Sunday 8 August 2010

A Monument to Motherhood

A strange atmosphere reigns in the Jardin du Monument aux Mères Françaises. It’s barely a garden, just a few lime trees and a gravel path shaping attention towards the imposing monument at its heart. There is nobody here, and no traces to suggest that anyone ever comes. Is it the perspective, proportions or politics that put them off?

The scale is Stalinian, and this doesn’t feel like Paris. In fact its easy to imagine yourself in a garden of an obscure Eastern European state, confronted by a visual representation of an ideology that is clearly unloved by the locals. This monument though, despite its forms and size, is not promoting a dogma or (directly) commemorating a glorious war, but was instead erected to honour something far more universal. Motherhood.

The monument, created by the architect Paul Bigot, was inaugurated by the President of France, Albert Lebrun, on the 25th October 1938, but it seems much older. It is heavy and austere, solemn too with the grey weather-eaten faces of the statues. There is too much text, a full paragraph from Lebrun chiselled into the stone on one side, and quotations from Edmond Labbe and Victor Hugo on the other. War and sorrow do not seem far away, and indeed war was the reason for its creation.

The First World War had sent a greater number of young fathers off to battle than ever before, and many never returned. In the 1920s, France therefore saw a generation of children raised by just one parent, and the nation wanted to recognise the role played by these French mothers in the rebuilding of the country. The timing of the unveiling though, a year before another brutal conflict, was unfortunate to say the least.

Has the monument ever been a popular one? Christel Sniter, in a thesis entitled ‘Les femmes célèbres dans la statuaire publique à Paris (1870-2004)’, outlines how it almost immediately became the scene of protests. First, in the 1940s, when French communists gathered to protest, and later in the 1970s when feminists identified it as an image of opression. On both occasions, the groups were critical of the fact that the image of the French woman was again being reduced to just that of a mother.

It is awkward and massive monument, poorly situated in a pocket-sized park. It is incongruous and outdated, and yet it does seem there is something here worth celebrating. Or perhaps I just visited at an opportune moment. Naturally my thoughts turned to one French mother in particular. The mother of my son, and since last Thursday, the mother of our lovely new daughter.


Res I(p)sa said...

Toutes mes félicitations!

Betty said...

That's beautiful. I'll look for it the next time I visit Paris.

CarolineLD said...


Peter (the other) said...

The most wonderful way to quietly tell the news, I am impressed with your taste and grace which bodes so well for your, perhaps, future mother.

Congratulations to you and partner mother.

And I find the statues honest and human, somehow making me think of The Potato Eaters... and also the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo (another work that seems to be ill considered by many).

cocoa and coconut said...

What art! (And my congrats as well)

Cergie said...

Félicitations aux parents (père et mère) et au grand frère, vous voilà une vraie famille !
Que les fées se penchent avec bienveillance sur ce petit berceau !

Tu fais des messages qui correspondent à tes états d'âme ou alors est ce l'inverse. Tes états d'âmes découlent de tes rencontres. Je crois que les deux explications sont valables. Ce message ressemble à celui que j'ai fait sur Meyronne à la différence que je n'ai pas écrit tout ce que j'ai pensé et regardé : les mères travaillant pour la patrie comme cette femme rencontrée le lendemain abandonnée sous X et qui a eu une belle destinée professionnelle ensuite et 4 enfants elle-même (c'est elle qui a utilisé cette expression "bien travailler pour la patrie"). La douleur des femmes et des mères restées à la maison et attendant leurs hommes.
Il n'empêche, être femme est un beau destin et avoir une nouvelle petite femme dans la maison un grand bonheur.

Peter (the other) said...

A friend pointed out:

Arise, then, women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Julia Ward Howe
1870 Mother's Day Proclamation

paris (im)perfect said...

Congratulations, Adam. What a classy post to share your good news. Very happy for you.

henk van es said...

A bit late, but my congratulations as well. Nice post to envelop this news.

Gina V said...

congratulations! happy for you!

FotoMarg said...

Congratulations, Adam, on being a father for the second time.

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