Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Frightful and deadly strife between these two Amazons"

Back with duelling women, and the Illustrated Police News for Saturday 15th March, 1873. This reports from the Figaro for the Thursday before, and provides an account of that rare thing, a fatal 'duel' between women ("the two women agreed to decide their dispute by means of a duel with knives"). I suppose it counts as a duel, rather than a knife-fight, if they actually did agree to meet at some future time rather than fighting spontaneously. The women are not named, but the conflict was over a man called Juglin. One was mortally wounded, the other seriously. Juglin was arrested: "in what way he has offended against the law has not yet been manifest", says the report, which cannot say if he was present, or in any way promoted the duel ("if so, he deserves heavy punishment").

The 'field of honour', such as it was, is specified, and is interesting: it was inside a house at 84, Boulevard de Courcelles. The British scandal-rag's image is thus far accurate, though the special frisson the hypothetical image seems to aim for is of mortal strife breaking out in a prosperous home, with a salon full of respectable folk dithering in horror. The artist has in part made the fight look spontaneous: an opened letter lies on the ground between the combatants. There may be a little more of the suggestion of a pre-arranged duel in the way the two women crouched behind the fighters both hold a bag - are they meant to be seconds, who have had care of the chosen weapons?

"The encounter was marked by an amount of savageness and ferocity rarely met with, and it is surprising that the spectators who were present at so singular and unnatural a conflict should have allowed it to proceed for so long a time", says the newspaper, with teeth-sucking disapproval neatly extended by the suggestion that this is precisely the sort of thing tolerated in France. 'Unnatural' perhaps betrays that the writer thinks duels between men to be allowable.

Other images of women fighting to the death in the same source do depict lower class combatants: they are not automatically promoted to being middle class fashion plates. The modes worn here look very unsuited to the purpose. It is generally fights between frenchwomen that the Illustrated Police News finds to report. There's a carry-over here from earlier wars: the women have acquired Franch revolutionary faces as they fight in clothing one might see in a painting by Tissot.

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