Why Victorian Paris?


Revolutionaries ransacking the Tuileries Palace in 1848


The recent unrest across France reminded me why this blog could not be called anything other than Victorian Paris. I remember one reader objecting to the title, asking what had Victoria to do with Paris? Well, the queen visited Paris with her husband and their oldest children, Vicky and Bertie. The family had a fantastic time and bonded quickly with Napoleon III and his wife, Eugenie. Bertie liked them so much that he begged to be adopted. Even though his wish was not granted, Paris became his lifelong playground.

Other than that, Victoria’s link to Paris is weak, indeed. But consider this: what else is on offer? Given Paris’ tumultuous 19th-century history, what could replace the Victorian period in readers’ minds? At any given time, there were various French monarchs and pretenders exiled in England. They were either taking tea with the queen, or plotting the overthrow of the current regime in France.

Here is a brief overview of Paris during Victoria’s long reign:

1837 (England) – On June 20th, Victoria, aged 18, becomes Queen of England, succeeding her uncle William IV.

1837 (France) After the brief July Revolution in 1830, Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans, was proclaimed King. He was the reigning monarch during Victoria’s throne ascent.

1848 (England) Princess Louise Caroline Alberta is born – Queen Victoria’s sixth child.

1848 (France) The February Revolution. After two days’ fighting, Louis Philippe flees to England, and the Second Republic is proclaimed. Crossing the Channel in the opposite direction is Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. He is the son of Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland and the nephew of the brilliant Corsican, the emperor Napoleon. After a successful electoral campaign, financed by an English courtesan, he is elected President of the French Republic.

1852 (England) The queen is pregnant with Prince Leopold George Duncan, her eighth child.

1852 (France) In December, Louis Napoleon stages a coup d’état to be elected emperor by universal suffrage. He adopts the title Napoleon III. A regime known as the Second Empire is established.

1870 (England) The queen actively mourns her husband, Prince Albert, who died of typhoid fever in 1861, aged 42.

1870 (France) The Franco-Prussian war rages. The Second Empire falls after the decisive defeat of the French army in Sedan. The emperor surrenders to the enemy. His wife, Empress Eugenie, flees to England, where she is later joined by her husband and son. The Third Republic is proclaimed. The French feel humiliated as the victorious Prussians celebrate the birth of the German Empire in Versailles, the traditional seat of French royalty. 

1871 (England) The queen still mourns her husband.

1871 (France) Paris is surrounded, shelled, and starved by the enemy army. Unlike France’s legitimate government, seated at Versailles, the city does not accept an armistice. The Commune erupts – the greatest revolution since 1789. In May, while the German army still surrounds Paris, the French government troops storm the city. This is followed by a massacre of thousands. The Commune is defeated.

1901 (England) Queen Victoria dies, aged 81.

1901 (France) The country enjoys a prosperity period known as the Belle Époque.


Paris destroyed by arson during the Commune in 1871. In the foreground is the Palace of Tuilleries

The pension reform that has been at the core of the violent protests in France has to be dealt with by other aging EU countries. Many governments fear the French scenario. They shouldn’t. There is no other nation that enjoys revolutions and stormy protests to this extent.



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Traveler’s bonus:

You Might Be Able to Swim in Paris’ Seine River by 2024
Paris is taking the plunge to make the Seine River squeaky clean, and if you believe in mermaids like I do, they’re about to get a real upgrade in real estate! But, more importantly, residents and tourists alike will be able to splash around and romanticize their life in the City of Love by 2024.
The Seine River, a cherished and well-known natural landmark of Paris, has never been known as an ideal swimming spot, but significant progress has been made to fulfill Paris’s promise of clean water for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The city’s workers have made progress in improving the water quality of the 483-mile-long river, which is a huge undertaking in itself.
So, how will the river be cleaned? Paris has developed the Swimming Plan for 2024, using an underground network of pipes, tanks, and pumps to prevent bacteria from entering the river. 
With over $1.53 billion from the Games, improved water quality could allow both Olympic swimmers and locals to enjoy the river, but they will have to wait until next year for safe swimming access to approximately 20 designated swimming areas along the Seine.


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The 19th century woman’s primordial role was to stay at home and take care of her constantly growing family. As there was no contraception back then, and domestic appliances were not yet invented, she had no time for anything else. If work she must, she had few choices depending on her social class.


Allowing his wife to work was a sign of failure for a middle-class man who should earn enough to support his family. His unmarried daughters must also forget about working unless they chose a religious calling such as the Sister of Charity. It is Option One in the above image which shows the social scale of morally approved women’s occupations. Why the nun is placed so low is unclear. It could be that to serve in a religious order, she disqualified herself as a mother. For it is important to clarify that the moral duty of girls was to marry a suitable man and bear his children. With that in mind, they were taught domestic management, sewing, mending, embroidering, obedience, and light conversation.


Number Two, the midwife, was an indispensable occupation before physicians and maternity hospitals took over pregnancy management and childbirthing. The profession had its dark corners when pregnancy was undesirable, and it often was. A midwife who provided a special service risked the death penalty. Even without that, the profession had many sad moments as one woman out of five died in childbirth. Besides midwifery, women could also work as nurses, particularly during times of war, where they played a critical role in caring for wounded soldiers.


Teaching – Number Three on the list – was one of the most approved professions for single women in the 19th century. It was seen as the precursor to their future role as caretakers and nurturers. However, this fulfilling career ended abruptly when the teacher married. With rare exceptions, married women were prohibited from teaching. They had more important duties to attend to: that of wife and mother.


Number Four, the merchant, had no such limitations. Here, she is portrayed as a provider of fashion items for women. Fashion offered endless job opportunities, even more than today, but independent businesswomen could be more often found in market stalls or as street pushcart dealers. Single women and widows had more autonomy in running their businesses. On the social scale in the picture, the businesswoman occupies the highest position.


Domestic servants, as in Number Five, were the largest group of female employees. It was a job offered to anyone willing to work endless hours for a small wage and for room-and-board security. Conditions varied greatly, but deference and obedience were essential. Young and pretty servants could be exposed to their employer’s caprices. They were immediately dismissed if they became pregnant. The law did not allow paternity suits.


Moving down the social scale to Number Six, we encounter the worker. Nothing to envy here. Hard work, difficult conditions, long hours, and miserable wages were these women’s lot. Working classes cared little about bourgeois morality. On average, in Paris alone, 14 thousand illegitimate children were born each year, and almost as many were abandoned. If that sounds shocking, consider that a marriage licence cost 50 francs and the average female worker earned about one franc a day and often less.


France in the 19th century was predominantly agricultural. Number Seven, the peasant woman, was born into her profession. Her only career choice was to use the newly built railway and move to the city, to work as a domestic servant. The smart and lucky ones climbed up the ladder to positions of trust, such as lady’s maid or even a housekeeper. These women would return home with their savings to marry a civil servant, like a postmaster or the municipality clerk, to move up on the social ladder. Better yet, they’d open a shop and instantly become middle-class. The less fortunate postulants were intercepted in railway stations by brothel recruiters and offered cushy jobs and plenty of pretty things to wear. Eventually, these girls would end up as street prostitutes along with the dismissed pregnant maids.


Generally speaking, the greatest career moves in the 19th century were achieved by high-ranking courtesans who amassed colossal fortunes including chateaux and aristocratic titles. The reader may consider the irony of that fact.


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La Grisette (The Working Class Woman)

The English Courtesan Who Made a French Emperor



Eugene Delacroix: Liberty Leading the People

Paris and other French cities have been swarming with angry crowds for weeks now. Fires destroyed cars and trash containers, nearly one thousand policemen were injured, and President Macron’s effigy was carbonized. His crime? At the risk of his political career, and in order to save the failing French pension system, he extended the retirement age by two years to 64. It was a long overdue solution. Millions of Frenchmen don’t want to understand this simple necessity. In a true revolutionary spirit that has a long tradition in their country, they are up in arms, so to speak.

(UPDATE April 2: 1,093 police officers and firefighters were injured in the last two weeks during protests against the pension reform. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin stated this in an interview with the Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche. His department also records 2,579 deliberately set fires and 316 damages to public buildings in connection with the riots.)

Given the French revolutionary history, the damage is minimal compared to previous uprisings. We don’t have photographic documentation of the material damage caused by the revolution of 1789, but we know that the loss to human life and cultural heritage was enormous. Virtually every tourist attraction pre-dating that year has a history of revolutionary activity, resulting in some kind of vandalism. The revolutions of 1830 and 1848 were too short to cause any actual damage, but that of 1871 is fully documented and quite impressive. Although it lasted only 72 days, the Commune of Paris was the most devastating event in Paris’ history.

The End of the Commune, May 1871

What led to this disaster is described in the post The Bloodbath of the Paris Commune. Briefly explained, after the defeat in the war against Prussia—which led to the birth of Germany—the French government seated in Versailles set about conquering Paris. The city, still surrounded by the German army, refused the armistice. While the Germans watched, the Versailles troops broke through the defenses and the massacre we now call the Bloody Week began. Over 20,000 summary executions were carried out in seven days. The horror only ended because of fear of typhus epidemic caused by rotting bodies.

The insurgents did not take this lying down. Men and women fought on the barricades until the end. Although the pro-Commune historians deny any arson and maintain that all material damage was caused by the government army’s shelling, it was proven beyond doubt that public buildings were deliberately set on fire by the Communards.

Here are a few examples out of many of what the French did to themselves:

The palace of Tuilleries was a total loss. A wing of the Louvre was also scorched.

In light of this, the recent violent protests are anodyne and the French penchant for self-punishment has diminished. However, the Louvre museum does not take chances. On Monday, tourists found the entrance blocked by protesters and were refused entry. Valuable works of world art such as the Mona Lisa, or the Venus de Milo, remain behind closed doors. Among the protesters in front of the Louvre were also employees of the famous museum. One guide addressed the visitors who were waiting in vain to enter. “We hope you understand our reasons,” she told them.

Frankly, it is hard to understand how else the French intend to solve the problem of their ailing retirement system. One thing is certain: the call for insurrection still circulates in the veins of the revolutionaries’ descendants. Although the government has no intention of giving way to the populace, more protests are scheduled for the following weekend.


Related posts:

The Bloodbath of the Paris Commune

How Germany Was Born in France



The term La Belle Époque was coined after World War I when people realized how good life was before the disastrous conflict started in 1914. We are experiencing a similar situation today with the Russian aggression in Ukraine. While the physical damage has been limited to one country, the world’s economy has suffered a downturn, and it will be a long time before prosperity returns. The pre-Covid and pre-Ukraine epoch, which we didn’t fully appreciate while it existed, still needs a name.

By general agreement, the Belle Époque covers the last fifteen pre-war years (1899 to 1914) although some extend it to the entire period of growth after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. It was a time of groundbreaking technological and industrial inventions – aviation, automobiles, the telephone, or the cinema.



Auguste and Louis Lumière began the first moving pictures experiments in the winter of 1894, and the following year the brothers had come up with a device which they called the Cinématographe


During the Belle Époque, France’s manufacturing output tripled thanks to the effects and development of the industrial revolution. Successful colonization provided additional revenues. It was also a rich time for intellectual and artistic creativity, in architecture, painting, literature, and music.



The Art Nouveau was the signature style of La Belle Époque


While the rural world and the manual workers still had to fight for their place in the sun, a class of petty bourgeoisie, which would later be called the middle class, began to prosper. The population became more active as the bicycle brought increased freedom of movement to the benefit of the working class, teenagers, and women.



Jean Béraud: The Chalet Du Cycle in the Bois De Boulogne, c.1900


There was also a growing freedom of morals. In 1884, divorce was allowed again in France after its abolition in 1816. Sexuality became more permissive. All classes looked for fun. Popular music and new styles of performance introduced mass entertainment venues, such as the Moulin Rouge, the birthplace of choreographed can-can.




The Belle Époque was an era of technical and cultural exuberance when optimism and trust in progress prevailed. It was a society that had fun and was confident about the future.

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The Martyrdom of Education

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Whisks are prominently featured in this 16th-century engraving of a schoolroom. Corporal punishment was considered an indispensable part of education well into the 20th century

This article is the third part of the series Why You Wouldn’t Want to Live in the 19th Century. Indeed, after the horrors of ill health (here) and transport difficulties (here) education was the most painful experience in early life. As was one’s entire childhood.

Let’s start with the earliest history. During the Dark Ages, scholarship was reserved for the clergy. We hear that the idea of public schools originated with Charlemagne, but he was only concerned with the formation of his administrative staff. Those who desired knowledge sought it in private. They naturally congregated in large cities. The first European colleges of public education appeared four hundred years later, in the 13th century. La Sorbonne, the first college in Paris, was founded in 1253 by Robert de Sorbon, the chaplain of king Saint-Louis, in buildings that the king had given him for this purpose.

Sorbon founded the college to protect students, already numerous in the Latin Quarter, from the bad associations they contracted there, and to save them from exploitation by the people who housed them. Soon, the example set by the king’s chaplain bore fruit. Other colleges were founded by high-ranking priests. The University was born in the 13th century from the corporate organization of masters and scholars of Paris. Theology, law, medicine, and the arts were taught to young people from four nations: French, Picards, Normans, and English, thus conferring on the university an international prestige from the outset.

What was life like in the colleges?

The strictest discipline reigned in all these houses. Alfred Franklin, the learned librarian of the Mazarine Library, who studied the life in schools and colleges of the past, gives us an idea of ​​it by summarizing the rule of the college of Montaigu, one of the most terrible for the austerity of its discipline.

Young scholars should never drink wine; half a herring or an egg constituted the invariable menu of their meal. The older ones were better treated; because of their age and the long work required of them, the rule allowed them: one-third of a pint of wine, one-thirtieth part of a pound of butter, a dish of common vegetables cooked without meat, a herring or two eggs, and for dessert a small piece of cheese. The entire staff, without exception, always observed all the fasts prescribed by the Church.”

The workload was enormous for the half-starved growing bodies. Here is the daily program:

4:00 AM – Get up! A student charged with the duties of awakener roamed the rooms, and, in winter, lit the candles there.

5:00 to to 6:00 AM – Lessons

6:00  – First meal consisting of a small piece of bread.

7:00 to  8:00 – Recess

8:00 to  10:00 – Lessons

10:00 to 11:00  – Discussion and argumentation

11:00 – Dinner accompanied by a reading of the Bible or the Lives of the Saints. The chaplain recited the Benedicite and the Graces, to which he added a pious exhortation. The principal then took the floor, addressed praise or blame to the students, and announced the punishments deserved the day before.

12:00 to 2:00 PM  –  Review of lessons, various work

2:00 PM to 3:00 PM – Recreation

3:00 to 5:00 – Lessons

5:00 to 6:00 PM –  Discussion and argumentation

6:00 PM – Supper

6:15 PM – Review of the day’s work

7:30 PM  – Prayers

8:00 PM – Bedtime (9:00 PM in summer)

The students never had a whole day off. Twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday, they were taken for an afternoon walk. As for feast days, they were spent in exercises of devotion. The holidays, which were not then called holidays, but the grape harvest, took place in September. It was the only time when young people could return to their families. They stayed at the college for the rest of the year. This routine did not change for centuries.

In the middle of the 16th century, a young gentleman, Henri de Mesmes, was a student at the college in Toulouse. 

We were up at four o’clock, and having prayed to God, we went to study at five o’clock, our heavy books under our arms, our writing desks, and our candlesticks in our hands. We heard all the readings until ten o’clock struck, without any interruption; then went to dinner.

After dinner, we read, as a form of play, Sophocles or Aristophanes or Euripides, and sometimes Demosthenes, Cicero, Virgilius, Horatius. At one o’clock at the studies; at five, at home, repeating and seeing in our books the places [passages], until after six. Then we supped and read in Greek or Latin.” 

This young student hardly wasted his time. At the age of twelve, he recited Homer from cover to cover by heart and could write Latin and Greek verses. These methods of education would quickly exhaust weak children, but they made true scholars of those who were strong enough to bear the fatigue. Most complied with enthusiasm. Never did the fever for knowledge arouse more ardor than among the schoolchildren at the time of the Renaissance. As for those who showed no spirit of discipline, the masters had an infallible means of arousing their zeal and of making them wise and attentive to their lessons.

This means was the whip. 

The idea of ​​the instinctively criminal child prevailed. Pedagogy by blows, at school as well as in the family, was thus justified. This attitude softened in the 19th century when school reforms were in full swing, but corporal punishment to instill discipline went on well into the 20th century.

The whip was an indispensable tool for education. Evidence of its importance can be found even in the symbolic sculptures of churches. No one was spared, not even the king if he was young enough. Louis XIII, aged ten, was whipped after his coronation. Let’s read his father’s, Henri IV’s, instructions for the young prince’s education:

I want and command you to whip him whenever he will be obstinate or do something wrong, knowing well for myself that there is nothing in the world which brings him more profit than that, what I recognized by experience to have benefited me; because, being of his age, I was much whipped there. That’s why I want you to face him and make him hear.”

In accordance with the paternal wish, the future Louis XIII was whipped over and over again. In the Diary kept by Héroard, his doctor, we see that in his childhood he was whipped almost as often as purged or bled. He had already ascended the throne before they whipped him again. On May 15, 1610, he was proclaimed king; on October 17, he was crowned in Reims. This did not prevent him from being whipped again on March 10, 1611, for having obstinately opposed M. de Souvre, his governor.

Louis XIV was whipped; the Regent was whipped. His mother, Princess Palatine, wrote in 1710: “When my son was small, I never gave him a slap in the face, but I whipped him so hard that he still remembers it.” 

When princes, and even young crowned heads, were thus deliberately whipped, how could schoolchildren and young people in colleges be spared the whipping? In truth, they were not. Among the personnel of the colleges, there was a special functionary charged with applying the whip to the pupils. At the end of the 18th century, a certain Chevallier appeared on the list of staff at the Mazarin college for the sum of 150 pounds, with the title of Scrubber of the Library and Corrector.


Kneeling and wearing the Dunce’s Hat were lesser forms of punishment. The stick never left the teacher’s hand. It was an indispensable tool for pointing, prodding the pupils for attention, and for beating them


Voices were raised against the brutality of which children were sometimes victims in colleges. Michel de Montaigne protests:

You only hear cries, and of children tortured and of masters drunk in their anger, guiding them with a dreadful face, their hands armed with whips.”

Over two hundred years later, Mercier is indignant about it in his Tableau de Paris which was created in 1782.

We torment the pleasant childhood, we inflict daily punishments on it. Let us penetrate into the interior of these schools. We see tears running down childish cheeks; we hear sobs and groans; we see their pedagogues whose mere appearance inspires dread, armed with whips and rods, treating with inhumanity the first age of life.”

But these traditions were preserved intact until, and beyond, the Revolution in 1789. The Revolution democratized education, but it was still reserved for the rich. The following century brought critical innovations. From 1833, all municipalities with more than 500 inhabitants had to have a boys’ school. In 1850, schools were “encouraged” for girls. Starting with the July Monarchy (1830-1848), and especially under the Second Empire (1852-1870), the public authorities endeavored to prohibit cruel punishments in schools. They invoked its immoral nature, in particular when it caused serious injuries or even death. Excesses such as “children beaten up, sometimes hampered by ropes like a domestic animal put to death, ears torn off or torn by a metal object, use of slender sticks like the goads of the herdsman,” were prohibited by the Guizot law of 1834, but for all sorts of reasons which made convictions complicated, the masters continued for a long time to resort to public humiliation and violence of all kinds. The historian Ernest Lavisse recalls the tyranny of his teachers around 1850: 

School discipline was harsh; for minor faults, one was punished by simple kneeling; for more serious ones by kneeling with a raised hand carrying a brick, or else by blows with a stick, the most serious penalty.”

He evokes here one of the variants of the punishment. It consisted of staying in mid-flexion, sometimes on one leg, arms outstretched, with a stack of books in each hand.

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“Lazy jackass” Punishment by humiliation


Detention was another form of punishment. Schoolchildren were never assured of enjoying the weekly rest. The detention of Sunday was sometimes inflicted on them as a severe punishment. A poorly learned lesson, a missing homework, a distraction from studying, and the guilty student saw himself in detention.



The late 19th-century classroom with the indispensable paraphernalia of education such as the map, the globe, boxes with insects, a set of weights and measures, and a small library


The saying “Spare the rod, spoil the child” sounds familiar to many seniors’ ears even today. Beating was the fate of unruly children whether they were at school or at home. According to 19th-century law, children were the property of their parents, and parental cruelty went unpunished unless it ended in death. Public awakening was slow to come. In France, the civil unrest in 1968 brought many further reforms in education, including the absolute prohibition of corporal punishment.


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Welcome to 2023, a year that starts with the war in Ukraine, worldwide skyrocketing prices, and China being hit by a sweeping wave of killer Covid pandemic. Let’s hope that the next twelve months will bring peace and at least a partial return to prosperity. In the meantime, let’s indulge in escapism. This New Year’s post proposes a trip to La Belle Époque, specifically to the turn-of-the-century Paris Expo where technology effortlessly combined with unabashed sumptuousness. Watching these moving images, we get the impression that the world of 1900 lacked nothing – that brilliance, resplendence, magnificence, pageant, and luxury were everyday words.

The video starts slowly with the traffic in Paris, so be patient. It’s worth your time.


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A culinary world record was established at the closure of the Expo 1900 with the Banquet of Mayors. Nowadays, French taxpayers would be marching in the streets, shouting protests against such a waste of public funds. But this was Belle Époque when extravagance went unquestioned:


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In the capital of Ukraine, where due to Russian willful destruction there is no power, this year’s Christmas celebrations will be a sad affair. The situation in Kyiv is very similar to what Paris lived under the Prussian siege during the harsh winter of 1870-71. The poignant suffering of Parisians during that period comes from the pen of Francis Sarcey, writer and journalist, who left a bitter report of that year’s festivities.


We reached the last days of December. How sad were those days, which are ordinarily consecrated to joy! It is true that we had a pale consolation of satisfied revenge, in thinking that the Germans, detained under Paris, would not celebrate their Christmas with their families, and that the traditional Christmas tree would only see around it melancholy faces and crying eyes. But, ourselves, how different this Christmas was for us from those nights of solemn feasts which formerly broke out gaily throughout Paris in honor of this anniversary!



Shelling during the Siege of Paris, Francisque Sarcey (1871)

Most churches had closed their doors; through the kerosene-lit streets, plunged in semi-darkness, sounded the rare step of some belated passer-by. A small number of restaurants had remained open, either in the ordinary center of Parisian pleasures, from the Boulevard des Italiens to the Boulevard Montmartre, or in the populous quarters, at Montmartre, at Menilmontant and at Belleville. There, we had, out of dilettantism, gathered for supper around extravagant and bizarre menus. Wolf chops featured alongside roasted elephant trunk and kangaroo en capilotade, all washed down with classic champagne. We were tickling each other to make each other laugh. No one had the heart to have fun.


Menu of December 25, 1870. Cafe Voisin, 261 rue Saint-Honoré. It is featuring stuffed donkey head, leg of wolf, cat surrounded by rats, kangaroo stew, and antelope terrine



Zoo animals were killed for food




Meats shops sold dogs, cats, and rats




A ration ticket


[The daily wage of an unskilled laborer was around one franc. Women and children seldom earned above fifty cents.]


The whole month of December was terribly hard to go through. The privations increased as the stock of our supplies diminished. All the food that accompanies bread and meat had risen to exorbitant prices, which rose every day. A pound of oil commonly cost six to seven francs! The butter, it was not necessary to speak of it; they were fancy prices, 40 or 50 francs a kilo; Gruyère was not sold; it would have cost too much; he [the merchant] gave it himself as a gift. I know a very pretty woman who, on New Year’s Day, received, instead of the usual sweets, a bag of potatoes and a piece of cheese. A piece of cheese is a royal present; potatoes were worth 25 francs a bushel; they were much more expensive for small households who bought them by the liter or by the heap. A cabbage was priced at six francs; it was sold leaf by leaf, and such, which in the past one would hardly have dared to offer to one’s rabbits, figured nobly in the horse stew.

Many had bought rabbits, which they fed on peelings, while waiting for the famine to force them to make pies. At the time when I write these lines, I have near me, in my study, two rabbit brothers, crouched in a corner of the room, and who look at me with their big frightened air. The housekeeper brought them to me, claiming that they were bored all alone in their niche, that they were cold there and did not want to eat any more. This last consideration decided me; I received them, and I try to distract them. I will be careful not to read this chapter to them, where their sentence is pronounced; they would only lose weight with grief.


Soup for the poorest was available at the city-run facilities





The number [of provisions] grew more rare day by day. The bourgeoisie was beginning to see the end of their reserves. I had followed with curious interest the progress of this exhaustion. I belonged to a small society where people met to play either whist or hot water bottle. The betting rate and the way of pushing the game did not change significantly in the first month; from the second, the card fell by half, then by three quarters, and finally towards the end of the last days of the blockade, it was agreed that no more money would be played.

We were all dry, and had barely enough to look forward to better days. What about those who had no reserves? It was the vast majority of Parisians, it must be admitted. No, I cannot tell our brothers in the provinces too often with what indomitable courage, with what touching resignation, with what invincible feeling of patriotism this whole population endured the rigors of this long misery. The women especially were admirable.

I don’t pity men too much; most had their thirty sous a day, which many of them drank shamelessly. But women! Poor women! In those abominable December colds, they lined up all day, at the baker’s, at the butcher’s, at the grocer’s, at the lumber merchant’s, at the town hall. None murmured; never have I heard from a single one of those mouths, accustomed to harsh words, an impious word against France.


Balloons provided the only contact with the outside world


And on the morning of the first of January! No, I will never forget that first morning of the year 1871; when the maid brought me lunch on a small table, and on this feast day, when the whole family is usually gathered together and is joyfully overwhelmed with wishes and kisses, I saw myself all alone, by the fireside, opposite a piece of horse, which was smoking on the plate. I felt my whole being fail and burst into tears! Ah! These tears that others have shed in this cruel hour! Consider that all, or almost all of us, had sent our mothers, our wives and our children away, and that for three months we had lived without news of any kind! It was easy, in ordinary times, not to be bewildered by this solitude; business, conversations, guards to be mounted, the accustomed course of life, and then also this carefree philosophy, which is the foundation of our national character, everything contributed to warding off the memory of these cherished images; noises from outside distracted us from their thoughts.

The solemnity of that day brought them all back to us, and as they looked at us, with sad eyes, and stretching out their arms to us, they seemed to be saying to us: “Call us back! Won’t this cursed war soon be over?”… No, I can’t think of all this without my heart rising with rage. Miserables! Sons of the Huns! Barbarians! You have taken everything from us. We are ruined by you, starved by you, and presently we are going to be bombarded by you, and we certainly have the right to hate you with a cordial hatred.

How very true and very painful would these words sound to millions of Ukrainians whose families have been split apart by the war. Let’s hope the Christmas of 2023 will find them all together again. Slava Ukraine!


Related post:

How Germany was Born in France


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Parisians, used to all sorts of spectacles, were not easily impressed. Yet in 1884 they were astonished to see a colossal statue growing above the roofs of rue de la Chazelle buildings where a metal workshop was located. It was called La Statue de la Liberté.

The story of the Statue of Liberty is one of extraordinary perseverance. It begins during a dinner given by Edouard René de Laboulaye in Versailles in June 1865. Laboulaye was then a renowned professor with expertise in American politics; he was also the president of the Association for the Abolition of Slavery. That evening, he invited his colleagues and friends to celebrate the end of the Civil War. The guests decided to make a gesture towards the United States to celebrate the event but also to express their pain after the death of Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated in April of that year.


Laboulaye and Bartholdi

Among the guests was a sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, aged thirty. Bartholdi, who had returned from a trip to Egypt, was fascinated by the colossi of Antiquity and he proposed the idea of a giant statue representing the free spirit of America. The French would offer the statue as a gift to the United States for the centenary of the American Revolution of 1776.

At first, the American project remained in abeyance as Bartholdi got involved with another design: a monumental statue that was to stand at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal in Egypt, then under construction. After that project was shelved, Bartholdi set sail for America in the summer of 1871. During the crossing, he reworked his sketches of the Suez project and changed the Egyptian woman into a classical Greco-Roman statue. Arriving in New York, he quickly found the ideal location: Bedloe Island in the bay facing Manhattan. But there was a problem: Bartholdi did not speak a word of English and did not know anyone of importance. He crossed the United States for several months, searching for donors, and left without a cent.

He did not give up and launched an appeal for donations on his return to France. Five years later, the sculptor had enough money to build the hand and the torch. He had the bright idea of presenting the partial sculpture to the public during the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia, marking the centenary of the American Declaration of Independence.


The Philadelphia Exposition, 1876

Of all the exhibits, the statue was the most popular one, and the most photographed. Visitors could climb inside and admire the view from the top of the torch. Besides being a good salesman, Bartholdi understood the power of the media and in particular the new illustrated magazines that were then appearing. The drawings of the completed statue, along with the photos of the torch and the head, made the project popular and eventually convinced Americans to take an interest in the statue.

Laboulaye and Bartholdi, the two fathers of the statue, had an agenda. Their project was not devoid of political motives, as the origins of the statue had a lot to do with the internal politics of France. The Second Empire was an authoritarian regime, and the two men were liberals. At the time, it was difficult to criticize the authorities. France’s gift to the United States was an indirect political statement. By honoring America and liberty, they proclaimed their support for republican ideas. The gesture was also aimed at recalling the decisive aid that France had given to the American insurgents to wrestle independence from the British crown.

However, France had no longer the odor of holiness in Washington. Napoleon III supported the Southerners in the Civil War and tried to take advantage of the conflict to colonize Mexico. The States also had many German immigrants, and the American government supported Prussia during its war with France. The strained relations changed with the advent of the Third Republic in 1870. Both countries now featured similar forms of government while Germany was becoming increasingly authoritarian, and the other great power, England, was not a republic. This helped to convince the Americans.

It is important to notice that the statue was a gift from the French to the Americans and not from France to America, because neither the French government nor the American government contributed to its realization. In the summer of 1875, Bartholdi brought together American and French personalities in his Parisian studio, and they created a committee, the Franco-American Union, chaired by Laboulaye. A major fundraising campaign was launched, supported by newspapers. At the end of 1875, the committee collected 200,000 francs which was a considerable sum.

The question of the design was discussed. With the dimensions imagined by Bartholdi, materials such as stone and bronze were unthinkable. Bartholdi then remembered his visit to northern Italy where he saw the statue of Saint Charles Borromeo, 23 meters in height, and made of copper supported by a masonry frame. Bartholdi also chose copper and made the first model a quarter of the final size. To support the copper sheets, the statue needed a solid skeleton capable of resisting the winds of New York Bay. A new man was brought to the project, Gustave Eiffel. He was not yet a worldwide celebrity with his impressive tower built in 1889, but the engineer had already made a name for himself with a remarkable viaduct in Cantal. Eiffel opted for metal: four wrought iron pylons connected by interlacing beams on a base of stone and cement.


The head of the Statue of Liberty on the Champ de Mars in Paris during the 1878 International Exhibition.

In 1877, the Americans created a committee in favor of the statue and agreed to provide a pedestal. A year later, the head was completed and exhibited in Paris throughout the summer. Many curious climbed the 43 steps leading to the crown. A national lottery was launched in the process: it brought together 100,000 subscribers before the head was transferred to the workshop in the 17th arrondissement.


The construction of the left arm

The statue rose, exceeded the roof – which had to be removed – and took its final form above Paris. It was open to the public from July to December 1884.


The ceremony of dedication in Paris, 1884

The ceremony of the official dedication of the Statue of Liberty took place on July 4, 1884. Following the speech of Ferdinand de Lesseps, President of the Franco-American Union, the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States, Morton, declared to accept the colossal statue, with the thanks of the American government and people. After signing the minutes of the dedication, the many officials – deputies and ministers – undertook, under the leadership of Bartholdi, the first public ascent of the monument, to the torch, from where they admired the Parisian panorama. The party ended around a buffet set up under a tent, at the foot of “Liberté”.

Things were rapidly progressing in Paris but they were lagging in New York where Americans were slow in raising money for the pedestal. Bartholdi would not wait any longer. In May 1885, the Liberté was dismantled and stored in over 200 crates on a ship sailing for New York. Bartholdi was playing his all: the American committee, which had not finished the work on the pedestal, needed to feel the pressure.

In June, the ship arrived in front of the site and unloaded its precious cargo next to the unfinished pedestal. Parts of the statue remained scattered on Bedloe Island. Thanks to a relentless press campaign organized by journalist Joseph Pulitzer, things began to move. A goal of $100,000 was reached in August, collected from 120,000 donors. The pedestal was constructed; it weighed 28,000 tons.

Inauguration of the Statue of Liberty, 1886

The reconstruction of the statue was completed in October. At first reluctant, the American Congress finally agreed to finance the inauguration to the tune of 50,000 dollars. The great day took place on October 26, 1886. The city was decked out in red, white, and blue, the colors of France and America. A parade brought together a million New Yorkers. “The entire city was a huge cheer,” wrote the New York World. Bartholdi revealed the face of Liberty by bringing down the large sheet that hid it. The moment was greeted by the cannon shots of a warship and the sirens of 300 ships. In the distance, in New York, the bells were ringing.

Unfortunately, one of the fathers of the project would not see this triumph. Edouard René de Laboulaye died five years earlier, while the statue was still in construction.

Lastly, who is hiding behind the face of the Statue of Liberty? Since its inauguration, the craziest rumors have been circulating. The enigma was maintained by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi himself. During his lifetime, the sculptor was assailed with questions. He let the mystery hover. Of all the possible models, only one face fits: that of the Frenchwoman Isabelle Boyer, widow of the billionaire Isaac Merritt Singer, founder of the famous sewing machines, and married to her second husband, the Duke of Campo Selice of Luxembourg. It was therefore her, the Duchess of Campo Selice, who inspired the sculptor with her classical features.

Related post:

The Eiffel Tower Story


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The Pantin Massacre


Jean and Hortense Kinck with their youngest children

By annexing its bordering villages in 1860, Paris also swallowed the community of Pantin, then a quiet rural location. In 1869, the village became a pilgrimage destination for the curious after an extraordinary crime was committed there. 100,000 people visited the infamous field where opportunistic refreshment stalls owners made a brisk business in a macabre and sensational atmosphere. The case, known as the Massacre de Pantin, made a lasting impression in the history of crime reporting.

Up to that date, the journals published accounts of court cases. With this particularly heinous crime, the papers brought news of the investigation process, and their profits soared. When the murderer was guillotined, the press owners celebrated him by uncorking champagne. He was their benefactor.

The infamous criminal case inspired poems and ballads sung on street corners by ambulant musicians, and also caught the attention of many successful authors, including Stendhal, Flaubert, Zola, Dumas, Rimbaud, and even Victor Hugo, then in exile.

What happened?

On the morning of September 20, 1869, Jean Langlois, a farmer, saw traces of blood in the grass of his alfalfa field. These stopped at a trench surmounted by a small mound of earth.

The farmer dug into the center of the mound with his spade. A handkerchief stained with fresh blood appeared, then a child’s arm. Continuing to dig with his hands, he unearthed a bloodied child’s head. He ran to the authorities, who sent a commissioner and a medical examiner.

In the hours that followed, the systematic search by the police led to the discovery of six bodies: a two-year-old girl, four young boys, and their pregnant mother. The mutilated corpses buried in the pit were later identified by the labels of their clothes. They were the Kinck family, originally from the industrial town of Roubaix. The instruments of crime, a bloody shovel, and ropes, were buried nearby.


The discovery immediately caused a stir. The next day, the investigators received the testimony of the coachman of a hired vehicle who drove the presumed murderer and the Kinck family from the railway station Gare du Nord to the place where they were massacred. The police now had the description of the suspect and the manhunt could begin.

Since the coachman described the man as young and slim, the suspicion focused on the missing eldest son, Gustave Kinck. Did he commit these multiple murders at his father’s request? Nobody knew then that Gustave had been killed two days prior and was buried in the same field. As for the father, dead of poisoning, his body was hidden far away in his native province of Alsace.

The police followed the suspect’s trail to Le Havre from where he planned to embark for America. His hounded attitude betrayed him during a routine check by Constable Ferrand, who was informed of the sinister news item. Instead of answering incriminating questions, the suspect preferred to flee in panic to the port where he jumped into the water and almost drowned. Ferrand, who was pursuing him but could not swim, alerted a caulker named Hauguel who dived in.

After searching the captured man’s belongings, the police discovered his correspondence, various papers, and objects stolen from his victims. The suspect was identified as Jean-Baptiste Troppmann, aged 20, and was handed over to justice.

A child of frail stature but of uncommon energy, intelligent but introverted, Jean-Baptiste was spoiled by his mother, who preferred him to his two older brothers. His father, Joseph Troppmann, an ingenious and prolific inventor, held several patents relating to the improvement of various spinning machines and accessories. The future of the boy seemed all mapped out: to promote these materials throughout France.

Despite his clever inventions, Joseph Troppmann was not a good role model for his children. Under the permanent influence of alcohol, he spent lavishly and compromised the future of his business. The situation weighed on Jean-Baptiste’s mind. He had already understood that his father’s affairs would never be up to his ambition. The boy remained taciturn and unsociable. When he deigned to speak, it was about money and riches he would one day enjoy. According to the testimonies collected, he was already feeding on sensational and macabre news items related to criminal acts. 

At the end of 1868, he left for the capital to install new machines sold by his father to a Parisian industrialist. He found accommodation in Pantin and remained there until May of the following year. Later, he went to Roubaix for another installation, which allowed him to meet the Kinck family.

Kinck’s wife, Hortense, a bourgeoise from Roubaix, was raising six children and was six months pregnant with the seventh. Jean Kinck happened to be Troppmann’s compatriot, originally from the province of Alsace. For a young man of barely twenty, Kinck was a model in the trade: by dint of seriousness and skill, he went from worker to foreman, to become the boss of a prosperous spinning establishment.

The complicity between a middle-aged man experienced in business and a young man just out of adolescence surprised many. Troppmann didn’t have a particularly friendly face, but his nonchalant attitude, his strong Alsatian accent, his impassiveness – in reality, his lack of emotions – gave him the good-natured air of a thoughtful boy and managed to inspire confidence. Troppmann spoke little, but he spoke well. He succeeded to involve the pragmatic and circumspect Kinck in a shady scheme.

Both were dissatisfied men. Kinck dreamt of amassing a large fortune before retiring to his native country. Troppmann, for his part, was eager to succeed, and, measuring the long professional path of his new friend, he did not find the legal way to riches fast enough. 

The two accomplices had openly agreed on two objectives. Troppmann would visit his father in Alsace and obtain from him an agreement so that Jean Kinck could exploit his patents abroad. At the same time, he would seek an Alsatian property for Kinck’s retirement. In fact, both men had something else in mind: easy money.

About a week after the young man’s departure, Jean Kinck announced to his family, not without some mystery, that he was leaving for business in Alsace. On August 24, he arrived at a rural railway station where Troppmann was waiting for him. In order to lure Jean Kinck, Troppmann made him believe they were visiting a clandestine counterfeit money factory. During the hike in the deep woods, he made his unfortunate companion drink a deadly potion based on Prussic acid and buried him in this remote place. The corpse of Jean Kinck was the last to be found on November 25, 1869.

Troppmann hoped to earn 5,500 francs in cash by killing Kinck, but was sadly disappointed. The older man was cautious and his murderer found only 212 francs on the body. It was the first setback, but he now had his victim’s identity papers and his gold watch, as well as two checks.

Troppmann reviewed his plan and wrote to the wife, “under the dictation of Jean, wounded in the hand”, so that she would withdraw the amount of the checks from the bank and send him a mandate. The lie was crude, but the wife, kept in complete ignorance, complied with the demand. This resulted in a new disappointment for Troppmann, who was found too young to cash the mandate in the place of a man supposed to be of respectable age. He was forced to imagine another strategy: he would involve Gustave, Kinck’s eldest son, aged sixteen.

Troppmann removed himself to Paris. Pretending to be Kinck, he wrote a letter to the family, still under the alleged dictation. He told them of a marvelous gain of half a million francs won thanks to his young partner; then, in an enthusiastic and optimistic tone, gave Troppmann the full power of attorney. The latter established himself as a trustworthy man. In the same letter, he demanded that young Gustave leave Roubaix with an authenticated power of attorney to recover the money. 

On September 15th, the boy arrived in Paris, but without money or a valid document. He had left in haste, eager to see his father. Suppressing his rage, Troppmann asked him to send a telegram inviting his mother to join them in the capital, with “all the papers”. Then he took the boy to Pantin, supposedly to meet his father. Gustave did not suspect that to join his father, he would have to die by stabbing. He was the first family member to be buried in the alfalfa field.

The family—except for the youngest child placed in foster care—responded confidently to the eldest son’s call. They arrived in Paris, and believing that the head of the family was now living in Pantin, in an isolated new residence, they boarded a cab, accompanied by Troppmann.

It was late at night. The cab left the fortifications of Paris, and the company dismounted in a deserted countryside. As soon as the cab disappeared from view, Troppmann went to work. The mother and two children had their throats slit, and the other three were strangled. All were finished off with a shovel.

The investigation of the massacre was led by Antoine Claude, the chief of the Paris Sûreté, who initially thought that the father and eldest son killed the family. He only suspected Troppmann because of the report given by the cab driver who took Madame Kinck and her children to Pantin. This suited Troppmann who pretended to be only an accomplice and accused Kinck and his son of the murders.

The tale of his innocence was ruined on September 28, when a butcher’s apprentice discovered Gustave Kinck’s body. To extract a full confession, Troppmann was tricked into believing that Jean Kinck’s remains had been found as well. He admitted guilt. He would later indicate the location of the body in the ruins of the castle Herrenfluh in Alsace.

Now it was time for a sensational trial. Troppmann appeared before the Assize Court of the department of the Seine, on December 28, 1869. In the packed courtroom, the front seats were reserved for political and intellectual VIPs, including celebrated authors.

According to Antoine Claude, the head of the Security Police, Troppmann could not act alone. In his opinion, there were accomplices to the murders. He believed in the widespread idea of a counterfeiters’ gang operating along the Franco-German border, and even of a German spy network. It was, after all, a time of unrest on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War.

Claude’s suspicions could not be proven and forensic experts, who studied the blows given to the victims, admitted the possibility of a single man. The Court rejected the hypothesis of any complicity, and Troppmann was sentenced to capital punishment.

His appeal for clemency having been rejected, Troppmann was brought to the scaffold on January 19, 1870. His face appeared aged by thirty years, but he was calm. Once installed on the guillotine, he had a burst of revolt. He struggled and managed to break the straps holding him down. The executioner had to hold his head forcibly on the half-moon. Before the heavy blade fell on his neck, the condemned man bit his executioner’s left hand, almost severing his index finger.


Troppmann guillotined

The severed head shows the twenty-year-old Troppmann’s incredible aging within four short months. Did he really act alone? It is hard to believe that he could kill six people, five of whom had legs capable of running.  At least the older boys had a chance to save their lives. Or were they too shocked and frozen with fear? The Pantin Massacre remains a difficult and strange case.


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Murder Most Horrible: The Bloody Trunk Case

The Gangs of Paris: Les Apaches


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Old trades, forgotten trades, trades of yesteryear… Let’s return to old times when small businesses, especially services, had no permanent premises. Their office was the street and their advertisement was the human voice: the louder, the better.

The 19th-century city street was far more vibrant compared to the one of today. It was not a quiet place. In addition to horses’ hooves beating the pavement and the rattle of carriage wheels, the shouts of street vendors assaulted inhabitants’ and passers-by’s ears. 


Petty tradespeople’s shouts attracted children who crowded around. The knife sharpener was a welcome attraction with his heavy stone wheel that produced sparks.

Nearby, a snail vendor would promote her merchandise with a high-pitched voice: “Snails! Buy my snails! Fresh snails, good snails!” A passing produce-seller with a loaded push-cart competed for attention with a sing-song: “Have a look! All fresh! Have a look! All fresh!” Each merchant had his own recognizable cry to be shouted again and again.

The street furnished your home. You could step out to purchase fresh kitchen herbs…

1 kitchen herbes

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