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Archive for the ‘personalities’ Category

 

bertieThe year is 1855. An enthusiastic crowd lining the boulevards greets Queen Victoria with her husband Prince Albert and the French imperial couple, Napoléon III and the Empress Eugénie, as their open carriages progress across Paris. It is the first visit of a British ruler since 1431 and it has been a tremendous success on several levels. Both monarchs have become firm allies in the Crimean War, the term “entente cordiale” was coined between them, and lasting personal friendships have been born.

Albert is much taken with the elegant Eugénie. “Altogether I’m delighted to see how much he likes her and admires her,” the queen notes in her diary, “as it is so seldom that I see him do so with any woman.” Victoria herself is experiencing a pleasant electric current each time Napoléon III whispers endearments into her ear, compliments her on her dress or tickles the back of her hand with his moustache. No man had ever dared flirt with her and it is all so very French!

If the 10-day visit made such a good impression on the parents, the two children Victoria and Albert brought along were quite smitten. Vicky, the Princess Royal, broke into tears and pleaded for more time in France. Her 13-year old brother Bertie, the future king Edward VII, took a more direct action. The day he found himself alone with Napoléon III, he said: “You have a nice country and I would like to be your son.” When his proposal met with no success, he tried again, this time with Eugénie. “You parents cannot do without you,” she replied. “Not do without us?” Bertie exclaimed. “Don’t fancy that, for there are six more of us, and they don’t want us.”

The unloved Bertie grew up into a playboy. The Prince des Galles, as he was known in France, returned many times, enthusiastically sampling all the pleasures Paris could offer.

Related post:

Mark Twain on Napoleon III

 

 

 

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Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, photo by Nadar

The brothers Goncourt were to 19th century Paris what Samuel Pepys was to 17th century London. Inseparable since birth, never married, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt went through life as a single mind until the premature death of Jules in 1870. They co-authored six novels, but are remembered chiefly for their diaries beginning in 1851. At home in the literary circles as well as in high society, the brothers gathered local gossip and their biting comments are a delight to read. The entries are remarkably sincere and colourful, sparing no one including the authors. The journals end in 1896, the year of Edmond’s death at the age of 74. By the terms of his will, he endowed the Goncourt Academy which has been awarding yearly the prestigious Prix Goncourt for the best novel.

Quotes

Today I begin to understand what love must be, if it exists. When we are parted, we each feel the lack of the other half of ourselves. We are incomplete like a book in two volumes of which the first has been lost. That is what I imagine love to be: incompleteness in absence. Jules de Goncourt

Man is a mind betrayed, not served, by his organs. Edmond de Goncourt

***

Posts quoting The Goncourt Journals:

How to Succeed in Paris

Dinner with Courtesans

Degrees of Prostitution

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This drawing of tarts in a low-class brasserie provides food for thought. In the Victorian era, destitute women had few choices for making a living: servitude, drudgery in sweat-shops or, failing that, prostitution.  I think that in our time the four women in the scene could be a real-estate agent, a hairstylist, a marine biologist and a police officer. Or perhaps they’d be tarts again. Who knows? The difference is that women have more choices now.

In July 1865, one of the Goncourt brothers (more about them in a future post) records his visit to a brothel where both the surroundings and the women were a step above the previous bleak picture:

“Just past the Ecole Militaire, a front shop with white curtains. Another story above a large number on the door. The Big 9. A large room lighted from above by the van daylight. Some tables and a bar lined with bottles of liquor. There are Zouaves (*), soldiers, and workmen in smock and grey sitting at the tables with tarts perched on their knees. The girls wear white or colored blouses and dark skirts. They are young and pretty, with pink fingernails and their hair carefully dressed with little ornaments in it. Smoking cigarettes or drawing on a friend’s Maryland, they walk up and down in pairs between the tables, playfully jostling each other, or else they sit playing draughts. Singers turn up now and then to sing some dirty ditty in a bass voice. The waiters have big black mustaches. The girls call the pimp who runs the establishment “the old marquis”. A negress goes by in a sleeveless dress.

“One the first floor, there is a long corridor with a lot of tiny cells just big enough to contain a little window with broken blinds, a bed, a chest of drawers, and, on the floor, the inevitable basin and jug of water. On the wall there is one of those colored pictures entitled Spring or Summer that you win at a fair and, hanging from the mirror, a little Zouave doll.

“These twenty-sou women are not at all like the terrifying creatures drawn by Constantin Guys, but poor little things trying to ape the language and dress of the higher class prostitutes.”

Constantin Guys: Girls in a Bordello

Moving up the scale of prostitution to the very top, the Goncourts report the following:

“April 7, 1857

Anna Deslions

“Rose [Goncourts’ housekeeper] has just seen in the concierge’s lodge the night-clothes—or morning-clothes if you prefer—that our neighbor La Deslions (see the post Dinner with Courtesans) sends by her maid to the house of the man to whom she is giving a night. It seems that she has a different outfit for each of her lovers in the color that he prefers. This one consists of a white satin dressing gown, quilted and pinked, with gold-embroidered slippers in the same color—a dressing gown costing between twelve and fifteen hundred francs—a nightdress in batiste trimmed with Valenciennes lace, with embroidered insertions costing three hundred francs, and a petticoat trimmed with three lace flounces at three or four hundred francs each, a total of some three thousand francs taken to any house whose master can afford her.” (For comparison, the daily wage of a maid was one franc.)

(*) Zouaves: Body of light infantry in the French army, composed of Algerian recruits, popular for their exotic uniform.

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Charles Frederic Worth 1826–1895

By an anonymous author

When Charles Frederick Worth died in 1895, telegraph carried the news around the world and orbituaries were published in thousands of newspapers. His family received telegrams of condolence from European royalty as well as from clients scattered on every continent. His funeral was attended by two thousand mourners, many of them people of high standing. A king was being laid to rest.

Born in 1825 in Lincolnshire, England, young Charles Worth was destined to become a solicitor like his father and grandfather. However, his father’s drinking and gambling ruined the family finances and when Charles was thirteen, his mother apprenticed him with a printer.

The job was dirty and boring, and a year later, the boy switched to a career in the drapery business. He became an apprentice at Swan and Edgar, drapers in London. To compensate for his lack of education, young Charles read current novels, and when an errand brought him to the vicinity of the new National Gallery, he often went inside. He studied attentively the historical styles of costumes in the paintings. Certain aspects of fashion, he noticed, came round in circles and this knowledge later helped him in refreshing his own designs.

At that time though, he had no other ambition than to succeed in the drapery business. When his seven-year apprenticeship was over, he recognized the need of completing his experience in Paris, the birthplace of fashion trends. In 1846, with no knowledge of the language, and only £5 in his pocket, he arrived in France. After two years of penury and odd jobs, he became a sales assistant at Gagelin, the best of Parisian mercers. He remained there for twelve years, eventually reaching the post of leading salesman in the shawls and mantles department.

Modeling the above articles had fallen to a pretty demoiselle de magasin and it was not long after that Charles Worth and Marie Vernet became an item. To display shawls at their best, Worth designed a few simple dresses for Marie and, soon, the clients became more interested in his creations than in the merchandise on sale. In 1850, he finally talked his employers into establishing a small dressmaking department in the store with a team of seamstresses and himself as the cutter.

The department prospered from the start. With his intimate knowledge of textiles combined with English tailoring techniques, Worth engineered gowns that fitted to perfection while taking into account the characteristics of the material. This was a new approach to dressmaking and Worth’s employers showed their appreciation by including several of his dresses at their exhibit during the Great Exposition in London in 1851. The dresses brought the firm of Gagelin a prize medal. Another medal followed in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Thus exposed to the public, Worth’s work brought an ever increasing number of customers to the Parisian firm.

By now Worth had married Marie, who was to give him two sons: Gaston (born in 1853) and Jean-Philippe (1856). One would think that following his success with dressmaking, his employers would do their best to keep him with the firm. Yet his demand for a partnership was refused and Worth, justifiably angry, teamed up with another disgruntled employee to open a new dressmaking establishment of Worth & Bobergh in rue de la Paix.

The timing was perfect. The net of railways spreading across Europe and the United States, coupled with fast steam ships, brought to Paris and unprecedented number of foreign visitors. Furthermore, the city was now the capital of the Second Empire with all the pomp and display attached to it. With a continuous round of state visits, ambassadorial functions, receptions, balls, and gala performances, the demand for sumptuous dresses escalated vertiginously. Heading the court was Napoléon III’s beautiful wife Eugénie, the arbiter in all matters of fashion.

Princess Metternich – an unlikely, but powerful herald of fashion

To attract attention of such an exalted personage, Worth needed an ally. He aimed at the Princess of Metternich, the wife of a new Austrian Ambassador. Vivacious, although not beautiful, the princess soon found her niche at the court and became a leading fashion-setter. At first, she found the idea of a male milliner utterly ridiculous–at the time, all dressmaking firms were headed by females–but seduced by the album of designs presented by Marie Worth, she finally ordered two dresses. The Empress saw them and Worth was made.

Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III

In 1864, Worth got the monopoly of supplying all evening and state wear for the empress and became the most expensive dressmaker in Paris. Following the empress’s example, other illustrious ladies flocked to his establishment. Worth’s dresses were worn in most Europeans courts but he also dressed the demi-monde. Princess or a highly paid tart, actress, or American millionairess, the Maison Worth was open to all in the spirit of financial democracy.

That a man should see strange women in their underwear, that he should touch their bodies, rankled with the moralists of the era. Enemies were many, but no critique, no moral indignation, could stop Worth’s meteoric rise. Never before had a simple dressmaker consorted with the high and mighty almost as an equal. Before an important ball or masque princesses, duchesses, and countesses came to rue de la Paix for inspection. They paraded before Worth while he decided on last minute changes, on the emplacement of a sash, or the angle of a headdress, and even approved the jewelry. His aim was to create a complete image. His were no longer dresses but “compositions” – too precious to be ruined by a wrong accessory. In an interview, he said:

Those ladies are wisest who leave the choice to us. By so doing they are always better pleased in the end, and the reputation of the house is sustained. Curiously enough, the persons who realize this fact most clearly are precisely those whom you might fancy the most difficult to please. For example, a telegram comes from the Empress of Russia, “Send me a dinner dress!” Nothing more. We are left absolute freedom as to style and material. Not that the Empress is indifferent in the matter of dress. Quite the contrary. She will sometimes require that all the ladies costumes at a certain ball be pink, or red, or blue. And her own dresses are always masterpieces of elegance. The point is that she trusts our judgment rather than her own. In the same way recently we have received over twenty telegrams from Madrid for ball dresses, and we shall make them as we think fit.

To order a dress at Worth’s was a simple procedure. Once the measurements were taken and a dummy made, the client only had to send in a request. With 1200 employees, he turned out hundreds of outfits a week and, if needed, he was able to deliver an elaborate ball gown within 24 hours.

Each time he wanted to launch a new fashion, he recruited his wife and the Princess Metternich. They would go to the races or another notable event wearing the new designs. Such was the prestige of the two women, that no other promotion was necessary.

The crinoline of the 1850’s and 1860’s was the greatest fashion aberration with the tight corsets of the 80’s and 90’s as second runners.

One of the greatest changes Worth executed was the abolition of the Second Empire crinoline. This absurd cage worn under wide skirts achieved such enormous proportions that the wearers could not function properly. By 1870, the crinoline was gone to be replaced by a bustle. The latter was a padding device attached to the waist. It supported an overskirt drawn to the sides and piled in folds over the bustle. The silhouette was still full but all the bulk was concentrated at the back.

Worth had grown enormously wealthy. He possessed a coat of arms and received guests of high standing in his sumptuous villa at the outskirts of Paris. Neither the events of Franco-Prussian War, nor the fall of the empire and the Commune uprising that devastated Paris had ill effects on his business. The court may be gone, but clients kept coming, keeping him busy to the end of his life. Many other male couturiers followed in his path, but none has achieved the sublime power Worth held over fashion for thirty-five years. He remains the true inventor of the Haute Couture.

Related post: The Hoop Crinoline: Living in a cage

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From the Goncourt Journal

Text written in 1857

***

June 7th

Dinner at Asseline’s with Anna Deslions, Adèle Courtois, a certain Juliette, and her sister.

Anna Deslions, Bianchi’s former mistress and the woman who ruined Lauriston: thick black hair, magnificently untidy; velvety eyes with a glance like a warm caress; a big nose but sharply defined; thin lips and a full face—the superb head of an Italian youth, touched with gold by Rembrandt.

Adèle Courtois, an old, nondescript tart boosted by Figaro.

Juliette, a little pastel-portrait with her rumpled, frizzled hair worn low on the forehead—she is mad about low foreheads—a slightly crazy La Tour, a little blonde with something of the Rosalba picture in the Louvre, Woman with Monkey, partaking of the monkey as well as the woman. And her sister, a dried-up little thing and pregnant into the bargain: looking like a big-bellied spider.

And to provide a piano accompaniment to the evening’s festivities, Quidant, a bordello jester with a thoroughly Parisian sense of humour, a ferocious irony: hoarse-voiced, mealy-mouthed, red-faced, and slit-eyed.

Anna Deslions

The ladies were all wearing long white dresses, with hundreds of frills and furbelows, cut very low at the back in the shape of a triangle. The conversation at first turned on the Emperor’s mistresses. Juliette said:

“Giraud is doing my portrait, and this year he is painting Mme de Castiglione.”

“No, she’s finished,” said Adèle. “I have that on good authority. It’s La Serrano now. La Castiglione  and the Empress have quarrelled. … You know the witty thing Constance said? ‘If I resisted the Emperor, I should have been Empress.’”

Juliette was in a crazy mood, bursting in a nervous laughter without rhyme or reason, and talking with the spirited irony of a professional actress. Some name was mentioned and Deslions said to Juliette:

“You know, that man you were madly in love with and for whom you committed suicide.”

“Oh, I’ve committed suicide three times.”

“You know whom I mean. What’s – his – name . . .”

Juliette put her hand over her eyes like someone peering into the distance, and screwed up her eyes to see if she could not recognize the gentleman in question coming along the highroad of her memories. Then she burst out laughing and said:

“It reminds me of the Scala at Milan. There was a gentleman there who kept bowing to me over and over again.  And I said to myself ‘I know that mouth.’ All I could remember was the mouth!”

“Do you remember”, asked Deslions, “When we went out in that filthy weather to see the place where Gérard de Nerval hanged himself?”

“Yes, and I even believe it was you who paid for the cab. I touched the bar; it was that that brought me luck. You know, Adèle, it was the week after that. . .”

After dinner Quidant did an imitation on the piano of that thrill of cuckoo with one note missing. The ladies started waltzing, the blonde and the brunette, Juliette and Anna, dancing together, all white in a room lined in red rep. With a playful air, Juliette caught Anna’s necklace between her teeth and bit a magnificent black pearl hanging from the end of it. But the pearl was genuine and did not break.

In the midst of this merriment, there was an icy chill, an instinctive hostility between women, who would draw in their claws as soon as someone bared her teeth. Now and then all the women would start talking Javanese, following every syllable with a va. Prisons have got slang; brothels have got Javanese. They talk it very fast and it is unintelligible to a man.

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From Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Text written in 1867 on the occasion of the Exposition Universelle

 

***

Presently there was a sound of distant music; in another minute a pillar of dust came moving slowly toward us; a moment more and then, with colors flying and a grand crash of military music, a gallant array of cavalrymen emerged from the dust and came down the street on a gentle trot.  After them came a long line of artillery; then more cavalry, in splendid uniforms; and then their imperial majesties Napoleon III and Abdul Aziz.  The vast concourse of people swung their hats and shouted–the windows and housetops in the wide vicinity burst into a snowstorm of waving handkerchiefs, and the wavers of the same mingled their cheers with those of the masses below. It was a stirring spectacle.

But the two central figures claimed all my attention.  Was ever such a contrast set up before a multitude till then?  Napoleon in military uniform–a long-bodied, short-legged man, fiercely moustached, old, wrinkled, with eyes half closed, and such a deep, crafty, scheming expression about them!–Napoleon, bowing ever so gently to the loud plaudits, and watching everything and everybody with his cat eyes from under his depressed hat brim, as if to discover any sign that those cheers were not heartfelt and cordial. Abdul Aziz, absolute lord of the Ottoman empire–clad in dark green. European clothes, almost without ornament or insignia of rank; a red Turkish fez on his head; a short, stout, dark man, black-bearded, black-eyed, stupid, unprepossessing–a man whose whole appearance somehow suggested that if he only had a cleaver in his hand and a white apron on, one would not be at all surprised to hear him say: “A mutton roast today, or will you have a nice porterhouse steak?” Napoleon III, the representative of the highest modern civilization, progress, and refinement; Abdul-Aziz, the representative of a people by nature and training filthy, brutish, ignorant, unprogressive, superstitious–and a government whose Three Graces are Tyranny, Rapacity, Blood. 

 Here in brilliant Paris, under this majestic Arch of Triumph, the First Century greets the Nineteenth! NAPOLEON III., Emperor of France!  Surrounded by shouting thousands, by military pomp, by the splendors of his capital city, and companioned by kings and princes–this is the man who was sneered at and reviled and called Bastard–yet who was dreaming of a crown and an empire all the while; who was driven into exile–but carried his dreams with him; who associated with the common herd in America and ran foot races for a wager–but still sat upon a throne in fancy; who braved every danger to go to his dying mother–and grieved that she could not be spared to see him cast aside his plebeian vestments for the purple of royalty; who kept his faithful watch and walked his weary beat a common policeman of  London–but dreamed the while of a coming night when he should tread the long-drawn corridors of the Tuileries; who made the miserable fiasco of Strasbourg; saw his poor, shabby eagle, forgetful of its lesson, refuse to perch upon his shoulder; delivered his carefully prepared, sententious burst of eloquence upon unsympathetic ears; found himself a prisoner, the butt of small wits, a mark for the pitiless ridicule of all the world–yet went on dreaming of coronations and splendid pageants as before; who lay a forgotten captive in the dungeons of Ham–and still schemed and planned and pondered over future glory and future power; President of France at last! a coup d’etat, and surrounded by applauding armies, welcomed by the thunders of cannon, he mounts a throne and waves before an astounded world the sceptre of a mighty empire!  Who talks of the marvels of fiction?  Who speaks of the wonders of romance?  Who prates of the tame achievements of Aladdin and the Magii of Arabia?

ABDUL-AZIZ, Sultan of Turkey, Lord of the Ottoman Empire!  Born to a throne; weak, stupid, ignorant, almost, as his meanest slave; chief of a vast royalty, yet the puppet of his Premier and the obedient child of a tyrannical mother; a man who sits upon a throne–the beck of whose finger moves navies and armies–who holds in his hands the power of life and death over millions–yet who sleeps, sleeps, eats, eats, idles with his  eight hundred concubines, and when he is surfeited with eating and sleeping and idling, and would rouse up and take the reins of government and threaten to be a sultan, is charmed from his purpose by wary Fuad Pacha with a pretty plan for a new palace or a new ship–charmed away with a new toy, like any other restless child; a man who sees his people robbed and oppressed by soulless tax-gatherers, but speaks no word to save them; who believes in gnomes and genii and the wild fables of The Arabian Nights, but has small regard for the mighty magicians of to-day, and is nervous in the presence of their mysterious railroads and steamboats and telegraphs; who would see undone in Egypt all that great Mehemet Ali achieved, and would prefer rather to forget than emulate him; a man who found his great empire a blot upon the earth–a degraded, poverty-stricken, miserable, infamous agglomeration of ignorance, crime, and brutality–and will idle away the allotted days of his trivial life and then pass to the dust and the worms and leave it so!

 Napoleon has augmented the commercial prosperity of France in ten years to such a degree that figures can hardly compute it.  He has rebuilt Paris and has partly rebuilt every city in the state.  He condemns a whole street at a time, assesses the damages, pays them, and rebuilds superbly.  Then speculators buy up the ground and sell, but the original owner is given the first choice by the government at a stated price before the speculator is permitted to purchase.  But above all things, he has taken the sole control of the empire of France into his hands and made it a tolerably free land–for people who will not attempt to go too far in meddling with government affairs.  No country offers greater security to life and property than France, and one has all the freedom he wants, but no license–no license to interfere with anybody or make anyone uncomfortable. As for the Sultan, one could set a trap anywhere and catch a dozen abler men in a night.

The bands struck up, and the brilliant adventurer, Napoleon III., the genius of Energy, Persistence, Enterprise; and the feeble Abdul-Aziz, the genius of Ignorance, Bigotry, and Indolence, prepared for the Forward–March! We saw the splendid review, we saw the white-moustached old Crimean soldier, Canrobert, Marshal of France, we saw–well, we saw everything, and then we went home satisfied.

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