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Posts Tagged ‘prostitution’

Again, let’s thank Octave Uzanne for his insightful book The Modern Parisienne published in 1912 :

If we are to believe the adroit matrons, the distinguished old ladies, the venerable grandmothers who preside over the destinies of certain houses of recreation which are famous in the gayer circles of the capital, which evolve about the boulevards or the elegant quarters near the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, every woman in Paris has her price. These ladies have at their disposal a floating staff which can be mobilised at any moment; they produce albums of photographs faithfully rendering the features, the smiles, and the attitudes of the actress, the fair unknown, or the disguised lady of the middle-class, for benefit of clients who have a well-lined purse. But beside all this, these agreeable and well-bred procuresses, whose gestures are as unctuous as their tongues are smooth, will tell you that—given a little patience—they are ready to bring to the arms of the sighing swain any woman whom he may happen to think particularly desirable.

They have an organization, they declare, which can “bring to reason” any woman in Paris whose fortune does not place her beyond the reach of temptation of certain character. They have, in fact, a troop of female agents or canvassers who have a prodigious address in these matters. They start out on the quest at an early hour and begin visiting the large shops, where they mark down the prettiest saleswomen or the most modest and attractive of the customers who appear to their experienced eyes to possess the necessary qualities. Then they visit and consult with their various accomplices – ladies ’ maids, fortune-tellers, perfumers, and hairdressers. From them their learn all necessary particulars about their intended victims. They dress with great elegance, and in the afternoon they frequent the grands couturiers, scrape acquaintance with the customers, and thus discover all about the jolies madames who are deeply in debt. All this they note down in the register of the exploitable part of Tout Paris. In the evening they go to the theatres, see the fair performers, and find out from their dressers all about the financial crises which oppress these charming creatures.

Once a catastrophe becomes inevitable, they advance to the attack with all the artifices of rhetoric. They promise a golden future if only the lady will be sensible and nice about it and respond, just a little, to the passion of an elegant gentleman who will be waiting on such and such day at such and such hour in a house to be indicated. The deepest secrecy and the most absolute discretion are assured.

Some of the procuresses give parties in their own houses, where “little ladies” assemble in full strength to meet foreigners of fashion, American millionaires, or provincial gentlemen in comfortable circumstances. At such gatherings there are tremendous bouts of baccarat. Roulette and other games are constant features and while the habitués are absorbed in play, the hostess is busy making her introductions in the more secluded part of the rooms, where she regulates the terms of her bargain with the sagacity and seriousness of a notary. She arranges marriages for fixed periods of three, six, or nine months, with power to renew at will, and duly charges her commission on the price. There are numerous agencies in Paris for left-handed unions of this kind, and anything you want can be provided according to the sum you are able to pay.

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flower girlThe following text by Octave Uzanne comes from the book The Modern Parisienne, published in 1910.  Although Edwardian instead of Victorian, Uzanne’s book describes Paris that had hardly changed since Queen Victoria’s death in 1901.

Many prostitutes of the lower orders, in order to protect themselves from the activities of the police, pretend to have a trade. This is particularly the case with girls under age. Some of them are as young as fifteen, some even younger. The disgraceful evil of the small flower-girl is everywhere; you see them passing by the terraces of cafés and stopping opposite those whom  with their precocious perspicacity they judge to be susceptible to their attractions.

Others, again, instead of selling flowers, pass themselves off as work girls. You will often meet these impostors in the Avenue de l’Opéra, in the Rue du Quatre-Septembre, or on the boulevards. They dawdle along in couples, with hatboxes or baskets on their arms and their eyes alert. Contrary to the practice of real workgirls, who do not receive such attentions kindly, they accept invitations without any display of annoyance, are perfectly willing to have a drink, and do not require to be pressed to enter a providential cab.

There are grades and degrees in all this peripatetic prostitution. Better turned out and also older are the bands of women who wear hats with extravagant feathers and loudly coloured dresses, and who are to be seen at any hour of the afternoon, but principally at dusk, on the boulevards and in the adjacent streets.  They promenade slowly, or else pretend to be in a hurry, jostle you as they pass, or launch a significant ogle which invites you to follow them. If you mend your pace and overtake them they take you to some squalid hôtel garni in the quarter which extends from the Rue des Martyrs to the Boulevard Rochechouart.

Since the beginning of the last century they have had their headquarters there, especially in the Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, from which comes the obsolete term lorette by which they were still designated so recently as twenty years ago. The Rue de la Bruyère, the Rue Chaptal, and the Rue Bréda are also much affected by them, and there they form colonies which fill whole houses. These places, known as  boîtes à femmes, are veritable pandemoniums crowded with women who sleep till near noon, and go about all the rest of the day in frowsy undress, smoking cigarettes and drinking absinthe. Until the hour of business—that is, till about five in the afternoon—they sit playing with each other or with their favourite lovers interminable games of cards, at which they lose the money they have extracted from the passing visits of the previous night. The souteneur properly so-called is rare in these surroundings. He is replaced by the amant de coeur, some shopwalker or clerk who is chosen for himself and his companionship.

These ladies must be in straits indeed, or their landlord must be unusually exacting on the subject of arrears for rent, food, and drink, before they can be induced to go out before the night, but every evening  the man-hunt recommences. Their first care is to dine, and for this purpose they take conspicuous places at a café sometimes accompanied by their favourite female friend.  They reckon up the men present with a glance, question the waiters, with whom they are on good terms, and talk and laugh loudly. If a gentleman, excited by their manoeuvres or by the number of his drinks, yields to the temptation, all is well; the evening’s amusement is provided for and also the earnings of the night. If not, there begins a long pilgrimage through the cafés.  They go from one to another, making the circuit of the tables, brushing by the customers and looking well in their faces in order to sound their inclinations. If by ten o’clock they found nothing they try to get around the waiter in order that in exchange for their favours he may pay for the two or three sandwiches and the glass of beer which will be all the dinner they will get. If even this fails they do without food and go to a place of amusement, and if no one comes to the rescue they try the night clubs; and she who toward three in the morning succeeds in getting the offer of a modest choucroute garnie sups and dines in one.

The prostitute always hopes to meet some generous person who will take a fancy to her and launch her on a great career, but this happy chance rarely occurs. She prays for it daily, and the fortune-teller has no more devoted client. If it does not come to pass she continues the same vicious circle of the daily hunt.

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gigolette

The following text by Octave Uzanne comes from the book The Modern Parisienne, published in 1910. 

A much more formidable species is the gigolette, who is also to be found on the outskirts of Paris.  She is the mistress of the garroters of La Vilette or the stabbers of Grenelle. She it is who beguiles the passer-by, decoys him into an ambush, and she whistles for her souteneur, who rushes up with his companions  “ to do for the cove”. She frequents the evil places known as bals musettes, a sort of dancing halls, where the habitués empty salad bowls of mulled vine à la Française and where every dance costs a penny. The dancers are workmen who have fallen into evil courses, souteneurs, garotters, thieves of all kinds, servant girls and workgirls on the spree, the vilest prostitutes, and “police narks”.

The gigolette is almost always young, and often pretty or else she has the fascinating ugliness which in many Parisiennes is a more deadly bait than beauty. She evades the vigilance of the police as much as possible and tries as long as she can to avoid being “put on the list”. If she is arrested as a result of some robbery with violence: or taken up in the course of a police raid, she regards her term at St. Lazare as a disagreeable experience: but she is not in the least reformed  when she is discharged, and the very severe regimen of this prison has no effect on her except to breed ideas of vengeance, in which she is sedulously encouraged by her amiable friend and bully.

So long as she is not registered she wanders hither and tither, following her “p’tit homme” from lodging to lodging: for owing to the attentions of the police, with whom he has often a crow to pick, he is frequently obliged to change his address. As soon as she gets on the list, a definite  space on the side of such and such street or a certain beat on a boulevard is assigned to her. There she “does her turn” and walks backwards and forwards hooking her arm into those of passers-by. If she transgresses the limits set by the police, she is liable to a fine: but when their backs are turned she does so all the same, and this leads to terrible quarrels with her colleagues who are in possession of another part of the street—quarrels which end in blows and are conducted after the fashion of the dog-fights of Constantinople. When she secures a customer she takes him to a room at some low hotel.

Meantime, her souteneur sits at a table at a neighbouring wine-shop or hides in the recess of a door, keeping a close watch on her movements. If she lets slip an opportunity he abuses and beats her; he insists that she shall “give her mind to her work”. When he thinks she has made enough he fetches her back to their headquarters at Belleville or La Vilette, or in one of the streets  in the Clignantcourt Quarter which are affected by this class. She surrenders all her money to the souteneur, and if she attempts to divert any and is awkward about concealing it he gives her a sound trashing. When times are good and she has got hold of some “oofy Johnny” or cleaned out a drunken man, her lover allows her a night off, and then they go together to the dancing-hall. As a rule she spends most of the night drinking, so she sleeps late, rises about eleven, has her absinthe, and she spends the day in taverns with her bully and his friends, who for their part are accompanied by their women. She is usually faithful to her man. If he goes to prison for a short term she is not unfaithful to him and does not join forces with another “type” unless her original master is sent to penal servitude. In such a case it is not unusual for the bully to choose one of his boon companions whom he indicates his successor.

However constantly she may be beaten and maltreated by her petit joyeux , she continues to adore him, and even if he ends by stabbing her she dies heroically without peaching. If by exception she does denounce him she very rarely escapes the vengeance of other souteneurs.  She may change her quarter as much as she likes, she always ends by being knocked on the head. With the women of her own class she has frequent disputes , especially if they try to take her man away from her. Then follow battles in which the knife plays its part. The happy man who is the subject of the quarrel watches the fray as a gratified spectator, and awards himself to the conqueror as the prize of victory. The fortune of these women are so closely linked to those of their souteneurs that if by any chance, such as the passing caprice of some rich protector who sets up house for her, one of them rises a step in the ranks of prostitution, she does not leave her bully, but installs him in some corner of the flat. From which he emerges if the miché is not generous enough.

Prostitutes of this type pursue their occupation so long as they are not too old or too much exhausted by debauchery, drunkenness, or disease. The older they grow the younger are their souteneurs. I heard of prostitutes of forty or fifty whose souteneurs were only from sixteen to eighteen years of age. Of course, as they age and become faded their takings diminish, and instead of walking up and down the pavement, they hire a room at a franc a night in some house of ill-fame, where, half-invisible in the shadow, they call for custom.

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Saint-Lazare :  Women in prison

 

 

 

 

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fortifications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following text by Octave Uzanne comes from the book The Modern Parisienne, published in 1910.  Although Edwardian instead of Victorian, Uzanne’s book describes Paris that had hardly changed since Queen Victoria’s death in 1901. The writing is superb:

Our next subject is the sinister and somber queen of Paris by night—the prostitute. She is a wandering creature who appears in many forms: she murmurs her solicitations at the street corners; she brushes by you on the boulevards, you meet her at cafés and hotels; she signs to you from her window; she awaits your arrival at the railway stations; she watches you from behind the curtain of a shop where the goods displayed are not those which she means to sell. Or, again, she lies immured in some dark house, where she offers to all comers her passive lips.

At the very bottom of the prostitution ladder is the woman who haunts the fortifications. She is an aged, battered, exhausted being, who hides herself by day and comes out only when it is dark. She is to be seen wandering along the ramparts, her eyes alert with fear of the police. She is usually of enormous size, clad in a patched black jersey which ill contains her flabby bust. No one could define the precise shade of her skirt, which an impressionist painter of our acquaintance justly described as “the colour of a very dusty spider’s web in a corner of a yellow wall”. She wears an apron, stops her wrinkles with brick-dust, “does her eyes” with the burnt end of a match, and flattens out her grizzling hair with rose or jasmine pomade at two sous a pot. Such jasmine and such roses! She dawdles about, waiting for customers, hardly daring to solicit, for she is afraid of being too closely inspected, knowing full well, poor thing, that if a man looked twice at her he would at once take a flight. Some of her customers are navvies, who are themselves very poor; but she caters chiefly for soldiers in barracks on the bastions or in the outskirts of the city.

The soldiers do not even know her name: they call her  “la paillasse” (mattress) , “Marie-mange-mon-prết” or “the ammunition loaf”.  The last name arises from the fact that in order to pay for her favours, they sell the ration of bread that is served out to them and give her the five or six sous they get for it. She asks no more.  She cannot afford the rent of a room in a disreputable hotel, so she takes for boudoir the embankment of the fortifications.

She leads a melancholy life, the prostitute of the fortifications: she neither laughs nor sings. She is too repulsive and earns too little to attract a souteneur; but for all that she is often beaten, and sometimes thrown into the ditches by the marauders who hover about the barriers, and who rob her of the few sous she has earned by the sweat of her old body.

When she has done very well and made as much as two or three francs, she gets drunk on cheap brandy or absinthe, and staggers to her lair in some wooden shed open to all the winds, where she sleeps off her potations on a heap of noisome rags. If business is brisk, she subsists on scraps bought from low-class eating houses. If not, she rakes the rubbish heaps. She is humble and uncomplainingly resigned to her fate. So long as she can walk she gives herself to whomsoever will have her, or cannot find better. At sixty or seventy she is found one morning lying dead, or half dead, on the slope of some earthwork. If she has the good fortune to be picked up by a night patrol of the police, she does not die in the open; she ends her days in the hospital or in some local police infirmary.

Next time: La Gigolette

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“Come and See Pretty Pussies” – Street advertisement for a brasserie

Among the big headaches for municipal authorities of Paris in the second part of the 19th century was the appearance of the brasseries à femmes. Until then, drink and sex were generally served apart. A man looking for a drink would go to a café  and, should he feel need for female company, he’d make his choice (and an abundant choice it was!) among the streetwalkers, or he’d visit a brothel. In accordance with the law, the staff of the maisons de tolérance, was kept under a weekly medical supervision and therefore more or less free of venereal disease. However, a licence for opening a brothel was not easy to come by and, should any complaints arise, the business would be mercilessly closed by the authorities. This was not the case with public places offering alcohol. Traditionally, these employed male waiters, but in the 1860’s a few establishments appeared where drink was served by pretty women in seductive garb whose duty was to encourage the consumption of alcohol by being friendly with the patrons. This new way of serving drinks expanded rapidly not only in Paris but in all large cities across France. By the end of the century, in Paris alone, the brasseries employed between 1,500 and 2,000 waitresses. Although the interior of a brasserie might appear above reproach, most of them contained rooms for private encounters.

With the growth of the brasseries à femmes, the statistic of venereal disease shot up accordingly. Unlike registered prostitutes, waitresses were not subjected to medical control and, as there was no shame attached to entering such an establishment, many patrons, who would hesitate to be seen in a brothel, became victims of both drink and disease. Young men were the most at risk. Students and apprentices saw their future dissolve in excesses of drink to the chagrin of their parents and teachers. Patrons became attached to the girls and when a successful waitress crossed the river to “remake herself a virginity” on the opposite bank, some of her clients followed her like faithful dogs.

Serving in a brasserie was no sinecure. Twelve hours a day in the noisy and smoky atmosphere, where the women were required not only to serve, but to sit at the tables and match the patrons drink for a drink, took a heavy toll on their health. Very few lasted more than ten years.  The following is a questionnaire filled by an applicant from Marseille seeking a job in Paris:

An early brasserie poster, circa 1875

Have you already served in brasseries?

Yes, in Lyon and here.

Are you young?

I’m 24.

Pleasant?

Like a jewel.

Pretty?

See my photograph.

Flirtatious?

With art. I offer, I attract, and I hold.

Do you have a good stomach?

I have a robust constitution and if I don’t have sobriety, the virtue of a camel, by contrast I possess the stomach of an ostrich used to all kinds of drinks, even adulterated ones. I have, like many of my co-workers, begun to practice fraud and today I can drink without getting drunk. You will hear my voice, you will see my chic and you will appreciate my talent for manipulation.

She, no doubt, got the job.

Why were these women so keen to apply for a work in which their health and morals suffered an irreparable damage?  The answer, of course, is money. Morals set aside, a smart brasserie waitress made in a day the monthly wages of a factory worker.

After many protests, a law put an end to the brasseries à femmes. With the exception of the owner’s family members, no other female employees were allowed to serve in these establishments. It was also forbidden for a waitress to drink with the patrons.

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By William Walton, published in 1899

Searching a prisoner at Saint-Lazare

Saint-Lazare, on the Faubourg Saint-Denis, is at once a hospital, a police station, and a prison for women, and its methods and regulation have long been the object of earnest denunciation. As a prison for women, it is divided into two sections, for those accused, and for those condemned to less than two months’ imprisonment; among the latter are women of the town, who have a special hospital. The only condamnées who remain for any length of time within these walls are the sick, nursing women having a child less than four years of age, and those enceinte. There is a special crèche for the newly-born babies,—for there are no less than fifty or sixty births annually. The nursing mothers, whether convicted or only accused, have special dormitories, and there is a shady garden for the wet-nurses. The prostitutes are provided with a special section. These unfortunates have not passed before any court; they have been condemned without appeal by a Chef de Bureau of the Préfecture de Police to an imprisonment of from three days to two months. During the day, the inmates are assembled in a workroom under the surveillance of one of the Sisters of the Order of Marie-Joseph, to whom is confided a general oversight of the workrooms and the dormitories. These prisoners take their meals in common, take their exercise walking in a long file, and at night sleep in a great chilly and crowded dormitory. Those who have merited it by their conduct are given one of the cells of the ménagerie, a double story of grated cells, furnished each with a bed, a stool, a shelf, and an earthenware vessel. The menagerie was formerly devoted to the service of the correction maternelle.

Saint-Lazare: Morning prayer in the section of prostitutes

In the great dormitories, there may be witnessed each morning such a scene as that reproduced in the illustration, the prayer addressed to the image of the Virgin on the wall, decked out with faded artificial flowers and with tapers in front of her; following the example of the Sister, all stoop with more or less reverence before this symbol and utter with more or less sincerity from impure lips the prayer for a pure heart. This grand dormitory is a great hall containing more than eighty beds arranged in four rows. The red tile floor is of irreproachable cleanliness, the eighty beds, with their gray blankets and white bolsters, are arranged with military symmetry. But this cleanliness and this good order, it is claimed, count but for little in the amelioration of these unfortunates, gathering contamination from each other in this indiscriminate herding together.

According to the law, those merely accused, the prévenues, and those actually convicted, are kept apart from each other, but in each of these two classes no distinctions are made—the homeless unfortunate, arrested for délit de vagabondage, is associated with the criminal guilty of infanticide or assassination. Even the little girls of ten and twelve years are kept together in the same promiscuousness, those already hardened in criminal ways corrupting the more innocent.

The prévenues enjoy certain privileges; they are not obliged to work, though it is but seldom that they refuse to take up some of the light sewing which occupies their leisure and brings them in small sums of money; they are not obliged, when they take their exercise, to walk round and round in a circle in the préau, forming in line only at the entrance and the exit. The formalities of search and interrogation, upon entering the prison, are the same for all, as are the general regulations and the discipline. All rise at five o’clock in summer, and at six or half-past six the rest of the year, and all go to bed at eight; all receive meat with their bouillon only on Sundays. The children are more favored in this respect, being furnished with eggs, roast meat, etc.

Everywhere are seen in these gloomy and unwholesome halls and corridors “the austere and consoling figures” of the Sisters of Marie-Joseph. They wear a dark robe, sometimes with a white apron, a white cornette under a black veil which has a blue lining, and they supervise all the details of the monotonous life of the prison. Rising in the dawn, a half-hour before any of the prisoners, they perform their devotions, and one of them rings the bell which summons all to leave their beds; they direct the workrooms in which the prisoners sew, a Sister sitting upright in a high chair, like a teacher presiding over her class, and they keep a watchful eye during the night on all the sleepers, in all the dormitories, great and little. Their hours of service as guards are from five or six o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock in the evening. After this hour, until the morning again, two Sisters remain on watch in the first section of the prison and one in the second. Their sole comfort and recompense is found in prayer and meditation in the mortuary chamber of Saint Vincent de Paul, now transformed into an oratory for their use. There is also a chapel for the use of the inmates, as well as a Protestant oratory and a synagogue.

 

Related post: Prostitutes in Paris

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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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