Episode 31: “SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET”

For a newcomer like me, one of the most disturbing phenomena of Parisian high society is the fashion of embalming. That famous expression of Thackeray: “a skeleton in every house”, is literally true in the case of the families of “Le Tout-Paris”. Only that instead of skeletons, we would talk about “embalmed corpses”. If you want to inherit the family’s title of nobility, you have to strictly comply with everything decreed by the deceased in his will. And one of the most frequent testamentary stipulations is: “My heir will ensure that my death is not an impediment for me to continue going weekly to the salon of Mme. X”. Which necessarily involves embalming the corpse. (Unless, of course, you have the very poor taste of attending an elegant salon accompanied by a corpse in decomposition.) The ill reputation of arrogance borne by some Parisian aristocrats, who don’t even deign to respond to your greeting when you meet them (you have to pay attention to the fact that they always go on the arm of someone to support them, whether it be a family member or a trusted servant), it is due to this phenomenon: simply, they don’t greet because they are dead. To further complicate things, the curiosity to know what their peers say about them after they die, pushes some members of “Le Tout-Paris” to pretend his death and attend the salons embalmed and accompanied by a servant, imitating thus the authentic dead ones. This fashion of embalming distorts the social life of the upper class, because a person whom you thought was dead, the following week may show up alive and well. This is called sarcastically “to resurrect”. “So-and-so has resurrected” is often heard in the salons. Hence, I never trust the vital status of a person of high society. (The embalmers perform real wonders with the corpses, therefore someone may look more full of live when dead than when he was alive.) It is for this reason that, at the beginning of my incorporation into the Parisian salons, I acquired the ugly habit of pinching the visitors. This earned me a bad reputation among the «salonnières» until, adhering to the most elementary rules of etiquette, I stopped doing it.

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