‘Le Père Duchesne’ and ‘Le fils du père Duchêne Illustré’

Almost everyone relishes the chance to contribute their 2 cents’ worth to nuances of political subjects. Some opt for a little privacy and discretion when breaching these matters and called it the better part of valour –  but there are the bold ones defying authorities with ardour and consistency, committing their ideas in black and white and with considerable circulation within the society at large without fear of real or imagined repercussions. I’m not about to dissect the rationale behind these brave souls, except, perhaps offer the scant afterthought that they may want to make a name for themselves given that the human life is inexorably unremarkable for most parts. No words, but deeds – remember?

To make any sense of what I’m exhorting here – we may make a memory trip back to the French Revolution of the 18th century. Political radicals have had their field day back then but so did the guillotine, the execution tool which made fond acquaintances with the necks of these radicals even if for a brief period of time. The bad side of human nature surfaces – you do it my way or the highway. The Jacobins under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre took hold of the political reins in 1793 and let loose the infamous Reign of Terror. Their ultimate aim – the eradication of political opponents who stood in their way. But – let’s not get too convoluted with facts: just think of it as one ruling power has been toppled (the King of France), so let the games begin to elect a clear winner to take over the political power of the country. Wash, rinse and repeat for every nation conceivable on this despicable planet Earth, except with arguable far less violence but not less sneaky and underhanded.

pere ducheneLe Père Duchesne‘ (The Father Duchesne / Old Man Duchesne) was one such periodical which the Reign of Terror was first designated and implemented to filter out and to vaporize. The feverish political climate of those heady times was too dangerous for insurgency and uncontrollable order. Radically-infused publications would undo most of the hard work of garnering overall public support for the new Jacobin order. It’s understandable – ceding too much freedom of speech and thoughts has never been the practice of ruling governments everywhere, not even till today, likewise the uncanny ability of humans to contrive to do mischief of any shape and size is also good reason. Its editor, Jacques Hébert was no doubt, caught up by the tempestuous spirit of the times and would savagely attack the Goliath that was the Jacobin, albeit only by words.

Apparently, Old Man Duchesne (he’s fiction, just so you know) is the purported voice of the people –  and to denounce abuses and injustices in this eponymous paper. To the left, his likeness graces the front cover with his speech below the picture proclaiming – “Je suis le veritable pére Duchesne, foutre” which translates as “F**k, I’m the true Pére Duchesne”. This ersatz self-advertising may have been done with a dose of humour but it makes no secret that its editor was serious about what he wanted to project to his audiences – as he made flirting references to the guillotine – with complete knowledge that his actions are subject to intense scrutiny by the Jacobin political watchdogs. Jacques did have his time – but it ran out in 1894. Like a moth circling round a flame, he inadvertently clipped his wings.

Allegedly, many fancy imitators sprung up after its original editor was beheaded by the guillotine. I’d think that this periodical may have been of a certain success to deserve such posthumous recognition.


Fast-forward 80 years to the future.

France has just lost the devastating Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Napoleon’s nephew, the Emperor Napoleon III was defeated near Sedan to the Prussian army and his capitulation plunged the whole French nation into further uncertainty. A provisional French government under Adolphe Thiers was hurriedly formed. The French tendency to revolt against their rulers are now less legendary and hardly surprising – the Parisians desired to continue the fight against the despised Prussians and surrender was not in their minds. The Paris Commune was formed (it’s an anarchy) and its bloody consequences were shocking to even its war-ravaged European neighbours. It was chaos like the days before the Reign of Terror again in France.

These troubled times saw the re-emergence of the character Le Père Duchesne of which the same concept was revived; and the new periodical ‘Le Fils du Père Duchêne Illustré’ (“The Illustrious Son of Père Duchesne”) as its successor.

Like its 18th century publication, the (earlier) 1848 and the 1871 editions illustrated the ‘tell it as it is’ form of newspapers we all might want, minus the embellishments and other bits to spice up a story. I can’t be sure that this version of Père of 1871 is as honest as it came but it was highly critical of the provisional French government and exemplified another clear instance of anti-government defiance.

Here are the issues:-

1st issueThis issue was released on April 21 1871.

It had the title ‘La colonne Vendôme‘ ( Vendôme Column ) which had the statue of Napoleon Bonaparte at the top. Père Duchesne was seen scaling to the top and faced the statue and saying “Eh ben ! bougre de canaille, on va donc te foutre en bas comme ta crapule de neveu !” (Ah well! You scoundrel, you’ll be screwed down there like that lousy nephew of yours!”.

It was no blank promise. The Column with Bonaparte’s statue was toppled during the Paris Commune. (see picture below left)





2nd issueThe next issue was published on 26 April 1871. Its title was ‘Le Petit Thiers’ or ‘Little Thiers’ (Adolphe Thiers). Marianne (the French national symbol, herein depicted as the ‘Paris Commune’) can be seen cradling the unloved French leader as a newly conceived infant.

The text at the bottom reads “Et dire qu’on voudrait me forcer à reconnaître ce crapaud-là!…” which roughly means “And to think that anyone would like to force me to recognize that son of a b*tch!”. This is people’s power, and the message to Thiers is as clear as day, at least that was what the Communards thought.


3rd issueThis issue rolled out on 30 April 1871. You can see a constancy in its release dates, as the days of the Paris Commune were very tense and eventful.

The title in French reads ‘ Le général Dombrowski‘. (General Dombrowski). The Polish-born general was pictured as an oversized creature chasing and slaughtering people.

The caption reads “Un bon bougre!… nom de dieu!…” (A good guy!….name of God!). I could only draw a blank at this description.

4th issueHere comes my fave cover. It came out on 3rd May 1871. The title reads ‘Le dictateur Thiers’ (Dictator Thiers). The joker was seen riding on a snail and charging at the insurgent Paris Commune.

The caption is “En avant!… foutre de foutre!…et gare aux Parisiens!…” which can be translated as ‘Forward! F*ck of a f*ck! And watch out for the Parisians!’.

It was also not an accidental observation. Thiers, given that the situation in 1871 France was virtually beyond his control, could not muster enough authority to act on the Paris Commune quickly enough, hence the taunts.

5th issue

Thiers bearing the brunt of the jokes again here. The paper came out on 7 May 1871 with the title ‘Les guignol politiques’ (Political Puppets). The picture shows the Commune (Marianne) on the right with a stick, and Thiers concealing a box of Cayenne Peppers.

The accompanying caption is as follows “Tu veux que je dépose ma trique … As-tu fini ! D’abord, montre donc ce que tu caches derrière ton dos petit Foutriquet” translated as ‘ You expect me to put down the stick…are you done! First, show me what you are hiding behind, little Foutriquet…’

Thiers wanted to put down the violence of the Paris Commune (the symbolism of the stick being one of violence and fighting) but the Communards wanted to know what were his devious intentions. Foutriquet was a pun on the name, Thiers.

6th issueThis issue was released on 10 May 1871 with the same title as that of the 7 May 1871. Marianne could be seen lying down and halting General Vinoy holding a stick mid-air.

The caption reads “Le rêve de ce gros jean-foutre de Vinoy.” (The Dream of the great jackass, Vinoy)

The meaning behind the cover eludes me.

7th issueThis particular issue came out on 14th May 1871. The title is ‘Le Citoyen Courbet’ (Citizen Courbet).

The famous artist Gustave Courbet could be seen trying to unsettle a Morris Column (advertising post). Courbet himself was charged by the Paris Commune leaders to safeguard all the art museums and other galleries of Paris from looting mobs.

The caption reads “Foutant en bas toutes les colonnes…de Paris” (Screwing from behind all columns of Paris).

8th issueThis issue first appeared on 17 May 1871. It depicts a bat (deposed Emperor Napoleon III) weighing ‘options’ between the Republic and Adolphe Thiers. This cover makes a mockery of Napoleon’s attempted return to France and to regain power. The title reads ” Le rêve de Badinguet” (‘Napoleon III’s dream’, his sobriquet being ‘Badinguet’)

The caption reads “De gouverner, toujours avide, Voilà mon plan: –  Il est splendide!-   Je les fais battre tous les deux,  J’attends qu’ils se mangent entr’eux, Et quand la mort a fait le vide Je rentre à Paris…, si je PEUX ! (Napoleon III) Devant ce plan lâche et stupide, Chacun de nous, avec esprit, A ce monstre chauve… sourit! (” To Govern, Always Frenetic, Here’s my plan: – it’s splendid! I’ll make them both fight each other, I’ll wait for them to eat each other, and when Death makes the vacuum, I’ll return to Paris, if I CAN! — Before this cowardly and stupid plan, Each one of us, with spirit, To this bald monster….smile!”)

9th issueMay 21 1871. Two ordinary citizens can be seen having a banter with the title ‘Les cartes d’identité’ (Identity Cards). The portly man is depicted with a sign hanging from his neck with the name ‘J. Prudhomme’ (like the very boring English Mr. Smith, your typical and average joe) and further written:

Nez…gociant       Œil … de perdrix       Bouche … trou       Bataillon des vétérans   (Nose…Parker      Eyes…of a partridge         Mouth…shut       Veteran battalions )

The conversation is as follows:

(Young woman) : “Eh bien, mon vieux Joseph, toi qui a tant gueulé contre ces petites dames du boulevard, te voilà donc comme elles!… On t’a aussi foutu une carte!”

(Well, my dear Joseph, you’ve bad-mouthed about those little ladies of the boulevard, and here you are then, the same as them!…They’ve even screwed a card on you too!)

Joseph Prud’homme : “Ce n’est pas la même chose, mademoiselle, la mienne est une carte de civisme et la vôtre une carte de … cynisme!”

(It’s not the same, miss, mine is a civic-minded card (civisme) and yours is a cynical-minded (cynisme) card!)

Artur V thinks: *Lame joke, I know*

10th issue

Final one came out on May 24 1871. The son of Duchesne dressed as a French national Guard soldier of the 18th century (Fédéré) and Marianne. The title is ‘ Le départ de notre bonne Commune’ (‘Departure from our beloved, good Commune’ or ‘Departure from our good ol’ Commune’) and the ensuing conversation: –

Duchesne : “Eh ben ! ma bonne Commune, qu’est que tu fous donc là?” (Ah well, my dear Commune, what is it you’re f*cking around there?)

Marianne : “Dame! mon petit Duchêne, je fais mes malles… puisque M.Thiers m’a foutu mes huit jours. Seulement, tu vois, je ne me presse pas trop” (Lady! My little Duchene, I’m packing my suitcases…since M. Thiers has been f*cking me for the past 8 days. Only, as you can see, I’m not in a hurry)


While I’m quite sure that most of these 19th century published material are very objective and singular-minded in directing their hatred to the old regime and to the unpopular leaders of its day, they present an insight into the free press and its consequences if left unattended and its development unchecked.

But the age of Romanticism is no longer present in France in 1870. The vividly daring and culturally challenging ‘Belle Epoque’ was just making its presence felt – the age of Impressionism has come to France.

Fantasy and freedom is the key.

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