The Victim’s Ball

It was a very exclusive party; open only to those who knew the right sort of people.

In the final years of the 18th century, France staggered out of its national abattoir.  The French Revolution took liberty, fraternity and equality and twisted those noble ideologies into a petty mayhem.  Those that survived its sharp judgements were equally twisted.  They celebrated their endurance and survival in debauched celebrations that bloomed in ragged ballrooms like sickly flowers.

But the invitations presented at the door had to tell a wretched story before one could be let in.  Attendees to these Victim's Balls had to show proof that a relation or spouse had felt the Widowmaker's bite and had their lives end between her jaws.

Dress was satirical, mocking the earnest brutality of the 'citizens' and copying the vandalized postures of their victims.  Women wore thin red ribbons around their necks, as if they could reproduce the line of the blade's attack in velvet or silk.  Men and women entered these macabre rooms dressed in 'le toilette du condamne':  they cut their hair very short, as if a ghostly guillotine was still waiting – and nothing must impede its speedy journey.

Men and women dressed extravagantly, lavishly, dangerously – a profligate's response to  years of denial.  Ribbons crossed the back of the bodice, marking the wearer like a target. 

Gowns were low-cut:  so low, in fact, that the only thing in danger of being executed on those amber evenings was the lady's modesty.

They danced wildly to the music of the revolution - 'Ah! Ca Ira', 'The Campagnole' – without respect, without grace, falling limp to the floor at the end of each measure; mimicking the dead that had gone before them.  They crushed the vivid symbolism of these hopeful songs beneath their vengeful, painted heels.  Gallant salutes became an executioner's sweeping motion cutting through the air.  The finishing touch to a bow was the head drooping suddenly and lifelessly, as if the neck had been newly severed.

And when the festivities were done, they emerged into the cold, early morning, running with rivers of pearl, mauve and gray.  Their feathers wilted.  Their jewels dimmed.  They touched the red satin gashes at their throats and nervously studied their fingers.

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13 responses to “The Victim’s Ball

  1. I enjoyed that So Much.

  2. I had no idea such macabre celebrations had existed. Thank you once again, Aubrey for teaching me something wonderful.

  3. Whoa, those existed?? How interesting.

  4. "They crushed the vivid symbolism of these hopeful songs beneath their vengeful, painted heels." Well done. The story is an interesting example of reacting to and celebrating survival in unusual ways.

  5. Eye-opening as always.

  6. that is quite interestings…

    candy

  7. as well told as we've come to expect from the fine ms. aubrey. rather liked this stanza of prose:Gallant salutes became an executioner's sweeping motion cutting through
    the air. The finishing touch to a bow was the head drooping suddenly
    and lifelessly, as if the neck had been newly severed.

  8. This piece is really educational for me. Thank you for writing it so beautifully!

  9. Brilliant. Well told, you have to love the French.

  10. Amazing. Especially the throat ribbons and targets and guillotine-short hair. People are absolutely fascinating. And revolting.

  11. wow, amazing imagery. thank you so much for recreating a historical moment I knew nothing about! happy new year! 🙂

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