des Équitables de Paris. Its meetings were held at the home of a shoemaker named Henry on the rue des Vieilles-Haudriettes. Tinayre got the society to join the Federation of Workers' Societies and Karl Marx's new International Workingmen's Association. In 1868, the police observed her speaking at meetings defending "socialist and anti-religious ideas." During the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris (July 1870–January 1871), she continued advocating left-wing causes.

Not surprisingly, she joined the revolt (March–May 1871) of the Paris Commune against the government, currently headquartered at Versailles. The Communards believed Paris' sacrifices during the siege were unappreciated, and they feared the new Third Republic (1870–1940) would be swept away by the presently resurgent monarchists. The Commune's leaders thought secularization of education was critical to their cause. They named Marguerite Tinayre inspector of girls' schools in the 12th arrondissement. With public feeling running high against the Roman Catholic schools, in late March she informed the mother superior of the Corbes Passage School at Bercy that she must address all requests or complaints to her. Two weeks later, the mayor of the 12th accompanied by a dozen women expelled the nuns, who took refuge at Charenton. The Catholic schools' situation remained tense, and some violence by both sides occurred around the city.

When the Versailles troops broke into the city during Bloody Week, they arrested Tinayre on May 26 during a sweep of a rebel quarter and marched her in the rain to the Châtelet prison. Her husband, who had fought the Prussians but was opposed to the Commune, followed her there to try to defend her. She attempted to warn him off. The young officer and a corporal conducting a drumhead court-martial ignored all explanations, arrested him, and sent him away with others to be summarily shot. Marguerite, released the next day "miraculously" (as she later wrote), fled with her five children to Geneva. Her brother Antoine escaped to London, where he remained the rest of his life.

She continued her revolutionary activity, at least for a time. On March 5, 1873, Le Pays reported that she was seen presiding at a "civil baptism" and giving children names of revolutionaries: Danton, Millière, Flourens. From Geneva, she moved to Saxony, where she became a governess for a large family. In the meantime, on January 9, 1874, the Third Court-Martial convicted her in absentia of "having been in communication with the leaders of insurrectionary groups, and for having involved herself in public functions with no right to do so." It sentenced her to "deportation to a fortified place," meaning the prison colony at New Caledonia. Likewise, André Léo , Anna Jaclard , Elizabeth Dmitrieff , and brother Antoine were condemned in absentia to deportation on similar charges.

Marguerite and her children eventually settled in Budapest, where she became a highly respected private teacher of girls. In 1879, she learned that women condemned by the extraordinary tribunals could return to France. She asked for a three months' residency in Paris but was denied on the grounds that the amnesty excluded her because in Geneva she had been involved in "socialistic and internationalistic intrigues." In reply, the French consul-general in Hungary, Comte de Bourgoing, wrote a laudatory letter saying her associations were exemplary and that "her bearing and irreproachable conduct have won her the respect of all." He admitted she was a convict, but one who had thoroughly amended her ways and hence should not be considered "a dangerous person."

Agonized by her situation, she wrote to La Marseillaise on October 15, 1879, putting her case before the public. She had made no secret that she had been "banished," but Budapest society had accepted that she was "a woman who had perhaps been led astray into extreme causes but definitely was a respectable woman." She still had two children to raise and two to support, while her eldest was working but would soon be drafted. She was a widow in fact but not in law since there was no formal documentation of her husband's death. If she were to ask for a pardon, it would be an admission of guilt: "And guilty I am not, nor can I desire to appear such before children to whom I owe the example of strength and constancy in the face of ill fortune." Moreover, if she returned, would she regain her civil rights, without which she could not teach?

Her eloquent plea crossed a slow mail from Paris bringing word that on September 3 the chief of the Sûreté Général had authorized her return for three months. Later she learned that on November 27 her remaining sentence had been remitted.

Tinayre returned to France. On March 30, 1880, she wrote another appeal, to La France, explaining her plight. She was forbidden to teach, was in dire distress, and needed help to prove she was legally a widow so that her eldest son could be exempted from the draft in order to support the family. What then transpired is unknown, as there is no published account of her life thereafter. It is certain, however, that she was alive at least as late as 1889, when her son Julien married Marcelle Chasteau, who won fame as the novelist Marcelle Tinayre .

Marguerite Tinayre's life typified that of a significant cohort of her generation. Angered and disillusioned by the failure of the Revolution of 1848 to establish a permanent republic, and chafing under the surveillance of the Second Empire (1852–70), they sought to bring to revolutionary zeal a dose of "scientific" realism and organization. The doomed Paris Commune tried to establish an orderly, mildly socialistic regime but was still entranced, as 1848 had been, by the vision of revolution as the gateway to nearly instantaneous liberty, equality, and social peace. Its adherents, although long reviled by conservatives, left a memory of brave idealists who had suffered death, imprisonment, or exile for their beliefs, naïve as those beliefs may have appeared to their descendants.


Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français, 1864–71. Sous la direction de Jean Maitron. Paris: Éditions Ouvrières, 1964—.

Pelletan, Camille. "Le Châtelet (Madame Tinayre)," in La Semaine de mai. Paris: Maurice Dreyfous, 1880, pp. 231–236.

Thomas, Edith. The Woman Incendiaries. Trans. James and Starr Atkinson. NY: George Braziller, 1966 (translation of Les Pétroleuses. Paris: Gallimard, 1963).

suggested reading:

Edwards, Stewart. The Paris Commune 1871. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1976.

Horne, Alistair. The Fall of Paris; The Siege and the Commune, 1870–71. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1965.

Lissagaray, Prosper Olivier. History of the Commune of 1871. Trans. by Eleanor Marx Aveling . NY: Monthly Review Press, 1967 (1886).

Osmin, Léon. Figures de jadis: Les Pionniers obscurs du socialisme. Paris: Éditions "Nouveau Prométhée," 1934.

Tombs, Robert. The War Against Paris 1871. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Zévaès, Alexandre. Les Proscrits de la Commune. Paris: Bureau d'éditions, 1936.


Paris: Archives nationales, BB 24/852, no. 732; Archives de la Ministère de la Guerre, 3e conseil, no. 1416.

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