“For most Americans, the image of the pétroleuse setting buildings and homes ablaze (either to delay the invasion of troops or simply to gratify her ”love of riot”) confirmed the connection between feminist agitation, political revolution, economic conflict, and cultural catastrophe. “Pale, frenzied, … [and] fierce,” as a poet in Harper’s Weekly described them, the pétroleuses presented a nightmarish specter of women aggressively repudiating bourgeois norms of womanhood. Many witnesses (and subsequent commentators) identified the arsonists as prostitutes, morally dizzied by their distance from domestic life, hystericized by their all-too-public vocation and their abandonment to their bodies. Most commentators did not distinguish the pétroleuses from other women of the [Paris] Commune, all of whom they saw as rowdy, reckless affronts to nature. Given over to unfeminine theorizing and public speaking, these woman formed clubs where they urged the legalization of divorce and women’s sexual independence. (As historians have subsequently detailed, they also smoked pipes, toted pistols, and wore revolutionary garb, delighting audiences, male and female, who thronged the clubs to see them.) These feminists led marches and fought at the barricades. During the Bloody Week, they reportedly not only set fire to homes and civic buildings but also plundered the city, gave enemy soldiers poisoned wine, and murdered officers after they had surrendered – atrocities recounted in dozens of histories, short stories, novels, poems, and plays about the Paris Commune though the turn of the century.”
- D.A. Zimmerman, Panic!: Markets, Crises, & Crowds in American Fiction (2006)
Les Pétroleuses were the sex-workers, witches, and lady proles of the Paris Commune whose ‘love of riot’ burnt Paris to the ground.
Pétroleuse Press is based in Brooklyn.