Marie Duplessis, Cora Pearl, La Paiva and La Presidente, 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 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 as Marguerite Gautier in La dame aux Camelias. Apollonie Sabatier, known as La Presidente, put men of letters and other arts at ease amidst the gracious manners and bawdy talk of her salon and was immortalised by sculptor August Clesinger and poet Charles Baudelaire. Through prejudiced eyes, the Russian Jew La Paiva appeared intent to prey on 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 Elysees. The English beauty who called herself Cora Pearl was another 'foreign threat', with her athletic physique, sixty horses and ability 'to
Virginia Rounding is a translator and writer living in London. This is her first book.