The theme this time is people who inspired. Whether through their talent, their intellect, their generosity or their beauty, this edition’s subterranean trio all contributed to the betterment of their peers.
When Alexandre Dumas Jr. wrote about the “demi-monde” and its resident “demimondaines”, he was referring to a type of well-to-do courtesan. Admittedly not the first time I’ve mentioned either of these personnages in this column, but when Baudelaire cited Apollonie Sabatier as both the lover and muse who inspired some of the poems in “Les Fleurs du Mal”, I felt I should continue my research.
“Les demimondaines” weren’t holed up awaiting the generosity of their benefactors either. They typically would have had one wealthy and generous principal lover and in a gender role reversal of sorts, a succession of usually wealthy and well-to-do others. They hosted salons and invited society’s finest to mingle with the artists and writers of the day.
Gustave Flaubert named Apollonie, “la Présidente” as she held court at her residence clad in the finest clothes and cosmetics of the day and was adored by all who attended. When she deigned to leave her home and meet with her demimondaine friends, it was only after much preening and bathing and to attend the very finest of events.
The last of her great loves was Richard Wallace, a philanthropist and renowned art collector whose collection resides in the Wallace Collection museum in London and after whom those green water fountains you find all over Paris are named as he bestowed them upon the city as a gift.
JACQUES COURTIN CLARINS
This one’s for the ladies. 60 years old in 2014, Clarins the brand was started with not a penny in Jacques Courtin Clarins’ pocket. He then went on to develop one of the world’s largest cosmetics brands. His first product was a breast shower and massage device which attracted many of the stars of the day to his clinic and helped make his name.
Originally destined to be a doctor, his studies were interrupted by the war. After his time in the army, firm in his belief that aesthetic treatment could be used as therapy and thanks to his interest in botany as well as his innovations in the use of nature in female beauty products, he went on to develop a series of oils and creams and the brand “Clarins” was born.
In his personal life, he was popular and garnered a reputation as a great listener and philanthropist. No surprise then that his gravestone reads, “Here lies a man who knew always to surround himself with people more intelligent than himself”.
There are almost as many écoles, rues, allées, voies or places Anatole France in most French cities as there are écoles, rues, allées, voies or places Jean Jaures with whom he spearheaded the separation of church and state in France after the turn of the century. He was also the second person to sign Emile Zola’s “J’accuse”. There’s a plaque in Villa Saïd in the 16th arrondissement on the wall of the house where he died and upon his passing, his remains were visited the same day by the French President.
Now you know a little about some of those names you see everywhere, but who was he really?
Well, he won the Noble Prize in Literature “in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament.” Marcel Proust even named a character after him. Thus a writer as well as a man of politics.
In his books, he frequently explored the themes of irony and morality, especially in terms of morality in the absence of God and the church of which he was an ardent critic. He was also a critic of the army and its complicity with the church. Thus in ‘La Révolte des Anges’, the angel of light takes on the highest authority in heaven but when summoned to accede to the throne, refuses as it will compromise his freedom of thought. His writing also coined the word “Xenophobe”.
Anatole France’s parents owned a library and as a child he wiled away his hours lost in books. Who hasn’t dreamed of such a fate as they planned their adventure in Paris!