This is the central site for a long-term project to research, examine, and respond to the radical collective of writers, theorists, architects, and visual artists who operated in Paris between 1829 and 1835 under the names of the Jeunes France & the Bouzingo, and through them to build a critical understanding of French Romanticist subculture through the historical lens of a continuing politically vigilant Anglophone avant-garde.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Alphonse Karr on Bohemian Dancing, Jan. 1841!

Here's are two little articles from Alphonse Karr's Jan. 1841 issue of the self-published Bohemian gossip & satire magazine 'Les Guêpes' (The Wasps) from my archive, one about police persecution of "indecent" dances such as the early Cancan, and one on dance-club etiquette. (They appeared next to eachother in the issue). This links up directly with the lacture I gave at last year's AfterMAF about avant-garde Romanticist dance–note the discussion about Musard, the inventor of the Infernal Gallop, Broken-Chair-Gallop, etc.

The footnotes that contain French are passages I'm not quite sure about the translation of.
HERE are the original articles from a later reprint.


Random Stuff
by Gustave Karr

In The Favourite, presented at the Paris Opera, – there’s still a church, – there’s now one in every opera.[1] – which must naturally be diverted[2] into two kinds of people, – first the pious people, who don’t like that we allow actors such performances. And those who, not going to mass, neither want to discover it upon the boards, where they come looking for something else.

The former like nothing better than to go to mass, – the latter prefer the Musard Ball.

But, everything’s mixed up, everything’s confounded in a weird Tohu-bohu.[3] – If the Opera, on certain days, has the air of a church, – we have the church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette[4], which has the air of an auditorium or ballroom, and which we justifiably dub a Musard church.

It is, every Sunday, the meeting-place of a slew of dancers[5] and all the kept girls[6] of the neighbourhood. – What’s more we encounter there a throng of young guys, less punctilious than in yesteryear to the holy services.

That’s probably by virtue of the fact that this church isn’t terribly well-formed – why they position so many uniformed policemen there – probably to prevent indecent dances. – They announce a massive ball at Notre-Dame de Paris.

Regarding these indecent dances and policemen, militiamen[7], etc. – who are charged with cracking down, in the public establishments, – on the popular cauchucas[8] and exaggerated fandangos, – aren’t they capable of making some huge mistakes? – Recently, a man arrested by them for a like offense, called upon, before the sixth chamber, some embarrassing theories.

–We have, said he,

The gracious cancan, – the saint-simonian, – the half-cancan, – the cancan, – the cancan and a half, – and the cahut; – this last dance is is the only one prohibited. I was dancing the gracious cancan.

Wouldn’t it be timely to open, for the good of those gentlemen the police and militiamen, a special school of bizarre dances, – where they would learn to perfectly discern the specific characteristics of these dances they have too much of[9].

@  @ @

Out in the world, when a man has invited a woman to dance who can’t accept due to a previous offer, he goes on to another, and it seems to me to be an insult to both women. To the first, he would say thus: “I asked you by chance, without preference; I don’t dance with you; so it goes! I’ll dance with someone else.” – To the second: “I take you for lack of anyone better; if the one whom I invited first had been free, I’d never consider you; she’s prettier than you, more elegant, more spiritual than you.”

Some people, in order to avoid this, don’t dance when the woman whom they’ve chosen isn’t free; – but it can thus come about that they pass the night without dancing, some wish they would have.

Here’s how they do it in some of the towns in the Midi:[10] – each man, when coming in, plucks from a basket an artificial flower, – and, when he’s going to invite a woman to dance[11], – in the place of this seldom-varied formula:

“Would Madame like to do me the honour of dancing with me?” he offers her a flower, which she keeps in her waistband until she’s danced the promised contradance; – then, the contradance over, she returns the bouquet to him, which he’ll offer to another. – In this way, they don’t run the risk of inviting a woman already spoken for, – because each woman who doesn’t have a flower is free and waiting to dance.

from Les Gûepes, Janvier 1841, p. 66–68. 


[1] il y en a maintenant dans tous les opéras
[2] écarter
[3] An extremely rare word, that was likely current as Romanticist/Bohemian slang (note its resonance with other key argot in the article such as the cancan, etc.). It derives from Jewish theology, and denotes the primordial chaos prior to the Word–an idea relating to the theory of Romanticist frenzy, and likely to appeal to the hermetic, quasi-cabalistic elements of the movement.
[4] This new church had been built by the ruling Orleans monarchy five years previous, which gives the pun a subtle political jibe.
   However, Karr is making a pun with Romanticist argot; several months previously, his friend Nestor Roqueplan (a Romanticist humourist) had coined the slang term “Lorette” to signify a young, lower-class single woman supported as a mistress by a wealthy man. (The term grew in popularity and remained current throughout the century.)
   The new church was surrounded by cheaply-built new apartments (note Karr’s jab at the quality of construction) which, due to a slow-drying plaster that caused respiratory problems, became inhabited by many poor working women, many of whom were susceptible to the advances of wealthier young men: hence the slang term deriving from the neighbourhood. (see Michael Marrinan, Romantic Paris: Histories of a Cultural Landscape, 1800–1850, p. 294. Marrinan traces this as the origin of the term, but not to Roqueplan personally.
   Lorettes would often have met their suitors at dance-halls and balls. The source of the term is recorded in the 1888 Dictionary of Parisian slang, which was compiled and published by collaborators of Alphonse Allais, in whose work Karr’s influence is clear.
[5] danseuses, female dancers
[6] i.e., “lorettes” according to the newly-coined slang term.
[7] gardes municipaux
[8] look up in 1829 dictionary & argot dictionary
[9] ces danses qui en ont trop.
[10] The southern coastal regions of France.
[11] va engager une femme à danser