The language of hair in the nineteenth-century novel.
THE LANGUAGE OF HAIRSTYLES
The century began with a radical change in hairstyles: the elaborate, high and full constructions of the late eighteenth century gave way to shorter hairstyles like the famous Titus, a short, layered cut. (1) It provoked outrage in some quarters; and satirical caricatures and pamphlets like Anti-Titus, ou Remarques critiques sur la coiffure des femmes au XIXe siecle (1809) appeared. Women wore hairpieces, called "cache-folies" when they wanted to hide their short hairstyles (see Fig. 1). Under the Empire, longer hair returned, including hairstyles "a la grecque," with hair bound in a chignon at the back. Turbans were also popular, and they continued during the Restoration, which saw a return to even longer styles, influenced by romanticism and anglomania. There were coiffures "a la Sevigne," with curls around the temples and a chignon at the back, styles "a la Pamela," and English straw hats. These styles usually had light curls about the face (see Fig. 2).
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As Figure 1 shows, curls are associated with "jolies femmes," and that is true in novels as well, where they often appear in conjunction with a form of the adjective "charmant." They have a tendency to "s'echapper," which is sometimes a sign of independence. In Sand's Indiana, they come out from under a little cap; in Stendhal's Armance, from a straw hat; in Balzac's Le Colonel Chabert, from a bonnet the countess wears with her peignoir, in Illusions Perdues, from Mme de Bargeton's beret. Zola combines the ideas of beauty and independence in Le Reve, where it is a comb that "retenait mal les boucles de ses cheveux en revolte, d'un blond de soleil. Elle etait ingenue et fiere, d'une simplicite candide, belle comme un astre" (116). Young, attractive men like Balzac's Lucien or Flaubert's Leon also have curls escaping from their caps or hats.
Curls sometimes make good their escape, falling over the woman's shoulders. As we will see below, this may signal dramatic or painful moments, but on other occasions, ringlets can signify child-like beauty and innocent sexuality, as it does for Pauline in La Peau de chagrin:
Un eclat de rire bien franc, bien joyeux, lui fit tourner la tete vers son lit, il vit a travers les rideaux diaphanes la figure de Pauline souriant comme un enfant heureux d'une malice qui reussit, ses beaux cheveux formaient des milliers de boucles sur ses epaules, elle etait la semblable a une rose du Bengale sur un monceau de roses blanches. (253)
Normally, however, hair was caught up in a bun, and the movement of chignons up and down the head was a major element in hair fashions. During the Restoration and into the 1830s, chignons were high on the head. In 1827, when giraffes arrived at the Jardin des Plantes, chignons were supported by wire frames to form the "coiffure a la girafe." It is an example of the more elaborate styles, especially for balls, with a high topknot ("coque"), often decorated with ribbons, flowers, or jewels. Sometimes the hair itself formed a bow (see Fig. 3). Chignons then began to move back down, and curls moved to the sides. There were hairstyles based on historical figures, like "Coiffure a la Marguerite d'Anjou" and braided hair "a la Berthe."
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
During the 1830s chignons were at the back or at the nape, and the curls were "tire-bouchons" or "anglaises," long sausage curls. The style "a l'anglaise" was no doubt partly inspired by keepsakes. These were gift publications offered at New Year's to women and girls. At first British imports, they had very popular French versions in the 1830s and 1840s. Their beautiful steel plate engravings were taken from the British publications and accompanied by French prose and verse. They featured many images of women in fashionable dress, often with the long curls that were known from 1829 on as anglaises (see Fig. 4). Anglaises continued to be popular through the 1840s and 1850s. They may be found even later, flowing down the back amid masses of curls and braids in the evening hairstyles of the 1870s and 1880s.
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
Sausage curls required elaborate curling and arranging. Novelists use this hairstyle as an indication of elegance and attractiveness. A very elegant courtisane in Dumas's La Dame aux camelias wears her hair in this style. So does Mme Dambreuse in L'Education sentimentale. When Frederic first sees her, with her "cheveux blonds tirebouchonnes a l'anglaise," he recognizes that she and her husband are of a higher class not usually to be found at the theater he is attending (120). She is not especially beautiful, but she has style; Flaubert describes her as a work of art, a flower of high culture. Her hair is as elegant as her clothes; in fact, they match: "l'etoffe se mariait a la nuance de ses cheveux" (261).
For Balzac any detail has the power to function as a synechdoche for social status, character, or dramatic situation, and hairstyles carry a semiotic charge. Adeline in La Cousine Bette herself recognizes the significance of her anglaises. Although she is dressing to offer herself to Crevel in order to save her husband, she finds her curls altogether too seductive. She must hide them under a cap as she hides her naked arms and shoulders under sleeves and a shawl:
Elle mit bien sa plus jolie robe de mousseline a fleurs peintes, decolletee et a manches courtes; mais, epouvantee de ses nudites, elle couvrit ses beaux bras de manches de gaze claire, elle voila sa poitrine et ses epaules d'un fichu brode. Sa coiffure a l'anglaise lui parut etre trop significative, elle en eteignit l'entrain par un tres joli bonnet; mais, avec ou sans bonnet, eut-elle su jouer avec ses rouleaux dores pour exhiber, pour faire admirer ses mains en fuseau? (my emphasis; 358) Le Huenen points out that Balzac's portrait of Adeline earlier in the novel is characterized by two elements that signify beauty: blond hair and serpentine lines. Adeline's anglaises combine both these traits. (2) Alas for her, her rival Valerie Marneffe also has sausage curls, which we see her arranging several times in the novel. When Adeline leaves, Crevel goes to see Valerie. She is having her hair done, and her toilette is quite different from Adeline's. She doesn't hesitate to take off her peignoir in front of Crevel, and she does not cover up her curls. Instead she agitates her hair playfully in Crevel's face, and she mocks Adeline's "petits bonnets guinguets" (Balzac's emphasis; 380). Adeline doesn't have a chance against her.
With or without long curls, as we see in Figure 4, hair was often drawn back from a middle part. The hair on either side of the face was known as bandeaux, a term used in this sense beginning in 1805. In the 1830s, they were part of a simpler hairstyle that came into fashion. The side curls disappeared, and the hair was flat or slightly wavy, covering all or part of the ears, and pulled back to the chignon (see Fig. 5). This style was dominant in the July Monarchy, sometimes associated with the ascendency of the bourgeois; and it lasted into the second empire, when curls gradually returned. Older women wore it even later.
[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]
In the novels of this time, bandeaux tend to be described as lisses, as well they might, because we often see women, especially coquettish ones, smoothing them. Male characters like to stroke them. Frederic dreams of stroking Mme Amoux's, but he does not dare. As the light strikes them, they shine, and they are compared to oil or varnish. In fact, women used brilliantine to keep them smooth. This more austere style calls forth adjectives indicating chastity, discipline, respectability, or self-control. When Virginie returns to the neighborhood in L'Assommoir, she has become an imposing, respectable, married woman. Her jet-black bandeaux contrast with the wisps of blond hair that are always escaping from Gervaise's bun.
The severity of the style makes it appropriate for stiff or standoffish women. The self-important department head in Au Bonheur des Dames has dark bandeaux to go with her severe mouth. In France's L'Orme du mail, they fit with Mme Dellion's ice-blue eyes. Celestine, Hortense's sister-in-law in La Cousine Bette, is well-meaning but stubborn: "ses cheveux chatain clair disposes en bandeaux raides, la couleur de son teint, tout indiquait en elle la femme raisonnable, sans charme, mais aussi sans faiblesse" (426).
Yet women characters like Emma Bovary know how to make the most of the style. One of the first things Charles notices about her is the slight waves in her bandeaux, which impress the "medecin de campagne," who has never before seen such a sophisticated style (75). She shows her fashion sense again at la Vaubyessard. For evening functions, hair was often decorated with flowers, so Emma follows her hairdresser's instructions and puts a rose in hers. Flaubert's language conveys both her sensuality and her excitement: "Ses bandeaux, doucement bombes vers les oreilles, luisaient d'un eclat bleu; une rose a son chignon tremblait sur une tige mobile, avec des gouttes d'eau factices au bout de ses feuilles" (110). The promise of sensuality is kept when she surprises Rodolphe in bed after running through the fields, "les gouttes de rosee suspendues a ses bandeaux faisaient comme une aureole de topaze tout autour de sa figure" (231). This time, the dewdrops are real. Emma can also convey the opposite message with her bandeaux. When she wants to give Leon the impression that she is a virtuous wife and mother,
Emma maigrit, ses joues palirent, sa figure s'allongea. Avec ses bandeaux noirs, ses grands yeux, son nez droit, sa demarche d'oiseau et toujours silencieuse maintenant, ne semblait-elle pas traverser l'existence en y touchant a peine, et porter au front la vague empreinte de quelque predestination sublime? (172) (3)
During the Second Empire styles changed quickly, aided by the development of photography and influenced increasingly by the fashion press. Magazines like La Mode, Paris-Coiffure, and La Coiffure illustree appeared. Waves and curls returned; little bangs sometimes appeared on the forehead. Styles took on volume and became more complicated in the 1870s: chignons were composed of winding curls and rolls of braids; anglaises fell to the shoulders (see Fig. 6). Before long, false hairpieces were necessary for everyone but little girls, and the commerce in hair boomed. Styles became ever more varied; as a chronicler reported in 1881, "autant de tetes, autant de coiffures ... des rouleaux, des coques, des tresses, des boucles ... tout se porte en ce moment" (ctd. in Gerbod 193).
[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]
As hair fashions changed, it was only unfashionable or older women who stuck to their bandeaux. What has gone out of style seems suddenly unattractive. In Zola's Son Excellence Eugene Rougon, set in 1857, Du Poizat is dismayed at the proposition that Eugene Rougon should marry Veronique: "La demoiselle etait mure comme une nefle qu'on a oubliee sur de la paille. Elle avait au moins trente-six ans et elle en paraissait bien quarante. Un joli manche a balai a mettre darts un lit! Une devote qui portait des bandeaux plats!" (103). Her flat hair matches her flat chest.
In novels, the opposite of well-behaved bandeaux are wayward curls or wisps of hair. They are usually called meches folles or cheveux follets. In La Faute de L'abbe Mouret it is the statue of the virgin that has bandeaux; the wild child Albine, who takes on the attributes of Eve, has blond ringlets. Frere Archangias warns Serge that the devil is twisting around in them. (4) Usually, however, they indicate a rebelliousness that is charming. In Pierre et Jean, Mme Rosemilly's cheveux follets go well with her "petit air crane" (720), although they belie her cautious nature. In Mademoiselle de Maupin, "quelques petits cheveux follets, plus mutins que les autres, se detachaient de la masse" of Rosette's hair in the scene in the garden house where Madelaine-Theodore finds her so attractive (298). Frisons, little curls, give the same impression. In La Curee, the story of Renee's seduction is told through what happens to her chignon and her "petits frisons." (5) Her fall has been prefigured by "les petits cheveux pales de son front et de sa nuque, rebelles, [qui] s'echappaient, comme mouilles par un souffle humide" (69).
Little curls and wisps of hair appear so often in conjunction with the adjective petit(e)(s) that when older women try to wear the style, they just look ridiculous. In Nana, Gaga is a good example. She had been the toast of Paris at the beginning of the July Monarchy. Now, "[Fauchery] indiquait une grosse femme, sanglee dans son corset, une ancienne blonde devenue blanche et teinte en jaune, dont la figure ronde, rougie par le fard, se boursouflait sous une pluie de petits frisons enfantins" (45). We find similar women in Son Excellence Eugene Rougon and in Maupassant's stories.
Curls became much easier to obtain late in the century, and women could forgo the endless curlpapers (papillottes). In 1882 came what a famous hairdresser of the 1930s calls "l'evenement le plus considerable de son histoire. Une revolution au sens litteral du mot" (Rambaud 93). It was Marcel's invention of a hair-iron with the two branches reversed, which made possible the famous Marcel wave. Hairdressers set themselves up as "ondulateurs," and fuller styles could be created without false hairpieces. (6) Towards the end of the century, bouffant hairstyles came into vogue, with curls at the side and chignons at the back or the crown (see Fig. 7).
[FIGURE 7 OMITTED]
From the restoration on, chignons had been a feature of most hairstyles, although they are not often mentioned in novels until mid-century. In the 1870s, the colloquial expression se creper le chignon, to have a fight or an argument, appeared, along with its noun, crepage de chignon. Zola appears to be the first to use it in print, in L'Assommoir, the work that introduced familiar discourse into the novel. It also appeared the same year in Huysmans's Marthe. But chignons may come attached under other circumstances, and it is interesting to see what happens when they do.
LETTING DOWN YOUR HAIR
As we have seen, throughout the century, in all these styles, women's hair was dressed, often elaborately arranged. It was not worn down. So when a woman appears in a novel with loose or disheveled hair, it takes on special meanings Some of these are traditional, some are new in the nineteenth century.
Loose hair carries the possibility of an erotic charge. Long, abundant hair is traditionally associated with sexuality. Venus is usually represented with a full head of hair lavishly disheveled, especially in mid-nineteenth-century paintings. Eve has had blond, curly hair since the renaissance. During the nineteenth century, women kept their hair up even in the home. It came down when woman undressed, with a man or alone. We see the process in Balzac's Ferragus Madame Jules makes herself beautiful for her husband in their bedroom: "Jules y voyait une femme coquettement enveloppee dans un elegant peignoir, les cheveux simplement tordus en grosses tresses sur sa tete; car, n'en redoutant pas le desordre, elle n'en ravissai a l'amour ni la vue ni le toucher" (151-52). Her hair is still attached, though simply; it comes down when she does her "toilette de nuit": "Elle avait serre la batiste du peignoir, entr'ouvert son corsage, laisse tomber ses cheveux noirs sur ses epaules rebondies" (152).
Loose hair is also a sign of distress. Since at least Roman times, it signified woman in mourning. More generally, disheveled hair became a traditional sign of general physical or emotional disarray, not necessarily tied to grief. The conventional expression for hair in these circumstances through the eighteenth century was cheveux epars. Nineteenth-century novelists draw on and update this conventional use. For example, when at the end of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo Madame de Villefort has poisoned herself: "elle se leva les cheveux epars, les levres ecumantes" (660). Mme de Stael's Corinne is in such distress that she faints and hits her head: "Mais quand Corinne revint a elle, elle apercut dans une glace son visage pale et defait, ses cheveux epars et teints de sang." Often, as this example shows, cheveux epars appear at a moment of high drama.
In the eighteenth-century novel, the expression cheveux epars had come to be used in a particular way, in scenes that combined the erotic with pain, situations we might therefore call sadistic: the woman victim is attractive precisely because she is suffering. Other elements were standard in such scenes, including bare shoulders and clothing in disarray. For example, in Les Liaisons dangereuses, the Marquise de Merteuil describes Cecile in tears, "ses cheveux epars tomberent sur ses epaules et sur sa gorge entierement decouvertes," and her reaction is, "Vous ne sauriez croire combien la douleur l'embellit!" (Lettre LXIII, 161). (7)
We can find similar scenes in the nineteenth century, as in Musset's 1836 Confessions d'un enfant du siecle: "Tout ce que le repentir sincere a de larmes, tout ce que la douleur a d'eloquence, elle l'epuisa pour me consoler; pale et egaree, sa robe entr'ouverte, ses cheveux epars sur ses epaules, a genoux au milieu de la chambre, jamais je ne l'avais vue si belle" (33). A similar scene occurs in Balzac, but with a difference. At the end of La Peau de chagrin, Raphael's ultimate and fatal desire is for Pauline:
Ses cheveux etaient epars, ses epaules nues, ses vetements en desordre, et dans cette lutte avec la mort, les yeux en pleurs, le visage enflamme, se tordant sous un horrible desespoir, elle presentait a Raphael, ivre d'amour, mille beautes qui augmenterent son delire; il se jeta sur elle avec la legerete d'un oiseau de proie, brisa le chale, et voulut la prendre dans ses bras. (292)
But Pauline in this scene is a tragic, not a libertine figure. The shoulders are bare, the clothing is in disarray, but the terms "visage enflamme ... se tordant, and horrible desespoir" call forth sympathy or unease rather than prurient interest. What had come together in the eighteenth-century novel tends to split in the nineteenth: the weeping woman with cheveux epars is usually either tragic or erotic.
During the course of the century, the phrase cheveux epars appears less frequently; novelists, especially Zola, tend to use cheveux denoues instead. This linguistic change reflects hairstyles, because chignons were "noues," tied up and held in place by pins and combs. Like the earlier expression, cheveux denoues signals distress. As Charles Bovary says at the opera, "Elle a les cheveux denoues, cela promet d'etre tragique" (297). At Emma's death it is a poignant moment when her hair is disheveled, ironically recalling Charles's remark: "Emma se releva comme un cadavre que l'on galvanise, les cheveux denoues, la prunelle fixe, beante" (401). There are many other examples, from Sandeau's romantic Laura, "pale, tremblante, les cheveux denoues" to Maupassant's ironic use in "Le Lit 29," when he describes Irma's exaggerated distress at her lover's departure for the front:
Irma, folle, les cheveux denoues, jetait ses bras desesperes autour du cou de l'officier, l'etreignant, puis, le lachant, se roulait sur le sol, renversait les meubles, arrachait les franges des fauteuils, mordait leurs pieds tandis que le capitaine, fort emu, mais inhabile aux consolations, repetait 'Irma, ma petite Irma, pas a dire, il le faut.' (2:178)
The reader is not surprised when Irma is unfaithful after the Prussians arrive.
The collocation cheveux denoues, like cheveux epars, is also used in erotic scenes. When the chignons fall, so do the women. A passage from a Barres novel sums it up: "Elle avait de longs cils, des cheveux denoues, des draperies flottantes et tous les charmes qui attirent les caresses" (93). Loose hair is often the sign of a seductress, as we can see the following passage from Sainte-Beuve's Volupte:
On dirait que ses cheveux, negligemment amasses sur sa tete, vont se denouer ces jours-la au moindre soupir et vous noyer le visage; une volupte odorante s'exhale de sa personne comme d'une tige en fleur. Ivresse et poison! Fuyez: toute femme en certains moments est seductrice. (90)
Women characters are often full), aware of the seductive power their hair can exert. In Balzac's Massimilla Doni, the singer la Tinti has obviously calculated the effect of her loose hair on Emilio:
La cantatrice etait plus belle a genoux, la figure cachee, que confuse et le visage etincelant. Ses cheveux denoues sur lea epaules, sa pose de Magdeleine, le desordre de ses vetements dechires, tout avait ete compose par le diable, qui, vous le savez, est un grand coloriste. Le prince prit par la taille cette pauvre Tinti, qui lui echappa comme une couleuvre ... (253)
All the elements of the women in distress are here, but it is a "pose." The allusion to the devil and the comparison to a snake underline the image of a temptress. Snakelike qualities like La Tinti's appear often later in the century. The Medusas, sirens, and vampires of decadent literature, from Flaubert's Tentation de saint Antoine to Villiers's Isis, use their captivating long hair to conquer their hapless male victims.
We see an example of the power of hair in Maupassant's Apparition. Its narrator, the marquis de la Tour-Samuel, tells of an encounter that still haunts him. A friend's young wife died young. Danger signs were apparent even beforehand: the husband had been "follement amoureux," their happiness was "surhumaine" (1:781). The marquis accepts the task of retrieving some papers in the abandoned house where the wife had died. Once inside, he gets an eerie feeling, and a woman appears. She begs him to help her. Her tone is gentle, cajoling. He can only accept, and she hands him a comb: "Peignez-moi, oh! peignez-moi; cela me guerira; il faut qu'on me peigne" (1:785) He sees that her "cheveux denoues, tres longs ... pendaient par-dessus le dossier du fauteuil et touchaient la terre" (1:785). Its excessive length perhaps alludes to the superstitious belief that hair continues to grow after death. He does comb her hair, although he compares it to ice and to serpents. His description of this hairdressing shows that it has captivated him. He does not just arrange it; he does it and undoes it several times: "je la tordis, je la renouai et la denouai; je la tressai comme on tresse la criniere d'un cheval" (1:785-86). Satisfied, she leaves. He tries to follow, but finds the door impossible to open and runs from the house. Was it a hallucination? But long hairs are caught in the buttons of his coat. He is caught by the hair: he never gets over the terrifying experience. As Donaldson-Evans shows, this story is an example of the frightening power of Maupassant's women, able to take possession of the male. (8) It is not surprising that the apparition accomplishes it through her unattached hair. Women whose hair is attached, coiffed, molded, mounted on wires, augmented with hairpieces, have been "pacified." (9) Otherwise, the woman is uncontrolled and perhaps uncontrollable, powerful, dangerous.
Proper women not only wore their hair up and attached; they wore hats. They would never be seen "en cheveux." This curious expression was used beginning in the late nineteenth century for a woman who was hatless. Uncovered hair is considered immodest even today in many societies. In nineteenth-century France, women were hatless only indoors or in family situations. The exception was receptions or parties. At these social events, there was a reversal of what was considered proper. Women's shoulders, arms, and bosoms, usually so modestly hidden, were extravagantly on display. And so was hair. After mid-century, hairstyles for parties featured elaborately arranged curls that fell on the shoulders (see Fig. 6). Even at balls, however, older women who uncovered their hair were in very poor taste. According to Mme Celnart's 1839 Nouveau Manuel complet de la bonne compagnie ou Guide de la politesse: "Une personne sur le retour, coiffee en cheveux, porteuse d'une robe decolletee a manches courtes, ornee de colliers, bracelets, etc., blesse autant la bienseance que son interet et sa dignite" (40).
On the street or in other public places, even on their way to a ball, women were not to be seen en cheveux. (10) We have seen how reluctant Adeline was to appear before Crevel without her bonnet. According to the Comtesse de Villermont, the hat "constitue la coiffure indispensable de toute toilette de rue" (778). Hat styles varied at least as much as hairstyles during the century, from broad-brimmed straw hats a la Pamela to the little "toques" that were popular under the Second Empire. (11) By 1827, the word modiste referred in particular to those who made and designed hats and other women's hair coverings. So when women in novels are en cheveux, what messages does it convey?
First, it was a sign that the woman was lower class. The Comtesse de Villermont says that a woman who was not "du peuple" would never go out bareheaded. Champfleury's Mariette (1853) sacrifies style because of her love for Gerard: "elle se coiffe plutot en cheveux qu'en chapeau, par economie. Qu'estce qui la pousse a vivre aussi miserablement? C'est parce qu'elle m'aime" (107). As working class women entered the novel, so did the expression, in works by Zola, Maupassant, and others. Even within that class, there were distinctions, however. When Germinie Lacerteux goes to a dance hall, she judges the other women according to their headgear, and they return the favor:
A leurs bonnets de linge, elle avait juge que les femmes assises en file a cote d'elle etaient des domestiques comme die: des camarades l'intimidaient moins que ces petites filles du bal, en cheveux et en filet, les mains dans les poches de leur paletot, l'oeil effronte, la bouche chantonnante. Mais bientot elle eveilla, meme sur son banc, une attention malveillante. Son chapeau,--une douzaine de femmes seulement dans le bal portaient chapeau,--son jupon a dents dont le blanc passait sous sa robe, la broche d'or de son chale, firent autour d'elle une curiosite hostile. (92-93)
Working class women, grisettes, were thought to have loose morals. Maupassant's narrator, Maufrigneuse, claims women are the seducers, not the seduced, as a glance at them will show: "Voyez ces fillettes en cheveux, ces petites ouvrieres deux par deux, errant sur les trottoirs, provocantes, l'oeil hardi, pretes a accepter tout rendez-vous, cherchant de l'amour par les rues" ("Petition d'un viveur malgre lui" 1:345). One would expect a hatless women to exhibit the vulgarity of her class. Muffat is made distinctly uncomfortable when he waits for Nana outside the theater as men in dirty linen and bareheaded girls come out (227). In Huysmans's Marthe, Histoire d'une fille (1876), Leo describes his affairs with working-class women: "L'une s'amouracha de moi ... pendant huit jours. Ce fut accablant, mon cher; je dus sortir avec elle en cheveux, supporter ses rires eclatants dans la rue, subir ces abominables expressions: 'vrai, pour sur, oh alors!'" (139).
The expression could also connote a prostitute. According to Maxime du Camp, writing in 1872, regulations for prostitutes specified that they were not to go out in the street coiffies en cheveux. (12) However, later in the century they apparently did. The young sailor in Lofts 1886 Pecheur d'Islande "avait rencontre des dames d'un age assez mur, coiffees en cheveux, qui faisaient les cent pas sur leur trottoir ... Il avait bien compris tout de suite ce qu'elle voulaient, n'etant point si naif qu'on aurait pu le croire" (106). Villiers de l'Isle-Adam has an ironic twist in his Demoiselles de Bienfilatre. Olympe, one of two sisters who are prostitutes, falls from grace by taking a poor student lover who cannot pay her. Her sister is horrified to come across her in a little black dress and hatless: "Ma soeur, votre conduite est inqualifiable! Respectez, au moins, les apparences!" (34). It is the well-off, self-respecting prostitute who is wearing a hat, not her sister, living the life of a grisette.
The expression persisted well into the twentieth century, indicating lower class, loose morals, or both. We can find examples in Radiguet, Aragon, and in de Beauvoir's Memoires d'une jeune fille rangee. (13) Women "en cheveux" are definitely not "rangees." But gradually it died out: as hats went out of fashion, the term lost its usefulness. As always, the language and the styles go together.
There is a language of hair, in two senses. The expressions used to refer to hair are often conventional ones. And hairstyles, like fashion, are themselves a kind of language, a system of signs. Nineteenth-century novelists make use of both kinds of hair language. They employ the terms that fashion and linguistic fashion provide. They also use particular hairstyles to connote social status and character traits. In particular, they let down their characters' hair to signal moments of eroticism, distress, or danger. A wealth of meaning is entwined in the ribbons, curls, and chignons of these women's coiffures.
Department of French
Middlebury, VT 05753
(1) I base the description of hairstyles that follows on Eze, Gerbod, Lebas, and Villermont.
(2) Le Huenen notes that the portrait introducing Bette has the opposite characteristics: her dark hair and stiffness denote ugliness. We should not generalize from the example of this novel, however; Balzac also has beautiful brunette characters like Pauline. Redheads are vulgar and evil through the nineteenth-century novel, but the story is more complicated for blondes and brunettes, for whom there is no simple correlation with class, personality, or beauty.
(3) To see how Emma's story "has largely been told by means of her hair," see Wight.
(4) Zola often uses the collocation mehes folles. Collot shows that the curls and wisps of hair in Zola's novels indicate sexual availability and lack of discipline (13-15).
(5) For an analysis of this development in La Curee see Rifelj, "Les cheveux denoues."
(6) The Marcel wave was itself replaced around 1910, when the technique for permanents was imported from England (Gerbod 211).
(7) See Rifelj, "Cheveux epars."
(8) For an analysis of the importance of hair in Maupassant and in this story in articular, see also Lloyd.
(9) Perrot quotes Pierre Darmon on the "pacification" of nineteenth-century women, and he links it with their encumbering clothing, as described in La Vie Parisienne in 1870. The article he quotes describes how corsets, crinolines, padding, etc. artificially construct women's form; among these appendages are their false hairpieces (167-69).
(10) Madame Celnart insists that if they don't have a carriage, they should take a cab or a "chaise a porteurs" (42-43).
(11) The Larousse encyclopedia mocks the changing fashions in hats, especially the current vogue for little hats perching atop the head:
Aujourd'hui, nos dames se contentent, en fait de chapeau, de poser sur leur occiput un petit disque circulaire retenu par des brides et flanque d'un bouquet. On ne sait pas vraiment ou s'arretera cette gradation descendante dans le systeme microscopique. On croirait, ma foi, que le sexe enchanteur a jure de jeter son chapeau pardessus les moulias. (VOL. C : 951)
(12) According to Maxime du Camp, it was apparently one of the rules for prostitutes printed on a card (quoted in Voisin-Fougere's edition of Nana, 498).
(13) An example from Romains shows that prostitutes' appearance--including their hair--might be more distasteful than their illicit activity:
Non pas qu'il eut de gives repugnances a l'egard des prostituees. Certes il goutait peu les filles en cheveux de la rue Charbonniere ou du boulevard de la Chapelle; mais c'etait leur grossierete qu'il leur reprochait, leur costume, leur voix crapuleuse, et non le commerce de leur corps. (217)
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|Publication:||Nineteenth-Century French Studies|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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