Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reason to Par-Tay

It was two hundred and seventeen years ago today, on November 10th 1793 (20 Brumaire, Year II), that the French revolution’s National Convention celebrated their “Festival of Reason”. In a move that makes indescribable sense to me the “Cult of Reason” persuaded Pierre Gaspard Chaumette to call for the instalation of a “Godess of Reason”. Chaumette was an unabashed male chauvenist who’s enduring quotes include many where he admonishes women to “know their place” (which was being domestic, and if they could manage it, pretty). Yet he viewed the personification of that reason he wished to genuflect before as female. In order to be entirely clear that reason was feminine Sophie Momoro (née Fournier) was chosen to personify her.

The party sounds like it was a blast. The medieval cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was transformed into a modern “Temple of Reason”. An altar to liberty was installed over the old one, and the inscription "To Philosophy" was carved into the church facade. Contemporary accounts reported the Festival of Reason as a "lurid", "licentious" affair of scandalous "depravities".

Eventually Maximilien Robespierre would supplant the atheist-leaning Cult of Reason with a solidly Deist Cult of the Supreme Being. Robespierre’s parties were often much less fun.

Robespierre’s Solides jailed both Sophie and her husband, the later was guillotined. When the sentence of death was announced for her husband Sophie was broken. As she wept she was taunted: “The Goddess of Reason has not been at all reasonable during the day!”

Sophie was imprisoned from March until May of 1794. Even the Solides could not execute her for simply being beautiful. By the time she was released (destitute and alone) from prison she was so described: "This goddess is very terrestrial: she has only passable features, frightful teeth, and a clumsy form”.

Both reason and beauty, it seems, can be erased by the focused effort of man.

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