Courtesans: A Miscellany

I’m finishing up my blog posts on nineteenth-century courtesans and realized I have a bunch of shorter stories that aren’t long enough for their own post. So here you go: a random selection. All information and quotations from Susan Griffin’s The Book of the Courtesans: A Catalogue of Their Virtues.

1.) The famous actress Sarah Bernhardt was–before she became a famous actress–prostituted by her mother who “being a courtesan herself, looked to her daughter to provide for her in her old age” (2).

2.) “It is probably true that la comtesse de Castiglione [whose fabulous, ridiculous life I blogged about before] was given 1 million francs for a twelve-hour orgy with Richard Wallace, natural son of the fourth Marquess of Hertford” (2).

3.) “the rumor may be justified that Liane de Pougy was given 80,000 francs by Henri Meilhac, the librettist for Offenbach’s popular operas, just to see her nude (or so Edmond de Goncourt writes in his Journal)” (2).

4.) “it was the great actress Rachel, a courtesan like so many women of her profession, who taught the empress Eugenie how to curtsy while scanning an audience with her eyes” (80).

5.) When the courtesan Esther Guimond was traveling through Naples, her carriage was stopped for a routine examination of her passport. When asked her profession by the official in charge, she demurely responded, ‘A woman of independent means’.

“But when she saw that the official, who looked bewildered, did not seem to understand her, she cried out impatiently, ‘Courtesan – take care you remember it.’ To which, probably fired by the energy of her own speech, she added, widening her audacity, ‘And go and tell that Englishman over there'” (84-85).

6.) The courtesan Alice Ozy “was known for combining the wide-eyed innocence in her character with a fair measure of cleverness and guile . . . . Her naivete could be startling. Once, when she was told in jest that a Gruyere cheese mine had been discovered in Montmorency which would provide employment for the poor, she responded by clapping her hands in joy. But her famous gullibility could not have come from any deficiency of mind. Instead of diamonds, she habitually asked that her lovers give her shares in the railway company. She became a wealthy woman rather early in her life” (153-54).

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