Madame Roland. From the painting by Heinsius at Versailles. From
                                Esther Singleton, ed. and trans., 
                                    Famous Women as Described by Famous

Madame Roland


Engraver's daughter, Paris
Fluent in French, Latin, Italian, English; accomplished musician, dancer
Jean-Marie Roland, influential supporter of French Revolution
Imprisonment; writes memoirs in prison

From Salon to Guillotine: Madame Roland as Heroine of the French RevolutionRead more...

Alison Booth

William Russell’s short biography of Madame Roland begins with a nightmare parade of the Terror that followed the French Revolution, in which Madame Roland stands out as “one white-robed figure in the doleful procession, with pale, bright, classic face, mantled with dark silken hair, and illumined by deep blue, transparent eyes, kindled to indignant flame by the hootings and curses of the multitude” (that is, a scenario that blends “light into darkness,” the heroine’s appearance, and a lady’s confrontation of the mob). This heroine’s sacrifice collapses into that of Marie Antoinette: the image “dwells in the gazer's memory long after it has disappeared from the scaffold still wet with the blood of a queen, and been flung, as carrion, into the common fosse at Glamart” (R 39). Wilmot-Buxton, too, interlinks Marie-Jeanne or Manon Philipon Roland and Marie Antoinette, the subject of her preceding chapter: “life-stories…so unlike…so absolutely opposed politically, become curiously intermingled…and in the end are merged into the same common fate” (WB 137). The horrors of the Revolution stain the image of Madame Roland’s heroism, as they curdle Russell’s prose: her “clear conscience” largely seems to shine in “an atmosphere of light and purity” because of the “the contrastive foil afforded by [her] grimed, blood-spotted companions”; her “courage, energy, devotion” and “cruel and untimely death…excite the unbounded sympathy and compassion of all” who consider that she was led astray by “sinister influences surrounding her youth, and the false lights” that she later followed into “an impassable abyss” (R 39-40).

From William Russell, Extraordinary Women, and Ethel Mary Wilmot-Buxton, A Book of Noble Women.