Un(der)known Writers: Louise Michel

If the reaction had had as many enemies among women as it did among men, the Versailles Government would have had a more difficult task subduing us. Our male friends are more susceptible to faintheartedness than we women are. A supposedly weak woman knows better than any man how to say: "It must be done." She may feel ripped open to her very womb, but she remains unmoved. With­out hate, without anger, without pity for herself or others, whether her heart bleeds or not, she can say: "It must be done." Such were the women of the Commune. During Bloody Week, women erected and defended the barricade at the Place Blanche - and held it till they died.

In my mind I feel the soft darkness of a spring night. It is May 1871 , and I see the red reflection of flames. It is Paris afire. That fire is a dawn, and I see it still as I sit here writing. Memory crowds in on me, and I keep forgetting that I am writing my memoirs.

In the night of May 22 or 23, I believe, we were at the Montmartre cemetery, which we were trying to defend with too few fighters. We had crenelated the walls as best we could, and the position wasn't bad except for the battery on the Butte of Montmartre—now in the hands of the reactionaries, and whose fire raked us—the shells were coming at regular intervals from the side, where tall houses commanded our defenses. Shells tore the air, marking time like a clock. . .

In spite of my comrades' advice, I chose to walk there several times. Always the shells arrived too early or too late for me. One shell falling across the trees covered me with flowered branches, which I divided up between two tombs.

My comrades caught me, and one ordered me not to move about. They made me sit down on a bench. But nothing is as stubborn as a woman. In the midst of all this, Jaroslav Dombrowski passed in front of us sadly, on his way to be killed. "It's over," he told me. "No, no," I said to him, and he held out both his hands to me. But he was right.

-Louise Michel, Memoirs