Jenny d’Héricourt, A letter from America (1868)

I’ve been working on the remaining untranslated portions of Jenny d’Héricourt’s Woman Affranchised, which has included a number of pleasant surprises, including some borrowings from her adversary Proudhon that suggest she was a close and careful reader of much of his work. I also made another search through the online archives for material I hadn’t seen and ran across this letter to La Solidarité: journal des principes, a journal published by Charles Fauvety, who was both a friend of Héricourt and an old collaborator of Proudhon’s. Fauvety was also indirectly connected, through association with Alphonse-Louis Constant, aka Eliphas Lévi, with Flora Tristan, whose posthumous work, The Emancipation of Woman, or Testament of the Pariah, I should be able to present in English translation soon. (Here’s a taste.) The letter hints at all sorts of contexts that I cannot supply at present, and which make the final section, on “reparation,” hard to translate precisely. Did she believe that she had been a “tyrant”? There were certainly some who had accused her of “masculine” prejudices, though they were mostly men, who saw nothing much wrong with them than their unfitness for her sex. And we have Juliette Adam’s account of her dismissive attitude toward the younger woman. (Proudhon’s critics seem to have been pretty hard on each other.) I’ll certainly be digging to see if there is more to this correspondence, but, for now, we can certainly say that we see flashes of Jenny d’Héricourt’s larger-than-life personality throughout the letter. Along with the apparently penitent moments, there also moments of colossal pride, which recall Constant’s characterization of Flora Tristan: “Flora Tristan is the splendid personification of the most complete and most implacable pride. Milton’s Satan must be dead of bitterness since she came into the world.” There are other connections between the two remarkable women, including a shared interest in the sort of secular religion which Fauvety was exploring. More about that as the relevant texts get translated…

 ____________
Chicago, May 27, 1868.
         Dear sir,
By way of our friend Faisandié, I have received the issue of la Solidarité where you recall to the public, and in particular to Mr. Montanier, la Femme affranchie and its author. I come to thank you for it. Before settling down to that subject, allow me to thank you for your article against materialist morality. Another article also gave me great pleasure, signed Pérès. Finally, we arrive then at the true foundation of ontology! From the beginning, the being is thus an appetite, force pursuing a finality; so the finality is the cause of all movement, of all determination in the being, from its first, atomic stage to its last, terrestrial stage, when it feels, knows itself, and wants—when it is a human being. Compliment Mr. Pérès for me, if you think that a compliment from me would be agreeable. It is a great satisfaction to always find myself in the same current of ideas and feeling as the one I followed in your midst; it even happens that I have drawn closer to you since our separation, for I have worked for a year on the preparation of a volume where the science of being and the solidarity of man with himself in the past and the future, his solidarity with all nature, are based on the positive sciences. My claims are irrefutably established by laws and facts; but a work, in order to make a durable impression, must, you know, foresee and resolve all the negations and objections of the adversaries; it is always my method of criticizing without mercy first before making assertions. Now, that preliminary work cannot be made in America: for that I need Paris, the readings by opponents, your conversations of thinkers and philosophers; all that is lacking here, and I do not have the time to read enough. This grips my heart so much, that it takes all my reason not to spend the end of July and August in Paris; but I hope that I will not give in to a temptation that would perhaps delay my definitive return by a year or two, the hope that in five years you will count one more champion in the ranks of the army of solidarity. In the meantime, if some articles would be agreeable to you, I am at your service; I will find a few hours to write them.
You end les Femmes médecins by saying that I have found in America the justice that I did not find in France. No, dear sir, women find only obstacles everywhere. Whatever their good will, whatever their aptitudes, they will always see ordinary men supplant them, either because the prejudice of intellectual inferiority is raised against them because of their sex, or because all men wanting women to remain subordinate, and using their unfitness as an excuse, do not want, for anything in the world, give any emphasis to a woman who is the incarnate refutation of what they want to convince themselves of. I have had to fight like ten men. If I was an average, clever man, I would probably have made my little fortune; but I am a woman, and if I had only had my individual value, without a nearly superhuman persistence and a courage, I would be dead of hunger. I make money, I am busy; but, I repeat, a woman of ordinary courage would not have been able to undergo the trial, and, thank the gods, I have sustained it and done so with dignity: the respect and esteem of a whole great city surrounds me today. I don’t complain; these terrible four years of my life have tempered my character: I have less passion, but the firmness of steel. I am not embittered, I have just learned to know my species and my sex; and I said to myself that my present life being with connected my previous existence, I must submit to logic under its terrible form of reparation. If I had the odious prejudices of the males, if I had been a tyrant, I should condemn myself to return in order to atone and suffer: there would be no point in rebelling, but to bow my head and bless a trial that improves and sets things right. Moreover, apart from some difficulties inseparable from my sex, what have I to complain of? My health is vigorous, I am ten years younger and two years stronger than in France; I have lost none of my intellectual faculties and aptitudes; I have honorably earned more than my living, and I posses an honorable independence made by myself alone; my character is honored, and a complete confidence surrouns me: haven’t I had a happier fate than thousands of other worthy beings?
I bid you adieu, shaking your hand fraternally.
Jenny P. d’Héricourt.
La Solidarité : journal des principes 2 no. 8 (July 1, 1868): 127.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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