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Malvina Blanchecotte (Biography)

Poetry Translation Women in Literature

Autodidact, seamstress, teacher, single mother, poet

 signature of A.M. Blanchecotte, 19th century French woman poet

In 1830, the Souvilles, a working class family in Paris, had a baby girl. Augustine Alphonsine Malvina was largely self-taught and learned English, German, and Latin. She married an accountant by the name of Blanchecotte in 1850. However, he was eventually hospitalized for a mental illness, and she was left to raise their son alone. She worked as a seamstress and bookkeeper, and later as a teacher. Malvina Blanchecotte participated in the salon of Louise Colet, a fellow poet, and made the acquaintance of other writers, including George Sand (Schultz 136). Lamartine, in particular, dedicated a poem to her, which appears in Rêves et Réalités. Blanchecotte died in 1897.

 

Blanchecotte’s work includes three collections of poetry [Rêves et Réalités (1855), Nouvelles poésies (1861), and Les Militantes (1875)], essays, a memoir of the Parisian Commune [Tablettes d’une femme pendant la Commune], and two books of aphorisms. Rêves et Réalités received a prize from l’Académie française, as well as a thousand francs from Napoleon III. However, the editor’s note of the 2nd edition mentions that the collection contains “quelques accents trop passionnés” (some accents too passionate) to make it into the Académie’s annual list of literary works awarded the de Monthyon prize:

Il y a même, dans ce volume, quelques cris trop déchirants pour être confiés à l’art, et qui font mal à entendre.

(There are even, in this volume, cries too harrowing to be entrusted to art, and which are painful to hear.)

The editor’s note was replaced by a more sympathetic one in the 3rd edition. *cough*

 

Several of Blanchecotte’s works are available online at http://gallica.bnf.fr/ (in French, of course). If you don’t read French (or even if you do), the MLA collection An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Women’s Poetry from France: In English Translation, with French Text, edited by Gretchen Schultz, provides a useful introduction into the work of Blanchecotte and other 19th century French women poets.

 

Note: Works by Blanchecotte are often in the name A. M. Blanchecotte, but you may also see Mme M. B. ouvrière et poète, as in the case of the 1855 edition of Rêves et Réalités.
 
 



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