Blanche d'Antigny

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Blanche d'Antigny
Penitent Magdalene Baudry.jpg
Born Marie Ernestine Antigny
(1840-05-09)May 9, 1840
Martizay, France
Died June 30, 1874(1874-06-30) (aged 34)

Blanche d'Antigny (May 9, 1840 – June 30, 1874) was a French singer and actress whose fame today rests chiefly on the fact that Émile Zola used her as the principal model for his novel Nana.

History[edit]

Blanche d'Antigny was born Marie Ernestine Antigny in Martizay, France. Her father, Jean Antigny, was the sacristan at a local church. At age 14 she ran off to Bucharest with a lover whom she then abandoned for some gypsies. On her return to Paris she worked in the circus and in various dance halls. She also posed for Paul Baudry for his painting The penitent Madeleine. She became the mistress of the Russian police chief Mesentzov who took her to St. Petersburg and, when she was forced to leave Russia by special order of the Tsarina, to Wiesbaden. When she set it into her head to become a star on the operetta stage, everything happened exactly as Zola would later describe it in Nana: She was an immediate success on the stage and attracted scores of wealthy lovers. Hervé brought her out as Frédégonde in Chilpéric (1868) and went on stage himself to play Faust to her Marguerite in his masterpiece Le petit Faust (1869), a brilliant parody of both Goethe's play and Gounod's opera. Blanche d'Antigny went on to play the leading roles in all the hits of Hervé, Offenbach, and their disciples (Le tour du chien vert, L'oeil crevé, La vie parisienne, La Cocotte aux œufs d'or, etc. etc.) between 1870 and 1873. Her lovers showered her with gifts and spent enormous sums of money on her, but she was unable to hold on to any of it. After a scandal caused by the financial ruin of one of her lovers, she thought it better to leave Paris for a while. She went to Egypt where she appeared on the stage in Cairo and also had an affair with the Khedive. She returned from this tour infected with typhoid fever and died a slow, painful death, penniless and deserted by all her friends. Blanche d'Antigny is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Zola's dilemma[edit]

Zola's decision to settle on Blanche d'Antigny's late career (1869–1874) as the principal model for his novel was a triumph of Zola, the writer, over Zola, the dogmatist. Initially, he had set out to prove "scientifically" the nexus between prostitution, corruption, greed, stupidity etc. and the Second Empire, but his decision made clear to his readers what also the police records for the period confirm: The end of the Second Empire in 1870 may have brought with it a decrease of tolerance and joy (as signified by the term "Offenbachiad"), but certainly not of prostitution, corruption, greed, etc.

Commentary[edit]

When Blanche was asked why she had taken along to Cairo not only her chambermaid but also her coachman although she had neither horses nor a coach there, she is reported to have answered: What the hell! I owe Augustine twenty thousand francs, and Justin thirty-five thousand; they wouldn't let me go without them!

Sources[edit]

  • Zola, Émile (1972). Nana. translated with an introduction by George Holden,. London: Penguin Classics. 
  • Houbre, Gabrielle (2006). Le livre des courtisanes : Archives secrètes de la police des moeurs (1861-1876) (alt. title: Les Cocottes). Paris: Taillandier. 
  • Vauzat, Guy (1933). Blanche d'Antigny, actrice et demi-mondaine 1840–1874. Paris: Charles Bosse. 
  • "Blanche d'Antigny". Les Amis du Vieux Martizay. 2004. 
  • Dubé, Paul; Jacques Marchioro. "Paulus - Mémoires". Du Temps des cerises aux Feuilles mortes. Retrieved 11 June 2007. 

External links[edit]