A Woman’s Way

Written by Sofia Diana Gabel
Review by James Hawking

Every action and every utterance of the heroine, Marie Desraismes, show her to be generous, self-effacing and idealistic. During the chaos of the Paris Commune in 1870-71, everything she does serves to promote equality between the sexes and social justice for the underclass in a way that the reader cannot help admiring. Unfortunately, what makes a fine person does not necessarily make an interesting story. Other historical figures, such as the feminist anarchist Louise Michel and the reactionary cartoonist Honoré Daumier, make appearances. Marie attempts to moderate Louise’s radical impulsiveness, usually without success. Daumier appears to be what today would be called a male chauvinist, but he shows occasional human impulses. Marie’s exceptional courage in the face of government-led violence contrasts with the cowardice of some of the male revolutionary leaders.

Marie has the fixed idea that the key to social justice involves persuading the Masons to use their power to overcome the evil unleashed by the Thiers government. As the daughter of a Mason, she dreams of the day when she and other women can don the apron that is their symbol. Her quest to achieve female equality by opening up the Freemasons frames the story both before and after the bloody days of the Commune. She eventually achieves a limited success in this effort, but it is hard for the reader to grasp its importance. Not recommended.