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See also: demi-monde



An 1895 photographic portrait of Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, by Pierre-Louis Pierson.[n 1] The Countess, who became a mistress of Napoleon III of France, was widely regarded as one of the demimonde (sense 1).

Borrowed from French demi-monde (literally half-world), from demi (half) + monde (world; people); possibly coined by French author and playwright Alexandre Dumas fils as the title of a comedic play, Le Demi Monde (1855):[1] see the 1864 quotation.



demimonde (plural demimondes)

  1. (chiefly historical (19th-century France)) A class of women maintained by wealthy protectors; female courtesans or prostitutes as a group.
    • 1857 May, “The World of New York”, in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science, and Art, volume IX, number LIII, New York, N.Y.: Miller & Company, []; London: Sampson Low, Son & Co., OCLC 950904397, page 560, column 1:
      A most remarkable instance of this was afforded in the play of Camille by the performance of the supper-scene. The stage in this scene is supposed to represent a supper-room, enlivened by the presence of a party of young Parisians, more gay, indeed, than respectable, but still Parisians, and Parisians of the demimonde, which, of the two halves that go to make up the whole of the monde, preserves the hemisphere of manners while it throws away the hemisphere of decorum.
    • 1864 July, Edmond About, “Art. VII.—Edmond About on Progress. Le Progrès. Par Edmond About. Paris, 1864.”, in The Westminster Review, volume LXXXII, number CLXI, American edition, New York, N.Y.: Published by Leonard Scott & Co., [], OCLC 507147293, page 74, column 1:
      To give a good and solid education to the gentle sex would tend to double the army of progress, to draw closer the domestic relations, and to annihilate that extra-conjugal society (the demi[-]monde of [Alexandre] Dumas the younger) which is now so very prosperous.
    • 1867, W[illiam] Blanchard Jerrod, “Society under the Second Empire”, in On the Boulevards; or Memorable Men and Things Drawn on the Spot, 1853–1866. [], volume II, Philadelphia, Pa.: J. B. Lippincott & Co.; London: W[illiam] H[oughton] Allen & Co., [], OCLC 16624494, page 14:
      Paris society borrows fashions from the demi-monde, and the demi-monde borrows manners from the extravagant princesses, countesses, and viscountesses. All Parie has been stirred with the Sardanapalian entertainment, which a leader of the demi-monde gave on the eve of Lent to the best male society in the Empire. The ladies were all unquestionably from young [Alexandre] Dumas' panier à quinze sous; but their manners and their toilettes were, we are told, all that could be desired.
    • 1878, K[arl] Baedeker, “Paris. Preliminary Information.”, in Paris and Its Environs: [], 6th revised and augmented edition, Leipzig: Karl Baedeker; London: Dulau and Co., [], OCLC 456848598, section 17 (Concerts and Balls), page 57:
      Skating Rinks are chiefly patronised by members of the demi[-]monde.
    • 1897, H. Ellen Browning, chapter III, in A Girl’s Wanderings in Hungary, 2nd edition, London; New York, N.Y.: Longmans, Green, and Co. [], OCLC 458913089, page 56:
      Racing is confined almost exclusively to the upper and middle classes in Hungary, though it is always attended by numbers of the demi[-]monde.
    • 1920 May 27, F[rancis] Scott Fitzgerald, “The Offshore Pirate”, in Flappers and Philosophers, New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, published September 1920, OCLC 623621399, part I, page 6:
      This is the last straw. In your infatuation for this man—a man who is notorious for his excesses, a man your father would not have allowed to so much as mention your name—you have reflected the demi-monde rather than the circles in which you have presumably grown up.
    • 2013, Elizabeth Kendall, “Georgi”, in Balanchine and the Lost Muse: Revolution and the Making of a Choreographer, Oxford: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 38:
      The ballet offered another way up for daughters, maybe not through marriage, but through training for a world that didn't need marriage to be glorious—the Petersburg demimonde with its parties, restaurans, hothouse flowers in witner, chinovniki, and officers entertaining mistresses and setting them up with children in apartments. The demimonde was an alternate, semi-hidden social world, to which ballet was firmly linked.
  2. (by extension) A group having little respect or reputation.
    the literary demimonde
    • 2004, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Narrating the Nation”, in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922–1945, 1st paperback edition, Berkeley; Los Angeles, Calif.; London: University of California Press, →ISBN, page 55:
      In the midst of these discussions over foreign realisms, a group of novels appeared that pointed up the contradictions that beset the regime's projects for a national literature and a fascist style of modernity. Written by intellectuals in their twenties, these novels sparked much debate for their frank depictions of bourgeois moral corruption. [] In fact, the young protagonists of these works hardly fit the description of the regime's "new men," and the cosmopolitan demimondes they frequent had been targeted by fascist zealots for rehabilitation.
    • 2006, Aihwa Ong, “Latitudes, or How Markets Stretch the Bounds of Governmentality”, in Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty, Durham, N.C.; London: Duke University Press, →ISBN, part III (Circuits of Expertise), page 129:
      Through a series of ethnicized disciplinary institutions—factory, family—shopfloor workers and their relatives and friends working at home are drawn into an ethnic demimonde of docile labor.
  3. (by extension) A member of such a class or group of persons.
    • 1869 June, “Summer Recreations”, in W. W. Hall, editor, Hall’s Journal of Health, volume XVI, number VI, New York, N.Y.: W. W. Hall, publisher, [], OCLC 991071819, page 119:
      Those who seek pleasure in a round of dances and fashionable frolic, where the german and the horse-race, the card-table and the drive, are the order of the day, will gather to the sea side and the spa; they will seek Newport, the maelstrom of money; or Long Branch with its broiling sun and its retinue of demimondes and stuck-up-ities; []
    • 1898 February, G. G. Buford, “Brachialgia”, in R. B. Maury [et al.], editors, The Memphis Lancet, volume I, number 5, Memphis, Tenn.: S. C. Toof & Co., printers, published November 1898, OCLC 7025560, page 277:
      I was called to see B. J., a demimonde and opium habitue, and found her suffering intensely with pain over the right upper chest, neck and arm, and numbness in the right little finger and one-half of the ring finger. [] Diagnosis—brachialgia following traumatism.
    • 2010, Michael J. K. Walsh, “Introduction: Avant-garde and Avant-guerre”, in Michael J. K. Walsh, editor, London, Modernism, and 1914, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, →ISBN, page 1:
      On the evening of 4 August 1914 London's Café Royal was alive with its usual array of demimondes, dandies, aristocrats, émigrés, and self-styled bohemians.
    • 2011, John [Campbell] McMillian, “‘All the Protest Fit to Print’: The Rise of Liberation News Service”, in Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America, New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 82:
      While on the one hand remaining deeply enmeshed in the cultural stirrings in their own communities, the era's literary demimondes also conceived of themselves as crucial social agents who would chart the New Left's progress, champion its goals, []

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  1. ^ From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York, USA.


  1. ^ Alexandre Dumas, Le Demi Monde : Comédie en 5 Actes, en Prose[1] (in French), Paris: M. Lévy, 1855, OCLC 762681928

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