VII. Pleasurable Pursuits

“…music, dance, the art of shading colors on canvas are the pastimes that suit [women].”

—“Female Sex,” Encyclopédie, vol. 15 (1765)

The pleasurable pastimes that the Encyclopédie’s entry on “the fair sex” designates as suitable for women, refer to the accomplishment arts that every genteel lady was expected to cultivate. Other polite pursuits might include reading, or social engagements such as calling on friends, dining in company, or playing at the card table. To some extent, women of all classes also had available to them the more heady pleasures of public entertainments—especially in Paris and other French cities. There, the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century sparked the growth of an entertainment industry that offered a broad range of amusements, from theater, opera, and masked balls to fireworks, street performances, and fairs. Promenading in the gardens and boulevards, where one went to see and be seen, was a primary form of entertainment. A booming material culture meant that, for those who could afford it, shopping was another. In Paris, the Palais-Royal was the most fashionable locale for luxury shops, picture and print-sellers, theaters, and the first true restaurants, as well as cafes, which generally were not frequented by women. One might visit picture exhibitions, the most famous one being the Salon du Louvre. Just outside the city limits, people of the working classes could revel at Guinguettes, small cabarets that served cheap wine, and usually had musicians for dancing. Only working class women could partake of public entertainments unaccompanied by a man or at least a chaperone. How often the former might have been able to enjoy such pleasures is unclear, as so often their work made leisure and pleasures possible for others.  


Image: Jean-François De Troy. French, 1679–1752. Theatrical Scene, n.d.Oil on canvas.