The Life of a Courtesan - Excerpt...

I found this book very interesting.  You can find it on amazon as well...Here is a sneek peak:

From Pulitzer-Prize-nominated author Susan Griffin comes an unprecedented, provocative look at the dazzling world of the West's first independent women, whose lively liaisons brought them unspoken influence, wealth, and freedom.

While they charmed some of Europe's most illustrious men honing their social skills as well as their sexual ones, the great courtesans gained riches, power, education, and sexual freedom in a time when other women were denied all of these. From Imperia of sixteenth-century Rome, who personified the Renaissance ideal of beauty; Mme. de Pompadour, the arbiter of all things fashionable in eighteenth-century Paris and Versailles; Liane de Pougy, known in France during the Belle Epoque as "Our National Courtesan"; to Sarah Bernhardt, who, following in her mother's footsteps, supported herself in her early career with a second profession, The Book of the Courtesans tells the life stories and intricacies of the lavish lifestyles of these women. Unlike their geisha counterparts, courtesans neither lived in brothels nor bent their wills to suit their suitors. They were strong- willed, autonomous, and plucky.

An open secret, their presence can be felt throughout our culture. The muses who enflamed the hearts and imaginations of our most celebrated artists, they were also artists in their own right. They wrote poetry and novels, invented the cancan at the Moulin Rouge, and presented celebrated acts at the Folies Bergères. They helped to influence and shape the sensibility of modern literature, painting, and fashion. When Greek sculptor Praxiteles wanted to depict Venus he used a famous courtesan as a model, as in later centuries Titian, Veronese, Raphael, Giorgione, and Boucher did when they painted goddesses. When Marcel Proust was a young man it was the courtesan Laure Hayman who took him under her wing, introducing him to the right people, and providing inspiration for one of literature's greatest masterpieces. And they often had considerable political influence too. When King Louis XV needed advice on foreign affairs or appointments of state he turned to Jeanne du Barry as well as Pompadour.

In her witty and insightful prose, as Griffin celebrates these alluring and fascinating women, she restores a lost legacy of women's history. She gives us the stories of these amazing women who, starting from impoverished or unimpressive beginnings, garnered chateaux, fine coaches, fabulous collections of jewelry, and even aristocratic titles along the way. And through a brilliant exploration of their extraordinary abilities, skills, and talents which Griffin playfully categorizes as their virtues "Timing, Beauty, Cheek, Brilliance, Gaiety, Grace, and Charm" her book explains how, while helping themselves, through their often outrageous, always entertaining examples, the great courtesans not only enriched our cultural heritage but helped to liberate women from the social, sexual, and economic strictures that confined them.

Intensively researched and beautifully crafted, The Book of the Courtesans delves into scintillating but often hidden worlds, telling stories gleaned from many sources, including courtesans' memoirs, presented along with stunning rare photographs to create memorable portraits of some of the most pivotal figures in women's history.



Prologue A Legacy of Virtues

She had charm, a dazzling complexion and wit. It was the last great heyday for courtesans and she made hay. --JANET FLANNER, Paris Was Yesterday

Goodness had nothing to do with it. --MAE WEST

Courtesan. At first glance, the word seems to sit almost coyly on the page. But first impressions can be misleading. The slightly risqué connotations which come to mind hardly reveal the abundance that is hidden here. What was a courtesan, really? As with any tradition that was once alive, the meaning is far too rich for a simple answer. Dictionary definitions will hardly suffice. Where one edition says the courtesan was a prostitute who associated with wealthy men or aristocrats, another refers to her as a kept woman. Yes, she shared characteristics with both. But she was neither.

To claim that courtesans were prostitutes would be deceptively simple. It is true that Madame du Barry, favorite of Louis XV, was once patronized by upper-class men who paid nightly for her favors. And we know that Céleste Mogador, who eventually became a countess, worked in a brothel when she was very young. But their stories only make what may seem a subtle distinction on paper more clear. To become a courtesan was a promotion of great proportions, a fortunate leap into an unimaginably better life. Unlike a prostitute, a courtesan did not live in a brothel, never walked the streets, nor did she, strictly speaking, have a pimp to control and bully her.

On occasion, usually early in their careers, some women did have procurers, but it was their mothers who played this role. Sarah Bernhardt, for example, was given her first liaisons by a mother who, being a courtesan herself, looked to her daughter to provide for her in her old age. This arrangement was common in sixteenth-century Venice and Rome, where mothers who had once been courtesans would, as a matter of course, procure for their daughters. The relationship between mother and daughter is entirely different from that between pimp and prostitute in many significant ways, including the fact that unlike the prostitute, who enriches a pimp more than herself, while she supported her mother, a courtesan could benefit from her own success.

But the distinctions are far greater. With some legendary exceptions, the agreements made with courtesans were hardly quid pro quo. It is probably true that la comtesse de Castiglione was given 1 million francs for a twelve-hour orgy with Richard Wallace, natural son of the fourth Marquess of Hertford. And 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). But the usual arrangements were like those made with mistresses and even wives -- longer lasting and more subtle in nature. And in distinction to the support given mistresses, who were often modestly kept, these relationships were far more lucrative. Soon after their liaison began, for instance, Louis XV presented Madame de Pompadour with an estate, one of several she was to receive in her lifetime, including the mansion known as the Palais Elysée, now the home of French presidents.