Jane Avril - Biography
By Craig Robert Whitfield
Jane's Mother - Léontine Clarisse Beaudon
Jane's Father - Luigi de Font
Grandfather - Père Beaudon, his Sister - Marie
Grandmother - Madame Beaudon
Last Updated 28th January 2021.
Jeanne Louise Beaudon entered the world on 9th June 1868 in the 20th arrondissement of Paris.
Jeanne was brought up by her grandparents from the age of 3 in Etampes having been left to them by her mother Léontine who in order to continue applying her trade would not have wanted the distraction of a baby and child. Her home was often billeted by Prussian soldiers during the Franco/Prussian war and she was educated at the local convent by nuns.
Sadly, Jeanne's grandparents died within a week of each other, Madame Beaudon followed by Père Beaudon which left Jeanne an orphan.
It was her grandparent's wish for her to be brought up by the nuns at the local convent and it was there that Jeanne continued receiving a good standard of education where she was happy and danced freely.
At the age of 9 in 1877 her mother Léontine discovered her whereabouts and it was her mother's intention to reclaim her from the convent, this caused Jeanne terrible unhappiness and tears.
Léontine's love affair with Luigi de Font (Jeanne's father) had passed and the years had not been at all kind to her - she had resorted to drugs and had become sour, bloated, impoverished and consequently she enjoyed less distinguished lovers. Her mother reclaimed Jeanne purely to exploit her for profit. It was clear that her mother was a monster of a human being who would regularly rain down blows beating Jeanne unmercifully in frenzied attacks who also shouted abuse at her. Jeanne would do all the housework chores as she acted out the role of a slave. Her mother played out the role of a woman of ill repute.
During this time Jeanne lost her happiness and her confidence; her green eyes became that little bit deeper.
Jeanne did her utmost to avoid encouraging her mother's bad moods and beatings.
As a result of financial assistance from Monsieur Hutt (Léontine's former lover) and Viscount de Saincourt (a somewhat dubious character who had an involvement with Léontine) Jeanne was able to continue her education at the Academy of Demoiselles Désir. Jeanne, for the time being at least would be happy again.
Jeanne was a gifted student at maths, words, dance and embroidering. She was top of the class and highly thought of by her teachers and fellow students. However, the beatings continued at home and she would be forced by her mother to sing in the streets for her supper.
The funding for Jeanne's education ceased suddenly and Léontine informed her that she would have to quit her education and start work. Jeanne was mortified that she had to leave a place she loved and was fearful of what life was to become for her at the will of her evil mother.
Fortunately, Jeanne's teachers noticed her being downcast and questioned her as to why? It was at this point that Jeanne opened up to them about her mother and the constant beatings.
Sister Berthe was the hero of the hour. Sister Berthe visited Léontine and explained in no uncertain terms that any more beatings on her daughter would result in her going to the police - this did the trick! Not only that, Jeanne would receive free education up to first communion at the arrangement and agreement of the sisters.
Her education at this stage complete Jeanne ran away from home but suffered from hunger and ill treatment until she finally arrived at the home of Madame Hutt. (It should be pointed out that it was here she suffered from her first sickness – ‘Saint Vitus Dance’… now - 'Sydenham's Chorea')
Jeanne became an inmate of the Salpêtrière Hospital in the ward of the Grandes Hystériques. It was here among the mad, sick, maimed and backward children and the aged men and women that Jeanne spent 2 happy years. Her education continued here at a higher level than that offered by the nuns and where she would have received gymnastic lessons, which would one day prove beneficial to her. While an inmate Jeanne met the divine Sarah Bernhardt in one of the garden alleys who arrived one day in a grand cortege to see a real life scene of madness.
Despite all that Jeanne had gone through to date she retained a remarkable facility for accepting life without questions.
It was here that Jeanne would receive news that her mother was to visit her at the hospital and she fled back to the Hutt's where she would receive reassurance and returned once more to the hospital. Her mother visited her the next day and play acted the role of the heartbroken mother. However, upon walks in the valley and among the high hedges out of sight from the nurses the abuse and beatings began again. After 3 such visits from her mother Jeanne relapsed into twitching and nervous contortions.
It would only be after Jeanne was questioned by Dr Charcot himself that he discovered the truth behind Léontine's visits. As a result, she was informed that Jeanne had relapsed and couldn't be visited for several weeks. Jeanne began to recuperate.
There was a huge costume ball at the hospital and it became in effect Jeanne's farewell party, with a very distinguished guest list of Dr Charcot's acquaintances. It would be Jeanne's first ball. She was in a dreamy and happy state dancing with her favourite Julien (probably not his real name) who would present her with a bouquet. It was here that she danced quite spontaneously as only she could to the delight of a captive audience who responded with applause and showered her with praise.
Jeanne left the following day with Léontine who had received a stern warning from Dr Charcot that if she ill-treated Jeanne again he would act as her protector and train her as a nurse.
"What sweet and melancholy memories I still have of those days...the old fashioned charm of it all sank deeper within my heart."
At the age of 15 the hell began again!
Léontine made an attempt to exploit the father through his daughter. It was at her Father's home that Jeanne would become firm friends with Monsieur Pouffard (her father's secretary) from whom she learnt about the great painters.
However, her father was himself on the verge of financial ruin but he did assist as best he could but he eventually returned to Italy and died months later after succumbing to a stroke.
Léontine was determined to turn Jeanne into a, ‘lady of the night’ and the mental torture would continue.
Jeanne stood firm and refused to comply!
Léontine sent Jeanne out on the streets and refused her entry on return to the home unless she had returned with money in hand.
One day, Jeanne met a strange old man who convinced Jeanne that he was an old friend of her mothers and invited her to dinner. It wasn't long before he launched himself on her in a hotel room and only stopped in his shame when Jeanne cried out in tears. They left the restaurant and he paid for her taxi home as well as a sum of money as an offer, she declined to take it! This took some strength as she could have avoided an inevitable beating on her return home with money in hand.
But no! She would not be like her mother!
Jeanne did return home and was beaten to within an inch of her life. What courage she possessed!
Nights later, Jeanne fled home never to return. She never heard from or saw her mother again!
Jeanne ran away straight to 'her favourite' Julien, from the hospital where she would unburden herself to him and resolved never to return to her mother.
It was to be 'Paris in the Spring' as the two young hearts beat the same tune. Together they shopped, dined, sat in parks, drank both wine and champagne and she had her first taste of absinthe. Jeanne would remember this day all her life, it was her first experience of love, Julien gave her a ring and declared "now, you are my wife."
Jeanne never transgressed the natural laws of good and evil and above all she never harmed anyone.
Julien was a jealous lover but Jeanne only had eyes for him and his jealousy wasn't justified.
Jeanne continued her education by reading Julien's books which included novels, plays, poetry and the classics; she even began to teach herself Latin. Jeanne possessed a real hunger for knowledge.
The months passed by as did the dream.
'Paris in the Spring' turned to summer and Julien's past caught up with him in the shape of a baby in the arms of his former lover who unexpectantly turned up on his doorstep to break Jeanne's heart. Jeanne concluded (it seems without a fight) that his former lover had a prior claim and with a heavy heart she fled the scene leaving behind all that he had given her. They were never to meet again.
Jeanne fled and decided to end it all by throwing herself into the Seine having concluded that without love and a place to return it was her only option. Having discovered 50 Centimes in her coat she decided to take refuge in the theatre until darkness came. She left the theatre and went on her way when suddenly a street drunkard seized her; she escaped his grip and ran hurriedly to a group of street walking, 'ladies of the night.' It was at this point that she met Marcelle Le Grande who took pity on her and determined that she would look after her. Marcelle (who would later be murdered at the hands of Le P'tit Louis, her pimp) had a heart of gold and saw to it that Jeanne was fed and housed.
Jeanne settled as she always did into her new life where she received affection, food, drinks and gifts - she became something of the ladies pet. As a treat Jeanne was invited to the Bal Bullier which was a popular pleasure garden where the ladies applied their trade.
It possessed a huge dance floor. It was here that Jeanne much like she did at the hospital broke out into spontaneous dance unable to resist any longer the orchestra in full swing. She delighted those who saw her and whose appreciation led to applause when she stopped. Frightened and shy she would run from the dance hall and out into the streets.
"I let myself be driven and directed, astonished as much as dazzled, opening my eyes wide to the discovery of this new life that offered itself to me, I thought i was dreaming... And so off I went to dance and leap, like a runaway goat, or rather, like the mad woman that i must have been to an extent."
After this, Jeanne would visit the Bal Bullier night after night and usually alone, it was here that she realised that dance was to be her vocation. The Bal Bullier was a rendezvous for poets and painters and Jeanne befriended them - she had many 'protectors' and had love affairs and many male platonic friends.
She lived for dance and if she had money in her pocket she refused offers and danced alone and for her own pleasure.
"I was loved and in return I love, I loathe the material side of existence. I wanted life to be all love, all happiness."
As a result Jeanne became a well-known personality in the Latin Quarter.
Jeanne met the grandson of William Wordsworth, a journalist, would be poet and friend of Oscar Wilde called Robert Sherard. Robert offered Jeanne his heart and she took it and in so doing offered him her own.
It was Robert Sherard who collaborated with Jeanne to come up with the name JANE AVRIL! Jane being the English name for Jeanne and Avril being the time of year. 'Paris in the Spring.'
THUS WAS JANE AVRIL BORN!
In changing her name it would serve to be both exotic and a protection that as her fame grew she would not reveal herself to her mother.
Jane Avril’s life continued and spent more and more time with the great intellectuals and artists of the Latin Quarter, Jane hung on to the speaker's lips, drinking in every word, weighing, observing and storing a golden heap of knowledge in her mind.
Jane Avril met Théodore de Wyczéwa whilst one day strolling in the gardens of the Bal Bullier. Théodore de Wyczéwa poet, theatre lover and Wagner expert - she described their relationship, "it was the beginning of the strangest and most beautiful friendship of my life."
Théodore was one of the most singular and diverse minds of his age and the circle of his acquaintances were as wide as his knowledge. He influenced Jane Avril’s intellectual development and her whole outlook on life, he adored her and became throughout her life a guide, philosopher and friend. Théodore had wanted to marry Jane but she refused all proposals from him.
After a spell of some months Jane Avril disappeared and returned to dance at the Bal Bullier, However, she and Théodore continued in their friendship upon which she would continue to rely.
How much Jane Avril had grown since her rendezvous with Marcelle and the girls, from the dark days of contemplating suicide by throwing herself into the Seine, so tortured a childhood and her failed relationship with Julien. Despite all of this Jane Avril kept her eyes towards the sunshine!
After reassessing her life after a proposal of marriage to a son of a tea planter she became a cashier at a sideshow during the Paris exhibition of 1889 when she was still only 21. After her cashier booth closed for the day Jane would with friends visit the theatre, go roller skating or horseback riding - Jane Avril became a first class horse woman.
With the exhibition closing after great acclaim Jane Avril would have had to seek a new post which she did by becoming a member of the, 'Horseback Beauties' at the Hippodrome where she competed in exhibition hurdle races and raced in chariot races.
No longer satisfied with the Latin Quarter Jane started to frequent the more luxurious dance halls in Montmartre. As soon as the Moulin Rouge opened its doors in 1889 Jane Avril was there.
Zidler, the Moulin Rouge manager was very good to Jane and allowed her to take liberties he wouldn't allow the others to take. For example, Jane Avril refused to take her place in the regular Quadrille dance. She refused to wear the classic white undergarments but instead delighted in making up her own colour schemes and styles.
Off stage Jane Avril was one of the best dressed women of her day with money coming in she could afford to be stylish and create her own identity.
As a protege of the great Zidler her fame began to spread beyond the frontiers of France. She rarely mixed with the other dancers but instead associated herself with writers and artists that interested her. Jane Aril had her own mind and could and would not be exploited. Due to her exclusive nature stories and legends were born and told. Other dancers appeared jealous of her quality in that she had her own look, her own educated mind with a range of knowledge which naturally drew people to her.
Jane Avril related her true story of a notorious Viscount and Madame Letoucheur and how they trapped her in one of the most ill reputed brothels in Paris by way of an agreement made with the Viscount and Jane's 'cavalier' at that time - Jane's stinging imprint was left on the 'cavalier's' face! - Showing once again that Jane Avril was not a lady to be messed with.
Jane Avril became Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's favourite model. Jane always admitted that by flinging her to fame in colour Toulouse-Lautrec immeasurably widened her appeal. Sometimes Jane Avril would dance and sing as Toulouse-Lautrec worked in his studio and on occasions she persuaded him to leave his usual Montmartre haunts and revisit with Jane the Bal Bullier who from time to time crossed the Seine to take a busman's holiday into her past.
On Thursdays, it was Jane Avril’s custom to return to the Bal Bullier with the crowd anticipating her arrival. She would sit in her usual place beside the orchestra. Jane would dance with the same partner a Marcel Lenoir who also lived for dance. Once the dance was at an end Jane would leave. This carried on until one Thursday Marcel didn't show, he had retired and left to join a monastery, on learning this Jane Avril never returned and forsook the Latin Quarter.
Jane struck up a friendship with Arsène Houssaye, the silver haired doyen of Parisian culture although at this time aged and retired. Arsène saw Jane Avril dance and a deep and lasting friendship began between them. Jane became something of a voluntary secretary visiting his home and assisting him in cataloguing and organising his collections and helping him with his articles. Through Arsène, Jane Avril widened her knowledge of the arts, he entranced her with his rich fund of knowledge and his sparkling wit.
Jane Avril befriended the English dancer May Milton and they shared a couple of airy rooms together on Montmartre's Hill, they became inseparable. It was with May that Jane had her first experience of England and London. May took Jane all over London; they rode every afternoon in Hyde Park in an open carriage and visited the London theatres in the evening which fascinated her.
After a couple of weeks they returned to Paris for Jane Avril’s debut at the Jardin de Paris season in the Champs Elysees - she became determined to take the English stage by storm.
Jane Avril was to fall in love again, this time with a son of a Polish Prince and Frenchwoman. He was a poet/dreamer with a tense face and dark eyes. Jane was drawn to Jean-Pierre with his books peeking out of his pockets which for Jane Avril possessed a certain charm. For Jean-Pierre love was instant.
They moved in together and spent happy months walking in the woods reciting poetry enjoying an idyllic life as lovers together would do. In time, however, the bubble burst. A messenger arrived with news of his dying father (they weren't close as he had never seen his father) who expressed a desire to see his only descendant. It was agony for them both with Jean-Pierre contemplating death as an option rather than part from his beloved Jane and taking her with him in the process. In a moving scene whilst together outside Jane Avril full of love for life broke out into dance toying with Jean-Pierre until his melancholy turned to laughter and joy - soon thoughts of death were forgotten. They parted through tears and once more Jane Avril would be left empty/cheated of the happiness that so often seemed to elude her.
Jane Avril finally joined the Quadrille which she had refused until now after being persuaded by Oller the new owner of the Moulin Rouge.
Jane Avril returned to the Salpêtrière to dance but fled the scene quickly after the performance as the past came back to overwhelm her. To help lay the ghosts of the past Jane revisited old haunts from her youth.
In the years before the turn of the new century Jane Avril would became pregnant the result of a fleeting love affair, she was absent from the Moulin Rouge and retired to a distant suburb of Paris. She gave birth to a boy and gave him over to trusted foster parents and returned to the Moulin Rouge to dance and earn a living. She visited her son on a regular basis and lavished gifts upon him and watched over him during childhood - Jane Avril rarely spoke about him.
Jane continued to confide in Théodore and he became a regular visitor.
Jane Avril spent time at the farm of La Mère Toutain just beyond the old seaport of Honfleur a place of recuperation for artists who had fallen on hard times, spirits broken and injury (possibly as a result of a honour bound duel). They would stay until it was time for them to re-join the world. It was here that Jane Avril met Alphonse Allais, poet, wit and satirist. Their friendship lasted until the writer's death.
From here they met regularly at Le Chat Noir rival of Aristide Bruant's Mirliton where Salis (the owner) would serve up wit and intelligence - a natural surrounding for the clever Jane. They were both suffering from Anglomania that almost amounted to idolatry. Jane Avril was attracted (not romantically) to his presence, intelligence and high spirits and he in turn fell under the dancer's spell. Alphonse proposed marriage to Jane on many occasions and as she had done with Théodore so many times, she refused. Then suddenly one-night Alphonse tried one last time and having been turned down again brandished a revolver with the idea that if they can't be together in life together in death they would go. Jane upset with tears seized the revolver from him and took him home where she left him sleeping on his couch. - ANOTHER ESCAPE!
Jane Avril danced on to forget her sorrows.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec continued to paint her as did other artists.
Jane still refused to give her heart and hand.
SHE WAS THE BRIGHTEST STAR IN PARIS!
Jane Avril started to tire more easily developing a worrying cough and the faint twitching of her features became more intensified. Théodore was alarmed by the almost emaciated thinness which had replaced her normal slenderness and the feverish brightness of her eyes. Théodore saw to it that she was taken into the Villepinte Sanatorium for treatment and recuperation and undertook to cover any expenses. Jane was to stay there until she was cured. She found it hard due to Théodore's somewhat harsh rule of, ‘no visitors’ but himself. The lack of colour and the discipline of the nuns that were to care for her made her feel like a butterfly trapped inside a jar.
On her release, Jane Avril returned quickly to the Moulin Rouge to dance but was encouraged to combine a certain amount of rest and medical care to help her with the life which she had chosen and was essential to her. Théodore took Jane to the Riviera on the proceeds of his latest book to continue her rest and recuperation. They arrived in Toulin; it was here that Jane first met Pierre Auguste Renoir. Renoir, a noted perfectionist painted a portrait of Jane which Théodore bought for her as a gift - she treasured it for years – I wonder where it is now and who owns it… provided it still exists? When Renoir retired Jane Avril would pay frequent visits to him at Cagnes. They enjoyed each other's company.
Jane Avril would visit Germany with Théodore in particular Frankfurt and Kassel - she was not overly enamoured with Germany!
Jane Avril turned down offers to travel to such places as New York, Rome, Vienna and Copenhagen. She had England on her mind and was in the process of casting her own Quadrille.
Jane Avril performed at the Folies Bèrgeres creating the role of Pierrot in a ballet-mime. Ballet was becoming all the more popular at the turn of the century.
Jane Avril developed a pretty talent for writing and painting water colours which lead to an offer to write a series of articles and illustrate them herself - she turned them down.
By visiting the Le Journal bar between shows Jane Avril learnt how news was put together and she enjoyed sitting and listening to the rich conversations which went on around her - politics and international affairs.
Jane Avril eventually headed for England with her troupe and they were a great hit at the Palace Theatre, being encored with Eglantine to the despair and annoyance of the other 2 dancers who made up the Quadrille. It was a great debut for Jane Avril in England. When Jane was homesick she would visit the French Quarter, there, Jane Avril would once again be confronted with her youth on hearing the old Italian organ grinder and seeing the dancing children and recalling how once upon a long ago she was one of them dancing in the street.
Jane Avril was offered a further contract to stay and perform in London but instead refused and returned to Paris; here she danced in the, 'swallows' ballet with a troupe of English dancers.
It was the 1900 Paris exhibition and Jane Avril delighted in climbing the Eiffel Tower. Despite being the symbol of Paris for just over 10 years it was still being debated as to whether it should be dismantled.
In the autumn her Quadrille travelled to Clermont-Ferrand, Nice, Lyons and into Switzerland to Geneva and even travelled to Brussels in Belgium and Russia. When she returned to Paris Jane Avril would continue to take engagements in summer cafes.
Paris was changing and Jane Avril was now 32, the, 'naughty nineties’ were dying and trends, fashion and attitudes were changing. The motor car was sadly challenging the elegant horse drawn carriage. Haussman had begun to cut through Paris, but Jane Avril danced the old century out.
The year was 1901 and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was dead (1864-1901). It was a deep personal loss to Jane. Jane Avril was never slow to credit Lautrec for the posters which gave her fame. His genius revealing hers. Montmartre would never be the same again though his legacy can still be seen on the Montmartre streets to this day.
"Without a doubt I owed him the fame I enjoyed from that very first moment his poster of me appeared."
In all Henri de Toulouse Lautrec portrayed Jane Avril in:
- 20 paintings
- 15 drawings
- 1 lithograph
- 2 personal posters
Jane Avril was ready to settle down and recognised that younger hungry dancers wanted her spotlight. She chose to settle in the end for decorative artist Maurice Biais. After the 7th time of asking Jane Avril started to consider seriously his proposal for marriage. Things were looking good for Maurice as he was offered a job in New York organised by his family who wanted him to stabilise his life. His family did not approve of his chosen profession which wasn't rewarding him in Paris and they did not approve of Jane and secretly hoped that the move would see an end to their relationship. Jane encouraged Maurice to go to New York and agreed to follow him once he had settled along with her son Jean-Pierre Adolphe ( Biais ) (now a 5 year old) who Maurice promised would adopt in his name and legitimise him.
Promising a new start Jane Avril left for the New World.
Life in New York was strained and both were homesick with Maurice not truly enjoying his employment which presented him with very little time to paint freely. Inevitably, both became irritable which led to petty rows with each other, both became fed up with the arrangement. Jane Avril had had enough and sending word ahead to Oller returned to Paris and the Moulin Rouge were she was welcomed with open arms and waited for Maurice to return. She continued to perform when Flers took over the running of the Moulin Rouge despite a run in or two with him.
Jane Avril appeared at the Bal Tabarin a music hall in decline. Once her contract ended she never returned. Jane wished to take her Quadrille to Madrid and whilst waiting for the other members to conclude their respective contracts she danced at the theatre Sarah Bernardt.
Her Quadrille reached Madrid. Sadly, her visit was a personal nightmare and she found little inspiration there or personal pleasure though she did at least experience real flamenco dancing. As a group they often felt threatened and intimidated by the Spanish as they walked the streets.
On the opening night the 3 girls were subjected to insults and obscenities. Jane Avril took to the stage determined to change their mood through her will and win the audience over. She did this by deploying all her grace and charm and placed them under her spell so that by the end she was greeted with a burst of applause, shouts of encore, compliments and flowers. (what the other girls must have thought?)
Jane refused all other offers and further contracts to perform in Spain.
Jane Avril returned to Paris to discover the news that Alphonse Allais had died after an illness, another of her close friends. It also turned out that her former lover Jean-Pierre had perished by a fall from his horse as he rode his estate.
Maurice returned home but was soon tempted into old ways gambling and wining. Jane Avril decided to teach Maurice a lesson that would make or break their relationship.
Jane Avril went on holiday with an old friend, a gift to thank her for the pleasure she had brought him in life. She returned finding Maurice (fearful that he may lose her) in employment and having given up gambling and even found a home just outside Paris away from the temptations. As a result, Jane determined never to leave him again as they both set up home not far from Versailles in Jouy-en-Josas (the exact address is still unknown at this time) and as promised he married Jane and adopted Jean-Pierre as his own.
Here they would be happy and full of laughter. Jane Avril hoped that such a family life might help Jean-Pierre (now 9 years of age) warm to her as never before as Maurice loved children.
Jane Avril was accepted in the village when she received a visit from Princess Murat who gave Jane her seal of approval. They had many visitors including Oller her former employer - life was good and no doubt as Jane had envisaged it. The first couple of years passed pleasantly enough.
However, Jane would learn that Maurice had been dismissed from his employment for irresponsible behaviour and Maurice kept this from her. Money became tight and Jane had to resort to selling her jewellery and paintings.
War had broken out with Jane Avril now aged 46 and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Maurice answered the call and life became even tougher for Jane who worried for Maurice. To make matters worse young Jean-Pierre ran away from home never to return.
Jane Avril served the war effort by performing and dancing for charities, she never said no, she visited the wounded, served in the canteens and took first aid lessons. The women of Jouy came together.
In time Jane Avril withdrew into herself and confided only in an English woman Marie Laurent which was a tremendous release as she talked about her life.
Jane received more bad news when she read in the newspapers that her beloved Théodore had died (this was 1917).
The war was now over (Jane Avril was now 50) but it took a terrible toll on Maurice as he was seriously wounded and gassed and was recuperating in a military hospital. With a combination of Jane nursing him and a visit to his sisters in the South of France Maurice would be restored to health. However, the happiness didn't last for long.
Maurice would set a gulf between them that would never again be bridged; he disappeared for days on end and resorted to stealing Jane's possessions such as jewellery and paintings in order to fund his trips and habits. Jane discovered women's clothes and toilet articles which she also discovered he wore in certain sections of the Paris underworld.
One day he left and never returned - Maurice died in 1926 poor and penniless! What repayment for all Jane had done in support of him! Further research substantiates that Maurice died in a sanatorium in Gorbio, Seine Maritimes, on 8th April 1926.
Jane Avril would renew old friendships and due to lack of funds moved into an old postman's home renting a room.
Persuaded by her English friend Marie, Jane Avril wrote to Maurice's sisters explaining how Maurice met his downfall and requesting financial assistance and they responded by setting up a pension for Jane who would now receive 600 Francs a month. She was now able to live comfortably and also received welcome gifts from Marie, Princess Murat and her landlords.
Jane Avril took to reminiscing and writing about those far off days and in a small way using her imagination brought them back to herself with the addition of Jane's radio playing the old melodies. What a comfort that must have been.
The early 1930s saw a revival in all things, 'naughty nineties' but Jane wisely decided to remain in retirement whilst others embarked on their 2nd coming. Jane Avril wished to age gracefully and leave her admirers to their memories of her in her prime. However, she was tracked down by a French newsman who conducted an interview which led to an article appearing in a Paris newspaper.
Jose Shercliff, a journalist (who would later write her biography but only after agreeing to Jane's wishes that it be written after her death) met Jane Avril after tracking her down and would play a significant role in her later life.
Jane Avril due to her friendship with Jose became a frequent visitor once more to Paris. She would announce her visit then eat out or in, go on walks where Jane would revisit old haunts whilst giving a vital verbal narrative. They would go to the theatre where Jane would lament the old days and ways of acting and dance compared to the soulless modern performances. Jane Avril made plans to move back to Paris after realising how much she loved to be there and also to be closer to her friends old and new.
Jane Avril's memoirs appeared in the Paris-Midi newspaper in 1933.
Jane Avril moved into a home for ageing actors and actresses which she would instantly hate. There was so much pettiness and bitterness where little jealousies existed towards anyone whose moment in the sun was perhaps greater than their own, blaming fates and not themselves for lack of success. Jane would stay a few days with Jose where she shed her tears.
From there, Jane Avril then moved in with Marylou whilst more permanent accommodation could be found and arranged. She fell ill there suffering from a nasal haemorrhage, her doctor insisting that she must avoid stress and worry. She next moved in with Marie Laurent who during a lunch shared with Jane and her guests her locally famous tale of her "walk to the front" - afterwards they raised a toast to England!
Jane Avril finally moved into her new home happy and able to rest among "Les Vieilles" (The Old Girls) her health improved and once more she would take up the threads of an active social life no longer alone and in isolation.
In 1935 Jane Avril was invited to dance at the Toulouse-Lautrec Ball which she accepted and looked forward to. However, the frock she had to wear was a caricature of what she used to wear in her heyday and she hated it and herself for performing in such circumstances, she was in tears before she went on stage but on stage she went not wanting to disappoint her admirers.
Not long afterwards Jane Avril learnt that she had angina and also discovered that she was a grandmother to a little boy. Marguerite (Léautier) who was Jean-Pierre's wife wrote to Jane informing her that Jean-Pierre had left her and that she and the child were working for food and shelter in a convent. Jane with her limited funds strove to help them by knitting clothes, buying toys and put money away with a view to one day visiting them. Jane knew more than most their struggle.
One evening while listening to her radio she heard a 17-year-old singer also called "Jane Avril" - Jane wrote to the station suggesting that her name should be changed to Rose. Not long after Rose wrote to Jane personally informing that she would be honoured to keep the name suggested for her, Jane even got to hear her sing live.
Another friend from her past Henry Woestyn dies leaving Jane depressed to lament that, "fate has decreed that I should outlive my friends."
Jane Avril’s health would be less reliable as the cold chills brought her down for days at a time, that and her unstable finances often led to down moments. Marylou did her best to assist her but her old friend Marie Laurent could not as she was now bed ridden with cancer.
Jane needed for many new things, new teeth, new glasses and in need of a good rest. Jose knew that something had to be done to help her and to give her purpose for the future and with Bella Reine a Russian born dancer turned mime artist set about organising a benefit concert for Jane Avril.
The benefit despite a few organisational hiccups went well with Yvette Guilbert and Bella Reine dominating the show. When all was done and the bills paid enough money was made to ease Jane's immediate financial woes and she was able to rest in Normandy and received a visit from Marguerite (Léautier) and her grandson which would raise her spirits. The break did Jane Avril the world of good and she returned to Paris in better health and with a greater courage to live her life.
For the second time in Jane's life war had broken out and she had to accustom herself to rationing. She would stay in her flat during raids rather than risk the cold of the air raid shelter.
During this time her meetings with Jose Shercliff became much rarer and consequently the correspondence increased with Jane sending cards. Jose managed one last visit breaking the news to her that the French government may leave Paris and would have to follow on in order to follow the news, this news brought fresh tears for Jane Avril and when Jose left it would be for the final time - the two would never see each other again.
The war had changed the face of Paris. Refugees would flood the city whilst Parisians were looking to leave; uniformed men and women replaced the usual street fashions whilst war walked its usual destructive path!
Jane Avril would never live to see her beloved Paris liberated!
The war was taking its toll on Jane's health as the food she needed to be nourished became scarce. The winters with its penetrating freeze and cold rain clung to her bones and she became like a shivering bird. Jane Avril did have the comfort of a small gas fire which she shared with her ladies. Maurice's sisters sent Madame Dupierce to search for Jane and once found did all she could to make her life that little bit easier.
Jose Shercliff was reported missing presumed dead after a refugee ship was sunk of the coast of Portugal, Jane never believed this news for a minute and hung to the hope that she would return.
As a distraction Jane Avril would be invited one summer's day to the matinee showing at Michel Simon's theatre where she would share the royal box with Queen Amelia, the former Queen of Portugal and now living in exile in Versailles. They enjoyed each other’s company with the Queen recalling how she had seen Jane dance in her youth, Jane was overjoyed that she was remembered in such a way and returned to the old ladies in triumph!
The realities of war went on!
The winter of 1942 to 1943 was the hardest of all for Jane Avril. The angina encouraged by lack of food and warmth was taking its deathly toll, she fought to the end knitting mittens for herself and her elderly friends displaying great love and thoughtfulness to those around her to the point of even sharing the heat from her small gas fire with them. Perhaps her thoughts had been of early happy days with those who loved and whom she loved, those wonderful friendships. Oh, what golden memories for the once golden-haired young Jane whose life was nearing its end.
The end sadly was not far away. Angina attacks eventually took her speech and after a final defiant act of taking pencil to paper and writing the words "I hate Hitler" she breathed her last. It was the 16th January 1943, Jane Avril was aged 73.
She is surrounded now by the great and good of Paris, laid to rest with Maurice in the Biais family plot by his sister's final charitable act towards her.
Jose Shercliff could not attend the funeral and she read only later in the newspaper of her death. However, she did later pay a visit to Jane Avril’s grave.
Well, "Despite my gray hair, I shall be able to do it. It is perhaps one of those multiple expressions, so convenient to call “madness”. And if it is this one…it has always been sweet and comforting to me. It helped me live and to it, I shall remain its enchanted slave. If in the other world, there is dancing, then, it should not be impossible that I might be invited to interpret the dance macabre!"
Jane Avril is buried at Pere Lachaise, Division 19, 2nd Line, 4th Plot of the 26th Section. Refer to page "In Memory."
Craig's Blog - http://www.janeavril.net/craigs-blog.html