Pleasures and Pastimes of the Bourgeoisie


Cercles (Casinos)
~ Pre -revolution

~Fashion in Les Mis

~Rise in Popularity
~Economic and Social Symbolism
~Representation in Les Mis

Gardens ~17th Century ~18th Century ~19th Century ~Versailles

Gambling ~Pre-Revolutionary ~Cafés & Cercles

Opéra & Theatre
~The Revolution
~Social Status
~Les Misérables

Etiquette ~Promenade ~Dances ~Dinner ~Casinos and Salons

Bibliography ~Fashion ~Etiquette ~Restaurants ~Opéra ~Picture Bibliography



The Parisian Salon was no place for a real man.

The masculine bourgeois gentleman was not lead in the discussion of art and other similar topics by a Salonnière over tea with other occupation-less dilettantes. The masculine bourgeois took spirits whilst participating in the manly act of gambling his family's fortunes away. Such was the life of the Gentleman's Cercle, also known as the Casino.

Le Jeu De Dames. Boilly. 1836. (Farwell 46)

Here are some gentlemen playing a game of checkers: "Le Jeu de Dames" (So named after the pawns). They are bourgeois - note the top hats, large cravats, and the tailoring of the jackets. The game is social - five gentlemen look on the two players. Note the drink on the table in the rear. This piece could be viewed satirically: the old bourgeoisie (all involved in the game of checkers are white haired) passing their idle lives playing checkers.

The Gentleman's Cercle

The cercle was a predominantly provincial phenomenon. Paris had numerous elite cafés for solely bourgeois clientele, whereas the provinces had no arena solely for the bourgeois citizen. Provincial bourgeoisie had no place to gather other than their own homes, which could be miles apart. Thus the birth of the cercle, derivative of the café and the salon.

The New Paris Guide describes the cercle: "CERCLES.--These are societies conducted on similar princicles to the clubs of London, the members subscribing for the support of a magnificent apartament, in which they assemble for the purpose of conversation and of reading the papers; card and billiard playing to a great extent is carried on in them. ... To be admitted, the candidate must be proposed by a member, and ballotted for, as in London..." (Galignani's 18)

The purpose of the cercle was to "procure amusements similar to those one finds in public cafés, without the disadvantages that result from pernicious habits that one can contrast there as a result of exposure to individuals met by chance whose morals, in consequence, are unknown" (Harrison 90). In other words, to provide a safe haven for the bourgeois male from the lower classes, as well as his wife.

For indeed, the cercle included only gentlemen, and no ladies. Men had tired of "the limits of the salon - limits of both size and salonnière-imposed politesse" (Harrison 95, italics hers) After the cercles had gained notoreity, they sponsored balls for the bourgeois community, but only two per annum, so as not to disturb cercle members with "an invasion of feminine frivolity" (Harrison 90) The exclusion of ladies made it possible for the men to do as they wished: smoke, drink and gamble.

Drink, games, and smoke were all essential elements to any cercle. Drinks flowed as freely as in cafés. Games played in the cercle included draughts, billiards, dominoes, and other card games, as one cercle spent over 1000 francs in a year replacing worn out card decks. Though games of chance were illegal, they were nevertheless played. Smoking was also an indulgence for bourgeois cercle men: without ladies, men could smoke as much as they liked. All of these activities were highly regulated by the cercle. Smoking was prohibited in the reading room, and small fees were charged per game played.

The cercle had strict rules. (For more on the etiquette of the cercle, go to Lee's page on Club etiquette)For example, to become a member of a cercle, a man had to be sponsored by a current member. Voting took place by the place ment of colored balls in a dish. White balls were a vote to include the candidate in the cercle, and black balls were a vote to exclude the candidate. This is the origin of the term "black-balling." Once he joined, the gentleman was required to pay an annual membership fee, as well as the above mentioned fee per game. Even if no gambling was being done, these fees added up. But costly is the appearance of leisure, the goal of all bourgeoisie.