The Fortunes of Fifi

June 11, 2007

A while back Danielle at A Work in Progress posted a bunch of advertisementsfrom the back of a book that had been published in 1907. The most entertaining one was for a book by Molly Elliot Seawell called The Fortunes of Fifi. I said I’d look out for it, but somehow I never thought to look for it on Google Books ’til the other day. It’s there, freely downloadable as a pdf. I’m kind of entertained by the way they scan things for Google Books — they scan every single page, even the ones that haven’t got anything on them, so each illustration is followed by a blank page; the other side of the thicker, shinier paper used for the illustrations.

So, The Fortunes of Fifi is pretty entertaining. Fifi is a nineteen year-old actress working in a fourth-rate theater in Paris. It’s 1804, and Napoleon is just about to be crowned emperor.

The theater at which Fifi works is called the Imperial. Its manager is Monsieur Duvernet, Fifi’s rival is Julie Campionet, and Fifi’s best friend and sort of guardian is Cartouche, who acts and builds props and scenery. Cartouche is a former soldier who left the army after injuring his leg. He’s very brave and very strong and very ugly and he found Fifi in Mantua when she was a child. She didn’t have anyone to take care of her, so he brought her back to Paris with him. He’s in love with her, of course, but he spends most of the book thinking he’s too old/poor/ugly for her.

In the first chapter, Fifi and Cartouche are standing outside the theater and a carriage goes by with a benevolent looking man inside. Fifi stares at him and Cartouche scolds her because a) that’s kind of rude and b) it’s the Pope.

Clearly Cartouche knows everyone in Paris, because a little while after that, when Fifi’s gone inside, Napoleon stops by for a chat. Cartouche tells him all about Fifi, and Napoleon promises to look up her family.

It’s a good thing Fifi has Cartouche to take care of her, because she’s clearly incapable of doing it herself. I mean, I’m sure lots of people would be tempted to buy a cute little dancing dog instead of a much-needed winter cloak, but only a moron would actually do it. It’s a good thing Duvernet gives Cartouche a bonus just then, because otherwise Fifi would probably freeze to death and the book would end right there. In her favor, Fifi knows how nice Cartouche is to her. When she thinks about getting married, she can’t imagine not consulting him on everything, so she decides that he’d make a good husband, and once she’s had a few nice flirtations, she’ll tell him so.

Okay. So then Fifi wins the lottery. Cartouche bought her the ticket, and he’s pretty happy because now Fifi has a dowry and can get married. Fifi’s not so pleased. she likes her life and doesn’t want it to change. the money just complicates stuff. Cartouche goes to see Napoleon to ask him what to do with Fifi now, and Napoleon’s like, “yeah, I’ve been meaning to talk to you — turns out your friend is the Pope’s great-niece. ”

Now that Fifi is a young lady with family and fortune, she can’t live in her old garret anymore. She moves in with Madame Bourcet, a respectable middle aged woman with a respectable nephew named Louis who has very respectable designs on Fifi’s fortune. Fifi meets the Pope and they have a nice chat about her grandfather, and then for some reason she agrees to marry Louis, which somehow decides her once and for all not to marry him.

She realized that Louis won’t let her go as long as she has her lottery winnings, so she contrives to get rid of her entire fortune and goes back to Cartouche, who insists that he’s not good enough for her, but is willing to obey the emperor when he orders him to marry her. And so Fifi gets her job back from Julie Campionet, Duvernet raises her salary because she’s a little famous, and Fifi and Cartouche get married and presumably live happily ever after with Toto the dancing dog, who has his own pink tulle ballet skirt.


  1. Hahahahahaha. Wait…what? How does a former soldier know the Pope and Napoleon? And both of them are happy to be seen in public with theatre workers? And the pope allows his new found family member to pick up her acting again?


  2. Oh wait a minute, do you have a direct link to the download? I can’t seem to find it…when I search for the book in google I only get snippets and the rest is hidden because of copyright…

  3. Well, he doesn’t know the Pope personally, but he is on unusually friendly terms with the emperor.
    Under the first little page image there should be a button that says “download pdf”. It took me a while to find it too.

  4. Well, that’s quite a story! I thought this one sounded pretty tempting out of the bunch that were listed in the back of the book. I wondered if it was online somewhere, but I never got around to searching for it. I’ll have to go look for this as well. By the way I have started digitizing books for a special collection in my library and I have to scan all the pages from front to back including the blank ones. I think it has to do with archival issues. I’ve only read project gutenberg books online–nothing digital–now I’m curious.

  5. I’ve scanned books for the spec coll department at my school library, and I didn’t have to photograph every page, but those were only for interlibrary loan, so maybe the usual rules don’t apply. Personally, I like Project Gutenberg’s texts better than the Google Books pdfs, but I do wish they’d do html versions more often.

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