The women of Paris during the battle of Verdun 1916*

As if by the germination of a tiny quantity of yeast, apparently of spontaneous generation, young women now went about all day with tall cylindrical turbans on their heads, as a contemporary of Mme Tallien’s might have done, and from a sense of patriotic duty wore Egyptian tunics, straight and dark and very ‘war,’ over very short skirts; they wore thonged footware recalling the buskin as worn by Talma, or else long gaiters recalling those of our dear boys at the front; it was, so they said, because they did not want to forget that it was their duty to rejoice the eyes of these ‘boys at the front,’ that they still decked themselves of an evening not only in flowing dresses, but in jewelery which suggested the army by its decorative themes, when indeed the actual material from which it was made did not come, had not been wrought in the army; for instead of Egyptian ornaments recalling the campaign in Egypt, the fashion now was for rings or bracelets made out of fragments of exploded shells or copper bands from 75 mm ammunition, and for cigarette-lighters constructed out of two English pennies to which a soldier, in his dug-out, had succeeded in a giving a patina so beautiful that the profile of Queen Victoria looked as if she had been drawn by Pisanello; and it was also because they never stopped thinking of the dear boys, so they said, that when one of their own kin fell they scarcely wore mourning for him, on the pretext that ‘their grief was mingled with pride,’ which permitted them to wear a bonnet of English crepe (a bonnet with the most charming effect, ‘authorising every hope’ and ‘inspired by an invincible confidence in final victory’) and to replace the cashmere of former days of satin and chiffon, even to keep their pearls, ‘while observing the tact and propriety of which there is no need to remind Frenchwomen.’

*The battle of Verdun 21st February to 16th December 1916
There were half a million French casualties with 160,000 dead

Marcel Proust In Search of lost time (Time Regained) vol 4 pp292-3

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