19th Century Paris Society and the REAL Bel Ami

19th Century Paris Society and the REAL Bel Ami

You are no doubt dimly if not fiercely aware of Bel Ami, a period epic of scandal and seduction starring R-Patz as a cold, macchiavelian shard of evil. Let’s look at the REAL scandals of 19th century Paris.

To note the release of Bel Ami, a period tale of ambition, power and seduction, in UK cinemas THIS FRIDAY and starring the mouldering (that’s not a spelling mistake, we mean mouldering) Robert Pattinson, we thought we should swat up on the ins and out of the scandalous social scene of 19th century Paris. Bel Ami is shaping up to be the Dangerous Liasons (awesome film) of this generation, and the era it evokes is… gloriously vile.

Social class in 19th Century France determined how people worked, lived and played. Each class responded to and participated in the rapid changes in the era very differently. Though industrialisation increased the standard of living, the rich and poor were still widely set apart. The new lower classes developed from ex-rural workers, with a large number of men being conscripted for military service. Those soldiers who returned alive and able-bodied came home to a Paris with far superior living and working conditions. More money in more industry sectors meant more jobs for women too (wet nurses, maids and the like) as well as new social activities – dance halls and brothels became huge business as people had more money to spend.

A new class formed: the upper middle class, commonly known as the Bourgeoisie. With industry promoting a forte into industrial capitalism and commercialism, the class expanded with jobs using mental skill rather than manual labour. Families in these careers exploded in number, more money was made and an expansive, dominant class was born.

An exhibitionist class by nature now, parks, cafes, and restaurants were now the place to be seen. Women, still the property of their husbands, now had the option of not working to survive and so could socialise without their male counterparts. Freedom!

To be truly recognised as middle class one had to have at least one servant, and so – with the employment of wet nurses and maids to look after their children – Bourgeoisie women were set apart again. Essentially, their freedom to socialise within themselves started the rampant social boom of the time. Fashion, food and dancing became things people really cared about.

The upper classes, originally a hereditary aristocracy, had to mix with the new wealthy mixed society – thus evolving into the modern upper class. They were held as an ideal by the Bourgeoisie – a model of family life, fashion and the materialism accompanied by their wealth. Operas, ballets, concerts and dances became the place to show off your wealth, and they became the epitomised idols of the class below them. They moved to residences as far away as possible from the expanding middle and lower classes, and the slums of the city, and set themselves apart by traveling though cities in lavish horse-drawn carriages whilst everyone else walked. Another chance to flaunt their wealth was through the purchase of extravagant gifts and food, as well luxurious furnishings for their homes. They were admired and envied by everyone below them, which is exactly how they wanted it!

As we learn from Bel Ami, however, these powerful upper class families were headed by powerful upper class women who were not to be underestimated. They were SHE WOLVES. Despite being dismissed as empty-headed belles thanks to their gender, many wives of upper class nobility and business men used their husbands’ power to their advantage, taking on lovers, investing money and writing (although under pseudonyms) works akin to their husbands.

You can imagine how difficult it must have been to infiltrate such a strict hierarchy, which is why Bel Ami’s story of George the penniless philanderer returning from war to bed powerful women isn’t titillation… it’s grounded in history.

We can’t wait to see this hedonistic dark/bright society imagined on screen, and with Robert Pattinson amongst the likes of Uma Thurman, Kristen Stewart and Christina Ricci, we are licking our chops. For we, too, are she wolves.