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October Days During the French Revolution

Introduction

There is no doubt that the French Revolution was one of the greatest and memorable events of history. The revolutionary ideologies showed their strength in France. During the fall of Bastille, both Paris and Versailles were flooded with various newspapers and pamphlets; speeches spreading the revolutionary thoughts were delivered by people.

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There are so many incidents about the revolution to talk about. One of the most significant and foremost events of the French Revolution was the march of the women, many of whom were known as the working women in the marketplaces of the Third Estate to Versailles. Even after the fall of 1789, the shortage of grains could not be overcome. The price of bread was high and poor people knew not what to do without bread. The commotion of women, unable to cope with poverty and to maintain living turned into agitation. They wanted to voice their demands to the King by going to Versailles and having their issues sorted out. But that simple agitation took the form of a revolution when some political issues got mingled with it. The news of dishonor of the tricolor Cockade infuriated the women and they almost became violent.

The huge gathering of almost ten thousand women actually did what they meant. They presented their demands to the King and brought him back to Paris with the help of a unit of National Guards.

The natural question that lies inside the evidence of the October revolution was whether the movement of the women was revolutionary enough or was it a chaotic impulsive movement? The answer to the former is, yes! Though the movement started due to the need of solving the food problem, it was indeed guided by revolutionary ideas and was transformed into a revolutionary move. It was one of the foremost stepping stones of the French Revolution. That proved the potential of women and what they could do when forced to revolt.

The evidences of the Versailles march of women of October 5 and October 6 clearly showed that the move was driven by revolutionary ideas.

Why the ideas in the documents are revolutionary?

The ideas in the documents that talked about the October days are revolutionary. The women of the Third Estate took a drastic step to make the King listen to their demands. This fact itself is a revolutionary idea. The women who were not heard by anyone till then and who never dared to speak against the dominion they lived under became so much aggressive and gathered so much courage that they made everybody to yield before their demands. Instead of accepting the woes without protest they chose to declare that “the men were not strong enough to be revenged on their enemies and that they (the women) would do better1.

The disagreement that they showed against accepting everything, their men guardians provided for them, as a passive entity gave the movement a revolutionary color. The document shows the idea of protesting against the miseries, for whatever reason, and so the idea is revolutionary.

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How the ideas are revolutionary?

The documents about the October days show several evidences of the revolutionary ideas that the women of those days brought forward. The document says that at that time women had least importance in the society. They had never been allowed to talk about their grievances. They were not allowed to “to meet as a group, draft grievances, or vote (except in isolated individual instances) in the preparatory elections2. In that condition the courage they had shown by gathering together was really revolutionary.

The working women had previously shown the eagerness to achieve betterment in their conditions by having “education and enlightenment that would make them better workers, better wives, and better mothers”3. They had petitioned to the King regarding that. They wanted not to loose their dignity by being confused with the prostituting women. That thought of becoming independent without losing dignity is a revolutionary idea.

The women wanted bread. Most of them were troubled by the food shortage. Though they were later enraged with the news of the tricolor Cockade being dishonored by the royal guards they actually wanted not to harm the King and Queen fatally. They later even shouted for the long life of the royal people after being given proper attention. Therefore when “a prostitute ….. who since then had been living with Lagrement, a soft drink peddler on rue Bailleul, having said that she was going to Versailles to bring back the queen’s head, was sharply reproached by the others4. Having the idea of placing demands without harming the Royal family and preventing others intending to do so is not less than a revolution itself.

To whom the ideas are revolutionary?

The ideas inherent in the revolutionary movement are revolutionary indeed for people who understand how the women of that time had taken an exceptional step that had shaken everybody. Though some people like “nobleman, the Marquis de Ferrières”5, who was “openly hostile to the demonstration” had described the movement as “barbarous and blackguardly”6, the movement was a real eye opener for the men who had dominated the women till then. The ideas can prove revolutionary to the women of today also, who can take a lesson from the women of that time about how to break the barriers and to move forward.

Conclusion

The women who participated in the October march to the Versailles might have not taken a step after planning it for long and executing it neatly. They might also had forced some women to take part in their impulsive move to bring back the king to Paris for ending their woes. But considering the condition in which they had lived till date under dominion of men and the limited rights they had been given, their move was definitely revolutionary. The revolution showed a lot of courage which led to the ultimate victory of their purpose. Any revolution sees some or other aggressiveness or violence. That move also had caused some lives. But after all it was the waking up of women, from the suppression to the expression of their demands. It is, therefore revolutionary.

Bibliography

Hunt, Lynn. The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.

Levy, Darline G and others. From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795. Illinois: Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 1979.

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Levy, Darline G and others. Women Testify Concerning Their Participation in the October Days (1789) IN From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795. Illinois: Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 1979.

Pernoud, Georges and Flaissier, Sabine. The French Revolution. New York: Capricorn Books, 1970.

Footnotes

  1. Darline G Levy and others. From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795 (Illinois: Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 1979) 36-42.
  2. Lynn Hunt, The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996), 60–63.
  3. Lynn Hunt, The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996), 60–63.
  4. Darline G Levy and others, Women Testify Concerning Their Participation in the October Days (1789). IN From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795 (Illinois: Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 1979) 36-42.
  5. Georges Pernoud and Sabine Flaissier, The French Revolution (New York: Capricorn Books, 1970), 61–66.
  6. Georges Pernoud and Sabine Flaissier, The French Revolution (New York: Capricorn Books, 1970), 61–66.

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