Grandes Horizontales by Virginia Rounding
The Lives and Legends of Four Nineteenth-Century Courtesans

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Synopsis

A fascinating portrayal of the lives of the great nineteenth-century courtesans.

Marie Duplessis, Cora Pearl, La Païva and La Présidente, the four women whose lives and legends are examined in this fascinating book, were all representatives of the golden age of the French courtesan. In the reign of Emperor Napoleon III the opulent and pampered demimonde became almost indistinguishable from the haut-monde, with mythical reputations growing up around its most glittering and favored celebrities.

Marie Duplessis became the prototype of the virtuous courtesan when Alexandre Dumas Fils portrayed her as Marguerite Gautier in La dame aux Camélias. Apollonie Sabatier, known as La Présidente, put men of letters and other arts at ease amidst the gracious manners and bawdy talk of her salon and was immortalized by sculptor August Clésinger and poet Charles Baudelaire.

To prejudiced eyes, the Russian Jew La Païva appeared intent on exploiting the rich young men of Paris. Covetous onlookers resented her ability to amass and display great wealth, most notably in the design and building of her opulent hotel in the Avenue of the Champs Elysées. 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", including Prince Napoleon.

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 déclassé inhabitants.
 

About Virginia Rounding

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Virginia Rounding is a translator and writer living in London.
 
Published June 16, 2003 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. 352 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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All four of these particular women did very well for a time, moving in higher and higher circles, living in mansions, indulging in passions ranging from painting and conducting soirées (Flaubert and Feydeau called regularly on La Présidente) to acquiring horses and precious stones.

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The Guardian

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La Païva overdid the kohl, keeping her face white, while Pearl, in keeping with her chosen surname, pioneered the use of frosted powders.

Jun 08 2003 | Read Full Review of Grandes Horizontales : The Li...

The Guardian

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Grandes Horizontales by Virginia Rounding 337pp, Bloomsbury, £20 Being neither prostitute nor mistress but charging for those services a wife would give for free, the courtesan is an endlessly troubling figure.

Jul 12 2003 | Read Full Review of Grandes Horizontales : The Li...

Persephone Magazine

This half world, in and out of which men could move freely yet women could not, was the world of the courtesans, or les grandes horizontales, or “women flat on their backs.” Through the stories of four different women, we see how life in the demimonde could lead to either fame or failure.

Jun 06 2012 | Read Full Review of Grandes Horizontales : The Li...

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