Women in bed with snakes and other news. The year 1900 in Le Petit Parisien’s illustrated supplement.

 

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Snakes: ‘Why is no one actually looking at us?’

‘A difficult arrest’ is the understated subtitle of this slightly farcical cover of Le Petit Parisien‘s literary illustrated supplement from 25 February 1900. Despite the seven snakes crawling out of her bed, the woman seems more preoccupied with adjusting her hair and striking a pose. She also doesn’t really seem to notice the people standing in her bedroom door. Was the illustrator just not very good at drawing people’s expressions? What is going on here?

The weekly, Sunday illustrated supplements of Le Petit Parisien – and other popular newspapers – were known for their sensational, visual representations of currents events and fait divers. These were the days before photography became widely used in newspapers so illustrators could let their imaginations run wild. And they did. The covers had to be eye-catching and action packed to draw the attention of potential buyers. The articles inside were often a lot less sensational and more balanced, but the cover drawings were basically the 1900 version of click-bait. Obviously it worked, because they managed to catch my attention 114 years later. Check out the covers from 1900 and other years here on Gallica.

Even though there is some gruesome violence pictured in many of them, there is a very odd, emotionless distance in these drawings as well as in the expressions of the people pictured. Even when an individual is in the midst of being murdered. Is this due to poor artistic skills or was this done to avoid too much realism? Dehumanised violence for sensitive viewers? In any case, some truly horrible events end up looking very staged and artificial, if not unintentionally comical. At least I hope it was unintentional.

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‘I am not going to stop arresting this man just because there is a knife stuck in my head’

 

murders, accidents, disasters

More murders, accidents and disasters

In between all these horrors, when there were no freak events to report, other things happened as well in 1900: a horse getting ready for some parade, the fire brigade getting an electric car, another horse at a race with a lot of flag waving, the president at a very important ceremony, 6 officers with bicycles protecting 3 French citizens, a laboratory being opened. The underlying message of these rather boring events is clear. Look how wonderful the French Republic is: just waving some flags, having fun parades, making scientific discoveries, with non-threatening officers taking care of citizens.

Other things that also happened

Things that also happened and made the government look good.

And then there were actual historical events happening in far away places: the Boer war, a bit of French colonial expansion and fighting in Africa, Europeans being attacked by angry Chinese rebels, friendly foreign imperial rulers who were supportive of France.

Meanwhile far away...

Meanwhile far away…important historical events were taking place. The emphasis is of course on the bravery of France and its foreign allies.

Back to the most important event of the year though: the female snake charmer. I was of course curious to find out who she was. Medusa reincarnated? Just a woman with an unfortunate choice of pets? Well, neither really. Her name was, depending on the newspaper, either Zalemma Keardy or Neardy. But who cares about futile facts when there is a juicy story to be told. Apparently this 24 year old Swedish woman claimed to be a snake charmer, but was in reality a swindler with an international arrest warrant. The police visited her at her Paris hotel room where they found her asleep in between her snakes. She threatened the officers, but of course the courageous French detective was not afraid of her snakes. A brave man. According to newspaper articles Zalemma ended up in the Saint-Lazare prison. I have no idea what happened to the poor snakes or what happened to her, but the story was picked up by newspapers everywhere. Below you can see how the same story was represented in the illustrated Sunday edition of regional newspaper L’Express de Lyon (Source: BM de Lyon). Le Petit Dauphinois used the same cover illustration as you can see here.

So what is the overall sentiment in 1900 according to these covers? Mostly a bit of scare-mongering mixed with some human interest, foreign news and a dose of chauvinism. Not just in Le Petit Parisien, but also in the regional papers. Dangers are obviously everywhere: criminals, scary foreigners, nature. Luckily brave police officers, soldiers and other heroes are busy trying to protect French citizens from harm everywhere in the world. And it’s probably best to buy illustrated supplements to read all about it.

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‘Laugh all you want, scary foreign woman, but your snakes are no match for the French Tricolour I have in my hand!’

 

 

 

 

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The Not So Belle Époque: personal ads, la zone and La Goulue

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Zone inhabitants of Ivry in front of their ‘roulotte’, 1913, press photograph, Agence Rol.

The exhibition Paris 1900, the City of entertainment has opened its doors to the public at Le Petit Palais. An iconic Toulouse-Lautrec image is used as the face of the exhibition. It plays on what many people already think of when they think of Paris 1900: carriages, elegant salons, theatres, cafes, the Moulin Rouge, sumptuous art deco design, the world exhibitions. According to the website the collection on display is ‘an invitation to the public to relive the splendour of the French capital.’ The exhibition aims to show the other side to this as well (prostitution, drugs), already present of course in Toulouse-Lautrec’s images. Yet the focus does appear to be very much on the glamorous and luxurious aspects, on this idea of a cultural bloom before the First World War altered everything. It made me think about the backgrounds of the people in Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters, about the less glamorous, everyday lives of Parisians at the time. And it made me remember the few glimpses of their lives I have come across in newspapers. Image Such as here in L’Écho de Paris from 31 March 1886 where I was struck by the personal ads on page 4. Click here for the original on Gallica and a better resolution. Most of these are for jobs in service, not surprising considering the paper’s bourgeois audience. Demand for work greatly outnumbers the jobs on offer though and some of these ads are quite a depressing read: a 10 year old boy, a young single woman, an unemployed married man, all looking for a job. There’s a whole life behind these few words. What was their story? Did they get a job in the end? Life in service was not easy. Employers only had to give domestic servants 8 days notice if they wanted to get rid of them.[1] Salaries varied. Valets, coachmen and especially cooks could earn between 60 and 120 francs a month, but a ‘bonne à tout faire’, the general help, often earned little more than 1 franc a day.[2] The ‘fille de cuisine’, the kitchen maid, ‘should preferably never be seen.’ Still, it was better compared to many other options. Le Journal’s Saturday edition also had similar job and personal advertisements. Some are quite dubious. In the edition from 5 October 1895 an individual is advertising his range of ‘plusieures jeunes filles veuves et divorcées’ (several widowed and divorced young women). It is apparently up to the reader to guess what exactly these women were for. In other ads we encounter people who offer their money to make an investment or are seeking money from others to invest. Several are also from women who have fallen on hard times (or claim they have) such as in this one: jeune femme, du meill monde, honorable, tres gênée  moment. Par suite de malheurs, dés. Empr. 300 fr. d’une pers. Sér. Et discr. Rembours ! Ecr. G.K.E. Jnal. young woman, from very good family, honourable, very short of money at the moment, due to misfortunes, seeks to borrow 300 fr. From Serious and discreet person. Will repay! Write G.K.E. Jnal. (Le Journal, Saturday 5 October 1895) I wondered how many reactions she would have received. Was it a scam? Who knows. Either way, what this ad and others show was the continuous quest for some sort of social and economic stability, whether through employment, marriage or slightly more questionable transactions. There was no safety net, no security. One event – a divorce, a family death, a bad investment, redundancy – could plunge anyone into instant poverty. The festive colours of many well-known Belle Époque images also stand in great contrast to contemporary press photographs or Eugen Atget’s  album Zoniers (1913). See the original album here. Paris was expanding rapidly and couldn’t deal with the amount of people arriving in the capital looking for work. Photographers such as Atget and press agencies had begun to document the living conditions of people in the infamous zone, the slums all around the outskirts of the city. For an excellent visual, historical overview of the expansion of ‘la zone’ and Paris see Avant le périph’, la zone et les fortifs’ on the wonderful French blog Orion en aéroplanePhotography made these people visible to newspaper readers. Domestic servants were well off compared to the ‘zoniers’ who earned their money from recycling and selling small goods. One of the zone’s inhabitants was a woman who had once been a celebrated figure in the music-halls of 1890’s Paris. The singer Louise Weber, better known as La Goulue, was depicted at the height of her fame by Toulouse-Lautrec in several of his most famous posters. She went from being a celebrated Moulin Rouge star to spending the last years of her life in a caravan in one of the zones in Saint-Ouen, earning some money from selling snacks in nightclubs. Her obituary in Le Petit Parisien on 31 January 1929 movingly captures her trajectory from celebrity to poverty.

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Le Petit Parisien, 31/1/1929, Gallica

Often the images we see of the period uphold this myth of a carefree, optimistic, fabulous period in the history of the city of Paris. And that was certainly part of the city’s life. Yet personal ads, photos of ‘la zone’, La Goulue’s personal story also show us the other side of the splendour; the socio-economic insecurity many experienced around 1900. This was also the Belle Époque. Not so ‘belle’ for most people.

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Louise Weber in her glory years. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, La Goulue arriving at the Moulin Rouge, 1892.

Update 5 May 2014:

Today I took a stroll around the Cimetiére Montmartre where La Goulue is buried. Go left on the roundabout close to the entrance and her grave is almost immediately on your left. It is maintained. And judging from the little bracelet and the fresh flowers left there, she still has admirers today.

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Louise Weber’s grave at the Cimetiére Montmartre. Photo taken on 5 May 2014.

References:

[1] Paris-Parisien 1899, Paris, Ollendorff, p. 222.

[2] Ibid., p. 222

Mode et Beauté recommends: criminology, Madame Bovary, massage

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Mode et Beauté, December 1902, source: BnF/Gallica

On incomplete and failed hangings is the disturbing and strangely specific title of a book written by a certain Dr. Verse. Even stranger is that it is among a list of book titles recommended by fashion and women’s magazine Mode et Beauté in 1902. Find it here on BnF/Gallica.

I came across this list while doing research for a talk I gave a few months ago about Jean Lorrain’s newspaper articles. Now, Lorrain was infamous for his gossipy, decadent pieces and his fascination with death, sex, and crime. However I was a bit surprised to find a similar obsession in a magazine primarily devoted to fashion and beauty tips. In the December Christmas issue no less. Mothers killing their children, alcoholism, suicide, sexual assault: nothing better than a bit of light reading to get you through the holidays.

The magazine stressed that its heart was in the right place. As the editor explains: ‘We have created a bibliography for our readers, with works on philosophy, the occult, novels and – in these times of crime and murder – on criminology. We think it is good to share with our readers studies on these important issues. Knowing the causes of criminal development will serve to avoid the danger and help fight poverty, alcoholism and social degeneration.’

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The list of 107 titles for the library of Mode et Beauté’s readers, page 12.

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Detail from the list with a book on Oscar Wilde next to titles on child murders, vampires and failed hangings.

The list of 107 titles is truly fascinating, in particular because fiction is mentioned alongside non-fiction and scholarly literature. Most notable is Madame Bovary. The editors seem to suggest that Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Willy and Colette’s Claudine en ménage, Rachilde’s L’Heure sexuelle are on equal footing with ‘scientific’ studies such as Vampirisme, nécrophile, nécrosadisme, nécrophagie. It shows how at the time novels were still very much judged on their morals and their didactic value. And so were literary authors. Hence also the mention of Oscar Wilde whose life and the ‘affair’ are held up as a cautionary tale.

I used this list in my talk to illustrate the extent to which Decadent literature was intertwined in the press with contemporary medical theories and discourse on crime and sexuality. Scientific ideas were being popularised through literature and magazines like this influencing public opinion and perceptions on crime, class, gender and sexuality. Judging from some of these books titles tattoos for example were a clear sign of bad behaviour. 

For the respectable lady readers of Mode et Beauté these titles constituted dangerous reading. Yes, they are must-reads, ladies, but they must only be read as a warning to help you recognise and fight ‘social degradation’ Otherwise who knows. You might end up like Emma Bovary. Or Oscar Wilde. Or a vampire

Fortunately for the readers of Mode et Beauté this December issue wasn’t all doom and gloom. To make sure its female audience would not have the most depressing Christmas and New Year ever, the magazine also recommended this wonderful electric massage tool on page 7, made especially for ladies and their lady parts. Happy holidays indeed!

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According to Mode et Beauté the possibilities of this massage tool are endless.

A Rave Review from 1904: Celebrating Colette’s Birthday

Today marks the anniversary of Colette’s birthday so I thought I would celebrate by sharing this enthusiastic 1904 review of her work I stumbled across some time ago.

In the early 1900’s Colette and her then husband Willy were much talked about figures in the press. The Claudine series, which appeared under Willy’s name, had been a huge, commercial succes. Journalists loved the fact that these scandalous novels cleverly blurred the lines between fiction and autobiography. The books made Willy and Colette literary stars -although not always taken seriously by the literary establishment – as well as regular features of the gossip columns.

However, Colette’s first solo authored book was Dialogues des bêtes (1904). In these stories her beloved pets do the talking. As a slightly obsessive cat lover, I have always had a weak spot for both Colette and this book. The dialogues convey not only Colette’s subtle sense of humour, but also her great love of animals. Critics in 1904 felt the same. In fact, the book marked an important turning point in Colette’s literary career. Over the years she would  become one of France’s most successful authors and journalists.  Dialogues des bêtes received mostly rave reviews when it appeared such as here in La Revue illustrée from 15 May 1904 accompanied by a wonderful photograph of the author (Source: BnF/Gallica)

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‘Mme Colette Willy vient d’écrire un petit chef d’oeuvre’ (Mme Colette Willy has written a small masterpiece), the reviewer writes.

What better way to celebrate Colette’s birthday than to celebrate her work?

What do the Bristol Rovers, the Tour de France, agressive Futurists, and forgotten female poets have in common? *

One of the beauties and one of the dangers of using digital archives is that a random keyword search can lead you on a fascinating journey through the past in which apparently random events suddenly seem surprisingly connected.

A while ago I typed ‘Bristol’ into Gallica for no other reason than that I happen to live there. One of the first things that came up was this photograph of Bristol Rovers playing Southampton in the Parc des Princes stadium –then primarily a velodrome – in March 1909. 

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Curious to find out why they played there and who won, I Googled ‘Parc des Princes 1909’. Many results were about the Tour de France since the race always finished in the Parc des Princes until the 1960’s. Here is another photographic treasure from Gallica showing the exhausted winner of the last stage of the 1909 Tour and third overall, Frenchman Jean Alavoine, being held on his bicycle by flowers and men with facial hair.

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But a lot more was happening in 1909 in the Parc des Princes. A month after the Bristol Rovers-Southampton match the poet F.T. Marinetti, leader of the Futurists, duelled writer and critic Charles Henri-Hirsch in the stadium on 16 April. Hirsch had not only been very critical of Marinetti’s play Le Roi Bombance, but had also suggested that Marinetti was having an affair with Jane Catulle Mendès. Catulle Mendès? Yes, that’s right, this one. And also this one, the one who always drank Vin Mariani when writing newspaper articles.

Jane Catulle Mendès was however not just someone’s wife and mistress. She was also a writer. In fact she was a prize-winning poet in her time, but she seems to have been completely forgotten by literary history. No wonder perhaps with all those drunk, aggressive male poets around her. Here is Jane on a publicity photograph from 1909 (source: Gallica) looking like someone had just told her that she would not make the canon of French literature:

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The duel in the Parc des Princes ended when Hirsch was wounded on his arm. Marinetti was victorious and no doubt relished the publicity generated by his fight with Hirsch. Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto had only recently appeared on 20 February in Le Figaro.

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Marinetti probably also loved the symbolic value of him, the Futurist, having literally and aggressively defeated the ‘old’ literary crowd embodied by Hirsch. Word of the duel and of Marinetti’s new, artistic movement even reached the New Zealand Evening Post on 2 June 1909 in which the two men are aptly described as ‘fighting cocks’.

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Football, Tour de France, duels, avant-garde: the Parc des Princes in 1909 as a place of macho modernity. Marinetti and the Futurists would have approved. Hirsch and Jane Catulle Mendès probably not so much.

Perhaps digital archives and random keyword searches can lead you to see connections and meanings that never existed. Then again, they might turn out to be a lot of fun.

*Answer: The Parc des Princes in 1909/random keyword search

Where to get condoms and pornography in 1902? In Le Frou-Frou!

I might be alone in this, but when reading about life in the Belle Époque I always wondered how people got away with having affairs or how for example prostitutes could do their jobs without getting pregnant or sexually transmitted diseases all the time?

Even though this period -like any other period – was fascinated with sex, people could not not discuss the intimate and practical details of their sex lives openly. Unwanted pregnancies or diseases were a serious problem in the nineteenth century and campaigns by a progressive minority for birth control and sex education were still in their infancy. Yet that did not mean that birth control, condoms, pornography or sex toys did not exist of course. These had existed in some shape or form (no pun intended) for centuries. But where did people find them?

Well,  in Le Frou-Frou apparently.

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Poster by Leonetto Cappiello for Le Frou-Frou (1899)

Le Frou-Frou (meaning frilly or fancy) was, as its title suggests, a light-hearted paper, one of the many humorist journals of the period. The magazine reflected the slightly risqué, Moulin Rouge atmosphere of 1890’s Paris and advertised itself through colourful posters of alluring can-can dancers. Its pages are filled with cartoons, humorist anecdotes on Parisian life or theatre, and lots of publicity.

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Le Frou-Frou 12 April 1902
Source: BnF/Gallica

What struck me most was a recurring section of wonderfully euphemistic advertisements such as the ones on 12 April 1902 for: ‘appareils spéciaux pour l’hygiéne intime des deux sexes et la préservation des maladies’ (special equipment for the intimate hygiene of both sexes and the prevention of diseases), for ‘usage intime caoutchouc’ (rubber intimate use),’photos suggestives, idéales, d’une pureté troublante’ (suggestive, perfect photographs, of arousing purity) or for ‘use musée secret, ultra-galant'(a secret museum, extremely seductive). All of the products are available by discreet mail order and can be send abroad and to the colonies as well. These also include products to make women’s breasts more opulent and firm, or elixirs to cure impotence and frigidity. There also ads for mid wives offering to treat ‘maladie des dames’ (ladies’ diseases) which might suggest women could go there to get an abortion.

Le Frou Frou appareils

It is easy  for us to laugh at the way these ads are phrased. Yet they make clear that there was a strong demand for these products at a time when prostitution was rife, women were ostracised for having an illegitimate child, men died from syphilis, and sex in general was very much taboo.

A positive effect of the rise of mass media and advertising in the nineteenth century was that it made these products and services more easily available to a larger audience, at least for those with some money and access to newspapers. Advertising and seemingly superficial magazines like Le Frou-Frou played their own small part in providing access to birth control and in enabling people to enjoy sex. 

Want to start your own literary salon? Don’t be too beautiful says Le Figaro

Ladies, if you are thinking of starting a literary salon, make sure you are not too beautiful. This is the sound advice of ‘un indiscret’ (an indiscrete one) in Le Figaro from 9 October 1901. A woman who is too pretty will only be the unwanted centre of attention, because all the other women will be jealous of your beauty and all the men will be attracted to you. Even worse, the level of conversation will drop to an unacceptable standard.

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Une chanson de Gibert dans le salon de madame Madeleine Lemaire (1891) by Pierre-George Jeanniot -Source: Wikimedia Commons

After these wise words, our indiscreet columnist then lists some of the most notable salons in Paris 1901. This includes that of Madeleine Lemaire, painter and society hostess extraordinaire, who launched the career of many artists including that of Marcel Proust and who famously served as one of the models for Mme Verdurin in Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. The anonymous columnist in Le Figaro calls her salon ‘the most pittoresk’, because ‘every segment of society is represented there’. People are reciting verses by M. de Montesquiou or Marcel Proust, ‘women are singing songs by Raynaldo (sic) Hahn’, ‘Sarah Bernhardt recites poetry’. ‘Right and left, high finance and aristocracy, society ladies and great artists all mingle here.’ Read the article in French on Gallica here.

Madeleine Lemaire would have no doubt been pleased to read on the front page of Le Figaro that it must have been her mediocre looks that made her salon so successful.

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Madeleine Lemaire is not amused (photographed by Nadar in 1891)

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