Evils of the Victorian Chignon in the Late 1800s

Parisian hairstyles of 1870. Author’s collection.

There were many fashion evils during the late 1800s, but the evils of the Victorian chignon were said to be the worst. A chignon was a hairstyle that had a knot or coil of hair arranged and worn low at the back of a woman’s head or at the nape of the neck. However, by the 1890s the chignon’s placement was higher on the head and the styles between the 1870s and 1890s were also more feminine and elaborate.

The main objection to the Victorian chignon seemed to be that they were not created from a woman’s real hair. Rather they were composed of false hair pieces that one person designated “hirsute deceptions.” Another person noted that they were “an offense against elevated morality, because, though they deceive nobody, they are intended to deceive, and deceit in any form is an offense against sound morals.”[1] There was also this gem, “‘Glory of a woman is in her hair’ … but nothing is said about the glory being attainable by the use of somebody else’s hair.”[2] In fact, hair pieces were so popular one contemporary writer of today notes: Continue reading

A Curious Love in 1804

Love is often consider inexplicable, and one story of curious love involved two people who fell in love in 1804. However, this story is not your typical love story. The story begins in Toulouse, France, when a tribunal was held on 18 November, and the following was printed by one newspaper about a month later:

A young peasant, of the name of LA FAY, of the department of Arriege, fell in love with MARIA ARIGNI, in the parish of Cassaigne. She was a young girl of property, and LA FAY possessed nothing: he dared, therefore, not pay his addresses to her or demand her in the usual manner. Love, however, inspired him with a fraud to make her his wife, both without her own and her relations consent. Continue reading

Napoleon’s Military Carriage at Madame Tussaud’s

The capture of Napoleon’s carriage by Major von Keller. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

Among the many relics at Madame Tussaud’s was Napoleon’s military carriage used by him on many of his campaigns and while he was exiled on Elba. The carriage had been captured at Genappe during the Waterloo campaign. The French overturned cannons and carriages and from behind these barricades, they fired muskets attempting to stop the Prussians. However, it was the Prussian horse-artillery that dispersed the French, and “the town was taken, along with Napoleon’s traveling carriage, private papers, hat and sword.”[1] Continue reading

Nine Firsts Accomplished in France in the 1700s

Louis XIV. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The 1700s included such events as Louis XIV dying of gangrene and his 5-year-old grandson succeeding him on the throne as Louis XV. There was also the Treaty of the Hague signed by France and its allies that ended the War of the Quadruple Alliance. When Louis XV died on 10 May 1774, Louis XVI became king. It was under Louis XVI that France recognized the American colonies and waged war against the United Kingdom in the Americas. Unfortunately, for Louis XVI he was beheaded and so was his wife, Marie Antoinette. More tumult occurred with the Coup of 18 Brumaire when General Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the French Directory and replaced it with the French Consulate. However, these events were not the only interesting events that happened in France in the 1700s. There were also nine interesting firsts accomplished in France in the 1700s. They included a couple of balloon firsts, firsts related to art, medicine, and inventions, a story of mythical beast, and the idea of mass conscription. Continue reading

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Mother: Letizia Ramolino

Napoleon Bonaparte's mother
Napoleon’s Mother, Letizia Ramolino. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s mother, Letizia Ramolino was a sensible, pragmatic, domineering, and no-nonsense mother, and even after Napoleon became Emperor, she still acted like his mother. To demonstrate, once when Napoleon presented his hand for her to kiss, she flung it at him and presented her own hand instead. Although Napoleon and his mother had their differences with one another, Napoleon still respected her and once said of her, “She has always been an excellent woman, a mother without an equal; she deserved all reverence.”[1]

Perhaps, Napoleon felt that way based partly on what his mother Letizia once wrote about her early life, marriage, and children: Continue reading

A Satirical Description of Voltaire

Voltaire, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Voltaire, Courtesy of Wikipedia

François-Marie Arouet, simply known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a well-known eighteenth century French Enlightenment writer who became famous for his wit. He was also known for criticizing French institutions, religious dogma, and the Catholic Church. He was frequently thought of as fascinating and because of this fascination, “a great prince” wrote a satirical description of him in the eighteenth century that was transmitted to a magazine by an “ingenious Correspondent of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin.”

Here is that satirical description (almost) verbatim. Continue reading

Madame Tussaud’s Mentor: Philippe Mathé Curtius

Philippe Mathé Curtius. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Philippe Mathé Curtius was a doctor living in Bern, Switzerland. He was also a bachelor and hired a domestic servant, who was the widowed mother of Anne-Marie Grosholtz (the future Madame Tussaud). While living in Bern, Curtius became interested in providing anatomical models for medical students and began to create miniature flesh-tinted models from wax for study purposes. These tiny anatomical replicas initially sparked local interest. News also spread about Curtius’s realistic wax models, and among those who learned of his wax models was the French Prince of Conti, a cousin to Louis XV and a celebrated art collector.

When the Prince of Conti visited Bern, he decided to see Curtius’s models for himself. He was so impressed that he proposed a financially beneficial patronage to Curtius but required Curtius to move to Paris. The offer was appealing enough to cause Curtius to renounce the medical profession, pack up his belongings, and settle in Paris in the Rue St. Honoré. When Curtius left Bern in 1765, he also left behind Marie and her mother. However, when Marie was about six years old, she and her mother joined Curtius in the bustling city of Paris. Continue reading

Interesting French Headlines From the Early 1800s

French Newspapers and Headlines. Public Domain.

There was always something interesting happening in France in the early 1800s. Among the headlines was information about Louis Braille, who was blinded as a child and who first presented his writing system for the blind, known as Braille, in 1824 to his peers. Another invention publicized was achieved by physician René Laennec in 1816. He invented the stethoscope at a hospital in Paris after rolling up a quire of paper into a cylinder and apply one end to the person’s heart and the other end to his ear. There was also the idea of canning that was invented by Nicolas Appert in 1809. But there were many other interesting things besides inventions that were grabbing French headlines. Headline grabbers included a vicious hail storm, custom problems, a murder in Albi, a suicide and murder in Lyons, a New Year’s poisoning attempt, Charles X’s hunting activities, and a crazed wolf. Continue reading

Jean-Lambert Tallien

Jean-Lambert Tallien. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Jean-Lambert Tallien was born in Paris on 23 January 1767 to an Italian maître d’hôtel working for the Marquis de Bercy. The Marquis noticed Tallien’s abilities, educated him, and placed him as a law clerk. Tallien soon left the position, began working at a printer’s office, and by 1791 was overseeing the Count of Provence’s printing department.

Tallien became more well-known to revolutionaries after the King was arrested. It was then that Tallien placarded large poster on Paris walls twice a week under the title of Ami des Citoyens, journal fraternal. He also organized the Fête de la Liberté on 15 April 1792 to celebrate the release of soldiers of Chateau-Vieux.

Tall and imposing in appearance, Tallien was only 24 years old when he was elected to the National Convention in 1792. He soon took a seat on the high benches with the radical members of the Montagnards and was in the thick of everything. He promoted the insurrection on 10 August, supported the September Massacres of 1792, spearhead opposition to the King, voted for the King’s death, and helped to overthrow the Girondins. Continue reading

Silhouettes and Étienne de Silhouette

Example of a Silhouette. Public Domain.

Silhouettes acquired their name from a French minister of finance under Louis XV named Étienne de Silhouette. De Silhouette had studied finance and economics and had spent a year in London learning about the British economy. According to one nineteenth century reporter, de Silhouette “introduced several parsimonious fashions during his administration a la Silhouette,”[1] and among these parsimonious fashions was severe taxes.

It began in 1760 when de Silhouette forecast a bleak budget and attempted to restore the finances of the kingdom using the English method of taxing the rich and privileged. He devised what was called “general subvention,” or in other words, any signs of external wealth (luxury goods, servants, etc.) were taxed. He went further when he became melting down gold and silver and criticized the nobility (including Voltaire) who objected to his extreme taxation measures. Continue reading