Laetitia and her group headed east from New Haven along the coast of Long Island Sound. They left the main road several times to make excursions to the shore to hike on the beaches and visit the parks. Their destination was Old Lyme, Connecticut, a coastal artists’ community and resort town of about 7,500. The Lyme Art Colony is remembered for its American Impressionist painters. Some of its best-known members were Henry Ward Ranger, Wilson Irvine, Willard Metcalf, Edward Charles Volkert, and Childe Hassam. The town also has the dubious distinction of being the namesake for Lyme disease, the appellation chosen after an outbreak there in 1975 led to the discovery of the disease’s cause.
On arrival in Old Lyme, Laetitia and her group visited the Florence Griswold House, now a museum, but formerly home to many of the area’s artists. At the cocktail lounge, where Laetitia sipped a glass of Willamette Valley pinot gris at the bar, the denizens of a nearby table were talking about Millicent, a heiress of Yankee blue-blood stock, who liked to party with younger men of the lower classes. She preferred those who dressed like and professed to be artists, even though their talents, for the most part, had yet to be recognized by the art world at large. One member of the table group called the class that included Millicent’s paramours “Old Lyme’s demimonde.”
As one might expect in a bar catering to folks of artistic temperament, there was an argument about whether the term demimonde could aptly be applied to the men. As a woman at the table pointed out, the term as coined by Alexander Dumas in the nineteenth century originally applied to the half-world populated by courtesans, like Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. Such women were usually from lower-class backgrounds and supported their rather grand lifestyles through gifts from men of the aristocracy and wealthy bourgeoisie in return for sexual favors. A man at the table argued that the original demimonde disappeared with the changes in social mores that occurred after World War I, and that the term now simply means the bohemian world of the “starving artist.” Laetitia smiled. She was unconcerned about the precise definition of demimonde. She had the limerick of the day.
When Millicent was in her prime
She was known as a lady sublime
Who was always tres chic
But who often would sneak
Off with demimonde friends in Old Lyme.