To take a more colourful example, in 1740 the …

To take a more colourful example, in 1740 the dancer Mademoiselle Petit was slandered for her illicit relations.  She retaliated in print, openly admitting that she had taken a position at the Opera with the sole ambition of turning her beauty to social and pecuniary gain.  But she insisted that she had always acted ‘as a woman of high birth’ and ought to be treated as such.  Her poise, she insisted, was no less real for being instrumental, and she was indignant at the charges of impropriety levelled against her.  But Petit knew that her indignation rested on shaky ground, and in a spirited defence she turned her weakness to advantage by likening her own position to that of the men who so often courted her: tax farmers.  Both began from nothing; both were cold-blooded and juggled many clients at the same time.  They owed their status to riches, she to her charms.  But at least the men she ruined loved her, whereas the tax farmer was a figure of hatred and derision.  These feisty allegations were met with a sharply indignant response: the Fermiers Généraux, a powerful organization of tax collectors and financiers employed by the king, published a pamphlet in 1741 rejecting the slanderous assertations of this ‘little Actrice,’ who was idle and useless and whose loose morals stained the social fabric.  Nothing came of this pamphlet war, but it is hard not to admire Petit’s gumption.  By going public, she had broken all the rules and exposed the fragility of her own position – and theirs.