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February 12, 2013

Finette (Joséphine Durwend, fl. late 1850s-early 1870s),
French cancan dancer and celebrity of the Parisian public bals
(photo: Disdéri, London, probably 1868)

‘no woman should witness and no man applaud’ – Finette condemned by The Pall Mall Gazette, London, 1868
‘A controversy which crops up periodically as to the progress of morals has lately been revived. The kindred question of the progress of taste and refinement is painfully forced upon one by the predominant character of modern amusements. That even the grotesque silliness of the burlesques should fail to satisfy the appetite for vulgar fun, and should be apparently giving place to the drivelling ribaldry of the comic song, suggests melancholy conclusions as to the intellectual degradation of the multitude. But still worse is the favour openly accorded to exhibitions which lay claim to no other attraction that their immodesty. One notorious person, whom it would be an insult to the profession to which she affects to belong to call an actress, was lately advertised as appearing in certain parts which, “in variety of character, action, and costume,” afforded great scope for the display of her “remarkable personal beauty and statuesque grace.” “The Faultless contour” of a young girl, as exhibited in the dangerous evolutions of the trapeze, is the enticement to another theatre. The entertainment which, under the title of poses plastiques, the more shameless order of fast men used to seek in obscure corners of the town are now flaunted on the stage of the public theatres. And, to crown all, a lewd dance, which the by no means prudish moral sense of the French has put under the ban of the police, is adopted as the great feature of a brilliant ballet at one of the most popular places of amusement in London. In the low dancing saloons of Paris the police wink at the vivacious obscenity of the Cancan, and those who wish to study it must follow it to its frowzy haunts; any theatre would be instantly closed which dared to put it on the stage. In London, however, where the public morals are under the enlightened an vigilant protection of the Lord Chamberlain and the justices of the peace, it is openly paraded in the bills of the Alhambra’s performance there is not the faintest redeeming feature of elegance or artistic skill. Among the common frequenters of the Closerie, or the Valentino, or any other of the Parisian casinos, better dancers might be discovered at any time. The characteristic immodesty of the Cancan is certainly toned down in Mdlle. Finette’s version, but her capers are nevertheless such as no woman should witness and no man applaud. A correspondent lately suggested that the low character of music-hall entertainments was due to the restraints imposed on them by the present law, which interdicts dramatic performances. If so, we can hardly imagine a stronger argument in favour of more liberal legislation in regard to this establishment from the Cancan ballet at the Alhambra.’
(The Pall Mall Gazette, London, Friday, 27 March 1868, p. 11b)

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