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The Arrival of the Midinettes by Jean Béraud

 

In the earlier Parisian fauna, we met the grisettes and the gigolettesThe former were independent working-class girls often romantically involved with students. The latter, the equivalent of gangsters’ molls, were mostly full-time prostitutes. Generally speaking, while the grisettes centered in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, which housed the Sorbonne, the Polytechnic School, and other important educational institutions, the gigolettes inhabited the working-class neighborhoods on the city periphery.

The Right Bank, around the rue de la Paix, saw a rapidly-growing number of couture houses and luxury accessories workshops populated by young and fashion-conscious female workers. At noon -midi – these girls hurried out to take a light meal – dinette – in a cheap restaurant or simply on a public garden bench. The age of the midinette extends from around 1850 to the 1960s, when the haute-couture business began to fade.

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The Milliner on the Champs Elysées by Jean Béraud

Both the grisette and the midinette were steady figures in the romantic imagery of Paris. They acted as the muses for writers and painters. Poems, songs,  novels, and later movies, paid homage to them. The tragic Mimi, from the opera La Bohêmeimmediately comes to mind.

The midinette is painted as she trots the streets delivering a dress or a new hat. She is immortalized dancing in public balls or enjoying a Sunday picnic. Little is said about a 12-hour day and insufficient wages. The girl, who wants to be fashionable, may resort to prostitution to pay for her finery.

The temptation is ever-present. At noon, the vultures are waiting. Old men in the pursuit of youth gather at the entrance of the couture houses, offering the treat of a luxury lunch; men with dark intentions roam the public gardens, where the girls rest.

 

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“With no regard for your white hair, you run after the midinettes. Merry Spring finds Winter scary – don’t bother the young girls,” says this postcard

 

Paris honored her working girls. The washerwomen became queens for a day.  As for the midinettes, once a year, they participated in a grueling competition known as The Race of the Midinettes.

 

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The course started on the Place de la Concorde and led up the Champs Elysées, and past the Arc de Triomphe, to end after 12 kilometers (approx. 8 miles) in Nanterre. A newspaper describes the event in 1903:

All these young ladies, competing first, in the most varied costumes, some, not all, very successful: then the crowd of relatives, friends, and finally innumerable, thick, the troop of the curious. The departure was laborious. At last, at half – past eleven, a real army sprang from the Place de la Concorde towards the Arc de Triomphe; cars, cabs, bicycles, motorcycles, struggled in the midst of all this and, although preceded by Paris guards on horseback, the Midinettes sometimes had to play fists to make their way. The first arrival was Miss Jeanne Cheminel, a pleasant twenty-four-year-old brunette who shot her 12 kilometers in 1:10, which is meritorious. This sturdy walker is a milliner, and that somewhat upset a few seamstresses, who, behind her, nevertheless obtained the best places. Here, in fact, were the first: Jeanne Cheminel, milliner; Lucie Fleury, seamstress; Marie Touvard, seamstress; Louise Balesta, seamstress; Alice Brard, seamstress; Mathide Mignot, seamstress; Kugel, seamstress; Marguerite Pradel, seamstress; Jeanne Brederie, seamstress.

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A competitor in the race offered a pleasant sight: a chic naval hat sitting on freshly curled hair, a dress with a lace collar, the waist squeezed with a corset. A bouquet of fresh flowers pinned at the shoulder completed the outfit

 

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The end of the race shows considerable damage to the outfit and the hairdo. The sport was in its infancy and so was the fashion for the competitors. See how men dressed for this type of events here

 

Related posts:

From Washerwoman to Queen of Paris

La Grisette

Parisian Prostitutes (2): La Gigolette

 

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An attack on a police wagon. Criminal gangs were the scourge of Paris

 

It was never easy to police Paris. The Parisians, instead of being glad for the help and protection, have always despised their policemen.  The contempt has been profound and general. It could be that the Parisians, more than most, don’t want to be told how to behave. A strike, a riot, a revolution, have been their tools of political and social change across the 19th century and well beyond. To say that policing during the Belle Epoque  (1870 – 1914) was a martyrdom would be a slight exaggeration but it was a very hard job on a tiny pay. The police staff was recruited mostly from the army and the discipline in the police corps was just as hard, if not harder. The recruits had to have a virginal criminal record. According to the 1880s tariff, the policeman earned 4 francs and 75 cents for an eleven and a half-hour day. In comparison, a maid-of-all-work touched one franc a day.  For that pitiful wage, the men had to risk their lives in many wild scenarios that are nowadays shared among different rescue services. In 1884, for example, the statistics show one killed policeman and 144 injured ones.

Let’s have a look at a policeman’s day and the variety of crimes committed in that era:

 

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Strikes of all sorts are still part of the urban life in Paris. They may be less violent than in the past when the police collected bruises in the street

 

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The Belle Epoque Paris faced the threat of various anarchist bomb-throwers. Bombs exploded in the National Assembly, in police stations, in cafés, or simply in the street. Premature explosions also happened, as in this picture

 

 

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The public, accustomed to the explosion of anarchists’ bombs, reacts to a malfunctioning motorcar

 

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Police had to deal with the raging crowd when a hated criminal was transported. Here they protect Jeanne Weber, a serial child killer

 

 

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Arrestation of the Sirène de Reuilly. Marie-Thérèse de Gordoue, or simply Gourdon in real life, was a successful courtesan and the head of a large crime organization

 

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Criminal gang members, suspected of snitching, were separated from their noses during a surgery without anesthesia

 

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Shopkeepers, working alone, were often victims of robbery and murder

 

 

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The Bois de Boulogne on the outskirts of the city continues to this day to be the playground of vice and crime. From time to time, the authorities ordered a thorough cleanup.

 

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A police raid in a “hôtel de passe”. These establishments rented rooms on the hour. Considered immoral, they were often visited by the police. Men went scot-free but women caught in the raid were transported to the police depot, and from there to the Saint-Lazare female prison

 

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Escapes and roof chases kept the policemen in good physical condition

 

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The police operated at different height levels. A pickpocket plucked from a tree

 

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At the commissariat, a thief surrenders a watch he had swallowed

 

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Family drama: The father is not dead yet but the fierce competition among the siblings is already in a full swing

 

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A police commissaire is seriously injured in a Paris riot

 

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Another victim of duty, an undercover police officer is shot in front of the Moulin Rouge

 

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Acts of bravery and dedication abounded despite the public contempt for policemen

 

Related posts:

The Gangs of Paris: Les Apaches

Murder Most Horrible: The Bloody Trunk Case

Saint-Lazare: Women in Prison

1890’s Terror in Paris: History Repeating Itself

 

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Backstage at the Opera by Jean Béraud

The title of this post is not an exaggeration, although the Opera directors would have preferred a more subtle one or, ideally, a complete silence on the subject.  The Béraud’s painting above needs no further words. There is the internationally popular Edgar Degas with his paintings of hard-working, hard-driven little dancers, and there is our say-it-as-it-is Jean Béraud (more of him here), who bluntly covers the other end of the story. The true story of the Degas’s dancers.

In our day, such an enablement of the sex commerce in a prestigious cultural institution would be unthinkable.  Welcome to the 19th century for a taste of life without women’s rights and women’s education, where a career choice outside marriage was limited mainly to servitude or prostitution. In a world made by men for the men, the Opera direction facilitated the meetings between wealthy men and the ballerinas by providing the former with an access to the backstage and, above all, to the dance foyer, where they could observe the dancers at a close range and, eventually, make a choice.  The access was available for a substantial subscription fee.

In the 19th century, the ballet was more than the high-brow entertainment that makes today’s real men yawn. It was the height of an erotic experience.  In an age, when an accidental glimpse of a female ankle could send a man’s heart into overdrive, the spectacle of exposed legs and nude arms in a variety of alluring positions would beat the Stanley Cup in attendance. (Also, and this may be somewhat important, there were no sports matches to watch.) A man’s prestige mattered as well. To maintain a Paris Opera ballerina, or at least to be seen dining with one, meant that you have arrived socially and economically.

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The Dance Class by Edgar Degas, 1874

Now back to Edgar Degas and his suffering little dancers. Since the profession was morally disreputable, the recruits came from a disadvantaged socio-economic background. A pretty daughter with a dancing talent was a God-sent gift to a struggling family.  It was on the frail shoulders of this 12- to 13-year-old that the future of the family rested – it was her duty to provide them with a better life. Dancing alone would not bring the riches, the riches would come from the admirers; the girls knew that from the very beginning.

For the dancer, the road to success inevitably comes through men.  First, there is the ballet master with his close touch while straightening a waist, repositioning a leg, or stretching an arm. The girl surrenders to the inescapable in order not to compromise her professional ascent. Then come other men, who all, one way or another, hold her career in their hands: the librettist, who gives her a role – or not – in the next ballet and the director who renews – or not – her contract. If she really wants to break out of the anonymity of the dance corps, she must quickly seduce a wealthy protector, who would pay for advanced dance classes.

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A daughter’s virtue was a subject to negotiation

To maintain a pretense of respectability, the direction allowed chaperones to be present at all times. These women, whether they were a mother, an aunt, or an older cousin, were the driving force behind each dancer and the unavoidable intermediaries between the girl and men.  Other lessons were needed and provided:  how to be desirable was taught with the same importance as the pas de danse. Théophile Gautier notes the results of this licentious education:  “The young ballerina is at once corrupt as an old diplomat and as naïve as a good savage. At the age of thirteen, she could teach a courtesan.”

The “mothers” then negotiate the charms of their daughters and they can be quite tyrannical. Is the interested party old and ugly? Too bad, he’s got money so the daughter better be nice to him. Prices are agreed upon and, if a long-term liaison is in the making, a contract is signed at the notary’s office. A skillful mother can make herself included in the monthly allowance.

Those, who are not urged by their mothers to give themselves to a man do so on their own will. Without the protection of a wealthy man and, if possible, a titled one, they have no access to a professional recognition. It’s a man’s world and, in this profession, the masculine element holds the power. The only weapons in the arsenal of the ballerina are cunning and seduction.

Related posts:

Jean Béraud: The Most Parisian of the Paris Painters

The Guide to Gay Paree 1869 – Part 6: Entertainment

 

 

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 The Milliner on the Champs Elysées by Jean Beraud

The Milliner on the Champs Elysées by Jean Beraud

In this fifth  and last part of the series, Octave Uzanne explores the hidden side of the Parisian sex industry. The text was published in 1912. This post is longer than usual, but then the clandestine prostitution possessed more secrets and inventions than the open sex trade.

The clandestine prostitution of Paris is the most interesting branch of the subject for it is the most ingenious, the most fertile in resource, the cleverest in passing off what it has to sell, the most expert in creating an atmosphere of illusion.

As its name indicates, this province of vice is a thing apart. It is a mysterious trade, which depends for its success on histrionic capacity and on a tangle of tricks and intrigues which would be impossible to unravel completely. Clandestine prostitution, like the spider, weaves its web in the shadows. It has its spies, its brokers, its beaters whose business it is to drive the game into the toils. Its methods are rarely direct, and whatever mode of action be chosen it very rarely comes into the light of day, and uses extraordinary and marvellously combined subterfuges to conceal its operations. Labyrinths are constructed the windings of which can never be known to the police. A mise en scène is chosen which prevents the most subtle observer from guessing the kind of play on which the curtain is soon to rise.

In Paris, a clandestine prostitution is everywhere. It surrounds a man in all his acts and avocations. It presents itself in hotels, in restaurants, in shops, in omnibus shelters, at the Louvre and the Luxembourg, where it appears armed with a Baedeker, ready to guide the foreigner. In certain circles—aye, even in the official ones—it shows itself discretely, almost impenetrably disguised. It insinuates itself into your pockets in the form of circulars, visiting cards, and unusual and curious invitations. In the newspapers you find it in advertisements on the fourth page where it well understands the use of such euphemisms as “massage”, the “removal of superfluous hair”, “dyeing”, “manicure”, or “private lessons in gymnastics”.

It enters your house on the various pretexts of charity, literature, art, or applications for employment. It is to be seen at photographers’, in places where ladies show themselves in tights, in reading rooms and libraries, and in bars. It is familiar with every subtlety and knows the use of every kind of mask. It reveals itself slowly and does not give itself away till the ground has been made secure and the right moments has come.

The triumph of this form of prostitution is assured at the beginning of this century, when secret and selfish pleasure, the love of comfort, the search for poignant and abnormal pleasures are so much in favour with the blasé beings of our generation. The ordinary prostitute has no attraction for that section of the public which hates to vulgarize its pleasures by indulging in debauchery too flagrant or too commonplace. They want something possessing character and originality. An orgy to suit their fancy must be scented, subtle, and graceful; their gallantries must be veiled and dissimulated under the outward appearance of correctness and propriety. To such people clandestine prostitution offers just the right flavour of perversity, for it provides just every sort of feminine corruption.

Let us attempt a summary sketch of the various ingenious disguises, tricks, feints, and pretences to which the clandestine prostitute of Paris resorts, whether the scene of her operation be the streets or other public places, a shop, a theatre, a hotel, or a house of rendezvous.

Out of doors, clandestine prostitution is rampant. Many do not see it even when it is at their elbows, for one’s power of observation must be sharpened by long residence in Paris and by an innate curiosity in these matters before one can be certain, so deceptive are the appearances which this culpable trade assumes. The rake of long standing, the impenitent libertine, the corsair of the pavement – all those who love the streets of Paris for the sake of the women they meet there, the amateurs of fresh faces and alluring curves, are never deceived, for daily exercise in the chase keeps every sense alert. They divine everywhere the discreet invitation, the mere insinuation of an advance, and it is rarely indeed that they are mistaken.

“Believe me,” said one of them to us, “that out of a hundred young women whom you will meet unchaperoned in the course of a stroll along the boulevards you may be certain that, however respectable they look, more than a third are adventuresses. I’m not speaking of obvious harlots. I take merely those whose bearing is modest, whose manner is virtuous, and whose composure is all but middle-class.”

“Come,” he continued, “let us observe. You see that young girl tripping along with a roll of music under her arm. You think she is an artist, or perhaps some young lady who has been having a music lesson. Follow her for a little, using the approved method and taking care not to frighten so wary a bird. Accost her at the psychological moment in some passage, square or blind alley towards which the sly minx will have led you on. A hospitable room will soon receive you, and you will not be long in discovering what are the lessons given and received by the subtle lady who looks as if she came from the Conservatoire.

“Again, look at that pretty creature in deep mourning. How elegant she is and shapely in her black gown. Her pale charming face is delightfully framed by the crape of her English widow’s cap, and the air of sadness on those features which were surely meant for dimpling smiles inspires the spectator with sincere sentiments of pity. Hasten, then, to console her. Your sympathy will not go unrewarded. Follow on the track of the bereaved. She belongs to the department which ‘does mournings’ for a special class of client.

“Behold this adorable girl passing in the company of that respectable lady. Is she not a pupil at some girls’ school? She is as fresh and charming as a half-opened rosebud. You are in ecstasies at such a delightful spectacle of youth and innocence, and think of the happy marriage the dear child is sure to make. Simple soul! I look more closely at the venerable chaperon and exchange with her an imperceptible smile. A few minutes later pass ahead of the pair, and when you come to the first corner turn and confront the matron saluting her as you would a friend. Compliment her on her daughter’s charms, and propose calling on her. If you care for such things you will find the girl as complaisant as she is already calculating and depraved.”

Mothers who sell their daughters as soon as they reach thirteen or fourteen are unfortunately only too common, and their bearing as they walk the streets does not escape those who understand these things. There are also sham waiting-maids, sham workgirls, sham sick-nurses, and even sham Sisters of Charity, whose business, when they are not working on their own account, is to canvass out of doors or from house to house for the numerous clandestine salons of the capital.

A favourite scene of operations is a railway station—the Gare de l’Ouest for choice—where there are such crowds of women that one is tempted to suppose that it received its name of Saint-Lazare because it’s the favorite issue for prostitutes coming from the sanitary prison of the same name. Their game at such stations is, of course, the foreigner and the provincial – the Englishman arriving from Dieppe, and the suburban man of business who, when he comes to Paris, is often not unwilling to indulge himself with a little diversion.

Many of these pseudo-travellers provide themselves with a railway rug or a travelling-bag and dress themselves in the tailor-made English fashion. In that case they do not merely haunt the vestibules, the waiting-rooms, or the neighbouring cafés, but actually travel from Paris to Saint-Germain, or take the Nord-West via Argenteuil, Enghien, and Saint-Denis – an itinerary which appears to suit their particular line of business. Some do the Paris-Versailles route, where there are plenty of foreigners. They all travel first class, and inspect the train carefully, choosing if possible a compartment in which there is a man alone.

Others of the clandestine sort frequent picture shows, courses of lectures or the reading rooms at the Bon Marché or the Magasins du Louvre. There they are on the look-out for serious-minded clients, and consequently they themselves affect an interest in the fine arts, in literature, and intellectual things generally. They are often the most intelligent and interesting of their profession, and have quite a gift for conversation.

Some frequent only the large hotels, where with the connivance of porters, valets, grooms or upper servants, they get to know the names of new arrivals, find out their financial position, and lay siege in form to the victims of their choice. Then they have recourse to letters—and what clever letters!—or to visits in the character of canvassers for shirt-makers, jewellers, or tobacconists. Some even go the length of taking a room in the same hostelry if the coveted person is important enough to make it worthwhile.

Clandestine prostitution is sometimes carried on by means of circulars or through newspapers, thanks to the “agony column”. It is a method which is coming more and more into fashion. The woman of the agony column is usually well-educated, original, and witty writer, and in the columns she produces phrases such as these: “Eve is bored. Write to her, X. Y., office of this paper”’ Or again: “A chilly swallow wants a nest. Who will give her one?” She gets answers, stupid, amusing, impertinent, arrogant or timid by turns, which, if she has any penetration, will show her clearly enough what is the moral and social position of her correspondent. It is therefore an excellent method for courtesans, who are using it more every day and competing with the respectable women who amuse themselves in this way.

Theatres which speculate upon the curiosity of the public by producing what are known as “pièces à femmes” are also hotbeds of clandestine prostitution. Whether they play fairy pieces for the delight of children, or revues which are crowded with characters who must appear in tights, every minx who is vain of her figure rushes to offer her services. Such women know very well that they will have a favourable opportunity of exhibiting themselves and of showing that if they have no talent they have, at any rate, an attractive pair of legs. At the stage door connoisseurs, escorts, suitors, and lovers mix in groups with the merely curious, awaiting the exit of the charmers. They glare at each other like china dogs, and they are content to wait for hours with angelic patience, often in evening dress, at these back entrances, which are horrible places, dirty, damp and malodorous.

We must now track the clandestine prostitute into less accessible retreats where chance must serve us in lieu of observation – the shops, flats, and salons of all kinds in which women carry on a trade in their own bodies without solicitation and consequently without scandal. First of all we must speak of the shops which sell perfumery, gloves, artificial flowers, collars, ties, shirts, photographs, engravings, and even new books. The exterior has no special feature, except perhaps that there is very little in the window, and that what there is allows you to see between the half-drawn curtains into an elegant but sparsely furnished shop, with a counter in the middle, covered with little articles, at which a woman sits and simpers, gracefully turning her head towards the street as soon as she feels that she is observed. If the customer accepts her invitation to enter, the curtains are discretely drawn, and the conversation which follows very soon clears up the situation. Usually there are two women in these “shops” – one of ripe age and notable embonpoint, the other a slim, girlish creature with her hair in plaits. They have a joint stock, and share the profits scrupulously every night. Their business hours are approximately from midday to midnight.

In the purlieu of the Rue Montorgueil, of the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle and the Boulevard du Château-d’Eau there are to be found establishments of a different character. These are the sham milliners, dressmakers, and jewellers established on the first floor of houses of ill-fame. On the doors are such inscriptions as “Mme. Jeanne, fleuriste”, “Mlle. Alexandrine, modes”, “Fiorina, artiste”, or, again , “Pauline, plumes métalliques”. It would require the pen of Biartial, a Suetonius, or a Juvenal of the present day to describe the putrescent immoralities of these dens of iniquity where the most unmentionable vices of the ancients are practiced.

Other posts of interest:

Saint Lazare: Women in prison

Mark Twain and the Cancan

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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.

Related posts:

The Guide to Gay Paree 1869: Beware!

The Sad Story of Two Grisettes

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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.

Related post:

Saint-Lazare :  Women in prison

 

 

 

 

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