Anais Ségalas was a poetess and critic who became a member of the Société de la Voix des Femmes in Paris in 1848 and of other Parisian feminist organizations in that year. Born Anais Menard, she was the daughter of Charles Menard and Anne Bonne Portier, a creole of Santo Domingo. A precocious child, she displayed poetic talent in her youth when she composed a birthday ode for her father at the age of eight; at sixteen she published her first collection of poems, Les Algériennes. Like many intellectual young women of her generation, Anais Menard grew up determined to exercise her talent freely and to use it to explore the condition of nineteenth-century woman.
When only fifteen years old, she married a Basque barrister, Victor Ségalas, but made as a precondition of her marriage her right to develop her literary talents unhampered by her husband's marital authority. Eugène de Mirecourt also records that Anais Ségalas, an accomplished horsewoman, successfully defied her husband's orders one day in an attempt to undertake some particularly dangerous horsejumping exercises. In this respect, she was a feminist in the early nineteenth-century sense; like George Sand, Marie d'Agoult, Rosa Bonheur and other cultivated women writers and artists of her day, she believed that a woman of talent had a right to pursue a career of her own, which required some measure of equality in marriage.
Anais Ségalas also displayed a fervent Catholic faith which led her to stress the duties and social importance of women as mothers and wives throughout her writing, which contemporary Romanticism reinforced with its emphasis on the separate nature of gender spheres and the supposedly mystical qualities of woman as protector, redeemer, charitable intercessor, and "femme fatale". Her poetry was not free of this mystical hommage. For her, woman's natural kingdom was the home and salon; from this fortresses she should exert her qualities of love and charity to repress vice, violence, and moral disorder, including the spirit of material greed and speculation that affected the July Monarchy. The preoccupation with maternal love and duty was reflected in her collection of poems called Enfantines (1844).
Both this collection and La Femme (1847), poems about various sorts and conditions of woman, were strongly moralizing and didactic, making Anais Segalas appear to be almost a French Maria Edgeworth. She never shrank from declaring that art must have a serious moral purpose and that literary women should employ their talent for the purposes of social edification and charity: La Femme urges the workingwoman to overcome the propensity of male Parisians to foment revolutionary violence through love and the spirit of industry; the woman of the world should cultivate the arts to fill her empty life of pleasure; the actress should employ her dramatic talent to stress to bourgeois audiences the hollow nature of material acquisitiveness. In her preface to La Femme, Anais Segalas distanced herself from contemporary radical feminism that sought political and civic equality and restoration of divorce. She declined to be accused of writing "the slightest fragment of Saint Simonian poetry" and she did not "intone the Marseillaise" on every page; "God preserve me from this revolutionary idea." Her poems on women did not seek to advocate for them "a better place in the sun" but simply sought to demonstrate the good that women could achieve in existing society through the power of love and affection: "her mission is to sweeten, purify, and in a sense to render spiritual the world that men manage, operate and make ever more powerful and wealthy." Symptomatic also of her moderation was Anais Segalas' collaboration in the mid-1830s on Fanny Richomme's Le Journal des Femmes. This Christian newspaper at first called for civil rights and education for women, though rejecting Saint Simonism, but finally became a ladies' fashion journal.
After the February Revolution of 1848, Anais Segalas attended meetings of the Société de la Voix des Femmes, organized by Eugènie Niboyet, and offered her work La Femme to the library of feminist literature that Eugènie Niboyet established at the newspaper. Reviewing the work, Niboyet described it as offering a course on moral behavior for all women and declared that it remained only for Anais Ségalas to write a poem about the woman-citizeness. Anais Ségalas was involved also in a short-lived Société d'Education Mutuelle des Femmes in 1848, whose purpose was to organize centers of education and co-operative employment for women.
However, her propertied and well-connected background and her Catholicism subsequently caused Anais Ségalas to distance herself from any sort of active feminism; from late 1848 she made no attempt to associate herself with the efforts of Jeanne Deroin and Pauline Roland, secular-minded women of far more modest station, to graft feminist politics on to the broader movement of democratic socialism. Mirecourt supplied a suggestive anecdote in this connection: during the June Days a group of insurgents sought to force Anais Ségalas to deliver up a municipal store of arms kept at her home in the Rue Crussol. Her husband was at that time absent on duty as a National Guard officer, but her response was to fix bayonets to the rifles and to invite the women of the neighborhood to join with her in resisting the intruders. The prompt arrival of the Mobile Guard averted a conflict. By July 1848 Anais Ségalas had begun to write occasional theatre reviews for the moderate republican newspaper Le Corsaire which at the same time was lampooning Eugènie Niboyet and feminist politics in general. Anais Ségalas happily supported the revolution as long as the Société de la Voix des Femmes devoted itself to discussions and journalism and as long as the 1848 revolution represented placid harmony among classes. The June Days and the political polarization that followed imposed a choice, however: defense of order, property and religion, or working-class political autonomy with the growing risk of subversion. Her concern for moral order and property ensured that Anais Ségalas would not associate with the feminist struggle of the democratic socialists (significantly, Eugénie Niboyet, also a barrister's wife and a Protestant of deep conviction, abandoned the struggle at about the same time). Such tensions undermined the brief feminist movement of 1848 in France.
Not surprisingly, Anais Ségalas later supported the Second Empire, with its call for order and ostentatious claim to defend the rights of the Catholic church. She was one of only a handful of writers who received a complimentary copy of Napoleon III's Vie de César. In later life , she entertained a small literary salon at her home in the Boulevard des Capucines and manifested hostility to the Third Republic because of its anticlerical policies.
Anais Ségalas' perceptions on women's character and rights and her suggestions for the amelioration of woman's position reflected a qualified feminism typical of many French woman writers of her day. They also offer insight into the psychological wellspring of her views, highlighting the divisions between moderate and radical feminists in 1848 and the gulf between French feminist aims and ideas in the France of the nineteenth and twentieth century.
Anais Séglas, La Femme (Paris: Veuve Louis Janet, 1847).
Camille Delaville Mes Contemporains (Première Série): Anais Ségalas (Paris, Paul Sévin, 1887).
Eugènie de Mirecourt Histoire Contemporaine: Portraits et Silhouettes au XIX Siècle: Anais Ségalas (Paris, A. Faure, 1871).
Francis Roch Revue Biographique des Célébrités Contemporaines: Madame Anais Ségalas (Paris, A. Guyot et Scribe, 1854).
Evelyne Sullerot Histoire de la Presse Féminine en France, des Origines à 1848 (Paris, Armand Colin, 1966).
Le Corsaire July 21 and 27, 1848, August 25, 1848.
La Voix des Femmes March 27, 1848
jgc revised this file (http://www.ohiou.edu/~chastain/rz/segalas.htm) on October 25, 2004.
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