Louise Michel, A travers la Mori. Memoires Inedits, 1886-1890.

Author:Frigerio, Vittorio
Position:Book review

Louise Michel, A travers la Mori. Memoires Inedits, 1886-1890, (edited and introduced by Claude Retat)

Paris: La Decouverte, 2015; 353pp; ISBN 978-2-7071-8686-7

The first volume of the memoirs of famed French revolutionary Louise Michel, dealing with her early years, was published in 1886. Readers interested in the more momentous events of her later life can discover, 129 years later, the second volume thanks to the painstaking work of research and editing conducted by Claude Retat, a researcher working at the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique. Actually, this second instalment of Louise Michel's reflections first appeared starting in 1890, but only in a relatively little-known socialist newspaper, L'Egalite, and split into sixty-nine episodes. The whole is now available in one volume for the very first time.

Louise Michel was a very prolific writer, who tried her hand quite successfully at fiction (three of her novels were also co-edited by Claude Retat in 2013 with the Presses universitaires de Lyon), poetry and of course political commentary, apart from autobiographical writing. But as the editor points out in the very informative introduction, Michel was also a master at salvaging and reusing, never leaving a note or an article unexploited if it could be successfully integrated or recycled within a new project. At the same time, this second instalment of her life story is said to have been written and then destroyed at least twice, before this last surviving version. Louise Michel's writings appear then, as she herself presents them, tightly linked to death and obliteration, but always being born again like the mythological Phoenix, and like Revolution itself.

These memoirs can be read for different purposes: as historical documents, bringing back to life a slew of revolutionary figures, some significant, most ordinary militants; as psychological testimony of the life and ideals of one of the most important figures of the Paris Commune and of the libertarian movement; as evidence of what it meant to be an...

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