Verily the ways of Boston are past finding out. The naughty French play of Frou-Frou received little toleration from its moral public; yet the greatest attraction for the French Fair which is now absorbing the Athenaeum time and pocket is a wonderful doll named “Mademoiselle Frou-Frou.” There were Worcester’s unabridged and Boston’s animated dictionaries to choose from, but the fashionable mind preferred to be nothing if not immoral. It suited the word to an action that will do more harm to Boston than the money from it can ever do good to France.
Here is a woman who deliberately goes to work to illustrate in a doll all the frivolity and extravagance of her sex, with the intention of having that “counterfeit presentment” adorn the play-room of some American child, possibly her own. This modern Boston woman spends weeks upon Mlle. Frou-Frou’s wardrobe. She arrays this little bit of wax and sawdust in pink moiré antique, real point lace, and real jewelry. She prepares no less than twelve gorgeous suits, all of which are of the handsomest silk and many of which are trimmed with the most expensive lace. For every dress there are correspondingly gorgeous underclothes, boots, hats, handkerchiefs, fans, parasols, kid gloves, &c., &c. There are a pearl card-case for visiting, a lorgnette for the theater, porte-monnaie for shopping, camels’ hair shawl, seal-skin coat, and every article dreamed of by the most extravagant woman that ever drew breath in the old world or the new. And having conceived this monstrosity, the Boston woman sets Mlle. Frou-Frou on a table at the French Fair, surrounds her with the aforesaid impedimenta, and calls upon the public to admire and to invest in shares. The public obeys willingly. Men and women surround the doll, three deep, and gloat upon the exhibition as they would gloat upon a fashionable “opening.” “Stunning!” exclaim the men. “Perfectly splendid!” exclaim the women; while the discontented few transfer their disgust of Frou-Frou to disgust of human beings who can countenance so flagrant an immorality; for anything that debases youth is immoral, and the child who falls heir to that doll cannot fail to learn more lessons in frivolity than can be unlearned in years. As the twig is bent the tree is inclined. Will the little miss be content to wear calico when her doll wears silk? Will she be satisfied with two or three dresses and one hat and one pair of boots when her doll has dozens? Will she wear cotton gloves when her doll scorns everything but Paris kid? Will she retain the simplicity of childhood when her doll is perpetually poisoning her eyes with a complete picture of the girl of the period? Children are so like monkeys in their imitative propensities as almost to lead one to believe in Darwin’s theory regarding the origin of species, and whoever would bring them up in the way they should go will as quickly open the front door to small-pox as to that breeder of moral disease, Mlle. Frou-Frou.
Of all the dolls on exhibition at the French Fair—and their name is legion—few are fit for other than children born with gold spoons in their mouths, and a certainty of inheriting the Kingdom of Mammon. What wonder that so many women are extravagant dolls, when so many dolls are extravagant women?
New York [NY] Tribune 20 April 1871: p. 4
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was unable to find a photo-gravure of this waxen temptress. To-day is the anniversary of the birth of that iconic American doll, “Barbie,” whose face, figure, and lavish accoutrements have been equally excoriated by parents and educators who feared her sinister influence upon Impressionable Youth.
In 1938 her Majesty and her late sister, Princess Margaret, were given French fashion dolls named France and Marianne. They were sumptuously equipped, not only with gowns from the most distinguished couture houses, but with shoes, fur coats, jewels, and even motor-cars. (The dolls and their wardrobes may be viewed on the Royal Collections site.) There was, Mrs Daffodil recalls, no outcry about the “immorality” of the extravagance nor of the pernicious effects on the simplicity of the young Princesses.
The French Fair was held in 1871 Boston in aid of the widows, orphans, and wounded of the French army in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. Mademoiselle Frou Frou was a scandalous play about an adulterous heroine, which seems to begin as farce, but ends in tragedy.
Not all found the doll Mlle. Frou Frou objectionable:
Among the most remarkable articles was one which a Boston lady has been engaged for some time past in preparing, a doll, with wardrobe so perfect, that it would find no rival. So Mademoiselle Frou Frou is the result, and really she is quite worth going to see, if one had nothing else in view. Miss Flora McFlimsey would have been poorly clad in comparison. There were the most beautiful ball, party, walking, dinner and carriage dresses, all finished in the choicest materials, in latest style and exquisite taste. She has bonnets (fairy affairs too they are), hats, cloaks, camel’s hair shawl, laces of beautiful texture, gloves of every shade and of Paris make. Her jewel box is well filled, and such a tiny, dainty diamond ring as you would find there! Also, a little mother-of-pearl card case, filled with her cards. [engraved thus:]
Mademoiselle Frou Frou,
Last, but not least, two perfect little trunks, with her name well marked thereon. The price is only S2,000, and this fashionable plaything is setting rafflers doll-mad.
The Friend, Or, Advocate of Truth 1 June 1871
Speaking for herself, Mrs Daffodil thinks that Mademoiselle Frou-Frou’s wardrobe and accessories sound utterly delightful. Here are some photo-gravures of other fashion dolls in extravagant gowns and with lavish trousseaux.
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.