|Translator||David Le Vay|
|Publisher||Les Éditions de Minuit|
Les Guérillères is about a war of the sexes, where women 'engage in bloody, victorious battles using knives, machine guns and rocket launchers'. Moreover, sympathetic males join them in their combat.
Literary significance and criticism
The Times Book Review called it 'perhaps the first epic celebration of women ever written.' However, The New York Times Book Review opined, 'The book itself turns out to be, sadly, oddly, at times almost maddeningly, quite dull'.
The novel is, some say, based on a concept of women's superiority. "'... [F]ine feminist critics like Toril Moi and Nina Auerbach have read Les guérillères as a closed structure, in which women win the war and institute a new equilibrium of women ruling men'". Toril Moi described the novel as a "depict[ion of] ... life in an Amazonian society involved in a war against men .... [in which] [t]he war is finally won by the women, and peace is celebrated by them and the young men who have been won over to their cause." According to Nina Auerbach, the novel "is the incantatory account of the training and triumph of a female army. Here, the buried warfare of ["Muriel"] Spark's communities explodes in a new Amazonianism." These interpretations are not universal, as Linda Zerilli argued that more important was Monique Wittig's creation of an "'open structure' of freedom."
The novel's 1985 English translation says, "[o]ne of ["[t]he women"] ... relates the story of Vlasta. She tells how under Vlasta's guidance the first female State was created.... Another of them recalls that in the female State men were tolerated only for servile tasks and that they were forbidden under pain of death to bear arms or mount on horseback.... Vlasta's warriors teach all the peasant women who join them how to handle arms." "The women address the young men in these terms, now you understand that we have been fighting as much for you as for ourselves." "They say, it would be a grave mistake to imagine that I would go, me, a woman, to speak violently against men when they have ceased to be my enemies." "[T]hey sing and dance.... Someone interrupts them to praise those males who have joined them in their struggle. Then, ... she begins to read an unfolded paper, for example, When the world changes and one day women are capable of seizing power and devoting themselves to the exercise of arms and letters in which they will doubtless soon excel, woe betide us. I am certain they will pay us out a hundredfold, that they will make us stay all day by the distaff the shuttle and the spinning-wheel, that they will send us to wash dishes in the kitchen. We shall richly deserve it. At these words all the women shout and laugh and clap each other on the shoulder to show their contentment."
By an interpretation, the women and "those men of good will who come to join them" reconcile. Also by an interpretation, "[a]s in the legend of the Amazons, ... it is the women who decide both where to live and how to govern."
How Les Guérillères Works in Conversation with "One is Not Born A Woman
Wittig argues against the perceived natural category of women in favor of social theory, claiming that the label of “woman” merely perpetuates the myth that femininity and womanhood are natural, unchanging, and definable. To ascribe to the natural distinction between man and woman is to submit women to a life of servitude as the Other, perpetually seen in relation to man rather than as autonomous human beings. In order to demolish this categorical oppression, Wittig proposes a lesbian society, writing in her essay “One Is Not Born a Woman:” “Lesbian is the only concept I know of which is beyond the categories of sex (woman and man), because the designated subject (lesbian) is not a woman… For what makes a woman is a specific social relation to a man” (20). Therefore, in abolishing our heterosexual society we abolish the categorical, societal oppression of women as a class, making it is possible to rebuild a society that operates under egalitarian structures. While “One is Not Born a Woman” argues these points in academic language, her novel Les Guérillères reflects similar ideology in the form of prose-poetry, describing a lesbian utopian society in which its citizens wage war against its men, emerging victorious, at the brink of remolding society without patriarchal, hetero-normative values. This lesbian utopia sheds light on the current relationship between men as a category, and women as a category; this utopian society is a sci-fi trope that elucidates patriarchal hierarchies in our modern-day societies. When put in conversation with her previous works, such as "One is Not Born a Woman," her readers see a vision of a society that she has talked about in the abstract--a more concrete example of a lesbian society told in prose poetry.
- Martin, Douglas, Monique Wittig, 67, Feminist Writer, Dies, New York Times, January 12, 2003.
- Wittig, Monique, trans. David Le Vay, Les Guérillères (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, reprint 1985 (ISBN 0-8070-6301-0), © 1969 Les Editions de Minuit).
- Crowder, Diane Griffin, 'From the Straight Mind to Queer Theory; Implications for Political Movement', Monique Wittig: At the Crossroads of Criticism, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, special issue, Duke University Press, 2007, page 493
- Zerilli, Linda M. G., Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005 (ISBN 0-226-98133-9)), p. 80 n. 51, quoting Laurence M. Porter, Feminist Fantasy and Open Structure in Monique Wittig's Les Guérillères, in Morse, Donald E., Marshall B. Tymn, & Csilla Bertha, eds., The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth Anniversary International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992 (ISBN 0-313-27814-8)), p.  (author prof. Fr. & comparative lit., Mich. State Univ.), and citing Zerilli, Linda M. G., The Trojan Horse of Universalism: Language as a "War Machine" in the Writings of Monique Wittig, in Social Text or Social Text: Theory/Culture/Ideology, nos. 25–26 (1990), pp. 146–170.
- Zerilli, Linda M. G., Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom, op. cit., p. 80 n. 51, quoting Laurence M. Porter, Feminist Fantasy and Open Structure in Monique Wittig's Les Guérillères, in Morse, Donald E., Marshall B. Tymn, & Csilla Bertha, eds., The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth Anniversary International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, op. cit., p.  (author prof. Fr. & comparative lit., Mich. State Univ.).
- Moi, Toril, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (London: Routledge, 2d ed., 2002 (ISBN 0-415-28012-5)), p. 78 (author prof. lit. & romance studies, Duke Univ., N. Car.).
- Auerbach, Nina, Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1978 (ISBN 0-674-15168-2)), p. 186.
- Zerilli, Linda M. G., Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom, op. cit., p. 80, purportedly quoting within the quotation Laurence M. Porter, Feminist Fantasy and Open Structure in Monique Wittig's Les Guérillères, in Morse, Donald E., et al., eds., The Celebration of the Fantastic, op. cit. (not The Celebration of the Fantastic, id., p. , a misquotation or misattribution of Linda Zerilli's, but possibly inferrable from The Celebration of the Fantastic, id., pp.  & 268) (for meaning in literary criticism of a structure or system being open or closed, see The Celebration of the Fantastic, id., p. 268).
- Wittig, Monique, trans. David Le Vay, Les Guérillères (1985, © 1969), op. cit., p. 112 (probably equivalent to pp. 160–161 in French original, per Laurence M. Porter, op. cit., p. 267).
- Porter, Laurence M., Feminist Fantasy and Open Structure in Monique Wittig's Les Guérillères, op. cit., p. 267.
- Wittig, Monique, trans. David Le Vay, Les Guérillères (1985, © 1969), op. cit., pp. 114–115 (probably equivalent to pp. 164–165 in French original, per Porter, Laurence M., op. cit., p. 267).
- Wittig, Monique, trans. David Le Vay, Les Guérillères (1985, © 1969), op. cit., p. 127.
- Wittig, Monique, trans. David Le Vay, Les Guérillères (1985, © 1969), op. cit., p. 131.
- Wittig, Monique, trans. David Le Vay, Les Guérillères (1985, © 1969), op. cit., pp. 134–135.
- Porter, Laurence M., Feminist Fantasy and Open Structure in Monique Wittig's Les Guérillères, op. cit., p. 267 (citing pp. 176–208 in the French ed.).