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!