Just as the jeweler places a thin metal foil under a gemstone to make it shine brighter, the agency places a repoussoir next to a society jewel to make shine.
So I went into reading Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross knowing nothing about the book. That’s what I like to do sometimes–go into the bookstore and peruse what’s on display until I come across a book I haven’t seen being talked about on booktube or plastered all over Instagram. It seem like everybody is reading or purchasing the same damn thing. I try to be different but most often then not I fall for the hype and wind up doing what everyone else does but I happy that I got to purchase Belle Epoque. I would say it was an eye-opener but that would be pushing it since women have been judge by the beauty and how they look in society for the past Millennium.
Maude Pichon (16) dreams of doing it big when she moves to Paris to escape the arranged marriage her father wants to set up between the town butcher (who happens to be 40 years of age) and herself. Stealing what funds that her father has cuminlated in the shop till, Maude travels to Paree to bigger and better things. Or so she thought. Paris is expensive and there’s not a lot of work that a young country bumpkin can do. I mean who wants to be a laundress working long how hours folding and ironing clothes and linens? Especially, if you’re starving and can barely get the rent paid.
Enters The Durandeau Agency. An Agency that Maude thought would solve all her problems.
Seeing an advertising for undemanding work, Maude goes to The Durandeau Agency thinking that she is applying to be someone’s Governess, or maid or Lady in waiting but it turns out that the job is was a repoussoir. Now I know what you’re thinking. What the hell is a repoussoir? When I first read the word I didn’t know how to pronounce it let alone know what it means but Elizabeth Ross gives a clear definition as she weaves this wonderful tale of a young woman learning to accept herself when everybody else in society keeps telling her that she plain and ordinary. She not good enough. She’s nothing special, just the foil that jeweler puts behind the gemstone to make it shine bright. Yes that is what a repoussoir is. Someone who is considered ugly and insignificant. Someone who will never be accept in the higher rankings of society because she’s just not beautiful enough or comes from a rich family.
An unattractive woman contributes nothing to society. But with my agency she has the chance to use her cursed looks to benefit others.
Now knowing what the job required of Maude you would think that she would be ashamed and repulse and humiliated and you are correct but when you need to survive and prove a point to the your father and the gossips back home you put your pride and dignity on the back burner and do your work. And Maude does. Because she just wants to survive the beautiful city of Paris. So at first she is confused, shy wallflower who wants to just disappear from the humiliation of it all but then she gets caught up in the glamorous lifestyle that is thrust upon her as she becomes friends with Isabelle. The one she is suppose to make shine the brightest out of all the gemstones that are on display for Isabelle season. That just means Isabelle is at the marrying age and her mother wants her to marry wealthy because that is all she is good for.
Mother can’t know….she doesn’t approve of education for girls
As with all good things, it must come to an end. Maude many lies and deception as well as her self-pride comes knocking at the door. Along with the countess ratting her out with her plan comes to fruition. The Belle of the agency is once again the plain Jane and that’s alright. Yes she got caught up in glamorous lifestyle but in the end she realize the cost for too high. It was not worth selling your soul and losing your best friend and potential love interest because you wanted to be what society though you should be. Maude learns that she is just as beautiful as the gemstones that she was meant to make shine brighter. On top of that she was smart and wants to continue learning and absorbing as much knowledge as she could. Because in the end beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What you might consider ugly or a flaw, someone else will think it’s exquisite and unique. Something to be admired not put down.
Intelligence, wit, kindness–in short, the quality of person you are. Then there’s the other factor you haven’t mentioned: the beholder of the gaze, yet another human complexity.
In short be happy with who you are. Don’t let society dictate how you see the world and yourself. Yes it’s going to be hard at times but it worth the wrong and struggle that comes along with self love.