14 March 2021

Special Guest Post by Mary K Tod, Author of Paris In Ruins

Available from Amazon UK, Amazon US

Paris 1870. Raised for a life of parties and servants, Camille and Mariele have much in common, but it takes the horrors of war to bring them together to fight for the city and people they love. The story of two women whose families were caught up in the defense of Paris is deeply moving and suspenseful ~~ Margaret George, author of Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero

Louise Michel and the Paris Commune

My newest novel, Paris In Ruins, is set during the Prussian siege of Paris and the Paris Commune—nine months of devastation, death, and infamy. Research prompted many questions. Why did certain Parisians attempt a coup at the end of October 1870 when Prussian soldiers surrounded the city? 

Why did so many working-class citizens rise up to overthrow the government after enduring five months of siege that left many starving and destitute? Who were the leaders of this insurrection? When I came across Louise Michel, leader of the Montmartre Women’s Vigilance Committee who some referred to as the ‘Red Virgin’, I knew she had to be part of the story.

By the summer of 1870, Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, had presided over France for twenty-two years, first as president and then as emperor. During that time, he expanded the French empire, modernized the economy, extended the railways and the merchant marine, and negotiated significant trade agreements with Britain and other European countries. He also dismantled and rebuilt large parts of Paris to create the boulevards and buildings that remain to this day and give the city its distinctive style.

Napoleon III (Wikimedia)

For some—the aristocrats, the Catholic Church, military and political leaders, and the upper middle class—life was good. However, the gap between rich and poor had widened. The working class merely scraped by and half the population lived in poverty and destitution. The people were restless. Protests bubbled beneath the surface, occasionally spilling over onto the streets in riots and demonstrations. According to one account, people assembled every night on the Boulevards, singing the Marseillaise, destroying property, their leaders inflaming the crowds with sedition.

In 1870, the revolutionary spirit from the revolution that occurred toward the end of the 18th century was still very much alive. People like Louise Michel, a feminist, a writer, and an anarchist were attracted to the ideals of socialism that spread under the influence of the International Association of Workers. Montmartre, the home of many working-class men and women, was a center of political and economic radicalism. 

Louise Michel (Wikimedia)

Political clubs were the places where discussions took place and demands for reform debated. Women set up their own clubs where they expressed their desires for change and their resentment of oppression. Louise Michel was one of the founders of the Society for the Rights of Women (La Société du Droit des Femmes). 

She believed passionately that women should have autonomy and equality. Michel and her co-leaders in the society called for the establishment of schools for girls, civil equality for married women, and equal working opportunities. Many denounced the Church and rejected the definition of women through their childbearing and nurturing capacities. 

Louise Michel wrote: “In the world, [woman] bends under mortification; in her home her burdens crush her. Man wants to keep her that way, to be sure she will never encroach upon his functions or his titles.”

Louise Michel led the Women’s Vigilance Committee of Montmartre with vigor and dedication calling on those who assembled to rise up for change, to support the Commune, and to take on all the tasks necessary to overthrow a social order she and others saw as repressive of workers’ rights and the rights of women. Just before the Commune seized control, Louise exhorted her followers to become ambulance workers, food workers, journalists, orators, barricade workers, educators, working class organizers, and to take up arms, if necessary, to fight for their rights.

In Live Working or Die Fighting, author Paul Mason writes: “A wiry, dark-haired woman runs screaming down the cobbled street that links Montmartre with the boulevard below. It is Louise Michel and she has a rifle hidden under her jacket. The word she’s screaming is ‘treason.’ She’s just seen government troops take possession of the guns lined up in the Montmartre cannon park. Drums are beaten in the alleyways and soon Michel returns, accompanied by her boyfriend Ferré and a motley column of armed citizens.”

Paul Mason shares Louise Michel’s memories of that day: “Montmartre arose . . . In the dawn, which was just breaking, you could hear the tocsin ringing; we went up at the speed of a charge, knowing that at the top there was an army in battle formation. We expected to die for liberty.”

This is the Louise Michel on whom my protagonist Camille Noisette spies so that those in government are informed of the plans of the radicals who threaten Paris and, should they succeed, all of France.

Mary K Tod

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About the Author

M.K. (Mary) Tod writes and blogs about historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS  is available for pre-order on AmazonUS, AmazonCanada, Kobo and Barnes & Noble. Find out more from Mary's website www.mktod.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MKTodAuthor


  1. Many thanks, Tony. It's always a delight to be on your blog.


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