Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘local customs’ Category

James Tissot: Without a Dowry (1883)

James Tissot (1836 – 1902) was the story-teller of elegant Victorian life. Without a Dowry is one of Tissot’s paintings in a series called La Femme à Paris. The picture is also known as Sunday in the Luxembourg Garden. The Jardin de Luxembourg was a popular recreational area on the Left Bank protected from the undesirables by a tall forged-iron fence. Here one could rent a chair to enjoy fresh air in comfort. The chair rental is probably the only Sunday pleasure the two women in the painting can afford. Both the mother and the daughter are in mourning – one can guess that the father, probably a poorly-paid government clerk,  is gone and they are living on a small pension. Without a sufficient dowry, the young woman has no hope for a happy future. Maybe, just maybe, she will marry a widower with six children or an old man in need of a nurse. Until then, genteel poverty is her fate. The newspapers in this picture story play a significant role: mothers assiduously read marriage offers published by individuals or by agencies.

The marriage was a serious business in France and, as with all business, money was its essence.  The following text, written by Charles C. Fulton, was published in 1873:

The matrimonial agencies of Paris do a thriving business. They are located in all sections of the city, and are of different classes, according to the wealth and standing of the families of the parties they deal with — young men who are looking for a wife with a good dowry, the money consideration being the main incentive, and parents who have marriageable daughters, being the principal customers. The agents, when they effect a marriage, stipulate that they shall receive five percent of the dowry, and generally manage also to get a good retaining-fee from both parties. The larger establishments are in correspondence with similar agencies on all parts of the continent and have become a necessity to parents who are looking out for eligible wives for their sons and responsible husbands for their daughters. The successful tradesman who has accumulated a fortune desires his daughters to marry in a higher circle than that in which he associates: hence the necessity of an agent to make the necessary advances. Then elaborate papers must be prepared and signed before the marriage is consummated, and unless the dowry is paid down at the stipulated time the engagement is off. To manage all these preliminaries requires practical knowledge and experience which few parties in private life could be expected to possess.

The agency of Madame St. Just only does openly what hundreds of others have for ages been doing secretly, and she has at once risen to the head of the profession. She is one of those business geniuses who believe in advertising, and she is, of course, pushing aside all the old fogies who have transacted their business as if secrecy was necessary to all their movements. Madame St. Just says the French law of marriage, and the national custom, render matrimonial agencies a necessity, and in a recent trial the courts have sustained the position she has taken. No one under twenty-five years of age, either son or daughter, can marry without the consent of his or her parents, or, if the parents are dead, without the consent of the grandparents, if any are living. If none of them are living, applicants must substantiate the fact by bringing certificates of their death and burial.

Thus it will be seen that parents make all the arrangements for marriage, and, as they do not know who are the eligible parties in the matrimonial market, they must apply to those who make it a business to keep a record, with the pedigree and pecuniary standing or prospects, of all the young men and girls who are similarly eligible. If John Smith should have settled on his daughter a dowry of twenty thousand francs, he has a money interest in securing for her a husband similarly endowed, and he awaits the guarantee of a responsible agent that there is no false pretense being practiced upon him. How would he be able to ascertain that Tom Brown, who applied for the hand of Miss Smith, was all that he represented himself to be, and whether his father was responsible for the twenty thousand francs which he had promised to give his son on the morning of his marriage, or how would he know that there were twenty or thirty young men of good family and good money-standing who are anxious to secure a wife with the twenty-thousand-franc charm possessed by Miss Smith, if there were not an agent to apply to who kept a record of all such young-aspirants for matrimony? Or how would the parents of these young men know that there was such an eligible party as Miss Smith in existence if they had not applied to Madame St. Just for the information?

Related post:

James Tissot and the Women in Paris

The Marriage Market (Newspaper ads.)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The following anecdote from Paris: With Pen and Pencil by David W. Bartlett published in 1854 tells the life story of two women, but the same fate was dealt to an entire class of poor Parisians for whom marriage was an unattainable goal. The author does not mention that the free unions produced children (about 15 thousand a year) which were often abandoned at the door of orphanages.

***

One evening while walking in the Luxembourg gardens, the band playing exquisite music, and the crowd promenading to it, I met a friend, an American, who has resided in Paris for seventeen years. Taking his arm we fell into the current of people, and soon met a couple of quite pretty looking ladies arm-in-arm. They were dressed exactly alike and their looks were very much of the same pattern, and as to their figures, I certainly could not tell one from the other with their faces turned away.

“They are sisters,” said my friend, “and you will scarcely believe me when I tell you that I saw them in this very garden ten years ago.” I replied that I could hardly credit his story, for the couple still looked young, and I could hardly think that so many years ago they would have been allowed by their anxious mamma to promenade in such a place. I told my friend so, and a smile overspread his countenance. He then told me their history. Ten years ago and they were both shop-girls, very pretty and very fond of the attentions of young men. As shop-girls, they occasionally found time to come and hear the music in the gardens of an evening, and cast glances at the young students. Soon they were student’s mistresses. Their paramours were generous and wealthy young men, and they fared well. For four years they were as faithful, affectionate, and devoted to the young men as any wives in all France. They indulged in no gallantries or light conduct with other men, and among the students were reckoned as fine specimens of the class. Four happy years passed away, when one morning the poor girls awoke to a sad change. The collegiate course was through, and the young collegians were going back to their fathers’ mansions in the provinces. Of course the grisettes could not be taken with them, and the ties of years were suddenly and rudely to be snapped asunder. At first they were frantic in their grief. When they entered upon their peculiar relations with the students, they well knew that this must be the final consummation, but then it looked a great way off. That they really loved the young men, no one can doubt. It would not be strange for a little shop-girl to even adore a talented university student, however insignificant he might be to other people. To her he is everything that is great and noble. These girls knew well that they were not wives, but mistresses, yet when the day of separation came, it was like parting husband and wife. But there was no use in struggling with fate, and they consoled themselves by transferring their affections to two more students. Again after a term of years they were forsaken, until the flower of their youth was gone, and no one desired to support them as mistresses. Then a downward step was taken. Nothing but promiscuous prostitution was before them—except starvation. And still they could not forget their old life, and came nightly to this public promenade to see the old sights, and possibly with the hope of drawing some unsophisticated youth into their net. While my friend repeated their story, the couple frequently passed us, and I could hardly believe that persons whose deportment was so modest and correct, could be what he had designated them; but as the twilight deepened, and we were walking away, I noticed that they were no longer together, and one had the arm of a man, and was walking, like us, away from the gardens.

I do not know as I could give the reader a better idea of a great class of women in Paris, than by relating the brief history of these girls, and certainly I could not sketch a sadder picture. To the stranger the social system of France may seem very pleasant and gay, but it is in reality a sorrowful one. While the mistress is young, she has a kind of happiness, but when she loses her beauty, then her wretchedness begins.

Related posts:

La Grisette

Parisian Foundlings

Read Full Post »

Unknown source

If you entered through the double door of the carriage entrance that lead through the front portion of the apartment building to the courtyard and somewhere, usually tucked near the steps, you found a cramped dwelling illuminated by the second-rate light of the vestibule. In this badly-ventilated cubicle there lived the Parisian Concierge. Although considered the lowest of the low on the social scale, she wielded a considerable power over the tenants. The concierge loge was the hub of a spider’s net, its threads reached not only into every apartment in the building but extending out in the street. The tenants were well-advised to remain on her good side. Failing that, their mail could go astray, and their reputation be tarnished by malicious gossip through the neighborhood. Her eagle-eye noticed all the comings and goings, especially past ten o’clock in the evening, when the main door was locked and late comers must ring the bell.

Unavoidable as well as indispensable, she supplemented her meager wages by performing all kind of services for the tenants and often pocketed bribes for keeping secrets. To be at the mercy of a coarse uneducated woman necessarily created resentment. No creature has been more mocked and maligned in literature. Caricatures of the era picture her as a repulsive harridan, either sickeningly self-ingratiating or loftily dismissive, depending on the importance of the tenant.

In fact, the concierge’s lot was not an easy one. Representing the landlord, she had the unpleasant task of extracting past-due rent, evicting non-paying tenants and bear the brunt of their anger. At the approach of the term, her vigilance redoubled, as insolvent tenants tended to slip away. In the old tenements, her quarters–often a single room without running water and ventilation–were nothing more than a stinking cramped hole lacking in privacy. At the beck and call of others every hour of the day, she often had to get up at night to unlock the door. In addition to collecting rent, distributing the mail, cleaning the courtyard, hallway, and the stairs, she scrubbed and cleaned for tenants who could not afford a maid. Running errands, passing on messages, and other innumerable petty services were rewarded by tips, scrapes of food from festive tables, and the occasional discarded piece of clothing. The most profitable day was that of Saint Sylvestre (Dec. 31) when the voluntary–but obligatory!–gratuity was expected.

The repulsive solitary old woman was of course a cliché. The post was often filled by a middle-aged couple. Since the only financial advantage was a free lodging and one per cent of the rental income, the husband had to have an outside job. Scarcely visible, he remained in the shade of the concierge lore.

Read Full Post »

English and American visitors to France marveled at the quantities of alcohol consumed in public places and the lack of visible consequences. Here are some personal observations written between 1870 and the end of the century:

“The extreme instances of French sociable habits in their full development are the men, who, on getting up in the morning, go straight to a café for a glass of white wine, which means half a bottle, or sometimes a bottle. Whilst drinking this, or immediately after, they smoke one or two pipes or cigars. The conversation lasts some time, they take a little turn, or if they have anything to do before déjeuner, perhaps they may decide to do it. It is possible (we are supposing an extreme case) that absinthe may be considered needful to prepare the system for the work of digestion, which is a reason for returning to the café.

The déjeuner itself is a great gastronomical piece of business, if the man is an epicure; and during the course of it he will drink his bottle of wine. Then he will return to the café for his cup of coffee and little glass of pure cognac. After that he smokes, talks, lounges, does a little business of some kind, is surprised to find that it is already four o’clock to meet his friends at the café again to drink beer, or absinthe, or bitters. Dinner comes next, and during dinner, another bottle of wine is absorbed. After that meal, our friend returns to the café, and talks, or plays billiards, cards, or dominoes till eleven, smoking most of the time and drinking Strasburg beer.

We will leave out of consideration for the present the gastronomical part of such an existence, which is not the least anxiously cared for. The reader perceives that the habits just described keep a man in a state of perpetual alcoholic stimulus. One drink has not exhausted its effect before it is succeeded by another, and this from eight or nine in the morning till eleven o’clock at night. A series of small customs have so arranged themselves as a tradition from other bonvivants who have gone before, that by simple conformity to these a man may be constantly alcoholized.

The reader is not to suppose for a moment that such a Frenchman as I am now describing, is ever drunk, in any degree perceptible to other people. He has always so perfectly the control of his reason that it even becomes doubtful whether he feels any pleasure from his drinking. Perhaps he feels no other sensations than those of the normal physical life, but the white wine, absinthe, red wine, coffee, cognac, beer, bitters, red wine again, beer again till bed-time, have become necessary to prevent him from sinking into mental dejection or physical prostration. The effect upon health, provided only that the slave of these habits does not smoke incessantly, and does not take absinthe more than once a day, is imperceptible in strong men for many years, and at the worst only seems to necessitate an annual trip to take some kind of waters.”  Philip Gilbert Hamerton

*

“Intoxication is almost unknown in the better cafés; their patrons may sear their oesophagi with hot chartreuse, derange the nerves with absinthe, stimulate themselves hourly with their little cups of black coffee and brandy; but they never get drunk. Frenchmen are temperate, even in their intemperance. An English gin-mill and probably an American bar causes more drunkenness than a dozen French cafés.”  George H. Heffner

*

 “One may, in fact, pass a whole year in a large French city, even in Paris itself, and still not witness a single case of insobriety.” The Cunard Souvenir Guide

You may also enjoy the following posts:

The Guide to Gay Paree: Restaurants and cafes 

Food: Not so good

French bread – French teeth

The French Art of Peeing without Getting Wet Feet

Read Full Post »

Excerpt from the Goncourt Journals 1851-1896

2 June 1868

Dinner at Magny’s. We heard some curious details about the German scholars Froenher and Oppert, a couple of pedants who are no more learned than anybody else but to whom the present-day cult of Germanism in the world of learning has brought ironic blessings—to the first a cosy sinecure in the Louvre, and to the other a prize of a hundred thousand francs for his work on cuneiforms, a language of which he alone knows the secrets and which nobody has ever been able to check.

One of our number had known Froehner when he was humble, poor, and wretched, and, like all Germans, played a piano in his garret. When he met him again, Froehner was wearing a cravat with pink spots and an astonishing suit, the sort of suit you can imagine a German scholar turned dandy would wear. “I dare say you find me changed, my dear fellow,” he said. “The fact is that I discovered that hard work, application, and all that was just nonsense. Hase told me that the only way to get to the top here was through women. Look at Longpérier: if he hadn’t begun frequenting drawing rooms…”

On another occasion Froehner got hold of our guest, taken him into a window recess and anxiously asked him if he thought that a German like himself, Froehner, would ever be able to talk smut to women as Frenchmen did, saying that he had tried but that what he said always became so coarse and filthy that he could never finish it properly.

What a comic sign of the times, erudition applying this method to achieve success! Erudition represented by these two Germans, these two vulgar natives of the land of artlessness, trying to succeed by means of the delicate corruption of France.

Read Full Post »

 (From Paris Partout! A guide for the English and American Traveller in 1869 or How to see PARIS for 5 guineas)

Jean -Louis Forrain “At the Public Garden”, 1884

Beware of the flower girls at the bals publics, cafés chantants, and outside the theatres, as well as the wily advances of well-dressed and spoken women. The uncouth boldness of the street-walker will strike the visitor with immediate amazement and distaste: but how could one expect that under a lady-like appearance and language the Parisian gay woman hides the evil designs of a fallen angel, and laughs inwardly at the gullibility of her victims?

In markets barter is the rule: let an inexperienced lady make her appearance, and she will at once be asked the double the price that would be expected from an obviously sharp-witted French cook. There are no fishmongers in Paris: all fish are sold at the market.

Jews selling lorgnettes, plated jewellery &c., who may also offer you licentious, forbidden literature and illustrations.

The concierge, or caretaker of apartment buildings. This person, if offended, has it in his or her power to give much annoyance, mislaying letters, misinforming callers, and speaking ill of you to tradespeople.

It is desirable to avoid the free discussion of politics. The police are ubiquitous and zealous, with wide powers of arrest and detention. The wiser course must certainly be to express yourself with great temperance in referring to the Emperor and government of France, and not to do or say anything that may serve to lessen the entente cordiale at present existing between our nations.

***

This  concludes the The Guide series. I hope you have enjoyed the trip to the Second Empire Paris. Let me know!

Next: How to succeed in Paris

 

Read Full Post »

(From Paris Partout! A guide for the English and American Traveller in 1869 or How to see PARIS for 5 guineas)

Paris, the City of Light, is a veritable charivari of pleasures after nightfall; the visitor must only beware of not regretting the effects of a too-eager readiness to yield to the siren calls of its temptations and intoxications.

Theatres,  cafés chantants and dancing halls

The Grand Opéra, rue Pelletier. Properly the French Opera, run up in a hurry in 1821(to replace a building in the rue de Richelieu, at the door of which the Duc de Berri was stabbed and which was pulled down in consequence). In front of the portico, three dastardly Italians tried to assassinate the Emperor and the Empress in 1858, and now this building is being replaced too, by a splendid edifice designed by M. Garnier, due to open in 1871. The government provides 900,000 francs of annual subsidy. Peformances on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and often Sunday.

The Opéra Comique, Place des Italiens. In this handsome hall are presented lighter works, by modern composers such as Aber, Halévy, etc.

The Théâtre Italien, Place Boildieu. Here a select audience listens to Italian Opera, in a season which lasts from November to April (after which the singers generally repair to London).

The Théâtre Français, rue Richelieu. The seat of the French regular drama – classic works and modern alike, with a government subsidy of 240,000 francs. Molière was once its manager; in later years it has been the scene of triumphs of Talma and Rachel. The manager is allowed to withdraw an actor from any other theatre to the Comédie-Française (as it is also known) on one year notice.

The Odéon, near the Luxembourg. A minor Théâtre Français, but not an inferior one. Here Beaumarchais’ play Le Mariage de Figaro was first produced in 1784; nine years later, the entire troop of actors was arrested by order of the Revolutionary tribunal. It has several times been burnt down.

Théâtre des Variétés, Boulevard Montmartre. A neat and much-frequented house, in which the amusing musical vaudevilles of M. Offenbach can be seen.

The infamous Boulevard du Temple, or ‘Boulevard du Crime’, on which the smaller theatres played the most lurid and distasteful melodrama, has now been destroyed to make way for the regime’s march of progress.

The Théâtre Gymnase-Dramatique, Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, is respectable. The plays are moral and the performers are all married.

Note Ladies do not patronize the pit, or parterre, of any theatre; gentlemen admitted here should in the interval ensure their places by tying a handkerchief around the banquette. Be also warned that at the Grand Opéra, the claque sit here. This disagreeable cohort, paid by the management in this and other theatres to respond favourably to the entertainment in question, should on no account be shushed or silenced in their mercenary activities. An attempt to abolish the claques in 1853 proved totally unsuccessful after a fortnight.

Tickets for all Parisian theatrical performances may be booked from a central office on the Boulevard des Italiens; avoid the profiteers who swarm outside the more popular theatres – their offers are always excessive in price, and frequently entirely bogus!

Cafés chantants.  Spectators sit and listen to music, sometimes of a coarse nature, executed by performers often outrageously overdressed. No charge is made for admission, but one will be expected to take refreshment, usually of inferior quality. The company is not aristocratic, but the visitor need not fear annoyance or impropriety. The most celebrated of these institutions is L’Alcazar, rue du Faubourg Poissonière. Here the fabulous Theresa, whose salary exceeds 20,000 fr. per annum, sings, twice a week in the winter season, ditties of a satirical and even saucy turn.

Balls publics. It is difficult to imagine scenes more curious or fantastic than those presented by these public dancing halls. At the most refined level, balls masqués are presented during the winter in the Grand Opéra – the pit being boarded over and joined to the stage. Gentlemen may be admitted (10 fr.) in plain evening clothes, but ladies should be masked or in costume. The gorgeous and glittering revelry of the polka, waltz, and mazurka reaches its climax at 1 a.m. Strict etiquette is by no means the predominating characteristic of the fair who resort to this pleasantest of pandemonia. It will be conceived that if a visitor should take the ladies of his family to witness this display, he must take them to a box as a mere spectators, for to mingle with any of these too vivacious groups, could be worse than indiscretion.

Elsewhere public dancing halls abound. Some of the smaller establishments in the suburbs are little more than dens of all the vices: official efforts to curb their activities and proliferation have not been altogether effective.

In the centre of the city, more commodious establishments may be found, among them the Salle Valentino, rue S. Honoré. The architecture is a medley of the Moorish and Greek; the columns are gaily painted, and the recess is backed by mirrors which greatly enhances the brilliancy of the scene. There are a billiard table, a shooting gallery, a dynamometer for amateurs of muscular strength, and tables where trifles may be raffled for. The visitor must expect to see every variety of embrace not excepting the ursine hug. Admission 2-3 fr.

Jardin Mabille, Avenue Montaigne. A large circular space, with a pavilion for the orchestra in the centre, is reserved for the dancers, and lighted by a profusion of gas-lights suspended from artificial palm trees. A snug corner is laid out for refreshment; here the votary of Terpsichore may treat his partner to a refreshing lemonade. An immense covered saloon affords the visitor a secure asylum from bad weather. The company of this elegant garden comes under the description of ‘the gayest of the gay’, but licence is not carried beyond propriety. Admission 2 fr.

Would that the same could be said of the Salon de Wauxhall,  rue de la Douane, which partakes of the character of the manufacturing arrondissement surrounding it, and is not much more respectably attended than the Holborn Casino! The police make forays on its bacchic excesses, and arrests are made.

A novel and hilarious diversion is provided by an American importation. In the Roller Skating Club, rue Jean Goujon, skating on shoes soled with rubberized wheels is demonstrated daily by ‘Professor’ Fuller, a master of the Art who claims to have been ‘decorated by every Sovereign in the world with ice in his dominions’. The first of such institutions in Europe.

Next: Sightseeing

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: