Tribute to the traveling woman: the case of Flora Tristán


Reading time 6 minutes

"My grandmother was a strange woman, " Paul Gauguin wrote in his memoirs. "Her name was Flora Tristán …" He never got to know her … "What I can assure you is that she was a beautiful and noble lady … I also know that she dedicated all her fortune to the workers' cause, and that she traveled constantly ."

Flora Celestina Teresa Enrique Tristán Moscoso (1803-1844) was the daughter of a bourgeois Parisian and a Peruvian colonel who, when she died, left her bastard for a bureaucratic lapsus. Disinherited, she had to give up that childhood mansion that characters like Bolivar and Bonpland frequented to get used to living in a slum at the Place Maubert in Paris . What he did not get used to was an abusive husband with whom at 17 he married. There was no divorce and he fled; the madman almost killed her with one shot, and accused him of posing as a single woman when he embarked alone to South America, on a journey to claim in Peru an inheritance that would take her out of destitution. He only got a pension, but his uncle withdrew it when he read Pilgrimage from an outcast, a story that Lima people burned in indignation at how he portrayed them. Equally critical was in London Walks with the ravages of English capitalism.

The writer's travels were a spur in her struggle for female emancipation and against the death penalty she shouted "Workers of the world, unite!" before Marx and Engels . His last trip was a tour of French cities to spread the idea of ​​a Workers Union. The diary of this adventure remained unfinished when death surprised him in Bordeaux, four years before his grandson was born.

Flora Tristán gritó

Flora Tristán shouted "Workers of the world, unite", before Marx and Engels © Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes

A pariah in England

Flora Tristan was in England four times . The first one, in 1826, working as a maid for a London family. He returned in 1831, in 1835 and in 1839 . When a year later he published Walks in London, he had already taken mania to the "monster city". To write the book, he visited marginal places that never appear in travel guides: factories, brothels, asylums, prisons … He also disguised himself as a Turk to enter the British parliament, as women were forbidden to pass. The text below corresponds to a fragment of this story, accessible in the Virtual Library of Miguel de Cervantes.

Mapa de Londres a principios del siglo XIX

Map of London at the beginning of the 19th century © Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes

What a huge city London is! […] At first glance, the foreigner is admired by the power of man; later he is overwhelmed by the weight of that greatness and feels humiliated by his smallness . Those innumerable ships, ships, buildings of all immensity, of every denomination that, through long leagues, cover the surface of the river to which they reduce to the narrow space of a canal; the grandeur of those arches, of those bridges that would be believed thrown by giants to unite the two banks of the world; the docks, huge warehouses or stores that occupy 28 acres of land; those domes, those bell towers, those buildings to which the vapors give strange shapes; those monumental chimneys that throw their black smoke into the sky and announce the existence of large factories. The indecisive appearance of objects around you; all this confusion of images and sensations trouble the soul, being this as stunned.

Caricatura de dandis ingleses

Cartoon of English dandis © Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes

But it is especially at night that you have to see London! London, with magical clarities of millions of lamps that feeds the gas, appears bright! Its long streets, which extend to infinity; its stores, where the flows of light make the multitude of masterpieces that the human industry produces shine in a thousand colors; that world of men and women who pass and review around one; All this produces, for the first time, an intoxicating effect. While, during the day, the beauty of the sidewalks, the number and elegance of the gardens, whose grilles of severe style seem to move away the domestic home from the crowd, the immense extension of the parks, the graceful curves that delineate them, the beauty of the trees, the multitude of superb carriages, pulled by magnificent horses that travel the routes, all those splendid realizations have some magic that obfuscates the judgment; In addition, there is no foreigner who is not fascinated when entering the British metropolis . […]

Escena de vida londinense: borrachos y jugadores en una taberna

London life scene: drunkards and players in a tavern © Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes

London, the capital and business center of the British Empire, constantly attracts new inhabitants ; but the advantages that, under that relation, it offers to the industry are balanced by the inconveniences that result from the enormity of the distances. […] Ordinary trips are one and a half league to two leagues. In this way, for few matters that a person has, he is exposed to walk five to six leagues a day; You can easily imagine the time you lose: on average, half the day is spent touring the streets of London. If moderate exercise is healthy, nothing kills the imagination more or paralyzes the spirit and heart than extreme and permanent fatigue . The Londoner, who returns home at night, exhausted by the trips of the day, can not be cheerful, or spiritual, or willing to surrender to the pleasures of conversation, music or dance. […] Such is the destiny of the inhabitants of the monster city !, Always burdened by fatigue, from which its physiognomy has taken its mark and its character has become sour.

Escena de vida londinense: borrachos y jugadores en una taberna

London life scene: drunkards and players in a tavern © Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes

London has three quite different sectors : La cité, the West end and the faubourgs. The first is the ancient city, which, despite the fire that occurred under the reign of Carlos II, has preserved a large number of small narrow streets, poorly aligned, poorly constructed, and the edges of the Thames clogged by houses bathed in its foundations by river waters. […] The inhabitants of this division are considered by those of the west end as the thoroughbred John Bulls; they are, for the most part, excellent merchants who are rarely mistaken about their interests and whom nothing affects, except these same interests. The tents, where many of them have made great fortunes, are so bleak, so cold and so wet, that the aristocracy of the West would disdain such locals to keep their horses. The habits, customs and language of the cite are noted for their forms, their nuances, their uses, their locutions, which the elegant West end call vulgarity.

Muelle de Londres

London Pier © Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library

The West end is inhabited by the court, high aristocracy, elegant commerce, artists, provincial nobility and foreigners of all countries - this part of the city is superb; the houses are well built, the streets well aligned, but extremely drab. There are the bright cars, the magnificently decked ladies, the dandys caracoleando on superbly harnessed horses, a world of servants covered with rich liveries and armed with long rods with gold and silver handles .

Banco de Inglaterra y la torre de la Bolsa de Londres (1828)

Bank of England and the Tower of the London Stock Exchange (1828) © Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes

The faubourgs, dragged down by cheap leases, enclose the workers, the public women and that mob of men with no destiny that lack of work and vices of all kinds lead to wandering, or to whom misery and hunger force Become beggars, assailants, murderers. The contrast presented by the three sectors of this city is that which civilization offers in all major capitals ; but it is more shocking in London than anywhere else.

Text taken from Walks around London, by Flora Tristán (Source: Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library, provided by the National Library of Peru).

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Caricatura de escenas de vida londinense varias

Cartoon of several London life scenes © Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes