Sitting here with pen in hand, I ask myself if one can ever really know what they want from life. Because what I want in this moment may be true today but, by tomorrow, unforeseeable events can totally change my mind.
My axis has lost its stronghold. The inhumanity of the Revolution has destabilized the meaning I’d given to my life. I am an improvisatrice, an extemporaneous poetess, a storyteller whose stories are meant to entertain. But I am writing this story now not to entertain, but to share what I’ve seen. But I write, too, because I need a new narrative for my life to give it meaning once more.
After Marie-Antoinette’s death, all I wanted to do was to leave France as quickly as possible—to escape from the atrocities that surrounded me. But most of all, I wanted to leave France because I feared for my life.
The revolutionists were out of control. Their “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” was just a slogan used to dupe the discontented into following them. But there certainly was no liberty, equality, or fraternity in their actions and intentions. Anyone who was not accommodating was terrorized and executed. Just look at what happened to poor Olympe de Gouges. Olympe was a playwright and human rights activist who just wanted to help make the world a better place. That’s why, for example, she protested the slave trade in the French colonies that reduced man to an object thus degrading human life itself. Although initially elated by the proclaimed aims of the Revolution, Olympe soon understood it was a revolution for men only. So, to express her concerns that women were not given the same rights as men, she wrote the “Declaration of the Right of Woman and of the Female Citizen”. If, she wrote, a woman has the right to mount the scaffold, she must also possess equally the right to mount the speaker’s platform. Olympe also opposed the execution of Louis XVI because she was against capital punishment. Why not just exile him?, she asked. The revolutionists’ growing barbaric behavior and their summary executions led her to publically criticize them. For this Olympe was arrested, tried and convicted for being an “unnatural woman”, then guillotined.
Paris was hellish. Aristocrats and anyone associated with them were being slaughtered indiscriminately. As I’d perform so many times at Marie-Antoinette’s Petit Trianon, it was just a matter of time before they came for me, too.
(from “TONI O, The Beholder” 2021 ©)