Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The Pretty Women of Paris
The Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge, the Paris Exposition all opened that year.
Electric lights also went on for the first time in many Paris theatres, department stores, and railway stations. Paris was a busy place and even busier for les filles de joie, prostitutes.
Imagine lounging on soft, scoop sofas in filmy lingerie, eating Bossier bonbons and marzipan, and waiting for handsome gentlemen to call. Hmm…sounds like the brothel I created in my Spice novel, Naughty Paris. Ah, but that was fiction, frothy and sugary with a twist of the erotic to rev up the libido. Or was it?
To the gentlemen who frequented these establishments, the brothels of Paris evoked a sense of glamour not usually associated with prostitution. Les grandes horizantales (no translation needed) or dégrafées, unhooked ones, could perform every sexual trick in the book without so much as breaking a corset string.
Which reminds me. No demi-mondaine, courtesan, would be caught without her corset when a gentleman took her upstairs. Adjusting the wires, setting the whalebones, lacing up the back--many a customer lamented why she went to so much trouble when he had every intention of removing it. Her answer? It was more fun taking it off.
But which girl could do…or who was better at….? How did the gentleman decide which girl to choose? Especially if he were visiting from across the Channel? Simple. He did as all tourists do: he consulted his guidebook.
"The Pretty Women of Paris" was published privately in 1883 for members of the "principal Parisian clubs" and later as "The Pleasures of Paris: A complete list of its Licensed Brothels or 'Maisons de Tolerance.' " The guide was limited to 169 copies.
Here's a sample of the "girls" from "The Pretty Women of Paris:"
Marie Bergé...exceedingly nice, petite, fair, and although born in 1861, looks like an innocent girl of sixteen. Should not be neglected, especially as she possesses a very charming pair of bubbies.
[And this was before breast implants. Imagine what a little silicone could do…]
Léona Cellié: Her original Christian name, Marie, was too common for her, she changed it as above, and from a brunette became a blonde…
[And we thought only our hairdresser knew…]
Juliette Darcourt…there is no nonsense about this actress of the Nouveantés Théâtre as she is always ready to start a new amour, provided that the new admirer has a proper balance at his bankers…
This is but a small sampling of what "The Pretty Women of Paris" had to offer: nearly every entry mentions the girl's physical attributes, age, where she came from, her talents, and her sexual preferences ("…she is gifted with a lustful temperament, so that her passions often prove stronger than her mind and lead her to try all kind of tricks and capers to prolong and intensify the pleasures of copulation.")
Has Paris changed since La Belle Époque? The rules of seduction have changed somewhat. Where the demi-mondaines once ruled the bedroom, the modern Parisienne is in charge of boudoir antics (French couples have sex 8.9 times a month) and that includes sex toys. Sales of vibrators, dildos, ben-wa balls, even edible underwear in all shapes, makes, and colors are taking off in Paris and are available in small shops as well as on the shelves of Le Printemps department store.
To the gentleman of Paris 1889, I have one thing to say:
Edible corset, anyone?