The London Journal of Flora Tristan

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     Flora Tristan’s “The London Journal of Flora Tristan” is one of the earliest wholly female activist endeavours. The medium is perfect for the message. Tristan used journalism as a guise to attack and expose the city of London’s master puppeteers. In a style that is both reasonable and enthusiastic, Flora Tristan sheds light on the major problems of London. She does so first by introducing it as operating under the despotic system of capitalism, then by citing authorities on the matter, providing statistics and facts to support her opinions, illustrating first-hand accounts (even traveling to the vilest of places), and elevating her distinctly English, female voice into a multinational discourse.

aerial photograph by www.webbaviation.co.uk

     In the London Journal’s section entitled “The Monster City,” Tristan’s depiction of the city of London as a monster gives it an animation that transcends the frivolous goings-on of the city. The description causes the reader to view London in aerial view. From this perspective we see that the traffic, the lights, the noise, the throngs and processions of people, all comprise the greater whole that is London. She calls it “heroic,” and says it seems to have been “erected by giants” (Tristan, 17). By casting the city as an incomprehensible figure of fantasy, and commenting on the ambiguous nature of its formation, Tristan brings to our attention the sinister nature of this monster, and flares our suspicions. What Tristan is actually calling a monstrosity is the corrupt system at the heart of it: capitalism and, as a result, the unequal distribution of 2097397001_fa09908a2f_owealth. This slave-driving system is what, “kills the imagination and paralyzes the heart and mind” (18). It is monstrous in its immensity and might, and it is frightening in its cruelty and concealment. When Tristan questions the likelihood of this monster’s perseverance, she is tactfully implanting the idea that it is not invincible. The system can be converted or destroyed; the monster slain. She gives her readers hope of conquering the system. This characterization of London as a monster is a brilliant way to introduce the problem. In her articles she reveals to us the unapparent machinations that bolster this fiend, and exposes how to conquer it.

_63829168_maryevans-10000877-549  Tristan’s inclusion of exact statistics, the citation of authorities (such as Dr. Michael Ryan and his novel Prostitution in London), with the additive of minute details, all serve to support her strong opinions. She attacks the problem from every angle: the cunning involved in the procurement of prostitutes, the impotence of the law in controlling this practice, and the reinforcement of debauchery by the aristocracy. Tristan balances between fact and opinion. The victorian-brothel1passionate rhetoric inspires sympathy, while adherence to the facts generates genuine persuasion. She does not only criticize, but also offers compliments where they are due. This strengthens her authority because it shows the reader that she is not merely complaining, but is seeking solutions, and is criticizing constructively.

Tristan muscles her writing with solutions. Contrary to the aims of Catholicism and the prison systems, Tristan aims to change those flaws in the social system that breed the criminals, rather than focus solely on the (heretofore unsuccessful) reformation of the criminals themselves. Her approach to prostitution does exactly this. She views it as an inevitable fate for “fallen” women under a system of subordination to men (25). She also judges the criminal based on the motivation behind his or her crime, instead of ignorantly dodging the issues at the root of crime, especially in the example of the mother stealing to feed her starving children.

Her inclusive, conversational style contributes to the articles’ persuasion. She addresses the reader directly. For example, in one instance she says, “I knew that the ordinary reader might find this hard to believe, … so I resolved to arm myself with proof and cite authorities to confirm the testimony of my own eyes” (89-90). This conversational tone forces her audience to take responsibility for what Tristan is saying, because she is speaking directly to them. But she does not only address the lower and middle classes, she threatens the aristocracy candidly when she says, “the day will come when they will arise and reclaim the equal rights which God gave us all at our birth. Then the aristocracy will pay dearly for the long years of oppression, violence and hypocrisy” (122).

While Tristan does remain evenhanded, citing authorities and basing her opinions on facts, she does not completely omit her voice from the articles. When she speaks of prostitution she is prostitutespassionately sympathetic to her fellow women. In this sense the piece takes on a feminist voice. But she does not descend into chauvinism. She divulges that many of the men who proliferate prostitution have female accomplices. She even mentions that some women procure the young sex slaves themselves. Her impartiality to the sexes prevents her voice from being discounted as vengeful feminism, and allows it to carry to the broader, essentially male-dominated, world of information.

Her voice also carries out of England, to the multinational world of ideas. Tristan discusses the regression that results from English nationalism. Their xenophobia creates obstacles for reform because (often constructive) criticisms of English society from foreigners are being ignored and rejected as inferior. She desires to conquer victorians048-wlthis by stating that, “all nations have a common interest” (89). This exposes the issue of prostitution as a multinational problem. It focalizes London as only one city in one country in a vast world. This opens the door to commentary from foreigners. Similarly, when she discusses the prisons of London, she appeals to more successful institutions outside of England, namely, the United States penitentiary systems. She even goes so far as to state, “for ridiculous scruples and rigid etiquette the English aristocracy will never be surpassed” (142). Tristan is stepping outside of the bubble of London, into a global discourse.

tristanFlora Tristan was not only an excellent journalist but also an empathetic social critic and an early feminist. She exposed the true criminals in society: those in control of it.

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3 Responses to The London Journal of Flora Tristan

  1. superdarka says:

    This sounds like an interesting read. Is it incredibly academic, or does it lend itself to relatively comprehensive reading? Meaning, is it going to make my ears smoke or not?

  2. superdarka says:

    And, my LORD, you are gifted. LOVE YOU!

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