When a certain B.L. arrived in Brighton in 1866, he took a rather harsh look at the inhabitants of the town. His article was published in the weekly magazine “La Vie Parisienne”. B.L. starts his piece by satirising the drivers of the fly carriages before pillorying the street sellers, the urchins and finally the beggars in the street. But the main barb of his article is reserved for the bourgeoisie.After complimenting English girls in general on their golden blond hair, their delicate complexion and their thirty-two sparkling teeth, the author describes an imaginary Lady Porringe and her daughter Arabella. Mother and daughter are off for their morning dip.
The ladies clamber into their bathing machine, accompanied by:
“de vigoureuses matrones, au teint qui rappelle de l’écrevisse bordelaise, coiffées de chapeaux de satin, les manches relevées de manière à laisser voir des biceps vigoureux et écarlate.” [sturdy females with a complexion reminiscent of a Bordeaux crayfish, topped off with satin hats and with their sleeves rolled up to reveal stout, ruddy arms.]
And what of the English lady’s bathing dress:
“Eh bien! Franchement, le costume de bain de ces dames anglaises n’est guère séduisante. – Un grand sac bleu foncé ou noirâtre s’attache étroitement autour du cou et tombe jusqu’à la cheville ; des manches informes se greffent à l’extrémité du sac, laissant à découvert la moitié de l’avant-bras et une sorte de cordon noue le sac autour de la taille.”
[Well, to be honest, the swimming costume sported by English ladies is not exactly appealing. – It’s a large blue, or occasionally blackish bag tightly tied round the neck and falling to the ankles; the shapeless sleeves are tacked on to the outer extremities of the bag, leaving half the fore-arm naked. It is tied at the waist with a sort of rope.]
Of course, it is to be no more than a dip. Ladies do not swim.
[As ladies do not swim in Brighton and are generally happy just to hop over each wave as it comes in, holding hands in groups of three or four, they have no need of bloomers. Their sacks cover them right down to their feet]
And then along comes Mlle Rosette. She is French. She descends from her bathing machine, smoking an elegant cigarette dont elle fait tourbillonner au-dessus d’elle quelques bouffées. [sending a few puffs of smoke billowing above her head.]
Her bathing costume is in splendid white wool and, along with a few ornamental baubles, it stands out by being above all, shapely. Here she is, putting the English girls to shame.
Naturally, Miss Rosette can swim like a fish.
One area where the English Miss does excel is in her way of drying her hair. She literally lets it down to let it dry in the sea breezes – much to the admiration of the passing gentlemen.
[Once the English ladies are out of the water and out of their bathing machines, which are pulled up across the pebbles with the help of mighty capstans, the fashion is to go for a long walk along the Kings Road. The ladies have their hair spread across their shoulder so that the sun, when it deigns to appear, or the wind when it does not, dry them completely.]
Now it is the turn of the gentlemen. They take their dip in skimpy caleçon [trunks]. Some are even able to show their prowess at swimming. It is, of course, well known that English men fall into just two categories: the fat and the thin.
“Après le bain hommes et femmes se promènent sur le Kings-Road… Lunch vigoureux, larges et énergiques bifteackes, jambes de mouton splendides, vins… Ah! par exemple, il ne faut pas craindre de le dire, les vins du cru sont détestables …” [After bathing men and women stroll along the Kings Road … Lunch is hearty, the steaks copious and strengthening, the legs of mutton splendid and the wines … Ah ! Oh dear! I mustn’t be afraid of saying it, the local wines are detestable.]
Not even our policemen escape the attention of the writer:
“Bonnes figures, ces braves policemen. Délicieux chapeau en cuir bouilli affectant des formes de casque prussien, avec un vasistas dans le haut pour renouveler l’air.” [They have nice faces, these worthy policemen and a delicious patent leather hat in the style of the Prussian helmet with a little vent in the top to circulate the air.]
And finally, in the evening, the eternal round begins once more:
[Dinner a six o’clock, roast beef, again; pudding, again, etc., etc.; then a walk, again, more visits and then the following day, it all starts … again.]
Was the bourgeoisie in the reign of Emperor Napoleon III any less bourgeois that that of her Imperial Majesty, Queen Victoria?
The full article can be found on Gallica site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k12638052/f547.item.r=Brighton.zoom