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   Chapter 10 No.10

Women of Modern France By Hugo P. Thieme Characters: 45100

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Social Classes

The belief generally prevails that devotion and constancy did not exist among French women of the eighteenth century; but, in spite of the very numerous instances of infidelity which dot the pages of the history of the French matrimonial relations of those days, many examples of rare devotion are found, even among the nobility. Love of the king and self-eliminating devotion to him were feelings to which women aspired; yet we have one countess, the Countess of Perigord, who, true to her wifehood, repels the advances of the king, preferring a voluntary exile to the dishonor of a life of royal favors and attentions. There is also the example of Mme. de Trémoille; having been stricken with smallpox, she was ministered to by her husband, who voluntarily shared her fate and died with her.

It would seem that the highest types of devotion are to be found in the families of the ministers and men of state, where the wife was intimately associated with the fortune and the success of her husband. The Marquis de Croisy and his wife were married forty years; M. and Mme. de Maurepas lived together for fifty years, without being separated one day. Instances are many in which reconciliations were effected after years of unfaithfulness; these seldom occurred, however, until the end of life was near. The normal type of married life among the higher classes still remained one of most ideal and beautiful devotion, in spite of the great number of exceptions.

It must be observed that in the middle class the young girl grew up with the mother and was given her most tender care; surrounded with wholesome influences, she saw little or nothing of the world, and, the constant companion of her mother, developed much like the average young girl of to-day. At the age of about eleven she was sent to a convent, where-after having spent some time in the pension, where instruction in religion was given her-she was instructed by the sisters for one year.

After her confirmation and her first communion, and the home visits to all the relatives, she was placed in a maison religieuse, where the sisters taught the daughters of the common people free of charge. The young girl was also taught dancing, music, and other accomplishments of a like nature, but there was nothing of the feverish atmosphere of the convent in which the daughters of the nobility were reared; these institutions for the middle classes were peaceful, silent, and calm, fostering a serenity and quietude. The days passed quickly, the Sundays being eagerly looked forward to because of the visits of the parents, who took their daughters for drives and walks and indulged them in other innocent diversions. Such a life had its after effects: the young girls grew up with a taste for system, discipline, piety, and for a rigid devotion, which often led them to an instinctive need of doctrine and sacrifice; consequently, in later life many turned to Jansenism.

However, the young girls of this class who were not thus educated, because their assistance was required at home, received an early training in social as well as in domestic affairs; they had a solid and practical, if uncouth, foundation, combined with a worldly and, often, a frivolous temperament. To them many privileges were opened: they were taken to the opera, to concerts and to balls, to the salons of painting, and it often happened that they developed a craving for the society to which only the nobly born demoiselle was admitted. When this craving went too far, it frequently led to seduction by some of the chevaliers who make seduction a profession.

The marriage customs in these circles differed little from those of to-day. The suitor asked permission to call and to continue his visits; then followed the period of present giving. The young girl was almost always absolute mistress of the decision; if the father presented a name, the daughter insisted upon seeing, receiving, and becoming intimately acquainted with the suitor, a custom quite different from that practised among the nobility. Instead of giving her rights as it did the girl of the nobility, marriage imposed duties upon the girl of the middle class; it closed the world instead of opening it to her; it ended her brilliant, gay, and easy life, instead of beginning it, as was the case in the higher classes. This she realized, therefore hesitated long before taking the final step which was to bind her until death.

With her, becoming a wife meant infinitely more than it did to the girl of the nobility; her husband had the management of her money, and his vices were visited upon her and her children-in short, he became her master in all things. These disadvantages she was taught to consider deeply before entering the marriage state.

This state of affairs developed distinctive physiognomies in the different classes of the middle-class society: thus, "the wives of the financiers are dignified, stern, severe; those of the merchants are seductive, active, gossiping, and alert; those of the artists are free, easy, and independent, with a strong taste for pleasure and gayety-and they give the tone." As we approach the end of the century, the bourgeoisie begins to assume the airs, habits, extravagances, and even the immoralities, of the higher classes.

Below the bourgeoise was the workingwoman, whose ideas were limited to those of a savage and who was a woman only in sex. Her ideas of morality, decency, conjugal happiness, children, education, were limited by quarrels, profanity, blows, fights. At that time brandy was the sole consolation for those women; it supplied their moral force and their moral resistance, making them forget cold, hunger, fatigue, evil, and giving them courage and patience; it was the fire that sustained, comforted, and incited them.

These women were not much above the level of animals, but from them, we find, often sprang the entertainers of the time, the queens of beauty and gallantry-Laguerre, D'Hervieux, Sophie Arnould. Having lost their virtue with maturity, these women had no sense of morality; in them, nothing preserved the sense of honor-their religion consisted of a few superstitious practices. The constituents of duty and the virtue of women they could only vaguely guess; marriage itself was presented to them under the most repugnant image of constant contention.

It was in such an atmosphere as this that the daughters of these women grew up. Their talents found opportunity for display at the public dances where some of them would in time attract especial attention. Some became opera singers, dancers, or actresses, and were very popular; others became influential, and, through the efforts of some lover, allured about them a circle of ambitious débauchés or aspirants for social favors. Through their adventures they made their way up in the world to high society.

From this element of prostitution was disentangled, to a large extent, the great gallantry of the eighteenth century. This was accomplished by adding an elegance to debauch, by clothing vice with a sort of grandeur, and by adorning scandal with a semblance of the glory and grace of the courtier of old. Possessing the fascination of all gifts, prodigalities, follies, with all the appetites and tendencies of the time, these women attracted the society of the period-the poets, the artists, even the scientists, the philosophers, and the nobility. Their reputation increased with the number and standing of their lovers. The genius of the eighteenth century circled about these street belles-they represented the fortune of pleasure.

As the church would not countenance the marriage of an actress, she was forced to renounce the theatre when she would marry, but once married a permit to return to the stage was easily obtained. Society was not so severe as the laws; it received actresses, sought out, and even adored them; it received the women of the stage as equals, and many of them were married by counts and dukes, given a title, and presented at court. The regular type of the prostitute was tolerated and even received by society; "a word of anger, malediction, or outrage, was seldom raised against these women: on the contrary, pity and the commiseration of charity and tenderness were felt for them and manifested." This was natural, for many of them-through notoriety-reached society and, as mistresses of the king, even the throne itself. "If such women as Mme. de Pompadour were esteemed, what principles remained in the name of which to judge without pity and to condemn the débauchés of the street," says Mme. de Choiseul, one of the purest of women.

This class usually created and established the styles. There is a striking contrast between the standards of beauty and fashions of the respective periods of Louis XIV. and Louis XV.: "The stately figure, rich costume, awe-inspiring peruke of the magnificent Louis XIV.-the satins, velvets, embroideries, perfumes, and powder of the indolent and handsome Louis XV., well illustrate the two epochs." The beauty of the Louis XIV. age was more serious, more imposing, imperial, classic; later in the eighteenth century, under Louis XV., she developed into a charming figure of finesse, sveltesse et gracilité, with an extremely delicate complexion, a small mouth and thin nose, as opposed to the strong, plump mouth and nez léonin (leonine nose). More animated, the face was all movement, the eyes talked; the esprit passed to the face. It was the type of Marivaux' comedies, with an esprit mobile, animated and colored by all the coquetries of grace.

Later in the century, the very opposite type prevailed; the aspiration then became to leave an emotion ungratified rather than to seduce; a languishing expression was cultivated; women sought to sweeten the physiognomy, to make it tender and mild. The style of beauty changed from the brunette with brown eyes-so much in vogue under Louis XV., to the blonde with blue eyes under Louis XVI. Even the red which formerly "dishonored France," became a favorite. To obtain the much admired pale complexion, women had themselves bled; their dress corresponded to their complexion, light materials and pure white being much affected.

In these three stages of the development of beauty, fashion changed to harmonize with the popular style in beauty. In general, styles were influenced by an important event of the day: thus, when Marie Leczinska, introduced the fad of quadrilles, there were invented ribbons called "quadrille of the queen"; and many other fads originated in the same way. French taste and fashions travelled over entire Europe; all Europe was à la fran?aise, yoked and laced in French styles, French in art, taste, industry. The domination of the French Galerie des Modes was due to the inventive minds of French women in relation to everything pertaining to headdress, to detailed and delicate arrangements of every phase of ornamentation.

Every country had, in Paris, its agents who eagerly waited for the appearance of the famous doll of the Rue Saint-Honoré; this figure was an exponent of the latest fashions and inventions, and, changing continually, was watched and copied by all Europe. Alterations in style frequently originated at the supper of a mistress, in the box of a dancer or in the atelier of a fine modiste; therefore, in that respect, that century differed little from the present one. Trade depended largely upon foreign patronage. Fortunes were made by the modistes, who were the great artists of the day and who set the fashion; but the hairdresser and shoemaker, also, were artists, as was seen, at least in name, and were as impertinent as prosperous.

An interesting illustration of the change of fashion is the following anecdote: In 1714, at a supper of the king, at Versailles, two English women wore low headdress, causing a scandal which came near costing them their dismissal. The king happened to mention that if French women were reasonable, they would not dress otherwise. The word was spread, and the next day, at the king's mass the ladies all wore their hair like the English women, regardless of the laughter of the women who, being absent the previous evening, had their hair dressed high. The compliment of the king as he was leaving mass, to the ladies with the low headdress, caused a complete change in the mode.

It now remains but to illustrate these various classes by types-by women who have become famous. The Duchesse de Boufflers, Maréchale de Luxembourg, was the woman who most completely typified the spirit and tone of the eighteenth-century classique in everything that belonged to the ancient régime which passed away with the society of 1789. She was the daughter of the Duc de Villeroy, and married the Duc de Boufflers in 1721; after the death of the latter in 1747, and after having been the mistress of M. de Luxembourg for several years, she married him in 1750. Her youth was like that of most women of the social world. A savante in intrigues at court, present at all suppers, bouts, and pleasure trips as lady-of-the-palace to the queen, intriguing constantly, holding her own by her sharp wit, in a society of roués et élégants enervés she soon became a leader. Mme. du Deffand left a striking portrait of her:

"Mme. la Duchesse de Boufflers is beautiful without having the air of suspecting it. Her physiognomy is keen and piquant, her expression reveals all the emotions of her soul-she does not have to say what she thinks, one guesses it. Her gestures are so natural and so perfectly in accord with what she says, that it is difficult not to be led to think and feel as she does. She dominates wherever she is, and she always makes the impression she desires to make. She makes use of her advantages almost like a god-she permits us to believe that we have a free will while she determines us. In general, she is more feared than loved. She has much esprit and gayety. She is constant in her engagements, faithful to her friends, truthful, discreet, generous. If she were more clairvoyant or if men were less ridiculous, they would find her perfect."

On one occasion M. de Tressan composed this famous couplet:

"Quand Boufflers parut à la cour,

On crut voir la mère d'Amour,

Chacun s'empressait à lui plaire,

Et chacun l'avait à son tour."

[When Boufflers appeared at court,

The mother of love was thought to be seen,

Everyone became so eager to please her,

And each one had her in his turn.]

One day Mme. de Boufflers mumbled this before M. de Tressan, saying to him: "Do you know the author? It is so beautiful that I would not only pardon her, but I believe I would embrace her." Whereupon he stammered: Eh bien! c'est moi. She quickly dealt him two vigorous slaps in the face. All feared her; no one equalled her in skill and shrewdness, or in knowing and handling men.

After her marriage to the Maréchal de Luxembourg, she decided, about 1750, to open a salon in Paris; it became one of the real forces of the eighteenth century, socially and politically. While her husband lived, she did not enjoy the freedom she desired; after his death in 1764 she was at liberty to do as she pleased, and she then began her career as a judge and counsellor in all social matters. She was regarded as the oracle of taste and urbanity, exercised a supervision over the tone and usage of society, was the censor of la bonne compagnie during the happy years of Louis XVI. This power in her was universally recognized. She tempered the Anglomania of the time, all excesses of familiarity and rudeness; she never uttered a bad expression, a coarse laugh or a tutoiement (thee and thou). The slightest affectation in tone or gesture was detected and judged by her. She preserved the good tone of society and permitted no contamination. She retarded the reign of clubs, retained the urbanity of French society, and preserved a proper and unique character in the ancien salon fran?ais, in the way of excellence of tone.

The Marquise de Rambouillet, Mme. de La Fayette, Mme. de Maintenon, Mme. de Caylus, and Mme. de Luxembourg are of the same type-the same world, with little variance and no decadence; in some respects, the last may be said to have approached nearest to perfection. "In her, the turn of critical and caustic severity was exempt from rigidity and was accompanied by every charm and pleasingness in her person. She often judged [a person] by [his] ability at repartee, which she tested by embarrassing questions across the table, judging [the person] by the reply. She herself was never at a loss for an answer: when shown two portraits-one of Molière and one of La Fontaine-and asked which was the greater, she answered: 'That one,' pointing to La Fontaine, 'is more perfect in a genre less perfect.'"

By the Goncourt brothers, her salon has been given its merited credit: "The most elegant salon was that of the Maréchale de Luxembourg, one of the most original women of the time. She showed an originality in her judgments, she was authority in usage, a genius in taste. About her were pleasure, interest, novelty, letters; here was formed the true elegance of the eighteenth century-a society that held sway over Europe until 1789. Here was formed the greatest institution of the time, the only one that survived till the Revolution, that preserved-in the discredit of all moral laws-the authority of one law, la parfaite bonne compagnie, whose aim was a social one-to distinguish itself from bad company, vulgar and provincial society, by the perfection of the means of pleasing, by the delicacy of friendship, by the art of considerations, complaisances, of savoir vivre, by all possible researches and refinements of esprit. It fixed everything-usages, etiquette, tone of conversation; it taught how to praise without bombast and insipidness, to reply to a compliment without disdaining or accepting it, to bring others to value without appearing to protect them; it prevented all slander. If it did not impart modesty, goodness, indulgence, nobleness of sentiment, it at least imposed the forms, exacting the appearances and showing the images of them. It was the guardian of urbanity and maintained all the laws that are derived from taste. It represented the religion of honor; it judged, and when it condemned a man he was socially-ruined."

A type of what may be called the social mistress of the nobility-the personification of good taste, elegance and propriety such as it should be-was the Comtesse de Boufflers, mistress of the Prince de Conti, intimate friend of Hume, Rousseau, and Gustave III., King of Sweden. The countess was one of the most influential and spirituelle members of French society, her special mission and delight being the introduction of foreign celebrities into French society. She piloted them, was their patroness, spoke almost all modern languages, and visited her friends in their respective countries. She was the most travelled and most hospitable of great French women, hence the woman best informed upon the world in general.

She was born in Paris in 1725, and in 1746 was married to the Comte de Boufflers-Rouvrel; soon after, becoming enamored of the Prince de Conti, she became his acknowledged mistress. To give an idea of the light in which the women of that time considered those who were mistresses of great men, the following episodes may be cited: One day, Mme. de Boufflers, momentarily forgetting her relations to the Prince de Conti, remarked that she scorned a woman who avait un prince du sang (was mistress of a prince of the blood). When reminded of her apparent inconsistency, she said: "I wish to give by my words to virtue what I take away from it by my actions...." On another occasion, she reproached the Maréchale de Mirepoix for going to see Mme. de Pompadour, and in the heat of argument said: "Why, she is nothing but the first fille (mistress) of the kingdom!" The maréchale replied: "Do not force me to count even unto three" (Mme. de Pompadour, Mlle. Marquise, Mme. de Boufflers). In those days, the position of mistress of an important man attracted little more attention than might a petty, trivial, light-hearted flirtation nowadays.

After the death of M. de Boufflers, in 1764, the all-absorbing question of society, and one of vital importance to madame, was, Will the prince marry her? If not, will she continue to be his mistress? In this critical period, Hume showed his friendship and true sympathy by giving Mme. de Boufflers most persuasive and practical advice in reference to morals-which she did not follow. Her relations with Rousseau showed her capable of the deepest and most profound friendship and sympathy. According to Sainte-Beuve, it was she who, by aid of her friends in England, procured asylum for him with Hume at Wootton. When Rousseau's rashness brought on the quarrel which set in commotion and agitated the intellectual circles of both continents, Mme. de Boufflers took his part and remained faithful to him, securing a place for him in the Chateau de Trie, which belonged to the Prince de Conti.

All who came in contact with her recognized the distinction, elevation of esprit, and sentiment of Mme. de Boufflers. With her are associated the greatest names of the time; being perfectly at home on all the political questions of the day, she was better able to converse upon these subjects than was any other woman of the time. When in 1762 she visited England, she was lionized everywhere. She was fêted at court and in the city, and all conversation was upon the one subject, that of her presence, which was one of the important events of London life. Everyone was anxious to see the famous woman, the first of rank to visit England in two hundred years. She even received some special attention from the eccentric Samuel Johnson, in this manner: "Horace Walpole had taken the countess to call on Johnson. After the conventional time of a formal call had expired, they left, and were halfway down stairs, when it dawned upon Johnson that it was his duty, as host, to pay the honors of his literary residence to a foreign lady of quality; to show himself gallant, he jumped down from the top of the stairway, and, all agitation, seized the hand of the countess and conducted her to her carriage."

No woman at court had more friends and fewer enemies than did Mme. de Boufflers, because "she united to the gifts of nature and the culture of esprit an amiable simplicity,

charming graces, a goodness, kindness, and sensibility, which made her forget herself always and constantly seek to aid those about her." She made use of her influence over the prince in such ways as would, in a measure, recompense for her fault, and thus recommended herself by her good actions. She was the soul of his salon, "Le Temple." The love of these two people, through its intimacy and public display, through its constancy, happiness, and decency, dissipated all scandal. Always cheerful and pleased to amuse, knowing how to pay attention to all, always rewarding the bright remarks of others with a smile, which all sought as a mark of approbation, no one ever wished her any ill fortune.

The last days of the Prince de Conti were cheered by the presence of Mme. de Boufflers and the friends whom she gathered about him to help bear his illness. The letter to her from Hume, on his deathbed, is most pathetic, showing the influence of this woman and the nature of the impression she left upon her friends:

"Edinburgh, 20th of August, 1776.

"Although I am certainly within a few weeks, dear Madame, and perhaps within a few days, of my own death, I could not forbear being struck with the death of the Prince of Conti-so great a loss in every particular. My reflection carried me immediately to your situation in this melancholy incident. What a difference to you in your whole plan of life! Pray write me some particulars, but in such terms that you need not care, in case of my decease, into whose hands your letter may fall.... My distemper is a diarrh?a or disorder in my bowels, which has been gradually undermining me for these two years, but within these six months has been visibly hastening me to my end. I see death approach gradually, without any anxiety or regret. I salute you with great affection and regard, for the last time.

"David Hume."

Hume died five days after this letter was written.

The last years of her life she spent with her daughter-in-law, at Auteuil, where she lived a happy life and received the best society of Paris. When she died or under what circumstances is not known. During the Revolution she lived in obscurity, busying herself with charitable work; she was one of the few women of the nobility to escape the guillotine, "This woman, who had kept the intellectual world alive with her esprit and goodness, of a sudden vanishes like a star from the horizon; she lives on, unnoticed by everyone, and, in that new society, no one misses her or regrets her death."

In order to fully appreciate the mistress of the eighteenth century, her power and influence, her rise to popularity and social standing, the general and accepted idea and nature of the sentiment called love must be explained; for it was to the peculiar development of that emotion that the mistress owed her fortune.

In the eighteenth century love became a theory, a cult; it developed a language of its own. In the preceding age love was declared, it spoke, it was a virtue of grandeur and generosity, of courage and delicacy, exacting all proofs of decency and gallantry, patient efforts, respect, vows, discretion, and reciprocal affection. The ideal was one of heroism, nobleness, and bravery. In the eighteenth century this ideal became mere desire; love became voluptuousness, which was to be found in art, music, styles, fashions-in everything. Woman herself was nothing more than the embodiment of voluptuousness; it made her what she was, directing and fashioning her. Every movement she made, every garment she wore, all the care she applied to her appearance-all breathed this volupté.

In paintings it was found in impure images, coquettish immodesties, in couples embraced in the midst of flowers, in scenes of tenderness: all these representations were hung in the rooms of young girls, above their beds. They grew up to know volupté, and, when old enough, they longed for it. It was useless for women to try to escape its power, and chastity naturally disappeared under these temptations. The young girl inherited the impure instincts of the mother, and, when matured, was ready and eager for all that could enchant and gratify the senses.

True domestic friendship and intimacy were rare, because the husband given to a young girl had passed through a long list of mistresses, and talked-from experience-gallant confidences which took away the veil of illusion. She was immediately taken into society, where she became familiar with the spicy proverbs and the salty prologues of the theatre, where supposedly decent women were present, in curtained boxes. At the suppers and dinners, by songs and plays, at the gatherings where held forth Duclos and others like him, in the midst of champagne, ivresse d'esprit, and eloquence, she was taught and saw the corruption of society and marriage, the disrespect to modesty; in such an atmosphere all trace of innocence was destroyed. She was taught that faithfulness to a husband belonged only to the people, that it was an evidence of stupidity. Manners, customs, and even religion were against the preservation of innocence and purity; and in this depravity the abbés were the leaders.

Such conditions were dangerous and disastrous not to young girls only, they affected the young men also; the latter, amidst this social demoralization, developed their evil tendencies, and, in a few generations, there was formed a Paris completely debauched. Love meant nothing more elevated than desire; for man, the paramount idea was to have or possess; for woman, to capture. There was no longer any mystery, any secret; the lover left his carriage at the door of his love, as if to publish his good fortune; he regularly made his appearance at her house, at the hour of the toilette, at dinner and at all the fêtes; the public announcement of the liaison was made at the theatre when he sat in her box.

There came a period when so-called love fell so low that woman no longer questioned a man's birth, rank, or condition, and vice versa, as long as he or she was in demand; a successful man had nearly every woman of prominence at his feet. The men planned their attacks upon the women whom they desired, and the women connived, posed, and set most ingenious traps and devised most extraordinary means to captivate their hero. As the century wore on and the vices and appetites gradually consumed the healthy tissues, there sprang up a class of monsters, most accomplished roués, consummate leaders of theoretical and practical immorality, who were without conscience. To gain their ends, they manipulated every medium-valets, chambermaids, scandal, charity; their one object was to dishonor woman.

Women were no better; "a natural falseness, an acquired dissimulation, a profound observation, a lie without flinching, a penetrating eye, a domination of the senses-to these they owed their faculties and qualities so much feared at the time, and which made them professional and consummate politicians and ministers. Along with their gallantry, they possessed a calmness, a tone of liberty, a cynicism; these were their weapons and deadly ones they were to the man at whom they were aimed."

There were, in this century, superior women in whom was exhibited a high form of love, but who realized that perfect love was impossible in their age; yet they desired to be loved in an intense and legitimate manner. This phase of womanhood is well represented by Mlle. A?ssé and Mlle. de Lespinasse, both of whom felt an irresistible need of loving; they proclaimed their love and not only showed themselves to be capable of loving and of intense suffering, but proved themselves worthy of love which, in its highest form, they felt to be an unknown quantity at that time. Their love became a constant inspiration, a model of devotion, almost a transfiguration of passion. These women were products of the time; they had to be, to compensate for the general sterility and barrenness, to equalize the inequalities, and to pay the tribute of vice and debauch.

All the customs of the age were arrayed against pure womanhood and offered it nothing but temptation. Inasmuch as the husband belonged to court and to war more than to domestic felicity, he left his wife alone for long periods. The husbands themselves seemed actually to enjoy the infidelity of their wives and were often intimate friends of their wives' lovers; and it was no rare thing that when the wife found no pleasure in lovers, she did not concern herself about her husband's mistresses (unless they were intolerably disagreeable to her), often advising the mistress as to the best method of winning her husband.

It must be admitted that this separation in marriage, this reciprocity of liberty, this absolute tolerance, was not a phase of the eighteenth century marriage, but was the very character of it. In earlier times, in the sixteenth century, infidelity was counted as such and caused trouble in the household. If the husband abused his privileges, the wife was obliged to bear the insult in silence, being helpless to avenge it. If she imitated his actions, it was under the gravest dangers to her own life and that of her lover. The honor of the husband was closely attached to the virtue of the wife; thus, if he sought diversion elsewhere, and his wife fell victim to the fascinations of another, he was ridiculed. Marriage was but an external bond; in the eighteenth century, it was a bond only as long as husband and wife had affection for one another; when that no longer existed, they frankly told each other and sought that emotion elsewhere; they ceased to be lovers and became friends.

A very fertile source of so much unfaithfulness was the frequent marriage of a ruined nobleman to a girl of fortune, but without rank. Giving her his name was the only moral obligation; the marriage over and the dowry portion settled, he pursued his way, considering that he owed her no further duty. Very frequently, the husband, overcome by jealousy or humiliated by the low standard of his wife who injured or brought ridicule upon his name, would have her kidnapped and taken to a convent. This right was enjoyed by the husband in spite of the general liberty of woman. A letters-patent was obtained through proof of adultery, and the wife was imprisoned in some convent for the rest of her life, being deprived of her dowry which fell to her husband.

At one time, the great ambition of woman was to procure a legal separation-an ambition which seems to have developed into a fad, for at one period there were over three hundred applicants for legal separation, a state of affairs which so frightened Parliament that it passed rigid laws. A striking contrast to this was the custom connected with mourning. At the death of the husband, the wife wore mourning, her entire establishment, with every article of interior furnishing, was draped in the sombre hue; she no longer went out and her house was open only to relatives and those who came to pay visits of condolence. Unless she married again, she remained in mourning all her life; but it should not be understood that the veil concealed her coquetry or prevented her from enjoying her liberty and planning her future. Then, as to-day, there were many examples of fanaticism and folly; one widow would endeavor to commit suicide; another lived with the figure of her husband in wax; another conversed, for several hours of the day, with the shade of her husband; others consecrated themselves to the church.

This all-supreme sway of love and its attributes, left its impression and lasting effect upon the physiognomy of the mistress; in the early part of the century, the mistress was chosen from the respectable aristocracy and the nobility; gradually, however, the limits of selection were extended until they included the bourgeoisie and, finally, the offspring of the common femme du peuple. A woman from any profession, from any stratum of society, by her charm and intelligence, her original discoveries and inventions of debauch and licentiousness, could easily become the heroine of the day, the goddess of society, the goal and aspiration of the used-up roués of the aristocracy. Under Louis XIV., such popularity was an impossibility to a woman of that sort, but society under the Regency seemed to have awakened from the torpor and gloom of the later years of the monarchy to a reign of unrestrained gayety and vice.

The first woman to infect the social atmosphere of the nobility with a new form of extravagance and licentiousness was Adrienne Le Couvreur, who was the heroine of the day during the first years of the Regency. She was the daughter of a hatter, who had gone to Paris about 1702; while employed as a laundress, she often gave proof of the possession of remarkable dramatic genius by her performances at private theatricals. In 1717, through the influence of the great actor Baron, she made her appearance at the Comédie Fran?aise; the reappearance of that favorite with Adrienne Le Couvreur as companion, in the plays of Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire, re?stablished the popularity of the French theatre. Adrienne immediately became a favorite with the titled class, was frequently present at Mme. de Lambert's, gave the most sumptuous suppers herself, and was compelled to repulse lovers of the highest nobility.

Her principal lovers were Voltaire, whom she nursed through smallpox, spending many hours in reading to him, and Maurice of Saxony; she had children of whom the latter was the father, and it was she who, by selling her plate and jewelry, supplied him with forty thousand francs in order to enable him to equip his soldiers when he proposed to recover the principality of Courland. She was generous to prodigality; but when she died, the Church refused to grant consecrated ground for the reception of her remains, although it condescended to accept her munificent gift of a hundred thousand francs to charity. Her death was said to have been caused by her rival, the Duchesse de Bouillon, by means of poisoned pastilles administered by a young abbé. In the night, her body was carried by two street porters to the Rue de Bourgogne, where it was buried. Voltaire, in great indignation at such injustice, wrote his stinging poem La Mort de Mademoiselle Le Couvreur, which was the cause of his being again obliged to leave Paris.

The popularity of the Comédie Fran?aise declined after the deaths of Baron and Adrienne Le Couvreur, until the appearance of Mlle. Clairon, who was one of the greatest actresses of France. Born in Flanders in 1723, at a very early age she had wandered about the provinces, from theatre to theatre, with itinerant troupes, winning a great reputation at Rouen. In 1738 the leading actresses were Mlle. Quinault, who had retired to enjoy her immense fortune in private life, and Mlle. Dumesnil, the great tragédienne. When Mlle. Clairon received an offer to play alternately with the favorite, Mlle. Dumesnil, she selected as her opening part Phèdre, the r?le de triomphe of her rival.

The appearance of a débutante was an event, and its announcement brought out a large crowd; the presumption of a provincial artist in selecting a r?le in which to rival a great favorite had excited general ridicule, and an unusually large audience had assembled, expecting to witness an ignominious failure. Mlle. Clairon's stately figure, the dignity and grace of her carriage, "her finely chiselled features, her noble brow, her air of command, her clear, deep, impassioned voice," made an immediate impression upon the audience. She was unanimously acknowledged as superior to Mlle. Dumesnil, and the entire social and literary world hastened to do her homage.

Mlle. Clairon did as much for the theatre as did Adrienne Le Couvreur, especially in discarding, in her Phèdre, the plumes, spangles, the panier, the frippery, which had been the customary equipments of that r?le. She and Lecain, the prominent actor of the day, introduced the custom of wearing the proper costume of the characters represented. The grace and dignity of her stage presence caused her to be sought by the great ladies, who took lessons in her famous courtesy grande révérence, which was later supplanted by the courtesy of Mme. de Pompadour.

Mlle. Clairon became the recipient of great favors and honors, her most prominent slave being Marmontel, to whom she had given a room in her h?tel after Mme. Geoffrin had withdrawn from him the privilege of occupying an apartment in her spacious establishment. She contributed largely to the success of his plays, as well as to those of Voltaire, whom she visited at Ferney, performing in his private theatre. Her success was uninterrupted until she declined to play, in the Siège de Calais, with an actor who had been guilty of dishonesty; she was then thrown into prison, and refused to reappear. When about fifty years of age she became the mistress of the Margrave of Ansbach, at whose court she resided for eighteen years. In 1791 she returned to Paris, where, poor and forgotten, she died in 1803.

An actress or a singer who left a greater reputation through her wit, the promptness and malignity of her repartee, and her extravagance, than through her voice was Sophie Arnould, the pupil of Mlle. Clairon. She was the daughter of an innkeeper; her first success was won through her charming figure and her flexible voice. Some of the ladies attached to the court of Louis XV., having heard her sing at evening service during Passion week, had induced the royal chapel master to employ her in the choir. There, and by the warm eulogies of Marmontel during one of his toilette visits to Mme. de Pompadour, the attention of the ma?tresse-en-titre was called to her beauty and vocal charm.

Her début was made with unusual success, but she afterward eloped with the Comte de Lauraguais, who had made a wager that he could win the beautiful artist. After her reappearance at Paris her career became a long series of dissipations and unprecedented extravagances. She was as witty as she was licentious, and many of her bons mots have been collected. It was she who characterized the great Necker and Choiseul, on being shown a box containing their portraits: "That is receipt and expenditure"-the credit and debit. She was one of the few prominent women who died in favor and in comfortable circumstances.

The lowest and most depraved of this licentious class of women was Mlle. La Guimard, the legitimate daughter of a factory inspector of cloth. In 1758 she entered the opera as a ballet girl, but very little is known of her during the first years of her career except in connection with her numerous lovers. In about 1768 she was living in most sumptuous style, her extravagances being paid for by two lovers, the Prince de Soubise, her amant utile, and the farmer-general, M. de La Borde, her amant honoraire.

At this period she gave three suppers weekly: one for all the great lords at court and of distinction; the second for authors, scholars, and artists; the third being a supper of débauchées, the most seductive and lascivious girls of the opera; at the last function, luxury and debauch were carried to unknown extremes. At her superb country home, "Pantin," she gave private performances, the magnificence of which was unprecedented and admission to which was an honor as eagerly sought as was that of attendance at Versailles.

There was another side to the nature of Mlle. La Guimard: during the terrible cold of the winter of 1768, she went about alone visiting the poor and needy, distributing food and clothing purchased with the six thousand livres given her by her lover, the Prince de Soubise, as a New Year's gift. Her charity became so general that people of all professions and classes went to her for assistance-actors and artists to borrow the money with which to pay their debts, officers with the same object in view. To one of the latter to whom she had just lent a hundred louis and who was about to sign a note, she said: "Sir, your word is sufficient. I imagine that an officer will have as much honor as fille d'opéra."

Her performances at "Pantin" and her luxurious mode of life required more money than the two lovers were able to supply; therefore, another was accepted in the person of the Bishop of Orléans, Monseigneur de Jarente, who supplied her with money and other necessaries. In 1771 she decided to build a h?tel with an elegant theatre which would comfortably seat five hundred people. The opening of this Temple de Terpsichore was the great event of the year (1772). All the nobility was there, even the princes of the blood, and the "delicious licenses of the presentation were fully enjoyed by those who were fortunate enough to obtain admission."

Her costumes were of such taste and became so renowned that Marie Antoinette consulted her in reference to her own wonderful inventions; the dresses became known as the Robe à la La Guimard. Inasmuch as the management of the Opéra supplied all gowns, the expense for this one artist was enormous, in 1779 amounting to thirty thousand livres for dresses alone. In 1785, being in financial straits, she sold her h?tel on the Rue Chaussée-d'Antin by lottery, two thousand five hundred tickets at one hundred and twenty livres each. None of the salons of Paris could compare with hers in the "costliness of the crystal and the plate of her table service, in the taste and elegance of her floral decorations-choice exotics obtained from a distance, regardless of expense."

After appearing at the Haymarket Opera House in London in 1789, Mlle. La Guimard decided to retire to private life, and married M. Despréaux, the ballet master, fifteen years her junior. During the Revolution the government ceased to pay pensions, and as she had saved very little of her wealth the two lived in the most straitened circumstances. Her fate was similar to that of the average woman of pleasure-forgotten, half-witted, stooping to any act of indecency to gain a few sous.

Such were the principal heroines of the stage, opera, and ballet; they were in harmony with the general state of that depraved society of which they were natural products; transitory lights that shone for but a short space of time, consumed by their own sensuous instinct, they were forgotten with death. The royal mistresses lived the same life and followed the same ideals, but exerted a greater and more lasting influence in the state.

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