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Old 01 November 2017, 01:45 PM
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Richard W Richard W is offline
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,440

I'm reading A Harlot High and Low by Balzac (in translation) and it's good for odd phrases that were apparently around in early-19th century France. I mentioned "as happy as a Dutchman with a tulip like nobody else's", which refers back to tulip-mania as in this thread.

Another is to do with seamstresses and bags of charcoal. I don't know whether this was really a phrase in use, or whether it's just something that one of the characters says in a letter (which refers back to an earlier incident in the book) but "like a seamstress with a bag of charcoal" could have meant "suicidal".

Apparently a common method of suicide in those days was to seal up all the gaps around doors and windows in your room, put a bag of charcoal on the fire, put your head near the grate and die of carbon monoxide poisoning. The seamstress part would be because seamstresses were often actually covers for prostitutes or "fallen women", and so prone to suicide. But again, I'm not sure whether this was really a phrase or whether it just refers back to the character writing the letter, who attempted suicide in this way earlier in the book while working as a seamstress (after escaping her former life as a child prostitute / courtesan).
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