Splendeur et misere de la grisette: L'evolution d'une figure emblematique

Date of Completion

January 2005


Literature, Romance|History, European|Women's Studies




The evolution of the grisette figure in nineteenth century art and literature allows a more comprehensive understanding of the historical and social impact of stereotyped characters in French popular culture. The prominence of the grisette in the first part of the nineteenth century reflects the individual's state of mind and social struggles of the individual in a society in constant mutation. Following a period of light representation, before the French Revolution, which privileges the grisette as a sexual object at the disposal of aristocrats, the poet and singer Pierre Jean de Beranger transforma the grisette into a political figure opposed to the Restauration, through his character Lisette. The association of the free-willed grisette with popular bals, the students and the cancan dance is largely connected to the republican trend of freedom of expression, equality and fraternity of the people. Grisette's literature is linked to the everyday genre , or roman de moeurs, which triggers a new realistic approach of literature through an encyclopedic description of the hidden facets of society. The grisette symbolizes the Parisian worker women involved in the fashion industry, but also Paris itself as a piece of fashion exported overseas. With Mimi Pinson of Alfred de Musset, the other Mimi of Murger and the Rigolette of Eugène Sue, the idealized grisette reaches the stature of a pure republican angel. Champfleury's realism tries to destroy this Pygmalion figure by a more pessimistic representation of poor women, a discourse that meet the socialistic expectation of the time. ^ The grisette fades away in the eighteen-fifties, replaced by the less glamorous figure of the lorette, but her nostalgic character gets resurrected through famous drama like La Dame au Camelias and important operas like Puccini's La Boheme. This emblematic figure of the French popular culture can be seen as the first major step leading to our modern conception of femininity. Also, it contributes to delineating the French and Anglo-Saxon imagery about French Parisian women during the nineteenth century. ^