After living in Paris for seven months to study abroad and intern, I consider it a second home. As a result, I was thrilled to learn that Connecticut College would provide me with the opportunity to return to the city over winter break. Through The Center of International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA), I received a travel grant to conduct research for my senior honors thesis. My thesis examines representations of fallen women and prostitutes in 19th century English and French literature and visual art. I applied for the grant to visit an exhibit at Paris’ famous Musée d’Orsay, a treasure box of 19th century French art. The exhibit I was interested in focused on representations of prostitution in 19th century visual art.
The exhibit, Splendor and Misery of Prostitution, exceeded my expectations. It contained quotes about prostitution from famous writers, such as Honoré de Balzac and Emile Zola. It also presented visual art portraying various types of prostitutes—from working class streetwalkers to wealthy courtisanes who flaunted themselves at l’Opéra. Not only did the exhibit present realistic representations of women, it also portrayed fantastical images of them. For example, several paintings presented prostitutes as demons threatening male power. This resonated with the novel I am studying, Nana. Before I left the exhibit, I bought the catalog, which contains critical analyses of the artwork and articles on the history of prostitution in Paris. The exhibit will certainly benefit my thesis.
In addition to visiting the exhibit twice, I researched my topic further by meeting with a professor at La Sorbonne Nouvelle named Professor Mathilde Bertrand. Professor Mathilde Bertrand taught a course on 19th century representations of prostitutes in literature. We met at a café next to the university for almost two hours. She gave me an entire USB drive full of documents related to Émila Zola and his novel Nana. The USB included notes that Zola had written about the characters in his novel, writings of a prominent 19th century hygienist on prostitutes, and information on the literary influences of Nana. In addition to meeting with Professor Mathilde Bertrand, I visited major locations featured in the novel, such as the Théâtre de Variétés. I also conducted research at La Fondation Scelles for two days on the current prostitution debate in Paris.
In between conducting academic research, I met with three Connecticut College alumni who have established careers in Paris. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kim Conniff Taber ’95, a cultural editor of the New York Times in Paris; Sharon Golec ’78, a legal consultant with her own practice; and Effie Katsantonis ’03, an expert in the luxury fashion industry. The alumni shared information on their career paths and gave me advice on how to find employment in Paris.
In the evenings, I reunited with the homestay families I lived with last year during my semester abroad. I met the three-month old grandson of one of my homestay mothers, and ate a dinner of cheese and charcuterie fondue at another family’s home. I also met up with friends for dinner, coffee and crepes.
I cannot thank CISLA and Connecticut College enough for such a wonderful week in Paris. The trip has rejuvenated and prepared me for completing my thesis during my final semester of college.