Avenue Élisée-Reclus

Arrondissement 7

Named after France’s greatest geographer

A wealthy street close to the Eiffel Tower and the Seine River whose only claim to be in Left in Paris is because this naming took place two years after Reclus died in Belgium.

Why did France’s greatest geographer die outside France? The answer lies in the Paris Commune.

On 16 November 1871 Reclus was sentenced to deportation to a French colony for life, but after the intervention of English geographers in his favour this was commuted to perpetual banishment.

He went first to Italy, then he settled at Clarens, Switzerland, where he wrote many major books. In 1894 became Chair of Geography at Brussels University.

He had zero connection with wealthy Paris.

Five years after it was given Reclus’ name, the Avenue was truncated to its current 230m length. Exactly 330m of it were lopped off and renamed Émile-Deschanel. after a much more respectable Republican who had died the year before the Communard and anarchist.

Why? The Paris municipal elections of 1904 witnessed a considerable increase in the numbers of socialists, up from 20 to 26, and they became the largest single grouping – although the Boulangist nationalists won 21 seats to the Radical Republicans 18 and the Conservatives and monarchists 11 and the Right-wing Republicans 4. This was just enough to enable some left-inclined street naming.

But the 1908 elections saw the left on the retreat. There were just 10 Socialist Party councillors sit alongside another 11 independent socialists, while the Radical Republicans won 22 seats and the Right-wing Republicans 28 along with 9 conservative monarchists. The right-wing revenge was the truncating of Élisée-Reclus.

Nobuhito Nagaï’s study of the Paris municipal council electon results after the defeat of the Commune shows how the broad republican left (the two left columns) secured majorities from 1887 to 1900 and then again from 1904 to 1912, with the far-right present throughout