Recently I read an article about Elizabeth Felix, better known as actress Mademoiselle Rachel.
A director, gave her the stage name Rachel, which she also chose to keep in her private life. Auditioning in March 1838, she started at the Théâtre-Français at the age of 17. At this time she began a long liaison with Louis Véron, a wealthy manufacturer and a notorious libertine, and subsequently her personal life was a subject of great scandal.
Theatre Francais found here
She became the mistress of Napoleon I’s son, Alexandre Joseph Count Colonna-Walewski, and together they had a son in 1844. In England, Rachel briefly had an affair with Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III, as well as with Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte.
image found here
Rachel never married, although she had many lovers. When Walewski upbraided her for not remaining faithful to him, she retorted, “I am as I am; I prefer renters to owners.”
In 1839, poet Alfred de Musset, was invited back to the family home for dinner after watching Mademoiselle Rachel perform as Amenaide in a play by Volataire.
lithograph for de Musset’s erotic novel found here
After some trifling conversation, Rachel discovered that she had left her rings and bracelets at the theater, and she sent her servant back for them. But she had only one servant so there was no one to get the supper ready. Rachel took off some of her finery, put on a dressing sacque and night cap, and went into the kitchen. Fifteen minutes passed.
She reappeared, ” as pretty as an angel,” carrying a dish in which were three beefsteaks cooked by herself. She placed the dish in the middle of the table, and gaily said: ” Regale!”
She then went hack to the kitchen and returned with a tureen of smoking soup in one hand, and in the other a saucepan full of spinach. That was the supper. No plates, no spoons; for the servant had carried away the keys of the cupboard. Rachel opened the sideboard, found a salad dish full of salad, discovered one plate, took some salad with the wooden salad spoon, sat down and began to eat.
Later when the servant returned Rachel decided to make punch.
absinthe fountain found here
So saying, she poured some absinthe into a glass of water and drank it. The maid brought her a silver bowl, into which she put sugar and cherry brandy, after which she set fire to her punch, and made it blaze. Rachel filled the glasses and handed them about to the company. She poured the rest of the punch into a soup plate, and began to drink it with a spoon. Then she took the poet’s cane, drew the sword from it, and picked her teeth with the point.
Mademoiselle Rachel had some peculiar idiosyncrasies when it came to presents.
She did, indeed, make many presents with a lavish hand; yet, having made a present, she could not rest until she got it back. The fact was so well known that her associates took it for granted. The younger Dumas once received a ring from her. Immediately he bowed low and returned it to her finger, saying: “Permit me, mademoiselle, to present it to you in my turn so as to save you the embarrassment of asking for it.”
One evening she dined at the house of Comte Duchatel. Rachel began to admire a silver centrepiece; and the count, fascinated by her manners, said that he would be glad to present it to her. She accepted it at once, but was rather fearful lest he should change his mind. She had come to dinner in a cab, and mentioned the fact. The count offered to send her home in his carriage.
“Yes, that will do admirably,” said she. “There will be no danger of my being robbed of your present, which I had better take with me.”
“With pleasure, mademoiselle,” replied the count. “But you will send me back my carriage, won’t you?”
French carriage bonnet found here
Once in a studio she noticed a guitar hanging on the wall. She begged for it very earnestly. As it was an old and almost worthless instrument, it was given to her. A little later it was reported that the dilapidated guitar had been purchased by a well- known gentleman for a thousand francs. The explanation soon followed. Rachel had declared that it was the very guitar with which she used to earn her living as a child in the streets of Paris. As a memento its value sprang from twenty francs to a thousand.
antique guitar harps found here