From the Goncourt Journal
Text written in 1857
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.
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.