Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Entertaining and full of saucy anecdotes." Sunday Times
"Rounding is strong on the role and etiquette of the courtesan's salon and on the details of her appearance and toilette, but she is as interested in the legends generated by the grandes horizontales as she is in their lives, and she deftly analyses the ways in which fact and fiction bleed into one another in the making of a reputation. While none of her four women knew the others, they knew of one another, and Rounding shapes her narrative so that each life weaves into the next, as lovers are shared and others' legends are consumed. This is a rich, timely, engrossing book that puts its forerunners to shame." Frances Wilson, Guardian
"In their own time, as Rounding's many excellently translated quotations show, these women were both figureheads and scapegoats for everything which was hard, artificial and commercial in French society. Now one's sympathy is all on their side" Observer (UK)
"All four women had the ability to distract men from the daily grind by dint of personality as well as sexual allure, allowing them intimate pleasures without the demands or constriction of matrimonial ties. The dreams of these anti-heroines bear no resemblance to the conventional, nobly feminine strivings of Jane Eyre and her kind. Indeed, the subtext of Grandes Horizontales might be summed up in a single sentence: Reader, I didn't marry him." NY Times
"Rounding's aim is to separate the real lives from the myths surrounding the women, which, she asserts, reflect stereotypes of prostitutes as depraved, even denatured, women. Yet strangely, she ends up partially confirming them." Publishers Weekly
"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." The New Yorker
Nineteenth-century Paris comes to life in this fascinating look at four of the world's most famous courtesans, who inspired poetry, novels, and opera. Marie Duplessis, Cora Pearl, La Paiva, and La Presidente are the four women whose lives and legends are examined in this fascinating book.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -327) and index.
In nineteenth-century Paris, the pampered demimonde became almost indistinguishable from the haut monde, with mythical reputations growing up around its most alluring and favored celebrities. Grandes Horizantales examines the lives of four of the era's best-known courtesans-Marie Duplessis, La Présidente, La Païva, and Cora Pearl-and the men who were their lovers, providing a provocative look into the parlors and boudoirs of the women whose lives became legends.
About the Author
Virginia Rounding is a writer, poet, and translator who lives in London.