I just finished an amazing book on Necker, the finance minister under Louis XVI.* The most interesting discoveries for me were the revelation that Necker was a friend of the rich (although that was not a big surprise), that he had promised but reneged on his promise to help the poor (ditto), and that he apparently also reneged on a promise to a certain Comtesse de C. This last nugget is wrapped around an artful device by the writer, James Rutledge.
Tucked within the pages of vitriol about Necker’s financial double-dealings is the story of a certain Countess de … to whom he owed 1,000 louis and perhaps her virtue. When she refuses to drop her case or the demand for reparation, It appears that Necker has her mauled by a mob of unruly workers who demand that she say, “Vive Necker” [Long live Necker]. At that point, the countess refuses, but not before shifting tactics and shouting out, “Vive le Tiers” [Long live the third estate]. Thereby one with the cause of the people, she is embraced by the formerly hostile mob, who joins her in touting the Tiers! The inset tale ends with the mob inviting her to join them for a drink.
Prominent in the resolution to this drama is the work of a symbolic figure that is often found in revolutionary literature. She is typically portrayed as hot-tempered, sometimes drunkenly, and prone to funny malapropisms, but her sense of loyalty to her sisters in the marketplace is equal to none. What is she called?
1. A couturière or dressmaker
2. A poissarde or fish-monger
3. An épicière or grocer
4. A pastry-maker or pâtissière
*[James Rutledge], Vie privée et ministérielle de M. Necker, Directeur général des finances, par un citoyen. Geneva: Chez Pellet, 1790. With thanks to Princeton University who sent it here via Interlibrary Loan.
Below is the very odd illustration which opens the “Supplement” where more evil deeds are laid out for public view. Il looks like Necker is taking a sledge hammer to the foundation of the republic. At its top stand symbols of the ancien regime who seem to be aiming at him. If anyone has any idea other ideas about what this symbolism means, please write in!