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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.

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