Culotte Rouge

In Brief

Stephen came back from Paris with several light entertainment magazines stuffed in his pockets. "Le Tutu" and, even more, the "five tattered numbers of Pantalon Blanc et Culotte Rouge" offered risqué reading which the conservative arbiters of French fashion were endeavoring to suppress. The magazines' preoccupation with sex and with female undergarments link Stephen with James Joyce and with Leopold Bloom.

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Le Tutu was a weekly entertainment magazine founded in 1901. La Vie en Culotte Rouge (Life in Red Breeches) followed in 1902, its title referring to the pants worn by French soldiers. Thornton found both weeklies listed in the "Humoristiques" section of the 1904-5 Annuaire de la Presse Française.

John Simpson notes on the James Joyce Online Notes website that La Vie en Culotte Rouge was "mildly erotic, and was clearly the sort of magazine that might have been attractive to Joyce’s eclectic taste. It presented the adventures of amorous military types and their easy-going lady friends." He observes that "Conservative French opinion was not in favour of a magazine lavishly illustrated with sketches of near-naked ladies, whatever their artistic quality. The publishers came under strong pressure to withdraw it. It eventually ceased publishing in 1912, but not before the revealing illustrations had been severely toned down. As late as 1928 the magazine was still on a list (alongside Le Tutu) consisting of 'titres des ouvrages contraires aux bonnes mœurs' and not sold in respectable bookshops."

The longer title Pantalons Blancs et Culottes Rouges that appears in Proteus (though with its plurals misremembered as singulars) came from a collection of ten issues of La Vie en Culotte Rouge. Simpson reports that the publishers of the weekly decided, as a marketing ploy, to repackage its issues in bound volumes. The first ten weekly issues were sold together as Mars et Vénus, emphasizing even more than did the weekly title the encounters of the warrior class with the fair sex. The next ten followed suit under the title Le Cœur et l’Épée (The Heart and the Sword). Episodes 21 through 30 appeared as Poudre a Canon et Poudre de Riz (Gunpowder and Ricepowder). Episodes 31 through 40 were repackaged as Pantalons Blancs et Culottes Rouges (White Undies and Red Trousers).

The young Joyce left Paris one month before this fourth bound volume was first advertised and sold in May 1903, but he could have encountered it during later trips to Paris. Since the "five tattered numbers" pretty clearly refer to individual issues, he appears to have confused their title with that of the bound album.

The frilly white undergarments of the ladies in Le Tutu and La Vie en Culotte Rouge clearly invite readers to relate Stephen's sexual proclivities to those of Bloom. It also seems possible that the red pants of the soldiers bear some connection to the red pants that Molly wears in Bloom's dream—as the image at right may suggest.

JH 2015
Cover of La Vie en Culotte Rouge of 2 March 1902, image courtesy of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation. Source: www.jjon.org.
Cover of 1911 annual collection of Culotte Rouge issues. Source: www.jjon.org.