Friday, April 2, 2010

They do it differently in France

Friday, April 2, 2010
Loretta reports:

I had occasion to reopen my yellowed copy of Fanny Trollope’s  Paris and the Parisians recently, and was reminded what a delightful account she offers of Paris in 1835.  I suggest you read the entire Letter XXXV —which I have had to hack up mercilessly below.  It points out a very interesting cultural difference.

By this time, in England, arranged marriages were a thing of the past, but not in France.  This led to some interesting differences in social behavior.  In France, Fanny tells us, the unmarried girls are the last to get dancing partners.  It’s the married women—and many of them no spring chickens—to whom all the young gallants flock.  She discusses this oddity with an unnamed French woman of her acquaintance, who asks, "Will you then have the kindness to explain to me the difference in this respect between France and England ?"

Fanny: " The only difference between us which I mean to advocate is, that with us the amusement which throws young people together under circumstances the most likely, perhaps, to elicit expressions of gallantry and admiration from the men, and a gracious reception of them from the women, is considered as befitting the single rather than the married part of the community."

 " With us, indeed, it is exactly the reverse," replied she,—" at least as respects the young ladies. By addressing the idle, unmeaning gallantry inspired by the dance to a young girl, we should deem the cautious delicacy of restraint in which she is enshrined transgressed and broken in upon. A young girl should be given to her husband before her passions have been awakened or her imagination excited by the voice of gallantry.…When a girl is first married, her feelings, her thoughts, her imagination, are wholly occupied by her husband. Her mode of education has ensured this; and afterward it is at the choice of her husband whether he will secure and retain her young heart for himself. In no country have husbands so little reason to complain of their wives as in France ; for in no country does the manner in which they live with them depend so wholly on themselves.”

After politely debating which country has got it all wrong, the Unnamed Lady concludes:  “…as we go on exchanging fashions so amicably, who knows but we may live to see your young ladies shut up a little more, while their mothers and fathers look out for a suitable marriage for them, instead of inflicting the awkward task upon themselves?* And in return, perhaps, our young wives may lay aside their little coquetries, and become mères respectables somewhat earlier than they do now. But, in truth, they all come to it at last."

*Italics mine.

Above is Frances Trollope.  Below is an 1835 French Lady, Marie J. Lafont-Porcher

12 comments:

Undine said...

You know, I have to thank you for that post. I've been having a rather rotten week, but reading the above has reminded me that, whatever problems I may have with this modern world of ours, at least I'm not a 19th century French girl. (Even if they did dress a whole lot better than I do.)

Have you ever read accounts of the 1847 murder of the Duchess de Praslin? The case, which was a huge scandal at the time (she was killed by her husband, who committed suicide before he could be arrested,)provides interesting insights into French society of that era.

nightsmusic said...

By addressing the idle, unmeaning gallantry inspired by the dance to a young girl, we should deem the cautious delicacy of restraint in which she is enshrined transgressed and broken in upon. A young girl should be given to her husband before her passions have been awakened or her imagination excited by the voice of gallantry.…When a girl is first married, her feelings, her thoughts, her imagination, are wholly occupied by her husband.

Well...in this case, I think they were living in denial, but that's just me. After all, the world still revolves and although the Unnamed Lady had altruistic thoughts about the naivete of their young girls, those same young girls didn't live with paper bags over their heads either.

Very, very interesting 'clash' of cultures. I think I'd have preferred to be an English lady though. ;o)

Alexa Adams said...

I feel immensely thankful that the Unnamed Lady's prediction proved false and that on this issue French fashion did not prevail.

Jane O said...

Thank you so much for reminding me about this book! I do enjoy Fanny Trollope.

LorettaChase said...

Undine, I know I read about some French crimes of passion for one of my books, but this name doesn't ring a bell. Now you've got me curious...__ Theo, I really did wonder when I read that. Elsewhere she points out that girls are married much younger in France--by 17--and I believe they were usually convent-educated--and yet I can't help wondering if she was overlooking reality in favor of pronouncing the superiority of the French way of doing things. *g*___ Alexa, you and moi both. ___ Jane O, I was delighted to remind myself! I'd forgotten what a delight her books are. Whether or not you agree with her observations, she has a distinctive, lively, opinionated, but sharply observant style. Other travel accounts can be drudgery to read, but not Fanny, for all her 19th C archness and indirect, complicated sentences.

Lauren said...

That French system certainly worked out well for Emma Bovary, didn't it?

Undine said...

Sorry if this is getting a bit OT, but if Fanny gave anyone a taste for the darker side of that era, I remembered a story that was even more illuminating--that of Marie Lafarge. She was a respectable, well-brought-up young Parisian whose family married her off to a complete stranger (through a matrimonial bureau.) He had represented himself as a wealthy industrialist, but, in truth, he was flat busted. When, about two minutes after the ceremony, Marie realized she had been sold a pup, she resolved her problems by baking her new husband a cake liberally seasoned with arsenic. Oh, yes, and she was also a jewel thief on the side. Wrote a very interesting memoir when she was in prison.

She may have been an extreme case, but, I'm telling you, reading about Marie's escapades taught me more about French society of the time than a thousand textbooks ever could.

Mme.Tresbeau said...

I love this portrait of the Frenchwoman and how extravagantly she is dressed. The summer dress with the fur boa, the cameo bracelets on her upper arms, over her sleeves, the eyeglasses in her hand (which may also explain her unfocussed gaze, and her crazy-lady- hair-style) Strange and wonderful!

Pauline said...

Wonderful post, ladies. Both my daughters have read it and they join me in thanking our ancestors for high-tailing it to Louisiana in the 18th century!

LorettaChase said...

Undine, I found the one of the murder books I'd used years ago. It includes Marie LaFarge's story. Victorian Murderesses: A True History of Thirteen Respectable French and English Women Accused of Unspeakable Crimes. Author is Mary S. Hartman.___Mme. Tresbeau, I love that Frenchwoman! Susan pointed out the contrast between the two portraits: one does seem so very English and one so very French.___Pauline, I'm glad I got to pick my own, too, though arranged marriages worked out well elsewhere in my family. For an interesting present-day study of the subject, you might want to watch the movie Arranged.

wafflewedge said...

Mrs.Trollope wrote a scurrilous book about America in 1832. In it she decried the overly familiar manner in which her neighbors in Cincinnati attempted to approach her. What a laugh. Home owners with bankers accounts being overly familiar with the broken down denizen of a swamp (Neshoba on the Mississippi)a trades-woman who had to flee Harrow on Hill one jump ahead of her creditors, or be thrown into Fleet debtors prison. And the british reading public lapped it up.

Reuben Hart said...

The case of the murder of the duchess de Paslin seems to be the basis for the Bette Davis film 'All This And Heaven Too. The murdered wife in that movie was called the duchess de Praslin, played by Barbara McNeill.

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