Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne was a celebrated nineteenth-century Parisian courtesan. She was painted by Manet and inspired Emile Zola, who immortalized her in his scandalous novel Nana. Her rumored affairs with Napoleon III and the future Edward VII kept gossip columns full.
But her glamorous existence hid a dark secret: she was no Comtesse. She was born into abject poverty, raised on a squalid Paris backstreet; the lowest of the low. Yet she transformed herself into an enchantress who possessed a small fortune, three mansions, fabulous carriages, and art that drew the envy of connoisseurs across France and Europe. A consummate show-woman, she ensured that her lifeand even her deathremained shrouded in just enough mystery to keep her audience hungry for more.
Catherine Hewitt’s biography, The Mistress of Paris, tells the forgotten story of a remarkable French woman who, though her roots were lowly, never stopped aiming high.
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It might have done with another edit – the word “glittering” is overused and there is a pervasive sense of material overstretched, especially towards the end – but at its best this is an enthralling story...Read Full Review of The Mistress of Paris: The 19... | See more reviews from Guardian