Maîtresse Absolue: Female Flagellants of the Fin de siècle, Paris

Maîtresse Absolue: Female Flagellants of the Fin de siècle, Paris

Fin de Siecle
Detail from Henri Toulouse-Lautrec At the Moulin Rouge (1895)


Documentation of the Female Flagellants of Fin de siècle (end of 19th Century), Paris

The historical Dominatrix flagellantion craft was characterised by discreet "underground" operation and specialization within the sex industry, with often long training internships and knowledge acquisition. Their specializations were in birch-rod flogging and whippings, domination, bondage, roleplay of authority figures - including as Governess, Step-Mother, dominant Kept Mistress, Strict Nurse, Empress, Lady Justice, and costumes which incorporated regal attire, role attire, fetishes with material qualities such as kid leather and lace gloves, fur, velvet, exquisite shoes, feminisation and gender play, humiliation, medical play, slave and puppy play, and "unusual" requests. 

The Philosophy of Flagellation dating from c1897 expressed that:

"the commonest form of flagellation and mild cruelty is the voluntary submission of men to women. They love to he treated as if they were veritable slaves, and they generally pay dearly to be thus ill-used and themselves draw up a programme of the penances they wish to have inflicted. Severe flogging is often asked for, stipulating binding or strapping down, and sometimes they are satisfied with being insulted and forced to perform repugnant tasks and obscene acts, such as is mentioned in "La Corruption Fin-de-Siècle", where an individual of this type is delighted to lick the seat of a water-closet in a Paris house of ill-fame."

Reference: "The Philosophy of Modern Flagellation" (c1897) reproduced as Appendix in The Venus School-Mistress (1968) Grove Press, New York p.122-123 and citing  Léo Taxil (pseudonym of Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès) (1894) La Corruption Fin-de-Siècle Georges Carré editeur, Paris viewable at:

Alongside the English flagellation tradition incorporated into my book ('The History & Arts of the Dominatrix') I have found further information offering tantalising glimpses into Parisian Domination in the era which I am incorporating into new work on French Mistressery. 

The c1897 letter of Alice de Villefranche (to a slave)

Reproduced in original French; and then below in English translation.

"Paris, Dimanche

Nous verrons ce que valent vos belles protestations d'obéissance et de soumission lorsque vous viendrez demain, lundi, au rendez-vous que je daigne vous accorder. J'éprouverai un âpre plaisir vous humilier, à vous tenir subjugué, anéanti, sous mon fouet, dans le collier de chien qui vous attend, à satisfaire enfin sur tout votre être devenu ma chose, les fantaisies les plus tyranniques de mon imagination. 

A genoux, des votre entrée, vous me remercierez de l'honneur que je fais de vous recevoir comme esclave, et préparez-vous à subir, sans le moindre geste ou mot de révolte, toutes les épreuves où sombrera, sous ma volonté, votre fameuse dignité d'homme. Donc, donc à demain, lundi, 4. h. 30 m, précises, après-midi.

Je vous crois déjà assez obéissant pour être exact.

Votre maîtresse absolue,

Alice de Villefranche"


Translated into English for my English-speaking readers:

"We shall see what your beautiful protestations of obedience and submission are worth when you come tomorrow, Monday, to the meeting I deign to grant you. I will experience a fierce pleasure in humiliating you, in keeping you subjugated, annihilated, under my whip, in the dog's collar which awaits you, in taking final satisfaction in your whole being which has become my thing (object), the most tyrannical fantasies of my imagination.

On your knees, as soon as you enter, you will thank me for the honour I do to receive you as a slave, and get ready to suffer, and prepare to undergo, without the slightest gesture or word of revolt, all the trials or you will sink (collapse), under my will, your famous dignity of man. So, see you tomorrow, Monday, 4 hr, 30 m, precisely, in the afternoon.

I believe you are obedient enough already to be exact. 

Your mistress absolute,

Alice de Villefranche."

The contents of this letter from Alice de Villefranche to her slave give us a wonderful insight into her approach, and highly recognizable to modern-day Dominatrices, telling us something about the language of Domination, its aesthetics and linguistic  qualities. 

Source: Preserved & reproduced in "The Philosophy of Modern Flagellation" (c1897) reproduced as Appendix in The Venus School-Mistress (1968) Grove Press, New York p.122-123


Paul Balluriau Filles fin de siècle
Image: "Filles fin de siècle" song illustration, by Paul Balluriau (1860-1917) 
Above illustration  for a song entitled “Filles fin de siècle (Fin de siècle girls). "A woman on a throne holds a sceptre and rides a pig while being borne on men’s shoulders as part of a procession followed by a festive crowd.”


Advertisements of the French Female Flagellants

Several examples of advertisements of French female flagellants were cited in "The Philosophy of Modern Flagellation" (c1897) in Parisian publication Le Journal. This was a publication which featured literature, politics, special arts issues, and advertisements.


Le Journal
Cover illustration by E. Charles Lucas for Le Journal (1897) 
Imp. Charles Verneau, Paris.
An advertisement for Alice de Villefranche appeared on the back page of Le Journal, as follows: 

"Jeune femme, très jolie, magnifique chevelure blonde, Vénitienne, élégante et fine cravache, habituée aux hommages et agissant en maîtresse absolue, désire union avec monsieur aisé , de préférence âgé, soumis et sans volonté. Écrire Altesse", etc.

Translated into English for my English-speaking readers:

"Young woman, very pretty, magnificent blond hair, Venetian, elegant and fine whip, accustomed to homage and acting as a mistress absolute, desires union with a wealthy gentleman, preferably elderly, submissive and without will power. Write Highness", etc.

in Le Journal in Paris, May 22, 1897.

The contact information was withheld in their reproduction in "The Philosophy of Modern Flagellation" (c1897), as was courtesy to protect the women and was also the strategy of the Victorian English erotomaniac and author of Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1877), Henry Spencer Ashbee.

However with some effort, I have now located the originals of Le Journal, digitally archived here:

The original of Le Journal shows the extent to which abbreviations were used, as well as identifying the contact, as Passage de l'Opéra, 27.

Maitresse absol


A second advertisement for another Maîtresse in Paris, which was also referenced in "Philosophy of Flagellation" read as follows: 

"Jeune femme, 25 ans, brune, joli type oriental connaissant à fond éducation anglaise, cherche union aisé avec personne sérieuse, douce et soumise.  - Écrire à" etc.

Translated into English for my English-speaking readers:

"Young woman, 25 years old, dark-haired, pretty oriental type, knowing English education thoroughly, seeks a comfortable union with a serious, gentle and submissive person. Write to" etc.   

I managed to find the same advertisement on another day published 8 May 1897 in Le Journal, and the contact details of the woman - Viator, 27, Passage de l'Opéra


A Viator was historically an apparitor, a summoner; and a visitor or wayfarer. 

Location & images of Passage de l'Opera

With the location identified as I also managed to then locate photographs of what the famous Passage de l’Opéra looked like.


Passage de l'Opera


Charles Marville (c1868) Passage de l’Opéra, Galerie de l’Horloge, 9th arrodisement, Paris. 


Passage de l'Opéra 1877

A.-P Martial (1877) Passage de l'Opéra. Hand-coloured etching. Source: 


These passages were illuminated by its skylights by day, and indoor gas lighting by night, featuring shops and eateries. (And apparently also young female flagellant specialists seeking submissive clients.)

 The Passage de l’Opéra is described by Léo Lespès and Charles Bertrand:

"C'est à minuit que l'Opéra ouvre ses portes pour le bal ; à partir de onze heures le passage de l'Opéra est littéralement encombré par les masques et les travestis qui se préparent au plaisir de la danse en échangeant les propos les plus joyeux et les plus bizarres, tandis que les promeneurs, que ce spectacle attire, se rangent prudemment de côté pour les laisser passer.

Les magasins se ressentent de cette animation, les cafés restent ouverts toute la nuit ; tout est bruit, éclats de rire, gaité, jusqu'à ce que les premières lueurs de l'aube aient remplacé les feux expirants du gaz."

In English:

"It is at midnight that the Opera opens its doors for the ball; from eleven o'clock the Passage de l'Opéra is literally crowded with masks and transvestites who are preparing for the pleasure of dancing by exchanging the most joyful and bizarre remarks, while the walkers, whom this spectacle attracts, carefully step aside to let them pass.

The shops are affected by this animation, the cafes remain open all night; all is noise, bursts of laughter, gaiety, until the first glimmers of dawn have replaced the dying gas fires."

Source: Léo Lespès and Charles Bertrand (1860) Paris-Album, historique et monumental divided into twenty arrondissements  [ archive ] , Paris, pp.309-310 , read online at Gallica

I discovered that at that address which the Parisian female flagellants had been advertising - 27 Passage de l’Opéra - was by at least c1926 occupied by the Grand Restaurant Beethoven, captured in an ephemeral advertising. 

27 Grand Restaurant

Ephemeral advertisement for Grand Restaurant Beethoven, located at 27 Passage de l’Opéra. (Source: )

I had written that we unfortunately have no photographs of Alice de Villefranche or the female flagellant women working in Fin de siècle Paris in the late 19th Century. However, I have just stumbled across some photography of the period.

"Zut pour Madame" features a posed female flagellant disciplinarian figure bringing down punishment on young women, dating from c1870s. The term "zut" is a French interjection approximately meaning "damn" (or alternatively rendered as "drats!", "blast!", "heck!") and expressing anger or irritation, etc.

Zut pour Madame

Zut pour Madame (c1870s) from:  published in Nazaieff, Serge (1988) Jeux de Dames Cruelles 1850-1960 published by Taschen Verlag.


Messalina at the Opera

Amongst the operas played in Paris Opéra (as well as other opera houses around Europe) was Messalina by Isidore de Lara.

It amuses me to think of the possibility of Opera attendees going straight from seeing Messalina to afterwards calling in upon a female flagellant by enquiring at the nearby 27 Passage de l’Opéra.

The figure of Empress Valeria Messalina was herself a kind of Dominatrix in Roman history. She was the powerful third wife of Roman Emperor Claudius, (and cousin of Nero, and second cousin of Caligula,) famed in historical accounts for holding great influence and for being ruthless, predatory and sexually insatiable, and for allegedly conspiring against her husband, and executed on discovery of the plot. 

Lautrec Messalina Opera

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Messaline descend l'escalier bordé de figurants / The Opera - Messalina (1900-1901) 


Henri Toulouse-Lautrec Messalina (1900-1901) 

"Specialised passions" at Chez Christiane in Pigelle

At 9 rue de Navarin in Pigelle, an establishment known as Chez Christiane offered sado-masochistic specialities. These were referred to in 1930s Parisian brothel guides such as Le Guide Rose - as "les passions spéciales", as special passions (or specialised passions). 


The only documentation of the dungeons and chambres or operation of Chez Christiane are to be found in traces of police reports and the Paris brothel guides of the era, Le Guide Rose, and Guide des maisons d’amour et des musées secrets (1935). It was reported that the most open-minded (customers) had the leisure to use all sorts of instruments to satisfy their desires, and in relation to its extensive equipment, "nothing is missing...".


Chez Christiane exterior

Exterior of 9 rue de Navarin, Pigelle where the SM establishment Chez Christiane was located. Source:,_9.jpg


I am going to make efforts to track down the original Parisian brothel guides, but the second hand sources I've read without any references - report that equipment including iron collars, handcuffs, chains, chastity devices, gallows and trestles, and that its highly variegated scenarios offered by the House included an erotic journey through the Spanish Inquisition, or the ability to indulge in boot worship, and what we would regard today as classic FemDom S/M roleplay.

Chez Christiane was closed in 1946 after the law known as "La loi Marthe Richard" was passed - which made brothels illegal. And so once again the specialists of the era moved back into the shadows, discreetly operating from private premises and finding clandestine ways to get word out to those seeking out their Domination and fetish services.

Fetish photography in Paris: A future post

We do have some wonderful early fetish photography and costumery of seamstress, business woman, model and Mistress -  Nativa Richard (aka Miss Helios) who with her husband ran the business Yva Richard from around 1913 and into the 1920s in Paris. And the photographic work of Biederer Brothers of Ostra Studio who were based in Paris, and produced a significant body of fetish photography in the 1920s and until they were captured in WWII and tragically died in a concentration camp. I shall make a future blog post on this material.

 x Anne O Nomis

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