Ballet and Celebrity at the Paris Opera, or the Dreams of the "Rat"

The panoramic literature of the July Monarchy (1830–48) depicts the rat or ballet girl to be destined for prostitution, her dream of becoming a star a mere pretext used to exploit her. In my analysis of journalists writing about the young female dancer, I interrogate the neutrality of such sources, contextualizing the dance profession in relation to other employment options available to female women workers of the lower classes and reconsidering the rat as an icon of women’s economic and artistic ambitions. While dance was described as essentializing femininity, it promised a transformation of the body and the self that allowed for social mobility, self-expression, and artistic renown. Including accounts from former rats (including Berthe Bernay, Cléo de Mérode, and Judith Gautier) I show how dancing informed their identities, allowing them to imagine alternative realities and giving form to the articulation of their desires for the future.

Madison Mainwaring
University of Notre Dame