The “lionne pauvre:” Domestic Tragedy on the Mall: 1892

ON THE MALL.

A handsome woman sits in her carriage. She stops her coachman at the point where the Mall debouches into the regular drive, and there a friend accosts her. We may whisper that the lady who kindly sat as a model to our artist is Mrs. Frank W. Sanger, the manager’s wife. She chats gaily of books, and pictures, and plays, and fashions, and the races, and all the topics of a pretty woman’s talk.

The carriages flow by her as she chats. Where in the world could so miscellaneous a throng be seen? There are the old families in their staid vehicles; the newly rich in their sumptuous equipages; the people who merely drive to keep up appearances; the breeder of trotting horses; the riding-school master and his class, who are crossing from the bridle-path; the saloon-keeper and his “lady, ‘ attired in all the colors of the rainbow; the spendthrift driving tandem; the young clubman in his dog-cart; the floor-walker and the object of his affections. Who is not there that can hire, buy, or beg a carriage?

And the type of the Mall?

One would say that the dominant element in the drive was what the French call the “lionne pauvre.” The whole thing is essentially a woman’s show, and the most noticeable of the women who take part in it is the wife of the poor man, bent on making a brave show with the rich. She has been bred in luxury, and cannot give it up. She dares not say to her old companions: “My husband is poor,” or, “My husband is ruined”; and add, “We are going to give up our carriage, and live at Harlem.” Feminine vanity, the wretched competitions of “society,” impel her to keep up the fight. She has to appear in her carriage on the Mall, and bow recognitions right and left, though the butcher be clamoring with his bill at home, and the baker be threatening proceedings at law.

How many of these rich equipages have rich people for their occupants? How many are there, not to see, but to be seen?

Young Mrs. lmpecune is always in the throng. She wears the prettiest hats, the most dashing costumes. Her turn-out is faultless. The roadside reporters note her as she passes, and print her name conspicuously next morning in the papers.

Her husband never appears. That is the mark of the “lionnes pauvres.” You never see their husbands.

But one afternoon, when the wife is driving in the park, a friend calls on lmpecune at home, and says: “My boy, how do you manage to keep a carriage and pair?”

“Oh,” says lmpecune, carelessly, “my wife does it by saving in other directions.”

“But,” urges the obtrusive friend—who does not know the obtrusive friend? —”your wife has enormous bills at the dress-maker’s and milliner‘s.”

“They are all paid,” replies the husband, getting a little restive.

“Not by you,” blurts out this foolish visitor.

The husband considers the advisability of strangling his friend. He hesitates, and, hesitating, is lost. He goes to the milliner, the dress-maker, the carriage-maker. He finds that his wife’s bills are all sent to young Lawless, whose name is never linked with that of a woman without contaminating her; and it is not long before the lmpecunes appear in the divorce court.

Innumerable are the domestic tragedies of the Mall.

The Illustrated American 13 August 1892: p. 601-3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Lionne pauvres!  This tragedy could have been avoided had Mrs Impecune made a more prudent marriage with a weathier, more indulgent gentleman—one who would have been hard at work at the office or on a business trip abroad when that obtrusive friend came to call. One who would not have expected his wife to economise in any direction whatever. And one who would have laughed at the suggestion that he was not the one paying his pretty wife’s bills (in addition to bills for one or more other adorable creatures.)

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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