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The Courtesans: The Demi-Monde in 19th-Century France Paperback – December 31, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (December 31, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842120999
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842120996
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Writer and critic Joanna Richardson was born in London. She is a founder member of the Royal Society of Literature. As a biographer Joanna Richardson has received critical attention for her life-accounts of some of nineteenth-century France's most noted writers. Included among these are her portraits of poets Paul Verlaine and Baudelaire and France's famous women of letters, Colette and Judith Gautier, for which she won the 1989 Prix Goncourt, the first non-French winner in the prize's history.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. L. Callahan on August 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was written nearly 30 years previous to the Hickman book, and is completely different in style and readability. It focuses on 12 courtesans and the treatment of each is much more concise than in the Hickman book. Oddly, given the title, I did not get much of a feel for the world in which these women existed. It focuses very tightly on their lives, and did not venture far to provide a setting for those lives. It did give an excellent idea of what these women were like, the fire and spark that made them independent in a way few people today can really understand. Read together with the Hickman book, you get an excellent idea of what the time period was like.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Courtesans deals with the lives of twelve women who meet the definition of a courtesan: according to Richardson a woman who is "less than a mistress, more than a prostitute". An interesting feature of this book is that women who are usually treated as secondary figures in literature on nineteenth century French culture, are now for once the leading ladies. The 'great men'of the period, such as Théophile Gautier, Charles Beaudelaire and Napoleon III, are simply reduced to customers and admirerers of these women. Unfortunately, most primary sources that shed light on the lives of the courtesans, and therefore most information on which this book is based, is highly subjective. Richardson quotes these sources without making any distinction between the unreliable and the reliable ones. In my opinion, she should have been more critical towards ego-documents such as memoirs and diaries. Also, I had expected a little more historical background information. Even though I've already read a fair amount of books on nineteenth century French history, it would have been interesting to read about this period from a totally different point of view. In the end, the biographical facts in this book are not interesting enough to make up for that shortcoming. However, I did enjoy reading it, but I have to admit I hoped to get more out of it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By DM on October 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is a good portrait en bref of a particular group of women who lived to the point of prosperity off of their ability to give pleasure to mostly wealthy,influential, and sometimes literary men. They were primarily active between the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian wars (being blamed by such as Maxime du Camp for France's defeat in 1870)and lived ostentatious lives filled with trips to the opera, spas, casinos and even the palaces of their imperial lovers. As the book's introduction states, these women differed from prostitutes in that they chose their lovers and operated independently. Some, such as "La Paiva" and Esther Guimond, were usurious, traitourous, and dishonest. Others, such as Marie Duplessis ("La Dame aux Camillias), "La Presidente," and "Mogador," were basically benevolent and even capable of loving some of their patrons/clients. Many died sick and poor, deserted or forgotten by their former clients, lovers, friends, and Parisian society (i.e. the Englishwoman Cora Pearl). Alice Ozy died in her seventies, wealthy due to investments basically paid for by her lovers. Yet she herself faced a lonely old age. These women mostly came from humble backgrounds, but were often also actresses and authors, and perhaps an unstated point to this readable book is that had they lived a more emancipated century later, they might have achieved success in fields other than the boudoir.
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