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Summary Article: TRISTAN, FLORA (1803-1844) from France and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History

French writer and political activist. Born on April 7, 1803, Flora Tristan was of mixed descent, her father being a Spanish Peruvian, her mother an émigré in temporary exile from the French Revolution. They met and married in Spain and settled in Paris without regulating their papers with the three relevant authorities of Spain, Peru, and France. When Tristan’s father died suddenly in 1807, the property was confiscated, and Flora Tristan was raised with only dim memories of her father and aristocratic wealth. By the age of seventeen, she was married to her first employer, André Chazal, a lithograph artist, but by 1825 she was separated from him and had left her three young children in care to take employment as a ladies’ companion. She lived at various temporary addresses in her attempts to flee from her husband’s persecution, especially after she began earning from her writing. In desperation, Flora Tristan journeyed to South America, leaving from Bordeaux on April 7, 1833, and stayed for several months in Peru with her father’s family in a vain attempt to gain access to her inheritance. She left Lima again in July 1834, returning to Paris by January 1835. She left no record of her return voyage via North America and England, but Flora Tristan’s writing career began and flourished with travel and politics. It was while preparing her first major work on her Peruvian voyage that Tristan wrote and published her first extensive work in 1835, Nécessité de faire bon accueil aux femmes étrangères (“The Need to Give a Warm Welcome to Foreign Women”). Although she chose to remove traces of her menial positions in the years between 1825 and 1833, upon her return from her trip to Peru she henceforth flaunted her continuing travel experiences in Europe and the Americas, writing from a more socially elevated position as a woman of letters or as a female traveler: these works included Pérégrinations d’une paria; a novel, Méphis; her London journal, Promenades dans Londres; and her diary, Tour de France. Her very first publication was a petition to parliament, the only legitimate political act permitted to women in France, for the restoration of divorce. That had been introduced by the revolutionary government and outlawed by the Restoration Monarchy of 1814 (subsequently reintroduced by the Third Republic in 1884). She wrote a second petition for the abolition of the death penalty, thus attempting to intervene and spare her husband from this fate—he had attempted to kill her in a public shooting in September 1838, from which she recovered. He served a seventeen-year prison sentence with hard labor. Tristan’s final publication, Union ouvrière, before her untimely death in Bordeaux in November 1844 at the age of forty-one, was a project to create a workers’ union. She had been touring French towns promoting her Socialist ideas when she was taken ill. Tristan’s widowed daughter Aline, who had married the republican Clovis Gauguin, by whom she had a son, Paul, and a daughter, Marie, retained the Tristan Peruvian connection when she traveled to Peru and stayed with her great-uncle, the same man who had welcomed Flora Tristan some twenty years previously. It was only in the late twentieth century that Tristan’s Peruvian ancestry was celebrated by Peru. The Maison du Pérou in Bordeaux also commemorated the bicentenary of her birth with contributions from the contemporary Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and French feminist scholars. Across France and Latin America, she is celebrated in alternative politics, and youth and women’s movements bear her name.

See also:

Feminisms; Gauguin, Paul; Painting; Travel Writing.

References
  • Cross, Máire Fedelma. The Letter in Flora Tristan’s Politics. London/Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  • Grogan, Susan. Flora Tristan: Life Stories. London/New York: Routledge, 1998.
  • Máire F. Cross
    Copyright © 2005 by Bill Marshall

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