Classification, containment, contamination, and the courtesan: the grisette, lorette, and demi-mondaine in nineteenth-century French fiction
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This dissertation presents an analysis of the demi-mondaine’s evolution, using feminist and Bourdieusian theory to interpret the social, political, and cultural factors that permitted her ascent and attendant demonization. I situate the demi-mondaine in relation to her predecessors -- the courtesan and the lorette -- and document the prostitute's response to her own social alienation in the autobiographical writings of the Second Empire attributed to demi-mondaines like Lola Montès, Céleste de Chabrillan, and Marguerite Bellanger in a way that has not previously been described in critical works on French literature. Each period examined in the work -- the July Monarchy, the Second Republic, and the Second Empire -- spawned a new incarnation of the prostitute to match the new social transformations. In the case of the lorette and the demi-mondaine, new words were coined, whereas in the case of the courtesan, a line was drawn separating the idealized ancient courtesan from the demonized contemporary one to solidify and correspond to male fantasies about significant changes of the period. My purpose is to trace the way writers such as Hugo, Dumas, Balzac, Sue, the Goncourt brothers, Flaubert, Dumas fils, and Zola employed the figure of the prostitute to work through their ambivalence to changes brought about by capitalism, modernity, revolution, as well as evolving gender roles. Specifically, these writers played out their distress through the figure of the lorette, courtisane, and demi-mondaine in an effort to assuage their anxieties through the containment of these unruly figures. Hence, these authors generated a complex system of social classification ranking prostitute to give the illusion of both controlling her and mastering these overwhelming forces of change. This illusion of control takes the form of scapegoating the prostitute, for if her lawlessness is eradicated through her destruction, containment or punishment in the narratives, then the actions of the marginalized prostitute are kept in check, thereby reestablishing a sense of order. Textual analyses of the memoirs written by demimondaines, the plays, the physiologies, the caricatures, and the political pamphlets I found in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand complement the canonical works I examine.