Tuesday, 18 September 2012

141: Tricoteuse

There were a dozen main agitators and they all sat in exactly the same seats, every day. Celebrated so recently in the Parisian market protests, the women now found themselves locked out of the political discussion.  The cost of active opposition to the government was ostracism but they found another way of making their voices heard.

They took up knitting.

Marta had the idea of public knitting and the others agreed at once.  Marta’s husband fashioned a dozen pairs of needles from thin lengths of wood and they took a pair each.  She held lessons for a week so they could all learn the stitches.  She wanted them able to knit and heckle at the same time, no need to look down at the work and miss the show.

The first morning they arrived long before the executions started and took up their places close to the front.  At first light they took out their wool and needles and began to knit.  They didn’t say anything, just sat knitting and staring at the preparation ahead.  The executioner bundled the first victim up to the guillotine and as one, they lowered their work to their laps.

With rage and anger Marta and the women growled and yelled their disputes against the king as a murderer was beheaded in front of them.  They complained of increasing prices, the cost of food families struggled to afford.  They complained of shortages which pushed prices higher still.  Their anger at the king who presided over these difficulties was intense and the women vocalized their demands for bread and prices they could afford again and again.

As the head rolled from the wooden frame, the shouts died down.  The women, each with a face set into an implacable mask, took up their work again and began to knit.  Although they glanced around the square, at Marta and between themselves from time to time, none spoke.  Displeasure was written over each of the dozen faces.

Throughout the morning the dance of angry shouting and silent, scowling knitting played out.  When all of the prisoners had been despatched, there was no doubt in the mind of anyone in the crowd of onlookers that these women meant to draw attention to the plight of the working woman and her family.  The twelve women walked from the square, heads held high.

Buoyed by their experiences, the women arranged to return the next day and the next.  Word spread across the city and out into the suburbs of Paris.  Day by day more Martas and their friends joined the Tricoteuse, some sitting in the square with the original women and others forming small enclaves themselves.

Paris had many criminals to offer up for execution so the women had a great many opportunities to send the king their furious message.  They could last as long as the beheading would take.  Each evening, like Penelope and her tapestry, they rewound their yarn for use the next morning.  Their own Odysseus was likely to be at least as long in returning.

Inspiration - The French Guillotine was finally abandoned today in 1981 when the death penalty was abolished.

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