Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday

“Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday” by Eugenio Baroncelli
Translated by Chenxin Jiang

Paris, Place de la Révolution, 17 July 1793. She mounted the scaffold without any regrets. Without a whimper she offered her young neck to the guillotine (she was twenty-five years old). She was a small French girl from a good family, condemned by her birth and by poverty to celibacy or the convent: “an expendable woman, for whom a longer life would be useless,” as she declared to the jury the day before. So useless that when he was commissioned by the National Convention to paint the painting everyone remembers, Jacques-Louis David forgot about her. There he is, Marat, his muscular athlete’s body flowing over the edge of the fateful bathtub, there is the sheet stained with his blood, there is the letter she wrote to him in the handwriting of a crafty intellectual (“Because I am unhappy, I have a right to your help”), there is the ivory-handled kitchen knife that she had bought for forty francs in Badin’s cutlery shop beneath the portico of the Palais Royal, but she is not there, the little Norman girl who assassinated the great Friend of the People.

 

“Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday” by Eugenio Baroncelli

Parigi, piazza della Rivoluzione, 17 Iuglio 1793. Sale il patibolo senza un rimpianto. Senza un lamento offre alla ghigliottina il suo collo di ragazza (ha venticinque anni). È una piccola normanna di buona famiglia, condannata per nascita e indigenza al celibato o al convento: “una donna inutile, cui una vita più lunga non sarebbe servita a nulla”, come ha dichiarato candidamente ai giudici il giorno prima. È così inutile che, nel dipingere su commissione della Convenzione quel quadro che tutti ricordano, Jacques-Louis David se l’è dimenticata. C’è lui, Marat, quel bell’atleta dal corpo muscoloso, riverso sul bordo della fatidica vasca, c’è il telo macchiato dal suo sangue, c’è la lettera che gli ha scritto nella sua grafia di letterata maliziosa (“Basta che io sia infelice per avere diritto alla vostra benevolenza”), c’è il coltello da cucina col manico d’avorio che ha comprato per quaranta soldi nella bottega di Badin, sotto i portici del Palazzo Reale, ma non lei, la piccola normanna che ha trucidato il grande Amico del Popolo.

© 2010 Sellerio Editore, Palermo

 

Eugenio Baroncelli was born in Rimini and lives in Ravenna. He was previously an Italian and Latin teacher and is also interested in film theory and criticism. His books include Mosche d’inverno. 271 morti in due o tre pose (Flies in Winter: 271 deaths posed two or three ways, 2010), which won the Premio Supermondello and Premio Piero Chiara, Falene. 237 vite quasi perfette (Moths: 237 almost perfect lives, 2012), and Pagine Bianche. 55 libri che non ho scritto (Blank Pages: 55 books I didn’t write, 2013).

Chenxin Jiang

Chenxin Jiang is a writer and translator who grew up in Hong Kong and lives in Berlin. She most recently translated The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution for New York Review Books.

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Author: Chenxin Jiang

Chenxin Jiang is a writer and translator who grew up in Hong Kong and lives in Berlin. She most recently translated The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution for New York Review Books.