12.09Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: 12.09

December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! Another holiday in this crazy few weeks of celebrations.  Now let's take a look at some interesting New Years traditions!

At Versailles it was a custom for the ladies who had been presented to the royal family to pay court on New Years Day.  According to the Comte de Mercy this is the day which Madame du Barry payed court to Antoinette, along side the duchesse d'Aiguillon and Maréchale de Mirepoix.  On New Years Eve he spoke to the dauphine, alerting her to the fact that du Barry would be meeting with her the following day and asking that she act with grace towards the King's favorite. 

The key to making this meeting a success, as in, Antoinette not snubbing du Barry, was to keep the affair a secret from Mesdames.  Louis' aunts had a way of foiling such meetings to their advantage.  When Antoinette was approached by the trio she first acknowledged the duchesse and gave her famous line about the crowd at Versailles second to du Barry, quickly turning her attnetion to the Maréchale.

There are other traditions to observe though! Some such as this date back as far as Roman times and perhaps even further:  give a gift on New Years Day, for good luck.  This does not need to be a fancy gift, some nuts, fruit or sweets would do!

A later tradition is one for New Year's morning;  children would receive sweets to ensure they had a good (sweet) year.

Make a New Year's cake, usually made with spices and figs.  Bake with a coin in the batter.  (mmm)  The cake is then sliced and everyone in the family gets a piece (the two end pieces are for the house and the local poor).  Whomever gets the coin in their piece is to be the luckiest of the new year.

Enjoy the parties tonight and have a lovely New Year!! Best wishes from the Gossip Guides!

December 30, 2009

Reading Material: The Queen's Dollmaker

I had not considered the role of dolls in the 18th century until I received a very welcomed heads up from author Christine Trent who has done her own extensive research on the fascinating subject.  I found her new book, The Queen's Dollmaker, an absolutely delightful read, both due to the plot and all the great information packed between the covers.  From start to finish you will get a glimpse of both the domestic and business cultures of the 18th century.  The book covers the intriguing process of doll-making and follows the main character, Claudette Laurent, as she chooses 'survival' in a very rough world.

My first introduction to Claudette left mixed feelings. I found her easy to relate too, but before getting to know her better she was faced with many challenges and I thought perhaps I cannot relate to her at all! Circumstances arrived so quickly for the young daughter of a shop keeper that I found myself wishing I had the opportunity to know what life was like for Claudette before her world was turned upside down. Fortunately Trent includes small bits of her early life throughout the story, painting a picture of the doll shop as well as the blossoming of a very important romance.

What I like about Claudette is that she is flawed and as I read I kept thinking she was a blond mix between Lizzy Bennet and Scarlett O'Hara.  She makes mistakes but is insistently a strong girl who grows into an equally strong and wiser woman. She is in love, makes friends, and essentially finds a family in a very rough world. But my favorite part: her trade. Claudette grew up in a doll shop her father kept, and he was very, very good. As Claudette makes her way through life we learn about the entire process of constructing these historic creations, from the selection of wood, the carving, painting, designing of garments and even a bit about movable limbs.

Claudette's story takes her to England, but the story shifts to France quite often as we are updated with events unfolding on the continent. I read these parts as 'French moments' because suddenly, between Claudette's tale, you are in France.  These moments occur periodically throughout the story showing the revolution as it affects Marie Antoinette, including little details from Antoinette's daily life at Versailles, her time with friends, and later at the Tuileries Palace in Paris where she lived as a captive. These glimpses into Antoinette's routine would be of interest to anyone with a budding curiosity of the doomed queen.  I was so often deeply involved with Claudette's story I did not want to read an Antoinette update, but Trent does well at providing a great deal of detail in such small parts.  My favorite French moment was when Antoinette took lunch in at her petit Hameau. I felt like I was there, (wouldn't that be wonderful?) among the tall grass and breezy weather, having delicate little fancies with Mrs. B herself.

Trent, Christine. 2010. The queen's dollmaker. New York: Kensington Books. ISBN 9780758238573

Released December 2009, available at

December 29, 2009

Giveaway: The Queen's Dollmaker

To enter this give away simply follow @MarieGossip on Twitter and send me a Tweet telling me the last book/current book you are reading.

If you are new to Twitter, the format for an entry is (for example):

"@MarieGossip: the last book I read was The Devil in the Holy Water by Darnton, it was fabulous!"

Or something along those lines!

Then you will be entered into the drawing for a copy of The Queen's Dollmaker by Christine Trent.

If you do not have a Twitter account to enter you can simply post your answer in the comment section here. Good luck! I look forward to your Tweets!

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, Janurary 20th, 2010.  I will contact the winner via Twitter (or if you do not have a Twitter account via email).


Thank you everyone for entering!  This giveaway was a lot of fun and I look forward to the next!

Marie Antoinette: 18th Century Doll Collector?

Today author Christine Trent has been kind enough to share a very interesting post with us about 18th Century dolls!  I have just finished her book The Queen's Dollmaker and will post more on that later! Stay tuned for more details on the book and enjoy this fascinating post by Christine!

So we know all about the fascinating and complex Marie Antoinette, right? She loved fashion, spent extravagantly, was devoted to her family, and stood bravely in the face of imprisonment and execution. But did you also know she loved dolls?

In the 18th century, dolls were created for two different reasons. First, as you might guess, they were playthings. Such toys might be made of rags, corn husks, or other simple materials. As you can imagine, most of these are lost to the ravages of time.

But if you were wealthy enough, dolls meant something else to you: receiving a doll was akin to sitting in the front row at a fashion show. A tiny replica of whatever the modiste proposed to make for you was placed on the doll. In this way, you could see and touch the fabric up close, although it probably wasn’t the greatest representation of how it would look on a human form.

Dolls of the 18th century were carved of hardwood with their facial features painted on. Nicer dolls might have glass eyes inserted into carved eye sockets. Hair was fashioned into a wig from flax or wool and glued down. Some dolls were fairly rough jobs, others were very meticulously crafted. But for a fashion doll, the emphasis was always on the couture. Marie Antoinette had an entire set of dolls presented to her as a means for selecting her wedding trousseau. Doesn’t that sound fun? I can imagine her as a young teenager, lining them up in a window sill, and deciding which ones pleased her enough that she would want their dresses recreated for her.

Once she’d left her native Austria for France, Marie Antoinette sent dolls to her sister, Maria Carolina, who herself became Queen of Naples. Maria Carolina liked to paint, and in 1760 created a scene of the Austrian royal family. Notice that her sister, Marie Antoinette, is holding up a doll in the painting.

We frequently refer to these wooden dolls of the 18th century as “Queen Anne dolls,” because Queen Anne (Stuart, not Boleyn!) loved them and frequently gave them away as gifts. I was thrilled when I visited Lullingstone Castle in Kent, England, in 2006. They had recently discovered a Queen Anne doll that had been stored in a trunk somewhere in an attic. The doll was in such good shape that you could tell that her dress had been a lovely shade of pink. The owner of the castle gave me a copy of the V&A Museum’s provenance report on the doll, which indicated they believed that the doll may have actually been a gift from Queen Anne to one of the Hart-Dyke family members. If only I had been allowed to photograph the precious doll!

It is interesting to note that the wax, china, and composition dolls that we think of today as “antique” dolls did not come into production until the early 19th century, so Marie Antoinette would have never known anything but wooden dolls. Handcrafted dolls such as the one Marie Antoinette would have owned are very unusual today, but there are still doll artists out there who do this painstaking work. Do you have an old doll that is well loved or very collectible?

Visit Christine's website here

December 23, 2009

Out of the Salon

Nicolas Lancret, Winter, 1738. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre.
I will be away for the holiday. I hope you all have a very lovely one, and stay warm if you are in a chilly area (like me and these poor ice-skaters).

December 18, 2009

Femme of the Week: Madame de Blot

Marie Cécile Pauline d'Ennerie (or Ennery) was a woman of standards. It was a main goal of hers to, well basically, be a sylph in every way possible. She was the niece of Madame de Mauconseil, a close friend of Richelieu's. Her aunt held a popular salon, its main attraction being the guest of honor- King Stanlislaw II of Poland (Louis XV's father in law).

Pauline loved animals, and as recorded in the Memoirs of the Countess de Genlis, she had once wished for a portrait of her canary on a ring she could wear. Well, she wished it out loud and in the presence of the Prince de Conti, who asked if she would accept one from him.

George Stubbs, King Charles Spaniel.
Of course she said yes! But she desired a simple ring. He wasted no time having the ring fashioned for her, and he affixed a flat cut diamond over the top of the portrait. When she found it was not glass but an exquisite stone, she returned it, tsk tsk prince, "upon which [he] caused the diamond to be ground into powder, and used it to dry the ink of the letter he wrote on the subject to Madame de Blot."

Pauline also kept a little puppy (very tiny spaniel), like all fashionable ladies did. She cared for it so much that when she was not home she would have her ladies read to it, usually comedies, so the little pup would not get bored! In Madame de Crequey's Memoirs, the pup had a rather tragic end, as the result of a very portly priest's bottom.

In 1745 she became a lady-in-waiting to the lovely Duchesse de Chartres. She spent all her time at the Palais Royale and and was all the rage at the Palais Royale, or at least she felt that way. Pauline lived her life aspiring to be a sylph and held several ‘beliefs’ of just how a lady should life. On 18 Nov. 1749 she married Gilbert de Chauvigni, Baron de Blot. In 1752 he gained the station of Captain of the guards of the duc d'Orleans.

She always dressed in a tasteful manner and was fascinated with etiquette and courtly manners. One of her favorite topics was the bon ton and all the gossip surrounding it. She developed an obsession with good tastes, class and propriety, and would carry out this obsession in excess. Many saw her as cold.

Upholding the idea that the female sex was "bound to be ethereal," she would make due eating the smallest amounts of food when in the company of others, especially men. She did not eat chicken due to a "masculine flavor" among other silly rules she dutifully followed.

“What! Drink wine like a vulgar person? Why my dear, the correct thing is to eat a section of an orange, with a little cake and half a dozen strawberries. Then one my drink a little milk with fresh water in it- the milk of sheep, of course, what the dear little lambs are fed on.”¹

Her delicate femininity attracted the Viscount de Schromberg, and for ten years he found himself infatuated with the woman. He remained with her often and was a close confidant. Ironically he was also a close confident with the count de Frize, who happened to be her lover.

In 1776 Madame de Blot's brother died, and with his widow, the two women commissioned a large and beautiful memorial for him. The sculpture shows the Widow of the comte d'Ennry weeping with child, and Madame de Blot, on the left is weeping inconsolably. She holds a damp handkerchief to her eyes and looks up toward heaven. It lends a warm and very human light on the woman described as "too fine."

¹Grant, Colquhoun, and Renée Caroline de Froulay Créquy. 1904. The French noblesse of the XVIII century. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. 

December 17, 2009

Holiday Shopping: Timeless Fragrance

Any lady of fashion would be sure not to leave for a stroll along the promenade or for a visit to town or even to a friend's house without a small container chained to her person, holding her favorite fragrance.  If you are like me, you probably would love such a thing to at least throw in the purse (or clip to your bodice!)

Well here is yet another fabulous item to consider.  Inspired by these historical tiny perfume bottles, artist Douglas Little has created portable fragrance you will love wearing and carrying!  The container- silver pocket watches, which open to reveal your solid fragrance. <3

At just the right price (only $33) his Timeless Fragrance collection comes in three scents, all of which, meet my approval as far as 18th century fragrance goes:

Lily of the Valley
Jasmine Sambac
Tuberose Absolute

If you want something Antoinette would have loved, go with the Tuberose Absolute.

December 13, 2009

Holiday Shopping: Hair Powder

Lucy at IndiePerfumes has just doomed me to spend more holiday money on myself!  Thanks a lot lady! What am I buying now??

Hair powder by Lulu Organics!  The tag line here is "a light powder for hair on days unwashed."  The products are all natural, and it is offered in 4 different scents.  These little containers have 4oz of light hair powder that you can just throw on in the morning, smooth in and go!  Now the recommended amount of powder is 'a dime size amount' so, of course do not get crazy with the bellows-unless that is the look you are going for!

But for my own use, they are excellent because they are also sold in travel size! So to have something I can throw in my purse and guarantee a far more clean look the day after my red-eye is ideal!  (you can get the travel size ones here)

The only problem is choosing the right scent.  Initially I would want anything that smells as nice as "Cyprian-a powdered wig scent" from the Scented Court Collection. Here are the choices:
Lavender and Clary Sage
Patchouli and Amber
If you are going for 18th century, I first suggest Tuberose and Lavender & Cary Sage.

December 11, 2009

The Devil in the Holy Water, or the Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon

When I received a tip in my mailbox about The Devil in the Holy Water, or the Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon I was beyond excited!  A book all about the art of slander? For our purposes, I could not think of a topic better suited!

Author Robert Darnton investigates the process of spreading slander during the 18th century, from harmless riddles to full libels, as well as the motives which led authors to do so, whether they be entertainment for friends or means of a quick fortune.

The book is written in four parts, each packed with fascinating material, mini biographies, police follies, and descriptive passages that open up an underground world.  Darnton uses vivid examples of the gossip in print at the time, however, you will find the process of actually producing those illegal texts and having them successfully circulate just as interesting.  It is a full and comprehensive study of a specific world within 18th century France, where libel was created, shared, sold, and hunted.

The duchesse de Bouillon was faced with a particularly incriminating libel called Les Petit Soupers et les nuits de l’Hôtel Bouillon. Filled with deliberate details of an intriguing and depraved private lifestyle, the libel paints the duchesse and her associates in the most unflattering light. Such libels were policed, but when money and bargains can be made, who could anyone really trust? Treachery abounds and the various sides of underground publishing are exposed. Key-players are introduced, including their motives in the game.

Darnton’s objectives are history first, followed by devices used and effects of production. Who were the fathers of eighteenth century slander?  We are introduced to La Gazetier cuirassé, (a best-seller) the author of which stands behind the safety of "anonymous". Later authors would use anonymity for extortion of the noblesse. The libels were filled with amusing features such as puzzles, obscure codes for names and even lewd images of well known personages. The resulting publications were often very crude in language yet hours of entertainment for the audience.

As pointed out in the chapter Royal Depravity, there were many in the audience who believed fabrications they read. In the case of Antoinette, the results were far from favorable. Even when the topic was about the duchesse de Polignac and Colonel C___, the effect produced was a general feeling of disgust toward the Queen!

To express the unforgiving light these publications shed on Antoinette, Darnton quotes Essais Historiques Sur La Vie De Marie-Antoinette D'autriche, Reine De France : “Our [Antoi, lil Po and the comte d’Artois] three interlocked bodies composed the most rare and interesting combinations. Debilitated by our pleasures, exhausted with fatigue, we took time out only in order to mock the misery of the people…”

You may not want to sit down and read this one from cover to cover. I did not, and if you find you can, I suggest giving yourself a few days to let the information absorb.

Title: The devil in the holy water or the art of slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon
Author: Robert Darnton
Paperback: 552 pages
Publisher: Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (October 30, 2009)

December 09, 2009

The Fashionable Male: Nicolas Châtelain

Johann Friedrich August Tischbein, Nicolas Châtelain.
1791, oil on canvas.  Neue Pinakothek.
Nicolas Châtelain was born of a French family in scenic Rotterdam on November 23, 1769.  He was an author who wrote, what some call imitation literature, imitating the styles of others.  This, he claimed, was merely literary exercise for his own pleasure, in hopes that others received pleasure from it as well.  His works, so well written and so convincing, had experts duped as to the true author!  Some of those he imitated were Voltaire and Madame de Sevigny.  They were all done without malicious intentions, and many found them entertaining.

detail, cravat

He settled in Rolle, Switzerland during the Revolution, and entertained many who were escaping France.  Those in Rolle included some friends of the Duc de Noailles, and those close to Madame de Staël's then popular circle (she had  spent some time there).  He spent his time with friends and an ever changing circle of people traveling from town to town, but also reading and, of course, writing. He lived to 87, passing away at home on 27 September 1856.

Monsieur Châtelain casually leans against a stone wall for his full length portrait by Johann Friedrich August Tischbein.  He is twenty two years old with a keen interest in the fine arts.  He is wearing a high crowned and cocked hat in black, a frock coat with turned down collars and no cuffs.  The turned down collars expose his cravat, which ruffles just right under the chin.

detail, buttons and stockings
His waistcoat is most likely silk, and to wear stripes was the height of fashion.  This one has green trim with burgundy touches. These details match the frock coat.  The pockets are also detailed in green.  Also very popular were laced shoes, which would later give way to the boot.  His breeches, although not skin tight, still cling close and go just to the knee; they are gathered with buttons over white stockings.  This shows off a well turned leg, a sight for ladies, dare I say, gentlemen as well?

December 06, 2009

Art du Jour! Queen Anna

Hans Maler, Anne of Bohemia and Hungary, Queen of Austria. 1520. The Netherlands, Private Collection.

Queen Anna was Marie Antoinette's 7th great grandmother on her father's side.  Can you spot any resemblance? I am loving the owl on her pendant and I would wear that garment this winter.

December 04, 2009

Industry and Idleness

Ah the industrious servant and the idle servant.  The story of William Goodchild and Jack Idle are told through a printed cotton handkerchief, made from an engraving (1775).  These types of handkerchiefs were made for various reasons, sometimes to celebrate a cause or event and in other cases like this, to educate.  This one teaches the viewer the importance of hard work.

The center of the handkercheif says "The Good and the Bad Servant at their Work" and shows just that.  I apologize for the sorry resolution.  The two sit at what appears to be a loom?  (Your guess is welcome.)  There is a letter posted on the wall behind them that says Good and Bad.

The good servant sits upright and works while the bad servant, possibly suffering an unwanted hangover is leaning on the loom, accomplishing nothing.

The bad servant is trying to cure his condition by drinking exactly what he drank the night before! Oh but what misfortune!  His ale has fallen to the ground and split due to his fuzzy state.  You can imagine the good servants dismay at his co-worker.  To make matters worse, it appears a thief is trying to steal something from this bad servant with a stick through the window!

Below the scene is a small bubble of moral thought for your Friday. It says:
Industry is the Handmaid of Fortune, But the Sluggard shall be doathed with Rags.

December 02, 2009

18th Century Inspired: Antoinette Collection

I love modern items that are historically inspired! The lovely Samalia has designed a collection inspired by Antoinette and 18th century French fashion.

I find each of her pieces takes an element from the period and with a modern eye, she created lovely garments that echo those details.  The designs are youthful and, well, just fun!  I could certainly see myself going to a soiree or two this spring in her dresses!

She is posting images of the garments on her blog: Samalia: Daily Confessions of a Fashion Designer.  Check out the collection as it goes up!

December 01, 2009

Welcome to the 18th Century Bad Girls Club

The Plot:
As cheesy as it sounds, there is a show called The Bad Girls Club the premise is:

selected girls are sent to a mansion where they live together, drink champagne go out to operas masquerades and possibly a brothel or two!

The Cast:
The 18th Century Bad Girls Club and it is your casting call.  Which ladies would you most like to see in the mansion?   Who would survive I wonder?

*POLL* -->
Choose the girls you would most like to see *live together* on the 18th Century Bad Girls Club on the poll to the right and the poll on Heathers page.  (same spot)

aka Madame Lavoisier

This bad girl was always considered a bit bold in the public eye.  Far too often was she perceived as acting "too male!" *shock/scandal!* *Tomboy*

aka Comtesse de la Châtre

Every house needs your lady of loose morals. Charlotte did not let fidelity spoil her fun nor did she mind having men in her private quarters for 'conversation' *Playgirl*

aka Madame Lucifer

Born of a king, knew a thing or two about self-importance, and had no qualms about being in a public family feud.  When challenged she had a temper that, to some, rivaled that of the devil himself. *Betch*

aka Jeanne de la Motte

Skilled in the art of manipulation, trickery and being discreetly conniving for her own means are ways we can begin to describe this bright *Felon.*

aka Madame Grand

Catherine doesn't need men in her life, just their money. Sure she will date them, have them buy her lavish items, give her ample allowances- but they dare not live with her. In fact it is better they stay in a different country all together! *Gold-digger*

aka Madame du Barry

It is best for men to avoid eye contact with this blond beauty. 'nuff said.  *Man-eater*