Henriette, artiste, “Letter to Proudhon” (1849)

[“En amour, la propriété c’est le viol.” One of the major voices in French feminist circles around the time of the 1848 Revolution signed her name as “Henriette, artiste,” and was probably Henriette Wild. She argued with Jenny d’Hericourt on the subject of celibacy in the pages of the Voix de Femmes, and she wrote a strange and interesting open letter to Proudhon in the pages of La Démocratie pacifique (January 5, 1849). The heart of the letter comes when Henriette hijacks Proudhon’s famous phrase, “Property is theft”—”la propriété c’est le vol” in French—and changes it to say that “in love, property is rape or violation,” while she proposes a Sainte Proudhonne, a female Proudhon, as the spirit of the future. It’s pretty good stuff, and makes me want to go find her debate with Jenny d’Hericourt.]

Mr. Proudhon,

Bad Christian, hateful socialist, you pursue monopoly in its material, individually perceptible, which is good; but, when it is attacked in its affective form, you put yourself in the way and cry scandal! You want the dignity and equality of men, and you reject the dignity and equality of the sexes! Women, you say, has nothing more to claim, and her duty is to remain in the refuge for which nature has created her.
Pity on your sophistry! Shame on your ideas of resignation regardless! In this revolutionary time, when the voices of all the oppressed cry out, the voices of women will be raised bravely and maintained, without fear of being drowned out by yours. Do you understand me, Mr. Proudhon?
On the operatic stage, women were only allowed to take their place when it was well established, by the courage of a few, that their voices contained a particular strength that nothing could replace. That principle of exclusion no longer offers anything but a warning in our times, and you doubtless know what it has cost the feeling of humanity to maintain in some holy chapel the proud and impious challenge cast on the prerogatives of women. (?)
So install women everywhere, for without her no concert is possible and pleasing to God. The higher spheres of all the harmonies demand it of us, and we will appear in spiritual concert, as in political and social cooperation.
Our mysticism displeases you, O Saint Proudhon! Well! a little time and be born, I am sure that a holy Proudhonne who, with robust faith and courage in the face of every ordeal, will come to scrutinize our society more profoundly. That Sainte Proudhonne will doubtless discover that other property which has escaped the view of her patron. Sainte Proudhonne will tell us, in clear and precise terms, that women and their particular essence, love, by dint of being sold, of being sacrificed in pure loss and being worn down in the institutions where you have confined them, now makes the shame and misfortune of humanity. Sainte Proudhonne will see well that the love ruled by you, and become the right of the strongest, constitutes the most sinful of properties, and, under the empire of its convictions, will take hold of your most audacious formula. Sainte Proudhonne will demonstrate clearly to the world and to her sisters, that in love, property is violation.
O Saint Proudhon! The combat will be harsh then between man-force and woman-love, and the apathetic world will rue this good time when, by mysticism alone, women communicated with the new spirit.
Master Proudhon… I’ll stop! May these few words make you look twice at these things you want to trample underfoot!
The question of women will not bring you any happiness. All your history in this regard proves it. But it is a misfortune that the love of a woman could perhaps banish. In the meantime, believe me, refrain from speaking of them, and if the religious champions to whom you have lent a hand demand of you the reason for your silence, respond…. anything, even the most banal thing, and tell them in conclusion…. that, in the end, the women do not concern you.
Henriette…, artist.

[Henriette Wild]

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]