Nymphs and Merveilleuses. The Frenchwoman of the century; fashions – manners – usages
by Octave Uzanne, 1886.
The true drawing-room of the Directory
The true drawing-room of the Directory is the street, the Petit Coblentz, Tivoli with its forty acres of verdure, Monceaux, Idalie, Biron, the Élysée; it is, in fine, the Butte Montmartre, whence every evening at night soar ten artificial fires, which shake over Paris their sheaves of jewels, their spangles of gold and emeralds. The street is the eternal holiday, along which defile every night on their way to Feydeau and other spectacles the elegant bands of stockbrokers and contractors in the company of their mad mistresses.
The ancient garden of Boutin
In summer, pleasure is to be found under the foliage at Bagatelle, at the Jardin de Virginie, Faubourg du Roule, at the late Hôtel Beaujon; the aimables and the Merveilleux dote on these turfy spots, full of streams, cascades, grottoes, turrets, Hat with red flames, filled with the noise of trumpets, where half-naked nymphs fly not under the willows. The grand attraction is, above all, the ancient garden of Boutin; it is Tivoli, medley of slopes, miniature waterfalls, sinuous paths, where one passed in the midst of a hedge of pretty women, where all the games known to Cythera were enjoyed. In this country of Astraea, enlivened by the pyrotechnic fancies of the Ruggieri, by caperings, by light songs, by fair-shows, by acrobats of every kind, the society of the Directory found itself in the midst of its carnival.
The fine days which follow those of Robespierre
“Burning pleasures,” wrote Mercier, “women are in their element in the midst of your tumult! Content pierces through their demeanour in spite of their terrible railing against the present time; never have they enjoyed such license among any people; the rudeness even of the Jacobins expires before the ladies without a cockade. They have danced, drunk, eaten; they have deceived three or four adorers of opposite sects with an ease and frankness which would make us believe that our century has no more need of the slightest shade of hypocrisy and dissimulation, and that it is beneath us to palliate our habits and our tastes whatever they may be. “What noise is that we hear? Who is this woman preceded by applause? Come and see. The crowd presses round her. Is she naked? I am in doubt. Come still nearer; this deserves my pencil. I see her light pantaloons, comparable to the famous skin breeches of Mgr. le comte d’Artois, whom four great lackeys raised in air to let fall into his vestment, so that there should be no crease. Clothed in this box all day, it became necessary to unbreech him in the evening by raising him in the same manner and with still greater efforts. The feminine pantaloons, I say, exceedingly tight although of silk, surpass perhaps the famous breeches by their complete closeness; they are trimmed with a sort of bracelets. The jacket is cut sloping in the most skilful fashion, and under a gauze, artistically painted, palpitate the reservoirs of maternity. A chemise of fine lawn allows the legs and thighs to be seen, which are embraced by circles of gold and diamonds. A crowd of young people environ her with the language of a dissolute joy. Another daring feat of Merveilleuse, and we might see among us the antique dances of the daughters of Laconia; there remains so little to let fall that I know not if true modesty would not be a gainer by the removal of that transparent veil. The fleshcoloured pantaloons, applied straitly to the skin, excite the imagination and allow to be seen only at the best the most hidden forms and allurements; … and these are the fine days which follow those of Robespierre!”
The ancient Hôtel de Richelieu
In the autumn, concerts, teas, theatres attracted the same affluence of transparent robes and muffled chins; there is dancing and taking of ices at Garchy’s and Velloni’s; the Pavilion de Hanovre is all the rage: in this part of the ancient Hôtel de Richelieu, goddesses crowned with roses, perfumed with essences, floating in their robes à l’athénienne, ogle the incroyables, play with their fans, pass to and fro in a whirlwind, laughing, tumbled, seductive, with loud words and insolent eyes, seeking the male. In the assembly of the men everybody is yelping, and revealing the secrets of the Government. “All these women you see here,” says a young Spartiatus to his neighbour… ” Well?” “They are kept by the deputies.” “Indeed!” “This girl, with dancing eyes and elegant shape, is the mistress of Raffron, he who proclaims the cockade to be the fairest ornament of a citizen. This young lady, with her bosom naked, but elsewhere covered with diamonds, is the sister of Guyomard; his last motion was paid with the crown diamonds. That flaring blonde you see in the distance, is the youngest daughter of Esnard, who has put aside a hundred thousand crowns for her portion; she is to be married to-morrow. There is not,” concludes the young man, “a single member of the legislative body who has not here two or three women, every one of whose dresses costs the Republic a portion of its domains.”
The women of the Directory
Thus the talk intermingles, talk of gallantry, of merchandise, of politics, of stockjobbing, quips and puns. All opinions, all castes, found themselves united in these subscription societies, where one hailed M. de Trénis, the Vestris of the rooms. Women of the higher class, who feared to display luxury and attract attention in receiving habitually at their own homes, had no hesitation about mixing with the gallant nymphs who frequented even Thélusson and the Hôtel de Richelieu. People went there in full dress, but, by instinct, they preferred undress. Thélusson, Frascati, the Pavilion de Hanovre, were composed very nearly of the best society of Paris, according to Madame d’Abrantès (Laure-Adelaide Abrantès, or Laure (Laurette) Junot, Duchesse d’Abrantès, (born Permond 1784-1838 was a maid of honor at the Napoleon courtyard and a French writer). They went there in a mass after leaving the opera or any other spectacle — sometimes five-and-twenty of the same society; old acquaintances were met there, afterwards they returned late to take a cup of tea… a tea containing everything from stewed fowl to peas and champagne.
The women of the Directory, however, had none of the delicacies and the languid graces which constituted afterwards what was called distinction. Nearly all of them were bouncing girls, manlike, plain-speaking, of a carnation verging on the purple, of overflowing embonpoint, of tuckers suited to gross appetites, of gluttonous greediness ruled by their senses, however they affected sudden faintings or megrims which they never knew. The time to see them was after the concert, falling upon their supper, devouring immense mouthfuls of turkey, cold partridges, truffles and pâtés of anchovies, drinking wines and liqueurs. Eating, in one word, according to a pamphleteer, for the fundholder, for the soldier, for the clerk, for every employé of the Republic. Were they not bound to make a “strong box” to resist the inflammations of the lungs which laid wait for them at their departure? The winter blast soon got the better of a robe of lawn or a roguish tunic au lever de l’aurore.
From the Book: The Frenchwoman of the century; Fashions – Manners – Usages, by Octave Uzanne. Illustrations in water colours by Albert Lynch. Engraved in colours by Eugène Gaujean.