By Susan K. Foley, Charles Sowerwine (auth.)
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Extra info for A Political Romance: Léon Gambetta, Léonie Léon and the Making of the French Republic, 1872–82
I fear nothing ‘I want you to devote yourself to the Republic’ 31 except being kept in the dark. ’9 Léon soon referred to herself as Gambetta’s ‘morganatic wife’, claiming a unique status for her relationship with him. She nevertheless continued seeing clients until at least 1874. Only substantial financial support from Gambetta, including support for her family, would have enabled her to dispense with them. The letters do not raise the delicate issue of finances – discussing money was taboo for a courtesan, reducing her to a ‘common prostitute’ – and this makes it difficult to establish the point at which Léon became exclusively Gambetta’s mistress.
In the elections of February 1871, the republicans were associated with the effort to continue a widely detested war; monarchists stood for an end to the war and won a huge majority. Thiers became provisional ‘Head of the Executive Power’ – not President – pending ‘a decision on the institutions of France’. Thus the Republic so recently proclaimed came to be governed by monarchists. With peace, however, they lost their trump card, and Thiers soon came to support a Republic, but one with constitutional arrangements to entrench the power of elites against what he had famously called the ‘vile multitude’.
Gambetta swiftly acknowledged his misdemeanours: ‘I fear that I tire you, and that you are afraid of me. I swear however that I will never again have to reproach myself with the slightest violence. ’ He was deeply apologetic again a week later: ‘I can’t think about what happened without trembling, I ask myself how I could have lost my reason . . I swear to you that an impure design never entered my soul. I am sorry and furious . . 12 Perhaps Gambetta had approached Léon crudely; perhaps he had even attempted to force himself on her.