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Men in mourning

January 23, 2014

Last night I started reading Gustave Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet (published posthumously in 1881) and found this:

Bouvard l’emportait par d’autres côtés. Sa chaîne de montre en cheveux et la manière dont il battait la rémolade décelaient le roquentin plein d’expérience, et il mangeait le coin de la serviette dans l’aisselle, en débitant des choses qui faisaient rire Pécuchet. (page 5)

This sounded to me like his watch-chain was made of human hair, but I’d never heard of such a thing and found the idea not quite grotesque, but surprising. In this case it was my cultural competence letting me down. Here’s an anonymous 1904 translation available for free from Project Gutenberg (they have it in French too):

Bouvard had the advantage of him in other ways. His hair watch-chain, and his manner of whipping-up the mustard-sauce, revealed the greybeard, full of experience; and he ate with the corners of his napkin under his armpits, giving utterance to things which made Pécuchet laugh. (page 6)

This morning I noticed that Petr Lukich Glovatskii in Leskov’s No Way Out (Некуда, 1864) had the same kind of watch-chain:

[…] and to his left is a very tall and very thin man, who is dressed just like a Polish Catholic priest: a long black ankle-length frock-coat, a black double-breasted vest, and black trousers tucked into the tops of his goatskin boots, with a watch-chain woven from a woman’s light brown hair across the vest. (book 1, chapter 8)

We have already been told in other ways that Bouvard and Glovatskii are widowers. Hair watch-chains are still made today.

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