elegant young woman of their refined humanity to put them closer to wild animals. Scared by the violence of this scene, Margot removes herself from the melée and hides in the corner until the announcement of a wealthy baron’s arrival brings the fight to an abrupt end. The spilled dishes that cover the brothel floor further emphasize the thin veil between civilization and animalism. While the reader lacks any detailed description of the ingredients of the meal, s/ he is nonetheless directed to the ragouts and sauces, composite dishes whose flavour and spice would enhance or mask the raw ingredients beneath. The smashed sauces of the meal thus mirror the fine gowns that turn unrefined animals into respectable ladies at the table. The ragout is also the ideal dish to accompany the revelation that Madame Florence runs a brothel. With ragoût used to describe any dish designed to pique a lacklustre appetite, the term was also figuratively associated with anything that excited desire, culinary or otherwise.23 In the face of a growing fashion for the clean, light, simplicity of a nouvelle cuisine that stepped away from sauces and spices to put elegant meats and vegetables (of good terroir, no less) centre stage, the spiced and seasoned ragout came to emblematize weary, overstimulated tastes that needed an artificial helping hand.24
This chaotic meal sets the tone for the meals and sexual exploits that will mark out the rest of her professional life. Whether in the bedroom or at the table, where there is pleasure, there is likely to be indiscipline, the ugliness of which Margot must endure or learn to manipulate to sustain her professional reputation. Surrounded by such excess, it is little surprise that Margot’s time at the brothel is short-lived. After she is asked to service a troupe of drunken musketeers in one booking, Margot describes how she was ‘si gorgée de plaisirs que j’en eus une espèce d’indigestion’ (‘so gorged with pleasure that I was doubled over with stomach cramps.’)25 Again eschewing excess – however enjoyable it might be – she packs her bags and sets out alone.
After brief spells in prison, working as an artists’ model and living with a benefactor who also ends up behind bars, she moves
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