Writing the Book of Love in Red Ink

“It took the Devil, that ancient ally of woman, her confidant from Paradise, it took the sorceress, this monster who does everything backwards, inversing the sacred world, to be occupied with woman, to crush under her feet their [the church’s] practices, and to care for her in spite of herself. The poor creature thought so little of herself! … She recoiled, blushed, meant to say nothing. The sorceress, adroit and malign, guessed and penetrated. At last she figured out how to make her speak, pulled her little secret out, vanquished her refusal, her hesitations of modesty and humility. Rather than submit to such a thing, she would have liked better almost to die. The barbarous sorceress made her live.”

Marguerite Duras once expressed, in an interview, her admiration for Michelet’s The Sorceress:

“Do you know the thesis by Michelet about witches? It's admirable. (By the way, I think, and many people
think, on the basis of letters and journals, that Michelet did not have a normal sex life-which is certainly in his favor.) He says that in the Middle Ages, when the lords went off to war or on the Crusades, when the women stayed alone for months at a time on the farms, in the middle of the fields, hungry and lonely, then
they simply started talking. To whatever was around them: trees, animals, forests, rivers. . . . Perhaps to break the boredom, to forget the hunger and the loneliness. The men burned them. That's how witches came into being. Men said, "They're in collusion with nature," and they burned them. That's how the reign of
witches began. I add, personally, that what they did, in effect, was punish those women because they turned a little away from them and became less available to them.”

LI is thinking about Michelet today because, as we are about to plunge into the topic of love, Michelet is a name which comes up – after all, Michelet wrote the book of Love (which has never been as popular as Stendhal’s) as part of his vast, Hugolian effort to combine human and natural history. For Michelet, the key link was woman –which, to feminists of another stripe than Duras, might not exactly be a thesis in his favor. Still, as opposed to Goethe’s eternal feminine, Michelet presented an image that was, at the base, quite startling – for Michelet, woman is supremely cyclical, just as history is, and just as nature is. In part, of course, Michelet meant cyclical in an abstract way – but in part, he was referring to menstruation. In a fascinating article, “Blood on: Michelet and Female blood”, Therese Moreau tried to show that there is a thin thread of menstrual blood running all through Michelet’s work. LI will discuss this in the next post.