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BLOOD SISTERS by Marilyn Yalom

BLOOD SISTERS

The French Revolution in Women's Memory

By Marilyn Yalom

Pub Date: July 14th, 1993
ISBN: 0-465-09263-2
Publisher: Basic

 Yalom (a researcher at Stanford's Institute for Women and Gender Studies; Maternity, Morality, and the Literature of Madness, 1985, etc.--not reviewed) offers a diffuse literary and feminist perspective on the 138 memoirs of the French Revolution written by women (out of a total of 1,502). Her role: to serve as a ``medium for their resurrection.'' The memoirs (listed in an annotated bibliography) are by a diverse range of figures: Republicans and Royalists; the young child of Louis XVI; an aging nun; literary folk such as Madame Genlis and Madame de Staâl; illiterate peasants who dictated their adventures; fashionable Parisians and rustics from the French Southwest. But these women, cut off by their sex from the political life that explained the excesses of the Revolution, saw and recorded only the hardship, violence, and suffering--remaining victims and spectators even when they managed, through cross- dressing, to join the battles, or when they served as intermediaries for their men in prison, petitioning for their release. Some of the women, like Charlotte Robespierre, entered history by recording the lives of famous men they were associated with. Others, ÇmigrÇs, helped spread French culture, acquired independence, and brought back to a restored France foreign ideas from Russia, England, and Germany. But Yalom's major theme seems to be writing, and she endows her subjects with many literary associations: Madame Roland, for example, the rare female Republican who perished in the backlash, is compared to Jane Austen for hiding her writing behind conventional domestic activities; to Virginia Woolf when she goes to prison and acquires a room of her own; and to Dostoyevsky, whose career flourished after being rescued--which, sadly, Roland wasn't. Yalom attempts too much here: to illustrate certain feminist assumptions about women in history; to define a genre (the memoir); to place these women in a literary context; and to convey the experiences they recorded. A sound though scattered exposition, then, and a good basis for future research.