LAMENTING THE LOSS OF BOUDOIR LIFE
by Tyne O’Connell
The origins of the word boudoir – are found in the french verb bouder which means “to sulk, to pout, to be sulky” indicating the boudoir as a place where a lady could retreat from the confines of strict dictates of formal society to do absolutely as she pleased (which may or may not include sulking). The liberty to be yourself is surely the ultimate luxury especially in a world that is still largely a male construct.
Like many modern gentle-women, I lament the passing of the days of the boudoir. Men still have their study, their shed, or their den but for some reason girls have lost their boudoirs. Saucy connotations about boudoirs did not exist before the boudoir photography of the early 20th Century which heralded a fashion for nudey-rudey shots of buxom wenches lying about half draped.
My lamenting of boudoir life has nothing to do with buxom wenches but began as a child that never wanted to get out of bed. Other children build castles in the sky, I built boudoirs. I fantasised of bed-school and food served on a beautifully set table delivered through a slot in the wall. My lessons and entertainment were projected onto the wall opposite my bed and unseen maids snuck in to clean and change the linen while I was soaking in a bubble bath in my sumptuous en suite. In short I would never need to see other people, which to an author is sheer bliss.
In building my boudoir in the sky I was envisioning a utopia in which I would never be obliged to “get up” and do as I was told or to see “other people” which as an author is sheer bliss. I am not as curmudgeonly as Sartre who asserted “hell is other people” but I do see his point.
As a child every chance I could I retreated to my bed to read and escape other people; building my boudoirs in the sky. Upon finding me mother would ask, “what are you sulking about?” She was very much an ant-boudoir sort of woman finding her happiness digging about in the garden and in other people, yet in viewing my bed-love as sulking she was quite correct. I was sulking about my lack of boudoir freedom.
The decline of the boudoir began in 1928 when women were granted equal voting rights to men. Before then the only liberty afforded a lady was the freedom to reign as Queen Bee in her own boudoir. A woman’s behaviour everywhere else was strictly proscribed, but in her boudoir she was free to sulk or entertain her own friends or listen to musicians, to read, to write letters or poetry or books or to do her crafts. The boudoir was the one place in society that a woman could do as she pleased. Many women ran their salons in their boudoirs inviting celebrated musicians and poets to perform either for her alone or for select guests in a more informal setting.
Usually indicates a fussily decorated decor as was popular in seventeenth century France. Women of this time and before certainly had a great deal to sulk about and it would be a few centuries before the lot of women improved. Hence the importance of a ladies boudoir.
Historically the boudoir indicated a few rooms set aside including a bedroom with a seated area and a dressing room though some women were fortunate enough to have a separate sitting room attached. This set of rooms was cordoned off as her sanctum sanctorum. Here, the lady of the house could withdraw from the formality of her obligations to her family, husband and society at large and feel free to entertain her guests as she wished or simply retreat. There was no feaverish speculation as to what went on in a ladies boudoir, such prurience being a late twentieth century evil.
A ladies boudoir was innocently associated with informal entertainments. Frequently women would have guests perform plays or entertain friends with musical amusements. Ladies could lie in bed for these salons or simply lounge about attired more casually than usual without the judgement of society.
As a mother I arranged our household around my boudoir so that I could work and entertain my family from my bed, as women have traditionally. My boudoir was always the largest room in the house with an en-suite to be used by myself and my daughter alone. The room had two chaise lounges and a large television we would gather around for watching dvd’s. Sometimes I would read to the family either from my own work to get their input. The children would take turns reading me poetry or stories they had written. More often than not though the television was eschewed – we made our own fun. The children would regularly put on shows for me. My eldest son enjoyed writing plays, and we were all frequently all pressed into service to take on a role. If their fathers – my husband and ex-husband – were home they could join in, as could other family members or close family friends who visited on a more informal basis.
The beauty of hosting these salons in my boudoir rather than our large living area was that the atmosphere was always convivial and light-hearted, centred as it was around my bed. I banned all talk of politics and money from my boudoir and there was no swearing or loud voices permitted.
The living room was decorated in a style more favourable to the chaps and reserved for more formal occasions such as dinner parties or dances. It was also our makeshift fencing salle. For intimate soirees and nursery suppers I preferred my boudoir. The bed was a large antique affair larger than any modern day super king size and though journalists always made an eye-brow raising to-do about it, there was nothing saucy about it. I gave birth to my children in said bed and wrote my books in it.
The prurient minds of journalists speculated feverishly about the goings on in my boudoir and our three parent family, but surrounded as it was by my large library and photographs of all the people I love, my boudoir was simply the sanctum sanctorum of our family life. It was a peaceful haven where I was free to do just as I please, which most of the time meant writing just as I am now; my daughter leafing through my wardrobe looking for a mink to appropriate for an upcoming ball.