There are certain animosities in history that seem to persist century after century, unshaken through war and peace. The English have never had much use for the French, and the French in turn don't have much regard for the English. One of the most damning ways any 18th-19th c. English caricaturist could ridicule his subject was to "Frenchify" him or her.
But what's sauce for the goose is also sauce for le jars. While English artists like Gillray and Rowlandson were busily creating effete, frog-laden images of the French, the French were sharpening their own drawing-pens as well. While we've seen examples of elegant French people swimming in Le Supreme Bon Ton, the same artists were being, ahh, inspired by English tourists visiting Paris.
The French couple, above, is shown as graceful and elegant (with the lady displaying considerable decolletage), and in the middle of a quintessentially French flirtation. But stolid John Bull is a tedious family man. He clearly over-indulges in heavy English food and wears wrinkled, old-fashioned-country-squire dress, while his ladies are likewise shown in grimly unflattering clothes and exaggerated bonnets (which we last saw in another Bon Toncartoon; now I'm thinking that those couples must have been English, too.) Mrs. Bull is hatchet-faced, and both she and her daughters are obviously corseted and pointedly unalluring, with nary a seductive curve in sight. To call them stodgy would be kind. The oldest Miss Bull turns back to look with longing at the French gentleman, and it's clear that she'd be agreeable to his advances if he'd only deign to notice her – and, of course, if she could be pried free of her family.
A further note on foreign interpretations: We NHGs do have a weakness for beaux and macaronis in all their painted 18th c. glory, but we'd never imagined the latest permutation of macaroni-dom. Apparently MTV will be launching the Jersey Shore on an unsuspecting Japanese public next spring. While their marketing teams found that Japanese viewers are eager for this latest glimpse into the idiocy of Americans (doubtless confirming a great many of their own stereotypes, and, really, who can blame them?), the delicate connotations of the title were lost in translation. Further explanation was needed. Thus when the show makes it debut in Japan, it will have a subtitle: Jersey Shore – the New Jersey Life of Macaroni Rascals.
Not even we could make that up....
Above: La famille Anglaise a Paris, published in Le Supreme Bon Ton No. 11 by Aaron Martinet, Paris, 1800-1805.
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.