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© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Publication date: October 2011

Professor of contemporary history IUFM and Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1.Head of University for all, Université Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne.

Historical context

In cities that are developing spectacularly under the onslaught of the industrial revolution, prostitution is taking an unprecedented boom. To the point of being worth a resounding report in 1839 from one of the most famous medical hygienists, Doctor Parent-Duchâtelet: Prostitution in the city of Paris in terms of public hygiene, morals and administration. Submissive in a brothel, "en carte", that is to say tolerated but under supervision, or clandestine, occasional or regular, the prostitute is everywhere in the working-class neighborhoods. We do not play around with poverty and misery.
"I am flirtatious
I am Lorette,
Queen of the day, queen without fire or place!
Well ! I hope
Leaving Earth
In my hotel ... Maybe the Hôtel-Dieu ... "(song).

The light girls soon receive the nickname of "lorettes". Because the district of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, between the Saint-Lazare station and the butte Montmartre, which shelters them, is then under complete construction, and these ladies must "wipe the plasters", the demanding owners, in exchange for low rents, that the apartments be heated and that the windows be closed with curtains.

At that time, the prostitute embodied the antithesis of triumphant bourgeois values. The days of the July monarchy liked to construct "physiologies" (the student, the bourgeois, the dandy, etc.) and to enclose society in this typology. The lorette is one of those stereotypes.

Prostitution is, however, generally regarded as a necessary evil in society. In the years 1830-1840, the prostitute is even responsible for "denying" young men promised to a Victorian marriage.

Image Analysis

The designer of the lorettes

The designer Gavarni made a vignette representing a lorette for the edition of Lorette by the Goncourt brothers at Dentu in 1855. For that of 1862, he gave a drawing, engraved by Jules, much more evocative. Previously in The Charivari of the years 1841, 1842, 1843, he published seventy-nine plates of lorettes. In Paris, he also published “les shareuses” (forty subjects) and “les lorettes aged” (thirty subjects). Other lorettes still appear in collections such Paris at night (1840) or The tricks of women in matters of sentiment (1837, 1840, 1841).

To please his contemporaries and participate in this process of "typing" physiologies, Gavarni gives his lorettes an image of excess of all kinds: excess of sex first, but also of chatter, alcohol, and finally of tobacco. Hence an early overweight, a relaxed and provocative attitude to say the least.

Here the Lorette is slumped, stretched out on a sofa. The young bourgeois who looks at her points his cigar in her direction. A metaphor for the erect sexual organ, the cigar undoubtedly symbolizes belonging to the upper class, even more than the top hat or the frock coat. A "dandy" like Nestor Roqueplan, who coined the name "lorette", could not do without his cigar. The prostitute tastes this temporary social advancement by tasting a cigar too, while making saucy remarks.


The word "lorette" entered the slang dictionaries of the Second Empire and continued its career under the IIIe Republic (cf. Dictionary of dictionaries, 1889). The "lolotes" or "jokes" that we had thought to substitute for it will last long. Prostitution of course will not weaken. It will be more frightening, however, as venereal disease spreads from the bottom up in society. But despite these fears, the prostitution phenomenon, proof of its social function, intensified under the IIIe Republic, stretching from the brothel to the sidewalk. Supporters of abolition and those of regulation may well be opposed: prostitution continues.

  • women
  • prostitution
  • tobacco
  • granting
  • hygienism
  • poverty
  • stereotype
  • Third Republic


Jean-Paul ARON, Miserable et glorieuse, la femme au XIXe siècle, Paris, Complexe editions, 1984.Julia CSERGO, Liberty, equality, cleanliness: the moral of hygiene in the XIXth century, Paris, Albin Michel, 1988.Alain CORBIN , The Wedding Girls. Sexual misery and prostitution in the 19th and 20th centuries, Paris, Aubier, 1978.Alain CORBIN, Le Temps, le desire et horreur. Essay on the 19th century, Paris, Aubier, 1991. François GASNAULT, Guinguettes et lorettes. Public balls in Paris in the 19th century, Paris, Aubier, 1992.Didier NOURRISSON, Cigarette. Histoire d'une allumeuse, Paris, Payot, 2010.Alexandre PARENT-DUCHÂTELET, La Prostitution à Paris au XIXe siècle, text annotated and commented by Alain Corbin, Paris, Le Seuil, 1981, reed. Collection "Points", 2008.

To cite this article

Didier NOURRISSON, "Lorettes"

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