The socialist progressive Louise Michel infused her beliefs of equality and liberty from repressive governments into her daily life and career. Michel was a major leader of the Paris Commune, a revolutionary socialist government that controlled the city of Paris for roughly two months in 1871. She deployed militant tactics to defend the poor and demand legal and economic equality of the sexes.
She was a prolific writer, using writing as a revolutionary tool to disseminate socialist ideas to children and adults alike. A short story for children, titled Les dix sous de Marthe (Marthe’s Ten Coins), shows the ripple effect generosity, charitable giving, and social consciousness can have within a community. At age six, Marthe spent her New Year’s Day buying treats and toys, but out on a walk, she encountered two impoverished young boys. With just ten coins left in her possession, she gave them to the young boys. Little did she know that those ten coins would be the catalyst for the two boys to find work at a local shop, eventually becoming successful business owners.
Years later, as Marthe’s parents are struggling to make ends meet, she finds out that the two individuals her parents are indebted to are those same boys she helped ten years prior. The men remember Marthe’s life changing act of philanthropy, and they come to an agreement that will keep her parents’ store open. While simple in its plot, Marthe’s Ten Coins lays the groundwork for the ideas of mutual aid and selflessness within an otherwise inequitable socio-economic system.
In an excerpt from her memoir, Michel condemns the social and economic systems that have not only placed her in prison, but caused the destitution of countless women who have no options but to participate in prostitution. Michel calls these prisons “morgues of the living,” blaming the misery of the women around her on greed and exploitation by the bourgeoisie. With her portrayal of unjust suffering, she hopes readers will be compelled to make change.
The intricacies of language, the beauty within expression, are often the biggest obstacles to a translator. Strict translations often lose the subtleties of a work, and in that lose its unique voice. Translating is a demanding and evolving process, but its reward is the realization of literature’s most profound impact: that people of all different walks of life and languages can share stories, appreciate these narratives, and find joy in connection.