Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

As we head into 1782 in the blog, and 2012 in the rest of the world, I wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very happy New Year! May it fulfill the promise of all your hopes, and the trials be but small reminders of your good fortune. Salut!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Court Presentation in France- Part 2

Back in Part 1 of this series I told you about a wonderful document I had found in french about court presentation. As promised, I am working on translating the whole thing for you and, because it is rather long, I will present it in short segments.

Historical Notice
About
The Honors of the Court

Proofs of the Court
"To be presented previously to the court of France, it was necessary to obtain the approval of the king by one’s high birth, one’s post, one’s services, or one’s talents. There was no precise rule about the choice or limiting the number of admissions. The difficulty of the trip and the customs at that time nearly universal amongst the nobility then living, in time of peace, of retiring to their castles in the heart of their province, prevented the majority of the gentlemen of honor from being admitted to the court and restricted to a very small number the requests for presentation. However the magnificence and the pleasures which surrounded Louis had brought to Versailles the centralization of the French nobility, all the members of those orders fervently aspiring to approach to the throne and to partake of the grace and the favor that the generous liberality of the prince lavished on the courtiers. The salons, the galleries of the palace were not nearly large enough for the receptions, and the coaches which followed His Majesty on the hunt, nor enough for the number of ladies of the court. It became urgent to remedy this predicament and particularly to do right by the demands of the high nobility, who claimed the exclusive privilege to approach the sovereign. So it was the middle-class about whom he was advised."

To be continued...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 29th, 1781

None of my invitations yielded any houseguests for Christmas day, but there is still the possibility of Andre visiting. He is a terrible correspondant and takes almost as long to answer a letter as Matthieu does, which is to say that Matthieu almost never answers at all but rather sends his reply by way of Maman's letters.

It would have been a very lonely Christmas, if not for three surprises. The first was a letter from Thierry in Venice full of all the most tender words a husband may have for his wife, and with it a portrait miniature of himself, which I wear on a ribbon around my neck, tucked beneathe my fichu.

The second was an invitation from Msr. Poisson (to whom I have paid a great deal of money for this purpose) to a salon at his home where Msr and Mme Lavoisier will be in attendance, and he promises me an introduction. The salon is tomorrow, and I do hope may furnish the answers to some questions, and perhaps help to bring Thierry home.

The third surprise was the first payment from the new Baron and his family who have moved into Opme Castle. With it I am free from financial worry for the first time in a long while.

I have invited Clementine and her mother to tea after New Years day, and promised that we shall be quite alone. Hopefully that will encourage Mme de Rodez to allow the visit, and I may find some way to get Clementine alone.

Olympe, Comtesse

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Victor Hugo on the Guillotine

I'm reading Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, and I came across a part where Hugo talks about the experience of actually seeing the guillotine in use. I found it fascinating and from his writing surmised that he must have seen it himself. This led me to wonder when the guillotine ceased to be used in France, since Hugo was writing in the mid-19th century, and the answer shocked me; 1977. The last public beheading by guillotine was in 1939, and the last one to take place behind prison walls was not until 1977, just a few years before the death penalty was abolished in France.

Here's what Victor Hugo had to say:-
"One may feel a certain indifference to the death penalty, one may refrain from pronouncing upon it, from saying yes or no, so long as one has not seen a guillotine with one's own eyes: but if one encounters one of them, the shock is violent; one is forced to decide, and to take part for or against...The guillotine is the concretian of the law, it is called vindicte; it is not neutral, and it does not permit you to remain neutral...All social problems erect their interrogation point around this chopping-knife. The scaffold is a vision. The scaffold is not a piece of carpentry; the scaffold is not a machine; the scaffold is not an inert bit of mechanism constructed of wood, iron and cords.

It seems as though it were a being, possessed of I know not what sombre initiative; one would say that this piece of carpenter's work saw, that this machine heard, that this mechanism understood, that this wood, this iron, and these cords were possesed of will...The scaffold is the accomplice of the executioner; it devours, it eats flesh, it drinks blood; the scaffold is a sort of monster fabricated by the judge and the carpenter, a spectre which seems to live with a horrible vitality composed of all the death which it has inflicted."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December, 21st 1781

I had a lovely birthday celebration, and as predicted though I invited both the Marquis de F- and Mlle de Rodez, neither came. It is, I suppose, proper for Clementine's mother to keep her at home until after she is presented, but it seems that fewer and fewer people bother about that sort of thing these days. F-s message declining the invitation was polite, though formal, and in it he said that he "was already engaged elsewhere" that evening; a phrase which makes me wonder if I should read more into it or not.

A thought today made me sit straight up in alarm. I was remembering the news of R-s death and suddenly recalled that both F- and his own mother were in attendance when he died. That will likely mean that she knows, and (if I judge her character rightly) dislikes F- intensely. She will never consent to marry Clementine to him after such an aquaintance!

I've been wracking my brains as to how I may proceed. Clearly my original plan to have them marry, and then to influence him through her until I have regained his trust will not work. I am having enough trouble speaking to the young woman alone, as it is. It has all caused me to ponder what kind of person I am becoming, since my next thought was that I could still achieve my goals were they to become lovers. If he were to prove difficult towards me I could use her to ruin him, neccessitating her ruin in the process; but am I prepared to go to such lengths? To harm such an innocent? Who am I that I would contemplate these things? The strange thing is how little it horrifies me, not how much. I feel my heart hardening.

So many people at my birthday celebration, and yet I feel as if I have no friends. I pay Msr. Poisson to carry out favors on my behalf, I have lost both R- and F-, and Elizabeth is too busy to pay me much mind. Even Christine is far away in Sweden, trying desperately to avoid being married off by her aunt and uncle. I have not had a letter from her in a long time.

I miss Thierry, he would forbid me from being so gloomy. If only Maman, Mattieu, or even Andre were coming for Christmas this year. Perhaps I should see if Clementine and her mother would care to spend a day or two with me.

Olympe, Comtesse

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

“Liebster is German and translates to the English word dearest. I really touched to be awarded this as it’s meant for up-and-coming blogs with less than 200 followers so thank you for passing it on to me! I hope we all get over 200 soon and can play with the big guns "
Wow, my thanks to Katie at Bankerchick's Scratchings for this award! I, like her, love to receive comments and see where in the world people are visiting from. One of the reasons we all blog is to reach out to a wider community of like-minded people, and so anytime we can create a dialogue we grow closer together. I will say it was tough to narrow down my list of favorite blogs to pass this award onto, fortunately so many of them already have over 200 followers.
Before the Automobile- I had to start with this one. It's one of my most recently-discovered blogs, and I am so glad I did because this Finnish woman's costumes are amazing. She describes herself as an amateur, but the word hardly fits. Everything from gowns and hats to gloves and even shoes. Gorgeous!
Costumes, Cats, and the 18th Century- I'm surprised that Mme Berg does not have more than 200 followers. I've been following her for a while, and am always sure to enjoy what she posts. She's usually one of the first with news when museums put their collections or new photos online, and I love her "Cat-urday" feature with portraits featuring felines and their companions.
Idlewild Illustre- Gwendolyn is a multi-talented artist. Not only is she an accomplished sketcher, but she sews beautiful clothes, attends events, and posts how-tos for things like restoring parasols. Useful information, non?
Stay-ing Alive- Abby is so much fun to read! Her life is an adventure, from moving to Sweden with her boyfriend to working in the costume shop at Colonial Williamsburg.
Isis' Wardrobe- I would have tuned into this blog simply for her description of making a court gown, but the rest of her posts are equally enlightening, not to mention entertaining. It seems like half the people I follow also follow her. That's how you know it's worth reading.
Here are the Rules:
Thank the donor and link back to their blog
Publicize your top five picks for the award and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
Post the award on your blog.
Encourage the people who receive it to list their five favorites.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Christmas Carol You Probably Haven't Heard

I have a lot of Polish ancestors on my mother's side who came to America in the late 19th and early 20th century. Here is a simple and sweet Polish carol from the late 18th century. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review- Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution

I promise that I'll always tell you truthfully what I like about a book and what I dislike. I wasn't inclined to like anything about Robespierre, especially if it had a sympathetic slant, which despite the author's assertions of impartiality, it clearly has. What I didn't expect was how fully illustrated was the character of this divisive historical figure.

Robespierre easily makes the list of unlikely successes. His nervousness, rigid perfectionism, easily wounded feelings, and discomfort with public speaking were all against him from the start when he assumed the role of trial lawyer in Arras, not to mention as an elected representative at the start of the revolution. More than once the author and reader wonder how he ever managed to attain the heights of power and influence which he did.

I'm not sure that question is ever really well-explained, though plenty of political history is given. Revolutionary politics are a very dense and confusing subject, but what does become clear, and the author mercifully does not attempt to justify, is that Robespierre went from a man who wept the first time he had to recommend the death penalty to someone who sent his own friends to the guillotine.

My main concern with the book is that several times the author mentions annecdotes (most often things Marie-Antoinette is supposed to have said), but gives no citation for the source. Many of these being things I had never heard before I was interested to know where they were found, but was left without an indication. I found this very frustrating.

On the whole, I am glad to understand more about the man behind the monstrous acts, and the climate in which this could happen. I will leave this book on my shelf, and return to re-read it in the future as we draw closer to an examination of the revolution itself; though I hesitate to accept it as unbiased scholarship. Nevertheless, the facts it does cite speak volumes about a world gone mad.

December 14th, 1781

The relationship between a mother and daughter is a tricky thing, and has been much on my mind. The rift between my mother and I has weighed heavily on me, and I admit has permeated more of my dreams than not. Most years I have invited her to stay with me in the winter, but eager to show myself an independent married woman, I have not written to her since I came to Paris. She has not written to me either, until the letter I received this morning.

She writes that Andre has broken off his engagement with Mlle Delacoeur, which is all to the best, but he will be villified for it in Ferney, and so has decided to move home to Riom. I have the impression that his father, my step-father, is not pleased to have his son home under these conditions, especially as Andre has no prospects there. Maman hints that I could invite him to Paris for a while, which I may do. So it seems that we are to continue as if we never quarreled, and I shall see if she is inclined to come to Paris for Christmas.

The de Rodez family is also a study in mother-daughter relationships, though of a far different kind. The dowager Comtesse has finally agreed to let Godefroy and I handle Clementine's presentation at court, and I have drafted a proposal so she may be approved and added to the list of candidates. Now I need to find a way to ensure that F- is in attendance so that I have an excuse to introduce the two of them.

This does not mean that the Comtesse de Rodez has relinquished her own control in the matter, and a court gown is being procured for Clementine quite without my oversight. The mother also insists on accompanying us to court, which I can hardly deny. I'm sure she had thought to present her daughter herself until a more attractive option presented itself. Poor Clementine barely dares to open her mouth, and even the slightest objection to any detail is overruled before she has done more than just that. I must find a way to get her alone, or I will never have more influence than this one opportunity.

In the midst of all of this I still must plan my birthday celebration. I've invited everyone I can think of, and am considering including F- and Mlle R-, though I doubt either of them will attend. He because he will not, and she because she can not. So much to do!

Olympe, Comtesse

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Court Presentation in France- Part 1

While preparing a more detailed post on the event known to us as Presentation at Court, I came across a publication called "Notice Historique sure les Honneurs de la Cour", and yes, it's in French. I'll try to post a translation online somewhere, when my brain feels up to the task of seven pages.

Here are some very basic things to know about court presentation in France in the 18th century:-
1) It was a much more formal event for a woman than it was for a man. He might make his introduction to the king by way of traveling along on a hunting expedition. The level of careful ettiquette required of a woman was a lot higher.
2) Regardless of gender the person to be presented had to prove first that their family had been of the aristocracy as far back as 1400, and they had to find someone who had already been presented at court who could then present them. (For our heroine, Olympe's mother could not present her because she had never been presented at court herself, but her cousin, Marie-Louise de la Tour d'Auvergne, could.)
3) Typically women presented women, and men presented men. It never hurt to have multiple people of high rank in your party during the presentation, regardless; especially if the person being presented was being launched onto the marriage market.
4) There were exceptions to the rule. People who were not of long-ennobled families could apply to be presented if they had other appropriate credentials, such as serving with distinction in the military or trade, being a foreign diplomat, or just having pleased the monarch in some way.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Wardrobe- In Progress

My last show for the year has finally closed, so I find myself with a few weeks between now and New Years in which to really work on projects that will continue into the next. Unlike many of you, I have no costume society or events nearby (that I know of) to which I may wear my creations, so I lack the pressure to get things done by a certain date. Don't worry, I make up for it in my professional life. Here are a few of the things I will be finishing/making/posting about between now and...whenever they get done.

I'm going to try my hand at painting my own fan. I have a couple blank ones from different places and whether I succeed or fail spectacularly, it will be a good learning experience for me, and maybe you as well. Tips and tricks always welcome from those who have already tried this.


A calash bonnet. I think this is one of those accessories that can take an outfit from beautiful to "Wow, that's unique", while still being historically appropriate. It may also help me to get rid of some fabric from my stash that's not voluminous enough for anything else.

Nor is the calash likely to be the only kind of headwear I take my hand to. I love hats, in modern or historical styles, and I think we should bring them back into regular use. The bigger the better!

I'm still planning on making that travel outfit, though I've changed the black fur in the design into a mottled brown and white rabbit fur. I'm dying my Devonshire shoes to match the purple-maroon fabric I bought for the hat and inside of the caraco. The outer fabric is a caramel-coloured velveteen, and the skirt is a slate blue shantung. I have small brown leather kid gloves, and a maroon-purple and blue muff already.

Something else I already have fabric for and am, in fact, currently at work on, is the quilted petticoat and mantelet-au-lever (sort of like a dressing gown) that I've mentioned before. I'm hoping to have photos for you all soon.

I also intend to shortly finish the portrait bracelets that I started a while ago. I'm painting one by hand, and cheating with a printed image for the other, that way we can look at the difference between theatre-quality (seen only from a distance), and museum-quality (passes for "real").

There are all kinds of others things too; anglaises, wig work, a winter mantelet maybe, a pet-en-l'air, and if I get really ambitious I may even work on the court gown I've been dying to make for several years. First though, I'm committed to sewing through my current stash of fabrics. There should be enough there to last me a year at least!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pemberley Shoes From American Duchess



Have you heard? American Duchess has expanded her shoe line to include this versatile Regency style. With it's dyeable white satin, and her selection of shoe clips or hardware to make your own clips, this is a very customizeable shoe. It would make a great holiday gift!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shopping the Museums...in Winter

I like to check out what topics people are enjoying and where around the world viewers are visiting from. One of the posts that seems to get the most hits is "Shopping the Museums". Whether this is because that particular post was bookmarked and used to re-visit the site, or it genuinely holds a lot of interest for visitors, I've decided to do another one, and this time, because it's cold here, we'll look for things to keep warm in.

When cold weather hits a quilted petticoat is essential, like this one from the Williamsburg collection. Note the band of lighter fabric at the top to reduce the bulk at the waistband.

Not only will this 1780s burgundy polonaise look well with the raspberry-red petticoat, but it will also be short enough to keep the hem out of the muck in the streets.

Of course we won't want to leave the house without a fur-lined cloak and muff, like Mrs. Bootle's. We could make it green, just to be extra festive.

Then it would match this calash (collapsible bonnet) from 1780, which will serve to keep our hair dry and un-tussled.

What have I forgotten? Oh right, shoes! I favor these red satin ones from the 1770s-80s, with their darling buckles. They're in great condition, but after tromping through the wintry streets they might not be.

Perhaps we should add these green velvet pattens (overshoes/shoe protectors), even though they're from the 1740s I think they'll suffice. Cringing at the idea of getting the beautiful velvet wet? I know I am.


And voila! We are ready to go out! Shopping anyone?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November 29th, 1781

Cousin Godefroy and I attended the opera last night, which I was initially loathe to do after the crush of the last visit. I don't think those who advertised the free performance for the opening of the new Opera House were expecting so many members of the lower classes to take advantage of the opportunity. It did not make for a pleasant evening. Last night was much better, though I can't say much for the performance itself.

Mme de Rodez has continued to be a thorn in my side. Godefroy assures me that he sent a note to her expressing his delight at being able to present her daughter at court, but they have not yet arranged a time for him to meet her. When I pressed him for the details of their communication I must have tipped my hand, because he then became very interested in my reasons for wanting to sponsor the girl. I explained again that I felt such sympathy for her plight, with her sole brother and protector, who was a dear friend of mine, gone. I think he's decided that R- and I were lovers, because he then began to ask about the reasons for the sudden and rather last-minute failure of my marriage plans with F-. I dissembled as best I could.

As if the universe were contriving to bring the matter to light, I saw F- at the theatre with another young woman on his arm. I don't know who she was, and I had no desire to start rumors by asking after her name from others. F- did not seem to see me, at least I never caught him looking in my direction. If he is in the market for a marriage again I had best act quickly to introduce he and Mlle de Rodez.

My estate agent has asked me to determine what I would like done with those furnishings that remain at Opme. The new Baron and his family would like to move in before Christmas, but I am not inclined to travel all the way to Opme myself at this time of year; the roads would be terrible! I am therefore leaving it in my agent's hands to find an area of the castle to close off and in which to store everything. I look forward to the funds arriving, and wish the renters to move in with haste. I have plans for that money.

Olympe, Comtesse

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Cause De- The Three Estates

"French society was divided into three orders: the clergy, the nobility, and the third estate (or commons)...There were approximately 130,000 members of the clergy, 110,000 members of the nobility, and 24,750,000 members of the third estate. The clergy and the nobility each owned about a fifth of the nation's land but paid no taxes, while the third estate shared the rest of the land and carried the entire tax burden." - Fatal Purity

It's not really surprising, given this arrangement and their limited representation in government (each estate received an equal vote to the others) that the people of the third estate (which included the wealthy and educated bourgeoisie) would demand a more fair legislative process based on number of representatives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review- The Architecture of the 18th-Century

For such a slim volume it took me a while to read through this one, despite the fact that I had read it years ago when I was much younger. It's a good source for understanding the various styles that came and went and fed one another, as well as where such styles developed (or in some cases surprisingly did not). Certain types of buildings, namely churches, theatres, palaces, and prisons were dealt with specifically, but very few less grandiose examples were explored; and interior decoration was largely limited to staircases, libraries, chapels, and Adams techniques.

The book pre-supposes a good understanding of the time period in general, and the events that shaped the development of differing kingdoms and countries. Don't expect a lot of context to be given, it is left to the reader to draw conclusions between events and architectural preferences, but you will learn a lot about what kind of buildings inspired specific architects, and who they learned from and in their turn inspired and taught themselves.

I would reccomend this book for those interested in a general overview of 18th-century public architecture (there are more thorough sources for private architecture), but it is not a quick or easy read due to its ponderous nature. It would make an excellent starting place for those who would like to then move onto studying individually the many styles mentioned therein.

November 22nd, 1781

Maurepas died last night, much to the grief of the King, I am sure for he was his mentor; but it was not unexpected for the man was quite old.

Godefroy has consented to send a letter to the Comtesse de Rodez, and will visit her himself in the future. She hardly seems conscious of the great honor bestowed upon her by such a visit, but perhaps that is part of her cunning. I mean to look into the family background, and will not be surprised to learn that she was some rich merchant's daughter before marrying the late Comte.

Elizabeth hosted a gathering a few days ago and brought in a woman to read our palms. She is grown quite large and more than one person has suggested she might expect twins. She asked the palmist if she could expect a daughter this time, and the woman said that her future did hold a girl, but would not commit herself to saying it would be this pregnancy. A very careful trick, in my opinion. As for me, she said great changes were in my future, and that I had made difficult choices. She seemed to indicate that the changes would be for the good, but we shall see. No mention of children was made for me, and in the company of others I was loathe to suggest the subject. I do hope it doesn't portend a lack of issue, a fear much on my mind of late with my husband kept secret and far away in Venice.

Olympe, Comtesse

Friday, November 18, 2011

November 15th, 1781

I loathe the cold, it makes it so difficult for me to want to move or go out or do anything at all. The dowager Countess de Rodez is a suspicious, disagreeable old cat, and seems not to like or trust me very much, despite the fact that everything I do is to the good of her own daughter. Mlle Clementine supposedly received my note, but sent no reply. I cannot speak to her ability to do so without the knowledge of the mother. She was formally introduced to me, but beyond a curtsy and a some quiet niceties I was able to learn nothing of her or form any sense of her character. Her mother wishes to receive word from the Duke de Bouillon himself that he will introduce Clementine at court before she consents to any preparations.

Word here in Paris is that De Grasse has won a great naval victory, and there is hope once more that the war in the colonies may soon reach a victorious end. Of course, we have been holding out such hope year after year. I have my own small victory in that my estate agent was not able to procure buyers for either Lespinasse or Opme yet, but a newly-minted Baron and his famly are happy to lease Opme from me for a substantial sum per annum. In some ways I prefer this arrangement for I may evict them and have my castle back in the future, and in the meantime have a steady supply of income, unlike that from my lesser leases.

It also allows me to continue to pay Thierry's expenses in Venice, and I send what I can with every letter. It is fruitless to sigh and say that I miss him so. I do, and I look often at his miniature fearing that I will forget his features the longer he is absent.
Olympe, Comtesse

Friday, November 11, 2011

Best 18th-century themed movies

I owe you all I good post, not only because I have been so remiss in updating lately, but because I am likely to remain a little less prolific for the next few weeks while I'm working on several shows that open around the same time.

When I'm designing a show I like to put movies on in the background, especially if it's late at night because it makes me feel like someone else is awake. In no particular order (because I just couldn't decide how to rank them) here are my top ten favorite 18th-century inspired films/mini series'.

1) Marie Antoinette (2006)

2) The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934 &2000) Okay, I cheated here, I like them both.

3) The Lady and the Duke (2001)

4) Ridicule (1996)

5) The Duchess (2008)

6) Amazing Grace (2006)

7) Catherine the Great (1995)

8) Dangerous Liasons (1988)

9) Amadeus (1984)

10) The Madness of King George (1994)

Honorable mentions go to Plunkett and Macleane, Perfume, and the HBO series John Adams. So what are your favorites? Any to add to the list?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Events of October 1781

The birth of a Dauphin (finally), was not the only notewothy event to take place in October of 1781; here are a few others that may pique your interest.

October 19th- After the french naval fleet led by the Comte de Grasse had successfully blockaded Cornwallis into the Chesapeake Bay, despite the efforts of the British naval Commander Thomas Graves, Cornwallis was finally defeated and on the 19th was forced to surrender to George Washington, this effectively (though not officially) ending the American War of Independence.

October 20th- A Patent of Tolerance is approved in the Habsburg monarchy, giving limited freedom of worship within Austria.

October 27th- A new opera house opens in Paris to replace one that burned down. It's opening is celebrated with a free performance of Adele et Ponthieu, to which it was expected that 1800 people might attend. The audience turns out to be more like 6000 and it is massively overcrowded. New seating would be added to the pit of the Comedie Francaise the following year "to help prevent mob activity". Perhaps in response to this situation?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 22nd, 1781

At first I was concerned because there were people shouting in the streets and the ringing of the bells can mean so many things, but presently as I was standing leaning out of the window the Comte de R- arrived in his carriage and leaping from it shouted up to me "A Dauphin is born! A Dauphin at last!" He then dashed inside where I met him to receive an invitation to an impromptu party given by he and Elizabeth in honor of the birth.

They are hardly the only ones to celebrate as if it were their own good fortune; many are the festivities this night, and they say that people of all ranks and professions go to Versailles to offer their felicitations to the King and Queen. It makes me think of the magi and shepherds traveling to Bethlehem to see the Christ child. Naturally, I sent a letter off at once to T- in Venice that he should know what will certainly be much talked of even there.

My friends the Comte and Comtesse have every reason to be happy with their sons already bestowed, but I have a trace of jealousy, I find. Would that I had a son, or even a daughter, of my own; but first I must bring Thierry home and make our marriage acceptable to those who would seek to challenge it and disinherit any offspring.

Tonight is for joy though. I will wear my new blue gown and be of good cheer in the company of my friends. It is a luxury to forget one's cares even for a few hours. I fervently wish that this small baby may grow up to be a just and loving King to us all.

Olympe, Comtesse

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Birth of the Dauphin

Anonymous painter of the French school, 1781
Pictured from left to right in the above painting are the Duke of Berry, the Duke of Angouleme, the Duke of Chartres, the Countess of Artois, the Count of Provence, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette with the Dauphin and Marie-Therese, the Countess of Provence, the Count of Artois and Madame Elisabeth (the King's sister).

On October 22nd, 1781, Marie-Antoinette finally gave birth to the long-awaited Dauphin, Louis Joseph Xavier Francois. The Queen went into labour in the morning, and was delivered at a quarter past one. In the words of the King himself he said to his wife "Madame, you have fulfilled our wishes and those of France, you are the mother of a Dauphin."

To say that they were the wishes of the entire country may seem like an exaggeration, but if so it wasn't much of one, because the announcement of the Dauphin's arrival was greeted with tremendous joy and enthusiasm from palace to city and Duke to commoner (with perhaps the exception of the Comte de Provence who suddenly found himself ousted from his position as heir presumptive). People greeted each other in the street with exultation, and every guild in Paris prepared to send delegations to Versailles to offer their congratulations the proud parents.

Sadly though, the Dauphin would die on June 4th of 1789, just a few short months before the Revolution began. It has, in fact, been suggested that the death of the seven year old heir, though succeeded by his younger brother, was one of the last catalysts for the events that would tear France apart. If his birth was met with such hope, it is perhaps not surprising that his demise would help plunge the country into desperate anger.

For a time though, there was only celebration. As the child was borne away from the royal apartments in the arms of the Royal Governess, the Princess de Guemene, they were followed by a crowd of laughing, clapping courtiers, and great acclamation. Two months later, when the Marquis de LaFayette returned from America, the festivities were still in full swing.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15th, 1781

Some things go well while others go ill. Having sufficiently plyed my cousin Godefroy with all manner of food, drink, and flattery it was not hard to convince him that I am not interested in pushing my claim on the Duchy of Bouillon after he and his son die (that is assuming I outlive Jacque, who is only four years older than myself, though his health has long been poor). I don't know who he has in mind to inherit instead, but I do hope it won't involve the Rohan clan into which his sister, Marie-Louise married.

Having so convinced him, the request for him to present "the sister of a dear friend, who passed away quite young" was as nothing. I told him that she is quite pretty and has been convent-educated with hardly any movement in society. In short, that she's a delicate flower of purity and innocence in need of our protection and advancement. To my delight, he agreed. Now it only remains to get the mother to assent, but I can hardly see how she could refuse; the Duc de Bouillon is not only one of the highest personages titularly (for he may rightly call himself Prince of Sedan, should he choose), but also was for many years Grand Chamberlain.

If only my meeting with Lenoir, the Chief of Police, had gone so well. I found him quite unwilling to give me his full attention as he shuffled through papers on his desk, took communique's from anyone who desired to knock upon his door, and I had barely begun speaking when he decided it was necessary to explain to me that "justice must be permitted to run its full course". In short, I was dismissed with the distinct impression that he had not listened anymore to me than he might a fishmonger, or a child.

I did gain a glimpse of the papers upon his desk, however, and quite a few of them seemed to concern the kind of crass libel that we are daily treated to should we venture out of doors. The things they say, especially about the Queen and King, are no less than treasonous, and I have yet to see one that was not also viciously perverse. I'm not sure there is any way to use this knowledge to my advantage, but I will record it for the present in case it should become so.

I have not yet discovered a way to meet naturally with Msr. Lavoisier or his wife. I do have a visit with the dowager Countess of Rodez to look forward to tomorrow, and hopefully my note to her daughter, the young Clementine, will have some effect.

Olympe, Comtesse

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Historical Influence in Fashion

What an interesting shade of pink this anglaise has, don't you think? Well, that would be because it's an historically-inspired evening gown from the House of Worth in 1893. Charles Frederick Worth liked to go to galleries and museums and was very inspired by previous fashions to create striking designs for his own collections. This one, complete with fichu, is a very striking example.

October 12th, 1780

Msr. Poisson has been earning his due allowance. This morning he came to my Lever very early to inform me that I have an interview with Msr. Lenoir, head of the police in Paris and receiver of all of the slanderous gossip there is to be had. I doubt that I shall be able to convince him of Thierry's innocence, but I will be able to find out what sort of man he is and what may move him to action on Thierry's behalf.

Msr. Poisson also suggested that I find a way to meet with Msr. Lavoisier, the scientist, because he is a leading member of the Ferme, and has a great many contacts amongst those who have the running of things. Surely he will be sympathetic to one of the Ferme's dedicated employees. I have not yet come up with a plan for how to effect this, but I suspect the way may be through his wife.

Whispers have reached me that Mlle de Rodez is in town with her mother, and also that she is very beautiful and very strictly guarded from the public. She sounds like someone who could use a friend. I am due to meet with the mother very soon, but I wonder if a note could not be gotten to the young woman in advance so that I might meet her when I am there.

First, however, there is dinner with my cousin Godefroy this evening. I hope very much that I can persuade him to introduce Mlle de Rodez to court, because many of my plans hinge on this. Now I must see to dinner preparations.

Olympe, Comtesse

Monday, October 10, 2011

An Article of Interest

Here's something that may interest some of you, especially in America. An 18th century church is getting a major restoration after hosting the likes of George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. It's been through a lot, and has the bulletholes to prove it...

Church Shot During Revolution Gets Overhaul

Friday, October 7, 2011

On Seizing the Day


“Though the fool waits, the day does not.”- French Proverb

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Film Review- To the Ends of the Earth

I am a huge fan of the BBC series Sherlock, which is an updated version of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, of which I have also been a fan since early childhood. So when I saw that the 2005 miniseries, "To the Ends of the Earth", likewise starred Benedict Cumberbatch ("Amazing Grace", "Atonement", "The Other Boleyn Girl") I had a feeling I was going to like it.

Almost the entire movie is set in 1812 onboard an old navy ship that has been recomissioned as a passenger vessel voyaging between England and Austrailia. Not only has the vessel been recomissioned, but much of the crew is also taken from the British Navy, and they and the passengers have at times very tense relationships. The miniseries is based on a trilogy of books by William Golding, who also helped to write the screenplay, and was directed by David Attwood, who seems to have a fondness for English stories (Hound of the Baskervilles, Moll Flanders, Tales of Sherwood Forest).

Cumberbatch stars as our protagonist, Edmund Talbot, a very young aristocrat whose godfather has sent him to Australia to take up an administrative post there which should guarantee him a life of comfort and advancement. The journey serves as a conduit for the growth of Talbot into manhood, in more ways than one.

"Benedict was remarkable. He carried the Golding novels with him on set and constantly referred to them. We needed him every single day and he just didn't stop, nor complain. He simply became Edmund Talbot. And that commitment spread to every cast member. The process of making this film echoed the journey the characters went on in the story—we really got to know each other during our four months on location and we became very close." Commented the show's producer, Lynn Horsford.

The other characters are a motley crew of artists, philosophers, fallen women, families, and a clergyman. They suffer death, the prospect of having to fight the French, fire, illness, ice, and possible mutiny, and that's just some of the adventure. There's also love, sex, fighting, suicide and the kind of cabin fever that we are blissfully inexperienced in today.

On top of stellar preformances by the entire cast (and I mean everybody), the thing that I found truly wonderful about this series was how unpredictable it was. Everytime I thought I knew what was coming it turned out to be something else, which in retrospect was perfectly plausible. It also left nothing off-limits, and even the seediest, most disgusting details that the passengers experienced were documented by young Edmund in his journal.

The best part, for me, came at the end when a fellow passenger, realizing that to Edmund this has been the penultimate experience , says "It was just...a series of events." Just as after the wedding that closes many a Jane Austen novel there is still an entire marriage to be had, after the voyage there is a life.

October 5th, 1781

After Comtesse R-'s dinner party last night, from which I did not return until after 2am, I am exhausted despite having slept late. I could not sleep as late as I wished, however, because I was invited to go riding with a group and have only just returned in time to change for dinner at Marquise M-'s.

There was good news awaiting me, however. Three letters; one from my cousin Godefroy, one from my husband, and one from R-'s mother, the dowager Comtesse de Rodez. Thierry's letter was full of sweetness and remonstrations against worrying too greatly. He also says he received the money I sent, and advises that I not sell anymore of my patrimony after these two castles, which I have no intention of doing anyhow.

Godefroy has accepted my invitation to dinner next week, and I hope that he will be in a humor to acquiesce to my plan for introducing R-'s sister at court. The girl's mother writes in a somewhat less helpful tone that she does not know what interest I could have in helping her daughter, but is willing to hear me out. I must say that is not the kind of response I would give to such a generous offer, but I am willing to make allowances for her considerable grief at losing a beloved son.

Now to prepare for dinner. I suspect another long night awaits.

Olympe, Comtesse

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October 3rd, 1781

Contrary to all of my fears there seems to be a morbid fascination for a jilted woman, so I have not lacked for company. My marchande-des-modes has delivered my new clothes, and I am enthralled by these new larger hats, worn at such an angle as to half-conceal the face. The endless parade of visitors with their hungry questions and false sympathies, nevertheless has given me a banquet of gossip from which to choose what is useful.

The Comte d'Estaing is still chafing from his disfavor, and obviously wishes to return to the war in the American colonies. My good friend Elizabeth, the Comtesse de Rochechouart, is pregnant and hoping for a daughter as she already has two sons, Victor and Phillipe. The Comte d'Antraigues is causing a stir in certain circle with his political views. Mme Elisabeth, the King's sister, may take a new secretary; and, of course, the Queen is due to deliver very soon and all hope for a Dauphin.

The war in the colonies is unending, but we have had some victories to sustain us. No good news from my estate agent about either Lespinasse or Opme; but I did receive an unexpected letter from Andre in Ferney. Apparently, happy though they appeared, he and Mlle Delacoer are not on pleasant terms and he fears their engagement may not result in a marriage after all. I worry that he is considering such a course because of my broken engagement, but I hesitate to ask him. He also said that he has not mentioned our agreement about Lespinasse with her, or she will stay with him for the money alone. I cannot pretend to be sad, for I would much prefer that he make an end of it, and choose a lady rather than an actress to marry.

Msr. Poisson is working to secure me an audience with the King. I need to find out if there is a new arrangement to be made about the Duchy of Bouillon, and I need to assert Thierry's innocence. Only the King can help me with the first, but in case he cannot immediately help me with the second, I have other plans to attend to.

Olympe, Comtesse

Monday, October 3, 2011

Know Your Clothes (and Accessories)- The Quizzing Glass

A Quizzing Glass:

"A monocle dangling from a neck-chain- a very fashionable accessory; in the 1820's dandies often had the glass fixed into the head of their canes." - The Dictionary of Fashion History

Used by men and women alike from about the 1790s , it often came attached to a small handle which terminated in a loop, thus allowing it to be strung on a chain or ribbon. It's exactly the kind of thing you can see Sir Percy Blakeney use, when he's not being The Scarlet Pimpernel!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review- Fashion in Detail

One word; stunning. This book's images literally left me breathless. For the costume historian there is a wealth of highly-detailed imagery of pleats, embroidery, buttons, spangles, lace, and whole items like gloves, stomachers, and vests. If the book has a fault, in fact, it is that there are too few photos of the whole garments from which these close-ups are taken, but the reader is given line-drawings to compare.

For those more interested in techniques, prepare to drool. There is a wealth of information here about stitching techniques, seam placement, boning, quilting, cording, slashing, pinking, stamping, knitting, blackwork, and more.

Woman's smock, English 1620s-1630s
Clearly I cannot fail to recommend "Historical Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries" to all lovers of historical costume as well as decorative techniques, and should you doubt my reasons for enthusiasm here are a few more photos just to tantalize you.

Stomachers, early 1700s
Detail of glove beading, Engish 1603-1625