The lives and legends of four women are examined in this fascinating book, all representatives of the golden age of the French courtesan. In the reign of Emperor Napoleon III the opulent and pampered demi-monde became almost indistinguishable from the haut-monde, with mythical reputations growing up around its most glittering and favoured celebrities. Marie Duplessis became the prototype of the virtuous courtesan when Alexandre Dumas Fils portrayed her in La dame aux Camellas. Apollonie Sabatier put men of letters at ease amidst the bawdy talk of her salon. The Russian Jew La Paiva appeared intent to prey on rich young men of Paris. The English beauty who called herself Cora Pearl was another 'foreign threat', with her athletic physique, sixty horses and ability 'to make bored men laugh'. Virginia Rounding disentangles myth from reality in her lively, thought-provoking study. Nineteenth-century Paris comes to life and so do its most distinguished and declasse inhabitants.
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Virginia Rounding is a social and sexual historian living in London. This is her first book.From The New Yorker:
Nineteenth-century Paris was famous for its highly formalized system of prostitution. The élite of this demimonde were courtesans who entertained aristocrats, artists, and writers such as Dumas and Baudelaire. Rounding focusses on four such cocottes—Apollonie Sabatier, Marie Duplessis, the Englishwoman Cora Pearl, and a Russian Jew known as La Païva—paying particular attention to the legends that surrounded them. Cora Pearl was said to have had herself served up on a silver platter, decorated only with parsley; after La Païva's death, her besotted husband, a Prussian count, reportedly had her embalmed in a glass jar in his castle. Rounding presents a seductive vision of women whose talent for social, financial, and sexual machination allowed them to navigate Second Empire Paris, and whose acts of self-creation and the works of art they inspired have endured longer than the details of their lives.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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