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When a woman writes

As early as 1945, the novelist denounced the misunderstanding on which the universal model is based. Since the dawn of time, it has been mistaken for the masculine gender, silencing women’s voices and making them invisible. When Jeanne Bornand, the housewife narrator and secretary in La Paix des Ruches, dares to write to let her voice be heard, as misplaced as that may be, it brings the gendered bias of our frame of reference to the fore. Alice Rivaz warned, “Beware of the woman who keeps silent. The day she speaks will change the world!”

Alice Rivaz' self-portrait in painting with blue eyes and red clothes
Alice Rivaz' self-portrait, undated (SLA)
Newspaper page with text, images and headline on women's right to vote
Alice Rivaz, “Sir, what do you think about women’s right to vote?”, Servir, 1 November 1945 (BCUL)

Although politically aware since her childhood, Alice Rivaz had to wait until the age of 70 before she could become a full-fledged citizen of her country. In November 1945, when Geneva issued a cantonal vote on women’s right to vote, she wrote this incisive article on the hypocritical resistance of men regarding women participating in politics.

Photo portrait of Jean-Georges Lossier holding his glasses in his right hand and nibbling them
Portrait of Jean-Georges Lossier (CLSR)
Manuscript letter written by Jean-Georges Lossier
Letter from Jean-Georges Lossier, 21 December 1947 (SLA) / Jean-Georges Lossier shared Alice Rivaz’ feminist vision, which aimed to prevent everyday stereotypes between women and men “widening the chasm that separates our two worlds.”

The poet Jean-Georges Lossier (1911-2004) was a loyal friend to Alice Rivaz. He actively contributed to the publication of La Paix des ruches and, during her long crossing of the desert between 1947 and 1959, he encouraged her to never give up writing, “your real job”.

Typescript letter signed by Paul Budry
Letter from Paul Budry, 2 March 1948 (SLA)
Manuscript letter in blue ink signed by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz
Letter from C.F. Ramuz, 30 January 1946 (SLA)

The reaction of the Vaudois author Paul Budry is representative of a caddish sense of male legitimacy, which often stifled the feminist debate in the 20th century. C.F. Ramuz did not understand La Paix des ruches any more than Albert Mermoud did. However, he admitted that he had never thought about the female condition while discovering the difference between ‘Mann’ (man) and ‘Mensch’ (human), which the French ‘homme’ conceals.

Newspaper page with title in blue and photo of Alice Rivaz
Alice Rivaz, “Psychologie de l’amour en Suisse” (The Psychology of Love in Switzerland), Servir, 15 July 1948 (BCUL)

In 1948, the Servir newspaper used La Paix des ruches as the basis for an overview of the relationship between men and women in Switzerland. The reactions to the novel revealed a difference in interpretation based on gender. The empathy expressed by female readers suggested their longing to see society change, while the male readers simply pointed to Jeanne as solely responsible for her own dissatisfaction.

La Paix des ruches

La Paix des ruches

La Paix des ruches (The peace within the beehive) was published two years before Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and precedes the feminist novels of the latter half of the 20th century.

A new outlook

A new outlook

In creating new women’s voices in fiction, the novelist revives the memory of the female writers of the past.