Victorine Brocher


Week One of Resonating Women of the Paris Commune

Listen here to For Victorine                                                                                    improvisation on Roland digital keyboard

Victorine Brocher 1839-1921

Victorine Malenfant was born in Paris in 1839 to a family with a long revolutionary tradition. She married Hungarian artisan shoe-maker Jean Rouchy in 1861 and later helped set up a cooperative bakery. They were both actively involved in the International Workingmen’s Association – commonly known as the First International – set up in 1864 in London to unite a broad range of socialist, communist and anarchist groups and trade unions.

In the Paris Commune, Victorine was one of the uniformed cantinières. Marching through the streets, in their kepi, black jackets and trousers trimmed with red  and a little barrel slung over their shoulders, they provided food and drink to the battalions defending the Republic. In service at the battle for Fort d’Issy, she reported in her memoir, ‘if I were to live a hundred years, I could not forget that terrible slaughter’.

Commended for her bravery in her care for the wounded in late April 1871, she fought on the barricades during the final weeks of the Commune. Accused of being one of the mythical  petroleuses (a derogatory term used in anti-Commune texts to depict women as wild, evil and unnatural) she was arrested and sentenced to death for setting the Court of Auditors on fire. Although her mother mistakenly identified her among the remains of those shot dead at Versailles, she had in fact escaped to Switzerland, leaving behind her husband who died in prison.

After the amnesty, she returned to Paris and served as a city delegate at the 1881 London Anarchist Congress where she met the anarchist writer Gustave Brocher. They married in 1887 and adopted five children orphaned in the Commune. Victorine taught at Louise Michel’s International Socialist School set up for refugees in Fitzrovia, London in the early 1890s. She died in Lausanne in 1921.

For Victorine is also posted here on YouTube

A few sources

Victorine [Brocher/Brochon], Souvenirs d’une morte vivante  (orig. pub. 1909)

J Cox, ‘Genderquake: socialist women and the commune’, International Socialist Quarterly Review of Socialist Theory, Issue 69, posted 5 January 2021

C. Eichner, Surmounting the Barricades, Women in the Paris Commune, 2004

G. Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris, 1996

E. Thomas, The Women Incendiaries, 1966

My letterpress prints are made on paper salvaged from a discarded series of 19thc technical manuals sourced in Tarnac, a small rural community in Corrèze, one of the ‘reddest cantons in France as a whole’ (Ad Knotter, ‘Little Moscows in Western Europe: the Ecology of Small-place Communism’, International Review of Social History, 2011)