I don’t mean that in the sense that she was a man’s mistress. Everyone during this period seems like they were someone’s mistress at some point. I mean she got passed around for sex and made her living off of it.
That was different.
Also, unlike Madame de Pompadour, she didn’t come from a really charming family where everyone came up with cute nick-names for one another. She was the daughter of a lady’s-maid and a monk called “Brother Angel” who seduced and then abandoned her mother and then… I cannot explain to you how many lovers her mother had when she was a kid.
No, really, I just can’t. I tried to make a chart, and I’m not a chart-maker. I really made an attempt, but it felt like coming into some soap opera you’re unfamiliar with and being mystified, wondering”wait, she slept with him? And also him? And him? And his evil twin brother?”
Madame du Barry’s mother, Anne, was that soap opera character.
Suffice to say, Freud would love this stuff.
Jeanne found another mother figure in the mistress of one of Anne’s lovers (her mother was engaged as a cook at his household), who was known as Madame Frederique. A glamorous Italian courtesan, Frederique allowed young Jeanne to play with her taffeta dresses, perfume bottles and jewels. Jeanne loved dressing up in her outfits as young girl. Frederique also taught her to dance and advised her on how to talk to men.
And then, in a completely unexpected turn of events, Jeanne’s mother married a butler named Nicolas Rancon. Despite being pockmarked and ten years her junior, Nicolas was hesitant to take Anne as a wife – but her lover arranged for Nicolas to be appointed a shopkeeper to the army commissariat in Corsica. In an attempt to make her life seem more wholesome, Jeanne’s mother soon sent Jeanne off to a convent, where she was supposed to be readied for domestic trade.
Jeanne hated it. Especially the fact that she had to hide her pretty golden hair, which had been so admired, under a plain black veil. She spent nine years there. Fortunately for her, later in life, dancing was taught, though Jeanne was often punished for dancing through the hallways or admiring her reflection in pots (I love this about her).
She left at 15 and immediately ran back to Frederique, and Frederique was not happy. Jeanne had grown up to be beautiful, and you can only imagine that she felt pretty threatened. Frederique sent her away with only enough money to buy herself a new dress.
Jeanne moved into her mother’s attic apartment (Nicolas was away in Corsica) and began to apprentice for a hairdresser. She quickly seduced the hairdresser – or he seduced her, some manner of seducing went on, accounts vary – and they soon moved in together. The hairdresser’s mother, who wanted him to make a better marriage, was enraged. She was convinced Jeanne was ruining him by spending all his money, which she was, but probably not intentionally. She barged in on Jeanne’s mother, accusing her of being a procuress pimping out her daughter, and threatening to send both her and Jeanne to the Hopital (a prison for streetwalkers).
In an attempt to avoid imprisonment, Jeanne’s mother took the hairdresser to court and accused him of corrupting her daughter. Jeanne supposedly looked so beautiful and innocent that the verdict held. The hairdresser was forced to flee to London.