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The Return of the Demimonde?

Updated on April 10, 2011

Demimonde

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The Demimonde was a woman who lived a hedonistic lifestyle filled with conspicuous consumption, notoriety and flagrant excess. Living in the 18th to early 20th century these women spent time involved in characteristically "unfeminine" activities such as drinking, gambling, shopping and sexual promiscuity. These women would later be labeled as prostitutes or courtesans as their diversion from the expected values inherent in their societies made them outcasts. Living off the gifts of their rich lovers they flourished until such a time when their beauty would fade and many would end up poor and living wretched lives alone. The social mores of the 20th century and the rise of womens sufferage would end the use of the word demimonde but not eradicate the archetype completely.

An archetype is a universally understood pattern or prototype for which things are copied. It also refers to a sort of generic stereotypical explanation that stands for something, in this case a type of woman. For instance, Princess Diana was a classic archetype for the Princess. Her grace and kindness fit the mold of this "type". There are many such archetypes we can attach to the personalities and behaviors of others. Many of us called Michael Jackson the "Peter Pan" archetype, or the man who never wishes to grow up. We all display many archetypes in our behavioral patterns. For more information on how to judge your own manifesting archetypes read Caroline Myss' book: "Sacred Contracts".

So, how are the demimondes manifesting in 21st century life and why has this resurgence come full circle? There are many women who rely on a "sugar daddy" to take care of their needs. This probably will always be the case. Usually there is some kind of "favor" the women must reciprocate, but often the man is just happy to know he has a woman to care for in such a manly way. There was a perceptible shift in the course of woman's liberation whereby many women of my generation (50-60+) shunned help from men asking them to treat them as equals in a world where men were either condescending towards women or treated them as second class citizens. Closing down Playboy bunny clubs and burning our bras was not the only way women aggressively responded to being treated as chattel in the 1970's. to be "taken care of" by a man went out with the sitcoms of the 1960's. We now had out own cigarette now baby(Virginia Slims)! We had come a long,long way, the advertisement on TV would remind us!

Demimondes still existed after it was fashionably discerned to delete the term but were more hidden. In a profession as old as the world, we probably will never be rid of the archetype of courtesan or demimonde although the definition of such things often changes to fit the current culture. In the naturalism style of literature in the Victorian age we saw "Sister Carrie" and other works by Theodore Dreiser speak of the fallen and kept woman. Unable to become the wife of a man because of her demonstrated lack of social status, these women were kept until the men either died or the women grew old and unwanted. Literature is full of these examples of women. History is also rife with women from the past who were kept and offered their experiences to their lovers. Mata Hari, who ended up also being a spy was one such woman, although she also was employed.

Cora Pearl was perhaps the most famous real life demimonde.Cora was one of the most famous Parisian courtesans who was supported by a large following of wealthy men of her time. Often, these women are totally narcissistic and hedonistic, but Cora helped men during the Siege of Paris by taking them into her home. Reminiscent of "Belle" the kindhearted madam of the bordello that Rhett Butler frequented in "Gone with the Wind", her soft side was evident in time of need.

If we fast forward to the 21st Century  modern day demimondes are rampant who have appeared to fit the mold. You will find "Heidi Fleiss" the Hollywood madam as an example perhaps, or Paris Hilton who epitomizes many of the characteristics of this archetypal model.Of course, we know Paris comes from money and has no need to be a "kept" woman by a man. But if you tweak the definition of the demimonde to fit our modern day, you can see she is hedonistic, sexually promiscuous (having several filmed versions of her talents), flagrant in her disregard for the socially acceptable behavior (as evidenced by her time in jail and lies about drug use) and is seen often with expensive consumptive products and outfits.Paris seems to fly in the face of acceptability and often seems to play the look of innocence with her deer in the headlights facial expressions. Coming across as a lightweight in the intelligence department, Paris effectively recreates a look of demimonde archetypal behavior.

I am certain there are many examples of this archetype in our culture today that would fit the pattern effectively. Many of the people who would fall into this category are not well known but this does not make this symbolic pattern obsolete. In a world where we constantly move in cyclic waves the repeated patterns of time will make themselves manifest to those who reflect on the cycles of culture. Demimondes, flaneurs, dandies, courtesans and other titles of the historic past never really go away they often recycle. There are new uses and new names for such archetypes and many times the definitions are adjusted for the current words of the day. To understand our lives now we need only reflect on the past and the ever present politically correct rules of living in the present. One may change the name of something but the idea of the past still remains. Sociology is life. Life is sociology.

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    • profile image

      Pat Fowler 6 years ago

      Love this blog...great essay. Are we too old to be demimondes?

    • Aley Martin profile image
      Author

      Alice Lee Martin 6 years ago from Sumner, Washington,USA

      I doubt it Patty! LOL

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      I had often stumbled across the word "demimonde" but never taken the time to look it up. What an interesting archetype! I enjoyed reading the Hub and your commentary. Voted up!

    • GPSWorldTraveler profile image

      GPSWorldTraveler 6 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Interesting essay on a topic... or at least a word I was unfamiliar with - I really appreciated the factual yet, lack of judgement in your hub. Thanks.

    • Lee B profile image

      Lee Barton 6 years ago from New Mexico

      I'm always learning new words from your hubs! I, too, had seen "demimonde" but never really knew the meaning. Funny how terms change, but people's behavior never really does. I think the "Sister Carrie" plot plays out in Hollywood every day.

    • Aley Martin profile image
      Author

      Alice Lee Martin 6 years ago from Sumner, Washington,USA

      Thanks everyone! I finally had some time to do what I love best, teach and write at the same time! :)

    • DemiMonde profile image

      Demi 5 years ago from Mobile, Alabama

      Great article on a little known term. My favorite member of the Demimonde is Becky Sharp of "Vanity Fair". You can just call me Demi, LOL.

    • Aley Martin profile image
      Author

      Alice Lee Martin 5 years ago from Sumner, Washington,USA

      Thanks Demi! Nice to know someone else is interested in all things "French"..

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