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Grand Prix Day by Frederick Childe Hassam

 

Abandon all romantic thoughts about horses and think of horse manure. It was a problem that was growing as the large cities grew even larger. Toward the end of the 19th century, the waste product of horse digestion covered the city streets in thick layers.  For the city councils, it was a headache for which there was no soothing pill. Each day in Paris, 90,000 horses needed to be fed and their waste disposed of somehow. London and New York experienced an even worse calamity.

It was generally thought that the first international conference on urban planning would bring a solution. The year was 1898 and the symposium of one-week duration opened with great pomp in New York, the most dynamically growing city in the world. Attendees arrived from many world’s capitals.  The New York’s mayor led the opening speeches at the City Hall and journalists competed in speculation about what would be the outcome of the high-level conference. Horse manure was the main subject. But the meeting of the city planners ended quietly after three days of failure. No solution was found.

At the time of the conference, London could boast of the world’s first ever underground rail system but eleven thousand horse-driven taxis still carried people on the surface. The passenger transport used horse-drawn buses. A standard car, with twenty seats and a pair of horses, worked sixteen hours a day. The animals were not allowed to work for more than four hours, so at least eight horses were needed for one car. During hot weather, it was necessary to use fresh horses more often.  The transport of heavy goods needed a stream of freight wagons pulled by four to twelve horses. The driving force of London was about 190,000 horses, each producing up to 50 pounds of waste per day. Each day, London’s four-legged population yielded about four and a half million pounds of dung. Add to it the hectolitres of horse urine and you cannot be surprised that the turn of the century was called the Age of Decay. A New York newspaper of the time complains that the whole city “is covered with brownish smoking carpet that stinks to high heaven”. On hot days, it was preferable to live behind closed doors and windows.

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Horses needed hay feed and straw for bedding. Delivery wagons, such as these, were a common sight in the cities.

 

Nobody wanted the manure. The farmers had enough of their own. The only people happy about the situation were real estate speculators, who purchased cheap parcels of land and converted them into dung depots. There, the heaps of manure reached up to 15 meters high which did not help the air quality in the cities.

As if that was not enough, there were horse carcasses, each weighing about one thousand pounds. Many horses were left where they died by unscrupulous owners. Their bodies were a paradise for flies and various insects, as well as for rats. In New York, about 15,000 carcasses were removed every year from the streets.

Hygiene and cleanliness seemed to be unreachable goals as the conference ended on a gloomy note. The dire prognosis envisaged that, at the current rate of growth, in 1930 large cities streets would be buried under three meters of manure. No one could imagine cities without horses.  And so, burdened with black thoughts of a bleak future, the participants left for home after only three days. However, as we know, cities eventually did not drown in horse manure. Automobiles and electric tramways saved us just in time.

Related post:

Crinolines and Impériales: Public Transport in Paris

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Carriages returning from a Sunday parade in the Bois

 

A previous post described the random free spectacles of the Paris streets. The largest and most ostentatious free show had a steady schedule. Every day, between 2:00 and 4:00 PM, the wealthy shamelessly exposed their luxury to each other, and to the unwashed masses, in the Bois de Boulogne parade.

 

Going to the Bois on a workday

 

Before becoming the favorite place of all social Paris in the 19th century, the Bois de Boulogne had a history. Originally, the forest extended on the plains and hillsides of the right bank of the Seine. A landmark of brigands and vagabonds, the ancient forest was also the favorite place of royal hunts. At the end of Napoleon I’s regime, it was devastated by the occupying troops who encamped there. Although in poor condition and crossed by narrow roads of bad quality, it became nevertheless, around 1830, the rendezvous of all Paris society.


In 1852, the State yielded the wood to the city of Paris with the charge of its development and maintenance. Emperor Napoleon III had envisioned the creation of a large landscaped park similar to Hyde Park. The project was entrusted to the engineer J.J. Alphand who created two lakes, the largest of which measures 19 hectares. Various amenities: large alleys, the racecourse of Longchamp (opened in 1858), the Garden of Acclimatization, and several restaurants completed the whole landscape.

 

Riding in the Daumont style
Riding in the Daumont Style


During the Second Empire (1852-1870), the equestrian rendezvous of the Bois de Boulogne was rated as a meeting of the supreme social chic. The chroniclers of the time tell us of its splendor:

“At the height of luxury was the attelage à la Grand Daumont, with its postilions in livery— of sober or bright colors according to the tastes of the masters—the footmen behind the hood, arms crossed, the two men in a row on horses of the same dress as the four draft horses. Then there came the eighth-spring, the queen of the passenger carriages. There was also the elegant half-Daumont of a duke with horses very close and absolutely under the whip of the gentleman-coachman who drove almost standing. The tandem cabriolet was another fantasy designed to bring out the talent of the gentleman-coachman. Then came a cute cart dragged by two pretty ponies under the hand of the elegant lady who also wanted to show that she could hold the reins.  All aristocratic, luxurious and worldly Paris was there, struggling with elegance and sumptuousness … “

 

 

Romance, or the carnal desire, also played its part. The poet Beaudelaire best describes the mood:


“Sometimes a horseman gallops gracefully beside an open carriage, and his horse appears, by his bows, to salute in his own way. The carriage carries away, in an alley streaked with light and shade, the beauties lying as in a boat, indolent, vaguely listening to the gallantries fall into their ears and indulging themselves lazily in the wind of the promenade. The fur and muslin rise to their chins and overflow like a wave over the door. The servants are stiff, perpendicular, inert, and all alike; it is always the monotonous and featureless effigy of punctual, disciplined servility … “

Cora Pearl

On the side of the great courtesans, luxury was no less brilliant. The famous Madame Musard had a half-Daumont, whose postilions were dressed in violet livery and mounted black horses of admirable beauty. Cora Pearl had set up her stable and was leading it with an authority that made the gossips tell that she must have been brought up by a groom. Adele Courtois, Caroline Letessier, the Barucci, famous for the baccarat affair, all had their car driven to the Daumont, and their livery could compete with those of the oldest houses of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

Empress Eugenie

Lady Harriet, the courtesan who financed the emperor while he was waiting for his crown, approached by her colors the imperial livery. Madame Lejeune had the audacity to do better. She took the imperial colors outright. One day, her Daumont went out, preceded by two scouts in green and gold, with a hunter on horseback at the left door and two carriage boys following also on horseback. As she had a certain resemblance to the Empress, all the sergeants of the town who saw the arrival of this crew on the Place de la Concorde, rushed forward, made room for them, and finally raised the chains of the Arc de Triomphe, so that the sovereign could pass. She went in this style to the entrance of the Bois. This adventure made a big noise. As a consequence, it was expressly forbidden to employ a livery which, even approximately, recalled that of the Emperor.

This luxury only grew from year to year. It was at its peak in 1867 at the time of the World Exposition. With the fall of the Empire, the splendor would gradually fade: the walks in the Bois and participation in the various events took a different look.

 

Courses in the Bois de Boulogne by Eduard Manet 1872

During the siege of Paris, part of the food of fish and game came from the Bois. More destructive authorization was given to the trade of timber dealers to exploit the Bois de Boulogne. The devastation increased during the battles between Versailles and the Communards. After the war, the southern part, the most devastated, was transformed into the racecourse of Auteuil. From 1872, social life resumed and we could see again the parades of carriages crossing the Bois for the Grand Prix de Longchamp.

 

 

After the Great War ended in 1918, this activity declined. The prodigal nobility of the nineteenth and early twentieth century no longer existed. Only the profiteers of war, the new rich, held the high ground and the automobile had taken over. An époque ended.

Related posts:

The English Courtesan that Made a French Emperor

The Guide to Gay Paree 1868: Sightseeing

 

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When one lives in Paris, nothing is as difficult as staying at home. The city contains so many enticing spectacles, free or paid entertainment, that the temptation often becomes the strongest and that one abandons one’s home, attracted as we are by the charm of the street. We do not know what we are going to see, but we are sure we will see something, and that something will be new. Curiosity is so strong in Paris that the trees themselves undergo it and set themselves in motion.”

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ACROSS PARIS by Crafty

So said Crafty, whose real name was Victor Eugène Géruzez (1840 – 1906). This graphic artist, painter, draftsman, and author of literature for youth, authored several picture albums depicting life in Paris in his humorous style. Let’s see how trees moved in Paris (and still do) as well as other spectacles, most of them completely free.

 

 

 

 

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Fire!

 

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The Aftermath of Fire

 

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A Wedding

 

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The Omnibus Station 

 

 

 

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Poster Men Taking a Lunch Rest

 

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A Runaway Horse

 

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A Guided City Tour

 

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A Downpour

 

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c-AT THE CONFISEUR ( Boulevard de la Madeleine )

At the Confectioner’s

 

c-AT THE BOOKSELLER ( Boulevard des Italiens )

At the Bookseller’s / Food for the Mind

 

C-AN ACCIDENT ( Rue de Rivoli )

Running on Empty

 

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Traffic-Stopping Street Hygiene

 

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The Suburban Train

 

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After Midnight

 

Related post:

Events in the Street: Female Duel with Sand-Filled Socks

A Traveler’s Bonus:  The Most Beautiful Metro Stations in Paris

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The colorful Belle Epoque posters make the joy of collectors. Not only are they highly decorative and amusing in their occasional naïveté but they also inform us about the changing lifestyle. New alimentary products appear, such as chemical taste enhancers and food substitutes. Maggi, powdered milk, and margarine became regular ingredients of people’s diet. Chocolat, previously only served as drink, acquired the solid form of tablets as we know them today. Biscuits were produced industrially.

 

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“The French Sardine Says Hello!” Food talked to people before the advertising industry discovered that humanizing animals we eat was not a good idea.

 

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Sausages that “One Eats with Pleasure and Without Fatigue”. A prodigious pig (cochon prodigue) indeed! An animal that happily slices itself for the consumer’s delight would probably turn off today’s viewers. The Belle Epoque folk were made of a tougher stock.

 

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Seen only in greasy spoons today, a bottle of Maggi was a novelty worthy of a bourgeois table.

 

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A bowlful of chemically enhanced soup before the bedtime was a sign of good parenting

 

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Bonjour! Do you eat Maggi soups? Sold in every grocery

 

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This margarine obtained gold medals in Amsterdam {1883) and Le Havre (1887)

 

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Be it cheese, beer, champagne or herb liquor, monks were trusted to produce quality food and drink

 

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In this boy’s mind, solid chocolate is better than solid gold

 

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Biscuits to be served with champagne. A beautiful poster by Alphonse Mucha, 1896

 

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A boy in a typical school uniform is enjoying sweet biscuits

 

 

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Cookies could start a romance (1896)

 

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“No arms, no chocolate”. This bizarre advertising depicts a well-known French saying. One could think that this cruelty hides a wisdom of some sort; that it can be interpreted as “no effort, no reward.” That is not so. This replica is passed on in popular language and is serving to highlight the absurdity of a ban or to make fun of someone faced with a physical impossibility:

“Mom, can I have chocolate?”
“There’s some in the closet. Go serve yourself.”
“But Mom, I can’t, you know I don’t have arms.”
“No arms, no chocolate!”
Obviously, it makes some sense to the French.

 

Related post:

The Belle Epoque Lifestyle: Personal Hygiene

 

 

 

 

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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

 

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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 various 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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James Tissot: The Fashionable Beauty

 

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Self-portrait, 1885

James Tissot (1836 -1902) was a painter known on both sides of the Channel as he spent important chunks of his life both in England and in France. Born as Jacques Tissot to a prosperous merchant family in Nantes, Brittany, he decided to pursue an artistic career despite his father’s misgivings. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and, in 1859, aged only twenty-three, he already exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon. He began with depicting the Middle Ages but soon moved to the portrayal of fashionable life, where he excelled. Tissot’s name is evocative of pleasing paintings of pleasing people in pleasing situations. In the 1880s he produced a series of paintings called La Femme à Paris. We had already seen one of them—and the story it depicts—in the post Without a Dowry. More of the series paintings follow here.

 

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The Ladies of the Chariots

 

 

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The Shop Girl

 

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A Woman of Ambition

 

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The Artists’ Wives

 

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The Woman of Fashion

 

 

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The Bridesmaid

 

 

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The Circus Lover

 

 

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Provincial Women

 

 

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At the Louvre

 

A lavish three-part Tissot’s biography can be found here.

Related posts:

Without a Dowry: The Business of Marriage

Jean Béraud: The Most Parisian of the Paris Painters

Paris Markets in Victor Gilbert’s Paintings

 

 

 

 

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commune

 

When you take a guided tour in France—whether it is a Loire château, or any other building erected before 1789—inevitably, there comes the time when the guide says: “Unfortunately, during the Revolution…,” and there follows a list of damaged or destroyed artifacts. The French were fond of revolutions – when they were happening. Afterward, seeing what they had done in moments of passion, they wept.

The 1789 revolution, the very first one, is well known. The guillotine, the years of terror, the king Louis XVI and the queen Marie-Antoinette executed. Having gotten the taste of it, the French people became serial revolutionaries. March 18 marks the anniversary of the Commune of Paris, one of the three revolutions that shook the city in the 19th century and, decidedly, the bloodiest of all. The sixty-two days of its duration caused up to thirty thousand deaths (the number varies according to different sources).

What led to this bloodbath? Why did the prosperous France of the Second Empire wake up as an impoverished Third Republic? Why was Paris in ruins?

In July 1870, the French declare war on Prussia, or, rather, are tricked to do it. The crafty Chancellor Bismarck needs the conflict to unify a collection of small German-speaking countries into one powerful nation. Ill-prepared, the French army is defeated by the Prussians in the battle of Sedan and the emperor Napoleon III made prisoner. Riots in Paris follow the bad news and the next day, September 4th, the empire is overthrown. A Republican government moves into the City Hall, while the Prussians close in on Paris.

 

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During the siege, dogs, cats, and rats were sold at high prices. The rich dined on exotic meat provided by the zoo animals

 

Paris is besieged during the winter months. The weather is cruel and the city suffers from a severe famine. Hunger and typhoid fever ravage Paris from within, while the Prussians shell it from the outside. Starved and ill, the Parisians learn that a new humiliation had visited the country: the German Empire was proclaimed in Versailles and an armistice has been signed.

 

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The Empire of Germany, a new European power, is proclaimed in the Versailles palace

 

This does not sit well with the Parisians, who do not consider themselves defeated. The German boots desecrating the exquisite beauty of the Hall of Mirrors? Ce n’est pas acceptable! Anger is rising when they learn the terms of peace.  The Germans demand a two-day entry to Paris, the surrender of two provinces (Alsace and Lorraine) and war reparations amounting to one billion gold coins. Their army would occupy the country until the debt is paid off.

 

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The German victory parade in the streets of Paris

 

Aware that a revolt is brewing, the government moves its headquarters from Paris to Versailles.  The spark ignites when the government tries to disarm Paris by confiscating 248 cannons from Montmartre and other working-class neighborhoods on the periphery. The cannons belong to the city; they were paid for by war subscription. The people rise to defend their property and the soldiers’ loyalty shifts. Two generals are seized and shot. There is no way back. The insurgents erect barricades and the Commune of Paris is proclaimed.

 

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800 barricades went up in the city

 

Elected on March 26th, the Commune is in direct opposition to the conservative national government. The core, like in all revolutions, are intellectuals, students, writers, artists, and artisans with egalitarian ideas and the vision of justice for all. Outraged as they are by the government’s betrayal, many Parisians of the middle class join in the insurrection. The main muscle of the revolution is the impressionable working class which, when excited, easily turns into a mob.

 

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Women were heavily engaged in the insurrection, both as nurses and combatants. The 1789 revolution had its tricoteuses (women who took their knitting to the guillotine to keep their hands busy during the executions). The Commune of Paris gives birth to the pétroleuses. “The women behaved like tigresses, throwing petroleum everywhere and distinguishing themselves by the fury with which they fought”. (Edwin Child, a young Londoner working in Paris.)

 

The basic ideas of the revolution are modern and positive: reform of the working conditions, good children education, separation of the church and the state, women’s equality. Their application is awkward, to say the least. “Property is theft,” the revolutionaries declare as they seize the Bank of France. All religious institutions are invaded, their material goods confiscated, the churches turned into social clubs for the people. On April 23, George Sand, the famous novelist and, herself a Republican, writes to Gustav Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary:  “The horrible adventure continues. They ransom, they threaten, they arrest, they judge. They have taken over all the city halls, all the public establishments, they’re pillaging the munitions and the food supplies.” 

 

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Churches became social clubs for the people

 

Without a clear program and with no political experience, the feeling of brotherhood, with which the Commune started, changes into quarrel and resentment. Valuable time is lost in endless debates and little is achieved. Like George Sand, Parisians become tired of this bizarre social experiment. They long for peace and quiet; the poorer ones want to return to their familiar misery with its own reassuring habits. Others, the ardent supporters, are determined to fight. “The Commune or death!” they chant.

 

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The Versailles troops approach the walls of Paris

 

Meanwhile, in Versailles, the government has reconstituted the army with war prisoners released by the Germans. The Germans hold their position northwest of the city while the Versailles troops approach from the southeast. Paris is surrounded again. The insurgents attempt several attacks outside the city walls, each time with no success. They send emissaries to Versailles, who are killed. The Commune, in turn, captures hostages, chiefly among the clergy.  On May 21st, the Versailles troops break in and the infamous Bloody Week begins.

 

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Barricades are reinforced and new ones added as the combat rages street by street. The soldiers break into houses and pierce the walls to avoid confrontation with the barricades

 

The army takes no prisoners. Every adversary is shot dead. Unarmed civilians caught with gunpowder traces on their hands are executed as well. The Communards take revenge by killing the hostages. The Archbishop of Paris is among the victims.

 

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The massacre of hostages

 

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The execution of the Archbishop of Paris

 

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Paris burning. In the foreground is the imperial palace

Paris is shelled again, this time by the French army. The Ministry of Finance is destroyed in the process. Fires break out in many prestigious locations. These are later explained by the partisans of the Commune as the result of the shelling. However, most of the gutted buildings bore no traces of shelling. They were deliberately set on fire. The legend of the pétroleuses, if it is a legend, started here. As a result, working-class women caught carrying a suspicious container were summarily executed.

 

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The City Hall on fire

 

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The imperial palace after the fire

 

Government and police offices are consumed by the fire, their archives destroyed. The air, already unbreathable, is filled with whirling charred paper remains that settle on the roofs and sidewalks. The Tuileries palace is a total loss. The stones will be sold, piece by piece, as construction material. A wing of the Louvre also suffered fire damage.

The novelist Emile Zola was one of the first reporters to enter the city during the Bloody Week. He wrote: “Never in civilized times has such a terrible crime-ravaged a great city […] The men of the Hotel de Ville could not be other than assassins and arsonists. They were beaten and fled like robbers from the regular army, and took vengeance upon the monuments and houses […] The fires of Paris have pushed over the limit the exasperation of the army. […] Those who burn and who massacre merit no other justice than the gunshot of a soldier.”

 

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The end of the Commune

 

The revenge is atrocious and out of proportion. The Commune killed 64 hostages yet the insurgents are now butchered by the thousands. Nobody is spared, even the injured patients in an ambulance along with the doctors and nurses. Women are shot with children in their arms.

 

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Many innocents were shot along with the rebels

 

Four days after the battle is over, Emile Zola reports in a softened tone: “The court martials are still meeting and the summary executions continue, less numerous, it’s true. The sound of firing squads, which one still hears in the mournful city, atrociously prolongs the nightmare […] Paris is sick of executions. It seems to Paris that they’re shooting everyone. Paris is not complaining about the shooting of the members of the Commune, but of innocent people. It believes that, among the pile, there are innocent people, and that it’s time that each execution is preceded by at least an attempt at a serious inquiry […] When the echoes of the last shots have ceased, it will take a great deal of gentleness to heal the million people suffering nightmares, those who have emerged, shivering from the fire and massacre.”

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G. Sand

Emerging, shivering from the fire, is also George Sand. She writes:” I come from Paris, and I do not know whom to speak to. I am suffocated. I am quite upset, or rather out of heart. The sight of the ruins is nothing compared to the great Parisian insanity. With very rare exceptions, everybody seemed to me only fit for the strait-jacket. One-half of the population longs to hang the other half, which returns the compliment. That is clearly to be read in the eyes of the passers-by.”

 

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Prisoners being taken to Versailles

 

The surviving rebels are marched twenty miles to Versailles. They suffer insults along the way. One of the gossipy Goncourt brothers later recalled that he saw society ladies, who had never raised their voice, vomit their hatred using invectives that would make a sailor blush.

 

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Female prisoners awaiting interrogations

 

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The trials were of short duration, with the execution soon after

 

The prisoners, who were not condemned to death, were shipped to New Caledonia, an island in the Pacific Ocean.  Forty-three thousand were sent there in crowded conditions and with little food. A handful came back after the amnesty twenty years later.

In all, with thirty thousand dead, not counting the injured, and another forty thousand deported, it took over ten years to restore the Paris working force. Those people were not only the manual laborers. They were also highly skilled workers and artisans of superior training. Even today, 146 years after the event, there are fresh flowers laid at the wall where the last Communards were executed. The working class keeps paying respect to the victims of this Parisian calamity.

Related posts:

How Germany was Born in France (The Shah of Persia, on his 1873 visit to Europe, comments on the post-Commune Paris)

Paris of the 1870s: Risen from the Ashes

12 Events That Influenced 19th Century Paris

 

 

 

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