Paris: City of Light

Parisian Women


Parisian Salons
 ~Salons of   Enlightenment
 ~Madame de   Stäel         
~Salons of the   Restoration
 ~The Salons of   Victor Hugo

Influence of Printed Materials
 ~Pre-Revolutionary   Timeline
 ~Post-Revolutionary   Timeline


Defining the Parisians
 ~Parisians Viewed   by Foreigners
 ~Parisians   Viewed by   Themselves
 ~Paris Fashion



Both male and female visitors who made observations on the Parisians focused a significant amount of their energy on the Parisian woman. It seems as if she is the embodiment of French culture. This "exquisite mosaic-work," as referred to by Frances Trollope, played a distinguished part in all aspects of Parisian social society -- for the women set the styles and lead conversations (Kramer, 45). An example of such a woman is Madame Récamier. This famous salonnière was considered to be the picture of female perfection in the Parisian society. In the mid 1830's she was described as the most beautiful woman in all of France and Europe. Her manner, dress, voice, and language were all perfect.

However, there was more to the Parisian woman than meets the eye. Aside from the general descriptions, she was given characteristics all her own.

Parisian women had a reputation for being:

      • clever
      • strong willed
      • decisive
      • controlling
      • bold

While on the contrary Parisian men were considered to be:

      • more passive
      • indecisive
      • easily manipulated
and thus seen to have been controlled by the women.

Figure 3.2 Type Parisian Une Promeneuse aux Champs-Élysées drawn by de M.F. Rops and etched by M. Boetzel, for Paris Guide, 1867 (Lacroix, 1249).

The image above is an example of a 'typical' Parisian woman. This sketch was done for a French Guide to Paris, thus it is emphasizing the characteristics of a Parisienne. The young woman's elegant dress and lively, yet free flowing manner make her distinctly Parisian. Her face shows that she is dynamic as her lips are parted indicating she getting ready to speak, and her neck is sharply turned to her right. She could have seen something or someone that interests her. She is lightly holding her dress as she strolls gaily along the Champs-Élysées. This type of stroll differs from the flaneur who observes with a sharp eye while walking. She manages to combine an elegant yet vigorous and bold style as she promenades down the boulevard.


M. Graindorge, a wealthy German who lived in Paris as a child, recounted in his memoires his thoughts about Parisian woman. He saw them as clever women who could get their way,

"She knows how to talk, to will, to guide, her man - she is full of repartee, or persuasion, of caprice...she holds up her head" (Taine, 68).

M. Graindorge further describes them by saying that through acting difficult, they get what they want, and they always make themselves the central figure whenever they can.

It is descriptions like the ones above that exemplify the complex being that is the Parisian woman. This is what gives her her unmistakable charm.