The Pantalons Blancs and the Culottes Rouges

U 3.196-8: Rich booty you brought back; Le Tutu, five tattered numbers of Pantalon Blanc et Culotte Rouge, a blue French telegram […]

Stephen scoffs at himself for what he brought back from Paris in 1902/3, including “five tattered numbers of Pantalon Blanc et Culotte Rouge”. This apparent reference to a Parisian magazine confused Joyce and has confused commentators. Weldon Thornton is quite correct to link this with “a weekly called ‘La Vie en Culotte Rouge’”.1 Don Gifford garbles this to La vie en coulette rouge.2 Sam Slote states that:

There was no magazine called Pantalon Blanc; this name seems to be Joyce's variant for La Vie en culotte rouge ('Life in red bloomers'), another Parisian magazine.3

The situation is further confused because Joyce himself appears to have miscited the text.

La Vie en Culotte Rouge (“Life in Red Trousers/Breeches”) was a weekly magazine published in Paris at 15 centimes per issue by the Offenstadt Frères from 1902 until 1912. It 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.4 The “Culotte Rouge” refers to the red trousers of the French army uniform of the day, as shown in cover illustrations used by the magazine.

Cover illustration for Issue 3 (2 March 1902)

Image courtesy of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation

The Frères Offenstadt published a number of similar texts. Their “romans passionnels” (including René Massia’s Amour Sénile and Daniel Boyer’s La Soif d’Aimer)became their “Collection Orchidée” series, and they also produced a series of Joyeux Lascars, as well as collections of postcards associated with La Vie en Culotte Rouge.

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.5

Cover illustration for the 1911 collected annual

But how is this title connected with Joyce’s Pantalon Blanc et Culotte Rouge? Firstly, Joyce has muddled the title, which was actually Pantalons Blancs et Culottes Rouges.

In its first year of publication, the Frères Offenstadt had the idea of maximizing sales by bundling together published issues into “albums”. Weekly issues 1 to 10 of La Vie en Culotte Rouge was therefore offered for sale under the collective title Mars et Vénus, for 1 franc and 50 centimes. Issues 11 to 20 were sold as Le Cœur et l’Épée, and issues 21 to 30 as Poudre a Canon et Poudre de Riz.

Issues number 31 (originally published on 14 September 1902) to number 40 (16 November 1902) were republished as an “album” under the title Pantalons Blancs et Culottes Rouges, and this is the title that Joyce has in mind. In subsequent years (from 1903 until 1912) the publishers produced annual collections of the magazine’s issues, under the title Almanach de la Vie en Culotte Rouge.6

The collection Pantalons Blancs et Culottes Rouges was first advertised for sale in issue 65 of La Vie en Culotte Rouge (10 May 1903, p. 15). If this was as early as it was available, then Joyce would just have missed it, as he left Paris on 11 April that year when he received a telegram telling him that his mother was dying. The magazine would, however, doubtless still have been available by mail order or on the second-hand bookshelves during his later visits to Paris.

Le Tutu (1901-3): the other magazine cited by Joyce at U 3.196-8 (Credit: Volker Stark)

Joyce refers to “five tattered numbers of Pantalon Blanc et Culotte Rouge”. This implies firstly that the magazines were not new at some point over Joyce’s acquaintanceship with them, and secondly that he has mistaken the “album” title (Pantalons Blancs et Culottes Rouges) for the title of the individual issues of La Vie en Culotte Rouge.

John Simpson


1 Weldon Thornton Allusions in Ulysses (1973) p. 53.

2 Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman Ulysses Annotated (2008), p. 54.

3 James Joyce Ulysses (ed. Sam Slote, 2012), p. 573.

4 Issues of La Vie en Culotte Rouge can be consulted (in black and white) at Gallica, available through the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

5 Mercure de France (1928), vol. 207 (1 November) p. 759.

6 Issues for 1903 were also available in “albums” of ten issues.

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