Suzanne de Callias, “woman-soldier” of feminist literature

Chronicle “Proud of letters”case

Each month, the National Library of France highlights a work by an unknown writer, to be downloaded free of charge in Gallica. Today, Suzanne de Callias (1883-1964), author and journalist committed to women’s rights.

A member of the Parisian intelligentsia, Suzanne de Callias was a composite of the modern woman of her time. To the bourgeoisie that she embodied perfectly, she knew how to add the bite of the committed journalist, and the spirit of the novelist of her time, a new expression of the woman as she was to flourish in the newspapers of the first half of the last century.

Suzanne de Callias, born March 7, 1883 in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. His work still has something to seduce in several of its aspects. His irony first, and the drive of a stylish seasoned literary pen. In 1924, moreover, when the first issue of the surrealist revolution, the chronicler Léon Treich unveils one of the mysteries of his time: the identity of the secret Ménalkas, the author of the ersatz of love (Crès, 1923), a novel that was then much talked about. She and her co-signer – one is never sure of being able to write co-author in her case – who is none other than Willy, this old junk dealer of letters, are appointed and she finds a renewed notoriety there. To disturb the search for the author of the book a little more, Willy had claimed, this old trickster, that Ménalkas was male and that he had died in Morocco. And Ménalkas was actually called Suzanne de Callias and actually belonged to the Willy workshop. We know what this means of abnegation since the adventures of Jean de Tinan or Théo Varlet alongside the old crafty professional became known.

The young girl was not just anyone, however: she had the same first name as Nina de Villars (1843-1884), the famous author of monologues portrayed with her fan by Manet, nicknamed “the Little Anthology” because she had collected poets after separating from her fickle husband Hector de Callias (1841-1896), journalist at the Figaro, soon to be an inveterate alcoholic, client of the “Cabaret du Rat-mort” – and uncle of Suzanne whose father was none other than Hector’s brother: the painter Horace de Callias (1847-1921).

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“Ardent Feminist”

Having operated during her life only a slight transfer of the beautiful districts towards the West, up to the 6th arrondissement, Suzanne de Callias was obviously very integrated into the Parisian cultural world, and one would not be surprised that she is this “Mademoiselle de Callias”, general secretary of the Schola Cantorum to whom Erik Satie serves as “dear sister” when he wants to cut the boring invitations. She presents herself as a “excerpt from Parisienne”, a chemically pure synthesis whose beginnings in painting could be admired at the Salon des humoristes between Neumont and Forain. But co-writing with Willy did not always open the doors to success, and certainly never to fortune despite repeated efforts and self-sacrifice. At the very least, Suzanne learned the trade of letters from the old master, like Colette. Susanna, the “enigmatic little Slav” of old Willy, as he wrote to Renée Dunan in thanks for the report she had made ofalias of love (one of the few), will have written three books patched up by Willy: the shipwreck (Malfere, 1924). But, as François Caradec points out in his biography of the Father of the Claudines (Fayard, 2004), Ersatz and Naufragé neither reached 10,000 copies. “It’s heartbreaking to think, writes Willy to the journalist Pierre Varenne, that, for lack of being reported to the crowds, the book will not be bought, when it should have made its way “aunt and more!”» The time is definitely no longer for lesbians… Willy and Suzanne will collaborate one last time with green fruitwith Louis Querelle in 1927, a collection of short stories which contains a “tale lived and transposed by Ménalkas”.

However, Suzanne does not have all the pens in the same inkwell. She has worked for the press for a long time (notably the German daily Fremdenblatt Burger), draws (she entered the Committee of Cartoonists during the First World War), and gives books to various publishers with, sometimes, a firmer recognition than that achieved by these first novels. At Malfère, the literary publisher of Amiens which then had a national audience, she gave Monsieur Fayol and his daughter (1924) and appears in bookstores for volume reports and, more remarkably, writings of a very militant feminism. And for example his survey of British women is very noticed, by Gabriel Reuillard in particular; who realizes it in Paris-Evening in 1926 : “Ms. Suzanne de Callias, an ardent feminist, has given numerous lectures abroad, notably in Norway, Czechoslovakia, Germany and England. In the latter country she interviewed women of all walks of life, from female MPs to female security inspectors. In Scandinavia, it is even more remarkable, it is the female soldiers that she visits with her colleague Blanche Vogt (1885-1968) – we have mentioned their investigation of Syrian or Ukrainian soldiers in recent years: In the countries of female soldiers, Finland, Esthonia, Denmark, Lithuania (Fasquelle, 1931).

Compilation of blunders

Beyond his novels which paint the bourgeois life of his time, or that of painters, freedmen, as a naturalist would do, we will probably not insist on his exercise in divination entitled Our near future: 1934, the decisive year. What is already done. What awaits us (Protéa, 1934), where her talents as a guesser played a bit of roulette, but rather on her dazzling Anthology of anti-feminism (Library feminist and feminine-Chulliat, 1926), a book that welcomes the sling by Marguerite Durand on July 9, 1926: “It is a judicious choice of some insults, nonsense, and nonsense that famous male personalities have written against the feminine mentality from the Chinese philosophers and the early church fathers to contemporary journalists. Mrs. Suzanne de Callias has peppered these quotations with comments in which all the witty irony of the author of jerry and of Lucienne and Renette.

This compilation of male clumsiness that she commented on with pungent irony certainly deserves a reissue, if only to see that things ultimately change very little in terms of morals. Despite this exercise which should earn Suzanne de Callias a good reputation, her memory has hardly been disturbed since her disappearance in Paris on December 17, 1963. It is time to remedy this…

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Suzanne de Callias, “woman-soldier” of feminist literature

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