Pretty Stupid

If history was a piece of fruit, perhaps there was one slice that was the sweetest, the most sublime.

The 18th century was a time when a person did not only measure his or her success in terms of wealth, beauty or possessions.  For if one was not clever, these other things became meek and useless:  and the person in question became the victim of a jaded, cruel  – albeit entertaining – society.

Catherine-Rosalie Duthé was a convent student, a courtesan, a companion to royalty and a dancer – moving like a puppet made of satin – at the Paris Opera Ballet.  The 3rd Earl of Egremont gave her a gilded coach, before he moved on to other mistresses and other gifts.  Her friend Jean-Frederic Perregaux commissioned a portrait of her and is said to have contemplated her image on his death-bed.  With her skin tinted rose and arsenic, and her blonde hair raising like a dusted cloud behind her, she was a much requested subject for such portraits.  She appeared many times  in Fragonard’s silvery garden parties and Prud’hon’s dark forests. 

A Blank Canvas

Frothy and immoderate, childish and infamous, she destroyed the reputations of Parisian noblemen and “broke in” 15-year old French princes.  She offended the aristocracy by riding in the royal carriage, an honor set aside for the rich and blue bloods of the king’s family – not for a plump horizontale, a languid queen of her trade.  It was then that she became the subject of a popular tune, “La Duthé a dû téter”, (“La Duthé must have suckled royally.”)


But for all her popularity, Mlle. Duthé was not a clever girl.  Her answers were not quick.  She paused unbearably before speaking – her silences were a labyrinth of vacuity and confusion.  She did not possess the twisting logic and humor of a wit.  She was stupid.  In 1775 she inspired a satire, Les Curiosites de la Foire (“Curiosities of the Fair”):  that “kept Paris laughing for weeks”. 

But it was her foolishness, not her intellect, that kept such a subtle capital amused.  A courtesan was not expected to be a nocturnal creature.  She did not entertain solely in the dark, living beneah the sheets, soft and patient.  She was expected to be diverting in the daytime as well, when, Geisha-like, she would embrace all of a hostess’ virtues.  A pretty girl who lacked intelligence might  earn a king’s bed, but she earned society’s mockery, as well.

Catherine-Rosalie Duthé was blonde.  And she was dumb.


Historians of society and culture have long analyzed the origin of the “dumb blonde” stereotype and all have agreed that its first representative was Catherine-Rosalie.   Women before her time were expected to be ignorant…but the demanding 18th century expected a little more from a lady. 

Mlle. Duthé died in 1830, never realizing her dubious fame.  She was saved from knowing the path of ignominy she had paved for her pale sisters.


10 responses to “Pretty Stupid

  1. [this is exqueezeet]
    (makes excited hand circles) Aubrey, I’m a slave to your very first sentence alone!
    I bet Mlle. Duthé “had more fun” though, as blondes are said to do!

  2. She must have had surviving skills in dangerous times.

  3. pyrit – I can see you in the first row, Miss Pyrit, you may now lower your hand. There is no record of La Duthe ever being offended – yes, she probably had the time of her life.

    antiphonsgarden – She was probably aware of what it took to survive; all the popular girls possessed that type of wisdom. Anything deeper, unfortunately, probably became lost and hopeless in her cloudy little brain.

  4. Battles in bed linen and battles on war fields on our coats of arms.

  5. Love the description of her complexion “skin tinted rose and arsenic”.
    And, blondes do have fun …..

  6. She sounds like a character out of an Emile Zola novel!

  7. Barbara Rodgers

    Fascinating subject – I enjoyed reading this bit of history, Aubrey.

    An interesting paragraph from the book “Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps”:

    “Blond hair is a sign of high estrogen levels and accounts for men’s strong attraction to blondes. It is an indicator of fertility and is the likely explanation of the phrase ‘dumb blonde.’ … After a blonde’s first baby is born, her hair darkens because her estrogen level drops. It darkens even more after her second child. The reduction in estrogen levels is why there are few natural blondes after after age 30.”

    I’m not sure what connection there is between fertility and intelligence. Or why estrogen levels would stay down in a woman after she gives birth. This whole paragraph seems absurd to me, but I wonder if there is any scientific basis for these assertions…

  8. I don’t like books describing the world through clichés.
    I wonder sometimes about the trust in scientific researches.
    I ask , what kind of ideology or lobby has an advantage to pretend such affirmations detached from their impact on society.
    I ask myself, how less some learn out of history.

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