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Archive for the ‘workers and servants’ Category

 

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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beraud

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.

la modiste

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 predators 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.

 

vulture

“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.

 

course

 

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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Election of the Queen

Election of the Queen

Paris of the 19th century was home to a boisterous and hard-working female corporation. Nearly one hundred thousand washerwomen worked either in the brick-and-mortar laundries across the city, or in the bateaux-lavoirs  –  wooden constructions floating on the river.  They labored twelve to fifteen hours a day, six days a week, with no sick leave or paid vacation. Once a year though, Paris treated them like royalty. During the feasts of Mid-Lent, the streets of Paris exploded with the frenzy of carnival, whose principal actors were the washerwomen. With great pomp and circumstance, the women of each lavoir elected a queen and the new sovereigns, escorted by masks, paraded on the boulevards in elaborate floats. Much drinking and merry-making accompanied the procession. In the 1890’s city authorities decided to nominate the Queen of Queens—the best of all the locally elected queens—to represent the spirit of the feast. This custom survived into the 20th century when it was interrupted by the WWII and was never fully revived.

The Queen and her entourage

The Queen and her entourage

The Queen of Queens

The Queen of Queens received by her sponsors

Other posts of interest:

French-watching in 1850: Feeding time at a popular restaurant

Parisian Lifestyle: Sensual ease and contentment

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victorian-cook1In the following excerpt, Octave Uzanne introduces us to the upper echelon of the Parisian female servants, namely the lady’s maid, the cook and the children’s nurse:

The lady’s maid, who must not be confounded with the soubrette previously noticed, is very often of the same native place as the mistress, sometimes her foster-sister. She is generally from sixteen to thirty-five years old. She dresses her mistress, does her mending, irons small articles, rummages in the drawers on pretext of tidying, reads forgotten letters, annexes any knickknacks lying about, takes advantage of any passing generosity of her mistress in order to get possession of hats and dresses more or less worse for wear.

She is usually plain and prudish, goes to Mass on Sundays, attends her Easter duties, and below stairs gives herself airs of superiority over the other servants. In domestic quarrels she takes Madame’s part against Monsieur, not from any affection, but partly through a sense of esprit de corps, and partly that in a sense she regards Monsieur from Madame’s point of view, i.e. as a husband. An entirely platonic feeling, let us hasten to say, as she carefully keeps aloof from Monsieur’s endearments, more out of prudence than from principle. She desires to keep her place. Her wage amounts to from forty to seventy francs a month. When she returns to her province at thirty-five, she is able to bestow on some obscure clerk her somewhat faded charms, and her equivocal savings; these she can invest in a small business in groceries, fruit, drapery or dressmaking, and so the world is richer for another bourgeoise.

The cook is a middle-aged woman of from thirty-five to forty-five years of age, sometimes married either to the coachman or the chauffeur, if her employers’ means permit them to keep horses or motor-cars; or perhaps to some clerk or policeman who lives elsewhere, and whom she visits on one day in the week, generally on Sunday. She is a tall, stout, imposing person, with a face like a full moon, and very proud of her culinary skill. She is extremely clean, and she will not allow any interference from her mistress. “I won’t have any meddling in my sauces,” she says. A spoilt dish reduces her to despair; she revenges herself on her scapegoat – the poor scullery maid.

She has no hesitation in keeping back some tidbits for her husband. Anything that is left over she sells. She accepts her commission from the tradespeople, and is very indignant if her mistress presumes to assist at the marketings. Frequently she has been known, in such circumstances, to give notice in a burst of righteous indignation.

She is very sentimental, reads assiduously the novelettes in the Petit Journal, and is passionately interested in accounts of kidnapped children or adultery in fashionable quarters. She hums sentimental songs while she trusses a fowl or stirs a sauce. She is a regular Mrs. Malaprop, and mangles hopelessly all the terms in her menus. She is quite absorbed by a desire to make money, and keeps at a distance all the men who may be attracted by her formidable personality. Her wages amount to from fifty to eighty francs per month. The dream of her life is to retire with her husband to the provinces, and keep a small inn.

The children’s nurse is generally German or English. This post is the highest in the profession. The nurse is held in a certain respect, as she is treated somewhat like a governess. Even if she only comes from the provinces, she receives a certain amount of deference; she lives mostly with her employers, and therefore knows how to behave, though this does not prevent her from using the most startling language when the children are not there. She is often pretty, and her ambition is to struggle for precedence with the lady’s maid. If her mistress allows her to wear a hat she is in the seventh heaven of bliss.

She is bored by the children, and often tries to terrorise them, telling them tales of giants and ghosts. It is amusing to see her, in the public gardens, displaying the greatest affection for her little charges, joining in their games, that is, if Madame is present, but cross, haughty, and ready with slaps if she is alone with the “little brats”. Her favourite occupation is to make eyes at the passers-by. As she is generally pretty, she is made much of in the house. She has charming manners, and boasts to the other servants of the fancy Monsieur has for her. She reads quantities of novels, and the most extraordinary adventures appear to her quite reasonable. She dreams of being loved for herself alone, and of eloping, as in the romantic tales at sixty centimes. Perhaps she left some fair Wilhelm in her native country, to whom she writes ardent letters.

The children’s nurses provide a large contingent for the reserve belonging to the great army of Parisian sirens, and many of them are found in the beer-houses (*) of the Latin Quarter. Consumed by a love of luxury and proud of their looks, they can earn as wages of an average thirty-five to fifty francs, which is spent immediately in finery. Nursemaids are an exception to the rest of their class, they are extravagant and hardly save anything.

Related post:

(*) Drink and Prostitution: The Belle Epoque Hooters

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femme de menageOf the old Parisian servant types we have met the soubrette and the nourrice, both of whom are described with some condescension in Octave Uzanne’s book “The Modern Parisienne”. While he may be mocking the two, he has nothing but respect and sympathy for the hard-working femme de ménage:

The femme de ménage (charwoman) is at “six sous per hour” a godsend to the bachelor. She has come from some little provincial town with her husband, who works in a factory in the suburbs, or she is the wife of a cab driver or of a porter at the Bonmarché or the Louvre magazines. Her life is a hard one. After she is swallowed in the whirlpool of Paris, she can rarely return to the country. She dies exhausted by hard work, worn-out by poverty and child-bearing. Sometimes, when the children are self-supporting, she can go out to service.

She is generally from thirty to fifty-five years of age. In the morning at about seven o’clock—as soon as her husband has left for his work and her children for school—she goes to her “Monsieur”, carrying his milk, his morning rolls and other provisions, calling for his newspapers and letters from the concierge, with whom she exchanges gossip. Being good at heart, as are all the working people who do not come too much in contact with the bourgeoisie, she is interested in her Monsieur’s welfare, although she allows herself a bit of gossip with the concierge on the terrible “creatures” who come to see him. She is attentive to his wants, sees that his breakfast is good, and that his boots shine like mirrors. She is amiable and willing, and he would have no occasion for finding fault if she had not, unfortunately, a mania for tidying away all his things into places where he can never find them.

If Monsieur is a painter, a journalist, or an author, she has the greatest respect for his work. She considers his manuscripts and books, his canvasses and engravings, as things to be treated with boundless veneration. She is immensely proud to serve an “artist”. Sometimes she will venture to ask him to write a letter for her. She will consult him about her family affairs, especially on any legal question, for the law terrifies her beyond measure.

When she returns home she has to see to her children’s dinner, to wash their clothes, to mend for the entire family. In the evening she must cook supper for her husband, who frequently comes home drunk, having spent all his wages, and turns to beating her. She endures everything passively, and she must go on enduring as long as her strength lasts. She is honest, tender, and devoted and all this for twenty or forty sous per day. She is typical of the working woman.

“The femme de ménage,” says a physiologist of 1840, “belongs exclusively to Paris. In the provinces she loses all her distinctive character.” It is from Paris alone, the Paris of resources and deceptions, that the femme de ménage springs. She is the servant of those who cannot afford any other, and who are not poor enough to dispense with one altogether. It is service at a discount, a bastard kind of servitude which sells itself by retail, which submits to the pains of slavery without any of its advantages, which suffers a change of master, humour and work at every moment of the day. She is, in fact, a poor woman who is hired either by the hour or the job just as one hires a cab. The femme de ménage is the most enslaved of all servants. However, this cruel dependence on every one and no one in particular is still independence in her eyes.

Related posts:

Feared and Despised: The Parisian concierge

Parisians in 1842: The middle class

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French film on the subject (2004)

French film on the subject (2004)

Back to Octave Uzanne’s book The Modern Parisienne published at the beginning of the 20th century. His is the view of a man of his time, often questionable by today’s standards, but thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless.

The greater part of the servants in Paris, as we have said, come from the provinces. They are almost entirely drawn from the peasant class, but let no one imagine that for this reason they are humble and devoted to their masters. The devoted servant adoring the children, sharing the sorrows of the family, offering her little savings in case of need, in short, the female Caleb, has no existence except in romances. These melodramatic creatures, who brought tears to the eyes of our grandmothers are not of our day. At the time of the revolution, servants were still content to be considered dependents. Today [1912] they regard themselves as office-holders; they have their union and have instituted at the Sale Wagram a ball named the Gens de Maison [The House People].

Their object in coming to Paris is to make money, save it, and buy a small property in their native country. With this end in view they hoard rigidly, in a hard narrow spirit, with no consideration except for the future. Formerly they tried their hands at lotteries, today they invest in savings bank with assuredly more chance of success.

This [female] servant class has a hierarchy of many degrees. The nursery governess is at the top of the list, then the lady’s maid struggles for the second place with the high-class cook; lower in the scale is the children’s nurse, the general servant, and the femme de ménage (the chairwoman). There is also a privileged personage, flattered, despised, and envied by the  other sycophants – the person who sells her sturdy child’s milk to the bourgeoise’s weakly infant; I mean the wet-nurse.

The nourrice (wet nurse) is merely a kind of milch cow, always stout and fresh looking. She comes from the country, often after a lapse of virtue, and is engaged haphazard from a registry office by bourgeoises who cannot or will not nurse their own children. She is extraordinarily passive and feeds the infant mechanically. It hardly interests her and she would leave it to cry or neglect to wash it unless supervised. Of a very rudimentary intelligence, she only demands plenty of good food and drink. But as she is dominated by sensuality, she cannot keep away from men, and would very quickly fall again if great care were not taken.

I knew of a nourrice who was married, and whose husband served his time in a regiment in Paris. He came to see his wife whenever possible, and it was almost absurd to see the constant supervision by the mistress of the house. The two unfortunate creatures could only look at each other. They dared not even kiss, for Madame was always there, like a gendarme, to keep their virtue intact.

When the infant is weaned, the nurse sometimes stays with the family as the children’s nurse. But, as she dislikes Paris, she more often returns to the country where her former misadventure is repeated. Her business in life is, in truth, the only one she is fitted for. Idle, greedy, enervated by her relatively luxurious life in Paris, she is unfitted for work in the fields.  The other servants despise her. Their self-respect makes them contemptuous of a woman who sells her life in that fashion. But they are jealous of her, because she does nothing and is well-fed. The nourrice receives from 80 to 120 francs a month(*). Beside her wages, she is dressed by Madame in a striking and expensive costume. Her caps with the enormous ribbon trimmings often cost as much as her mistress’ hats.

(*) Up to four times the maid-of-all-work’s wages.

Related post:

Parisian Foundlings

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soubretteOf all the domestic employees in Paris, only a small percentage was the natives of the city. Parisians had always been naturally free-spirited and insubordinate. Employers seeking servants knew this and preferred to hire applicants from the provinces. These proved to be more dependable, obedient and steady.

Whether they come from Auvergne or Poitou, from La Vendée or Gascony, from Provence or even from Flanders, the servants of Paris scarcely ever lose the tone of their native places, the accent of their provinces, or the traces of their origin,” wrote Octave Uzanne in his book The Modern Parisienne (1912). Long working hours, little opportunity to socialize and the sense of being a miniscule clog in the crushing machinery of a metropolis forced the provincials to seek each other for moral support, to hang together, and to preserve their native culture. Of all the newcomers to Paris, servants were the least amenable to change their ways. Native Parisians, on the other hand—and pretty girls especially— sought to climb the social ladder.

The following excerpt from The Modern Parisienne , introduces us to la soubrette, the shrewd lady’s maid, so typical to Paris that no light comedy could do without one:

[A Parisian girl] will take a situation as maid, especially with the demi-monde, in the hope that through one of these ladies or her gentlemen friends she will make her fortune. She reflects that her mistress’s origin, probably Belleville or some other poor quarter, is no better than her own, and that she is certainly not any prettier or more charming. This hope is frequently realized, particularly if the maid is pretty and treats the guests with discretion. In any case, this kind of situation is only a stepping-stone, and very often the girl who begins her career as a maid in the chic quartiers may be seen subsequently figuring as a star at the Moulin Rouge, as a singer in a fifth-rate café or (the last resource of old age) the proprietress of some shady house at Batignolles or near the École Millitaire.

She has learnt from her mistress the great game of getting the most possible out of Monsieur, and she plays it with remarkable success – within the limits of the law. But in the first instance she is more of a soubrette than a maid-servant, the pretty smart girl who always has an answer for the Fantins and Scapins of the servants’ hall. She has the advantage over them of the natural duplicity of her sex, and the unassailable position of being in all her mistress’s secrets. She is her agent in trickery; she knows all her mysteries, her deceptions, her debts, her intrigues, her dressmaker’s bills. Nothing is hidden from her. She is on the watch, observes everything, and succeeds in accumulating sufficient materials to make her position absolutely secure. She is coquettish, scrupulously clean, scented, affects a superior accent, and seasons her conversation with a spice of racy slang. She is very sentimental, and loves, above all, the feuilletons in the papers. If she is not as successful as she hopes with her mistress, she tries her hand on some old bachelor, and becomes his confidential housekeeper.

Related posts:

Quiet Demoiselles and Proud Servants

Parisians in 1842: The working class

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