Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘morals in 19 century paris’

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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Homage to the grisette. Statue erected in 1830

From Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton. Text written in 1873.

It’s a common remark among strangers in France that about every third man wears a uniform of some kind and such is almost the case here in Paris. Nearly all of these uniformed men are forbidden by law to marry, and they belong to a class who have never been taught to entertain such an idea as pertaining to their future existence.  They have always found it difficult to get food for themselves, and hence have never entertained such a preposterous undertaking as marrying and supporting a family.

These men have sisters who have always recognized themselves as belonging to a class who are never to know the relations of husband and wife. Such a thought never enters the head of a girl or a boy belonging to the poorer classes of Paris. Sometimes they succeed in drawing themselves out of their natural state of existence, and aspire to higher things, but the great mass of them have for generation found that the chief aim in life was bread and wine. They have the natural passions of ordinary men and women, and hence the grisette.

They are not taught, even by their spiritual counsellors, that there is any sin in the life they lead, and are as punctual in their church attendance as any class in Paris. Nor are they regarded as degraded, unless they fall still lower and become professional courtesans.  They are considered as fulfilling their destiny, and love and are beloved as other mortals. Sometimes these ties are permanent, but in the generality of cases they are merely for a time, and when broken a new one is formed.

Thus they pass through life, and their children, of whom they furnish the state about eighteen thousand per annum, are sometimes kept and maintained by themselves, but oftener passed over to the orphan-asylums, just as most of their mothers were passed over in their early infancy. The grisette, it will thus be seen, is a feature of Parisian society that is regarded as inevitable, and, being inevitable, those who raise themselves out of its slough are not deemed to have been tainted or tarnished in character. Those who pass through life as grisettes are not regarded as “fallen angels” but as women who are fulfilling their sad and unfortunate destiny and whose chances for heaven are quite as good as those whose lots are cast in pleasanter ways. So long as the youth lasts they live a merry life, and when this departs, they become waiting-maids. They are the unfortunate victims of kingcraft, which requires standing armies and draws the youth of the country away from the ordinary pursuits of life and happiness.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: