- La Chasse aux loups by Louise Michel
Louise Michel, ‘la Vierge Rouge’, is best known as the most prominent female figure of the Paris Commune, for which she was deported to New Caledonia before returning to raise the black flag of anarchy. Less attention has been paid to the literary output of a woman who, from an early age, aspired to be a writer and who corresponded regularly with Victor Hugo. It is therefore a great pleasure at last to see the publication of her novel, La Chasse aux loups, which had disappeared since its serialization in 1891. The full text, along with variants and annexes, has been gleaned from the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI) in Moscow by Claude Rétat of the CNRS, who accompanies it with a superb Introduction. Written while Michel was exiled in London, the novel makes for disturbing reading, especially in the current political climate, as it is an unashamed eulogy to terrorism. The stark message is ‘il faut tuer’, and to a song, ‘les quatre couteaux’: one for the merchants, one for the priests, one for financiers, and the fourth for the Tsar. The hunt in the title is for ‘les loups humains’: thus the hunted, such as the Communards, will become hunters and avenge the carnage of the Semaine sanglante of May 1871. This is a frenetic narrative, leaping from St Petersburg to the East End of London and back, full of rather unlikely coincidences and sometimes turning into a bloodthirsty rant. It also has a poetic, even cosmic vision that echoes that of another incorrigible French Revolutionary of the time: Auguste Blanqui. The tramps of London are portrayed as human mud in which a new mankind will grow, while an ‘opium-eating Chinaman’ demands repeatedly to be taken back to the docks and has visions of a universe in transformation: the Revolution is literally written in the stars. For all its evident aesthetic faults, La Chasse aux loups takes us back to the turbulent political situation of the end of the nineteenth century, while making us think about the attractions of violent struggle for an ideology. It also enriches our knowledge of the links between anarchism and literature.