Voltairine de Cleyre
March 12, 2012 § Leave a comment
For March 18th we will be reading Voltairine de Cleyre:
The Dominant Idea – de C writes of powerful (mainstream) ideas that shaped peoples circumstances in past and present societies and the relevance of human consciousness.
They Who Marry Do Ill – Convincing title. She develops her own angle on the impoverishment of the exchange of the most earnest of all promises.
Her biographer, the late Paul Avrich, reports that “for small fees she addressed the local free thought circuit in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and other Michigan towns.” He notes that, “being a former pupil in a convent, she was a particularly effective speaker, as she could talk from firsthand experience, like the runaway slaves who addressed abolitionist gatherings before the Civil War.” “between the anarchist and free thought movements there was a close and longstanding affinity. Both shared a common anti-authoritarian viewpoint and a common tradition of secularist radicalism stretching back to Thomas Paine,” who was, of course, well thought of by “atheists and anarchists alike. Nearly all anarchists were freethinkers, and many … first came to anarchism through the free thought movement, in which they constituted a militant left wing within the local clubs as well as the regional and national federations.”
Crispin Sartwell, who co-edited an anthology of Voltairine’s writings a few years ago with Sharon Presley, argues that in fact Voltairine “internalized the convent’s modesty and asceticism,” whatever her disagreements with its dogma. “Most pictures of her in later life,” he points out, “show her in plain, high-necked garb that could almost be a habit. And her life of extreme frugality and devotion to her calling mirrored that of the nuns who helped raise her. She was often referred to by her acquaintances in religious terms as a priestess … or as the bride of her cause.”
“The fact that, nearly a hundred years after her untimely death, Voltairine de Cleyre should have a full-length biography devoted to her (though, alas, it is currently out of print) and at least three annotated collections of her work vying for readers’ attention, suggests that she may have already achieved a degree of immortality never realized by most of her fellow intellectuals.” — Jeff Riggenbach