I had occasion to reopen my yellowed copy of Fanny Trollope’sParis 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."
Above is Frances Trollope. Below is an 1835 French Lady, Marie J. Lafont-Porcher
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.