III. MANNERS

Like almost everything else, manners felt the swing of the pendulum to revolt and return. As the aristocracy fled before the leveling storm they took with them their lordly titles, courteous address, perfumed language, flowery signatures, confident ease, and leisurely grace. Soon the suavity of the salon, the decorum of the dance, and the diction of the Academy became stigmata of the nobility, which might incur, for their practitioners, detention as suspect antediluvians who had escaped the flood.35 By the end of 1792 all Frenchmen in France had become citoyens, all Frenchwomen citoyennes, in careful equality; no one was Monsieured or Madamed; and the courtly vous of singular address was replaced by the tu and toi of the home and the street. Nevertheless, as early as 1795, thistutoiement was passing out of style, vous was back in fashion, Monsieur and Madame were displacing Citoyen and Citoyenne.36 Under Napoleon, titles reappeared; by 1810 there were more of them than ever before.

Dress changed more slowly. The well-to-do male had long since adopted, and now refused to discard, the once noble accouterment of the three-cornered high-crowned hat, silk shirt, flowing bow tie, colored and embroidered waistcoat, full-dress coat reaching to the knee, breeches ending at various levels below the knees, silk stockings, and square-toed buckled shoes. In 1793 the Committee of Public Safety tried to “modify the present national costume, so as to render it appropriate to republican habits and the character of the Revolution”;37 but only the lower middle class adopted the long trousers of the workingmen and tradesmen. Robespierre himself continued to dress like a lord, and nothing surpassed in splendor the official costumes of the Directors, paced by Barras. Not till 1830 did pantaloons win the battle against knee breeches (culottes). Only the sansculottes wore the red bonnet of revolution, and the carmagnole.*

The dress of women was affected by the Revolution’s belief that it was following in the footsteps of republican Rome and Periclean Greece. Jacques-Louis David, who dominated French art from 1789 to 1815, took classic heroes for his early subjects, and dressed them in classic styles. So the fashionable women of Paris, after the fall of the puritan Robespierre, discarded petticoats and chemises, and adopted as their principal garment a simple flowing gown transparent enough to reveal most of the soft contours that charmed the never satiated male. The waistline was unusually high, supporting the breasts; the neckline was low enough to offer an ample sample; and the sleeves were short enough to display enticing arms. Caps were replaced by bandeaux, and high-heeled shoes by heelless slippers. Doctors reported the deaths of gaily dressed women who had been exposed, at the theater or on promenade, to the quickly falling temperature of Paris evenings.38 Meanwhile the Incroyables and the Merveilleuses—Unbelievable male and Marvelous female dandies—labored to win attention by extravagant garb. One group of women, appearing in male attire before the Council of the Paris Communes in 1792, received a gentle reprimand from Chaumette, its procureur général: “You rash women, who want to be men, aren’t you content with your lot as it is? What more do you want? You dominate our senses; the legislator and the magistrate are at your feet, your despotism is the only one our strength cannot combat, because it is the despotism of love, and consequently a work of nature. In the name of that very nature, remain as nature intended you.”39

Women, however, were sure they could improve upon nature. In an advertisement in the Moniteur for August 15, 1792, Mme. Broquin announced that she had not yet run out of her “famous powder for dyeing red or white hair chestnut or black, on a single application.”40 If necessary, unsatisfactory hair was covered with a wig—made, in many cases, from the cut tresses of guillotined young women.41 In 1796 it was quite ordinary for men of the upper and middle strata to wear their hair long and in a braid.42

During the first two years of the Revolution the 800,000 population of Paris carried on its usual life, with only incidental attention to what was going on in the Assembly or the jails. Life was pleasant enough then for the upper classes: families continued to exchange visits and dinners, to attend dances, parties, concerts, and plays. Even during the violent period between the September Massacres of 1792 and the fall of Robespierre in July 1794, when there were 2,800 executions in Paris, life for nearly all the survivors went its customary round of work and play, of sexual pursuit and parental love. Sébastien Mercier reported in 1794:

Foreigners reading our newspapers imagine us all covered with blood, in rags, and living wretched lives. Judge of their surprise when they reach that magnificent avenue in the Champs Elysées, on either side of which are elegant phaetons and charming, lovely women; and then … that magical perspective opening out over the Tuileries and … those splendid gardens, now more luxuriant and better tended than ever!43

There were games—ball games, tennis, riding, horse races, athletic contests … There were amusement parks like the Tivoli Gardens, where—like twelve thousand others on a pleasant day—you could get your fortune told, buy dispensables in the boutiques, watch fireworks, tight-rope walkers, or balloon ascensions, hear concerts, or put your youngsters on the merry-go-round to play the jeu de bagues (catching the rings). You might sit in an open-air café, or under the pavilion of the Café de Foy, or in a high-class café like Tortoni’s or Frascati’s, or follow the tourists into night spots like the Caveau (Cellar), or the Sauvage, or Les Aveugles (where blind musicians entertained). You could go to a club to read or chat or hear political debate. You could attend one of the complex and colorful festivals organized by the state and decorated by famous artists like David. If you wished to try the new dance—the waltz—just imported from Germany, you could find a partner in some one of the three hundred public ballrooms in the Paris of the Directory.44

Now (1795), in the subsiding years of the Revolution, some émigrés were allowed to return; hidden nobles ventured from their protective lairs, and the bourgeoisie displayed its wealth in expensive homes and furniture, in jeweled women and lavish entertainments. The people of Paris emerged from their apartments and tenements to sample the sun or the evening air in the gardens of the Tuileries or the Luxembourg, or along the Champs-Élysées. Women blossomed out in their recklessly charming costumes, their pictured fans that said more than words, their gracefully shaped shoes that made concealed feet alluring. “Society” revived.

But the hundred or so families that now constituted it were not the pedigreed gentry and world-famous philosophes who had sparkled in the salons of pre-Revolution nights; they were mostly the nouveaux-riches who had garnered livres from ecclesiastical realty, army contracts, mercantile monopolies, financial finesse, or political friends. Some scattered survivors from Bourbon days came to the homes of Mme. de Genlis or the widows Condorcet and Helvétius; but most of the salons that opened after the death of Robespierre (Mme. de Staël’s circle excepted) had no talent for brilliant conversation, and lacked the ease that in older times had come from long security in landed wealth. The top salon now was the one that met in the comfortable rooms of Director Barras in the Luxembourg Palace, or at his Château de Grosbois; and its allure was not in the lore of philosophers but in the beauty and smiles of Mmes. Tallien and Josephine de Beauharnais.

Josephine was not yet Bonaparte, and Mme. Tallien was no longer Tallien’s wife. Married to him on December 26, 1794, and acclaimed for a while as “Notre Dame de Thermidor,” she had left the fading Terrorist soon afterward, and had become the mistress of Barras. Some journalists gibed at her morals, but most of them returned her smiles, for there was nothing haughty in her beauty, and she was known for many kindnesses to women as well as to men. The Duchesse d’Abrantès described her later as “the Capitoline Venus, but even more lovely than the work of Pheidias; for you perceived in her the same perfection of features, the same symmetry in arms, hands, and feet, the whole animated by a benevolent expression.”45*It was one virtue of Barras that he was generous to her and to Josephine, appreciated their beauty in no merely sexual way, shared it, in his receptions, with hundreds of potential rivals, and put his blessing upon Napoleon’s capture of Josephine.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!