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Beautiful For Ever: Madame Rachel of Bond Street - Cosmetician, Con-Artist and Blackmailer Paperback – 3 May 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (3 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099570130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099570134
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 365,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A remarkable story... Rappaport handles her scandalous Victorian melodrama with energy and aplomb, and produces a richly entertaining portrait of the seamy side of 19th century society" (Daily Mail)

"Madame Rachel's story, which has been superbly researched by Rappaport, is intriguing in itself [and] sheds a fascinating light on the ladies of Victorian society" (Daily Telegraph)

"Beautiful For Ever is one of those un-put-downable surprises that makes reading worthwhile… This book has the same mix of forensic investigation and light touch that makes Kate Summerscale’s books so interesting" (Big Issue)

"Speaks volumes about vanity and Victorian attitudes to women" (Sophie Morris Independent)

"[Beautiful For Ever] is, blissfully, proof that there is still simply nothing quite like a good Victorian scandal. Rappaport excels again in this thoroughly researched account of Madame Rachel...this is a well-paced read that tells us something about the modern obsession with appearance while remaining deliciously Victorian at its core" (Waterstone's Books Quarterly)

Book Description

The scandalous tale of Madame Rachel - celebrated beautician to the rich and famous of Victorian London, con-artist and convicted blackmailer.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Maxari on 15 July 2012
Format: Paperback
No, I mean really? I can't be THE ONLY person who found this intolerable?

I bought this book largely on the fact that the premise was one that could offer a really good historical read [the seedy world of Victorian cosmetician] and I must admit I was swayed by the beautiful and intriguing cover.
NEVER AGAIN, shall I allow a cover to determine my purchase of a book.

The potentially exciting/interesting subject of the book was rendered boring and lifeless by Rappaport's study. Don't get me wrong it's not like I was expecting a racy period fiction piece [I read historical accounts & biographies regularly] but the author seemed to make a conscious effort to suck as much excitement out of the book as possible.
Very little went into describing the actual beauty treatments, their effects, the clients & the society which drove the consumption of said treatments. Instead it was court case, after court case, after newspaper, after court case. Every so often Rappaport would titillate us with mention of 'Jordan Water' and I was almost shouting "Please offer that as much excruciating attention as you do the endless court cases!" Basically, this is a book about Victorian criminals & law, not the cult of beauty [as I expected, with a name like 'beautiful for ever'].

My last gripe was the thoroughly revisionist and moralist view Rappaport adopts of the period. Yes, Victorian England was very anti-Semitic and misogynist; but it is far more effective to simply document said prejudice objectively and allow the reader to think for themselves: 'goodness how things have changed!' instead of sticking massive moralist sign-posts throughout your booking effectively stating "LOOK HOW HORRIBLE THESE VICTORIANS WERE" "JUST 'CUZ SHE WAS A JEW! HOW UNFAIR IS THAT?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Elaine Simpson-long TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 May 2012
Format: Paperback
Last year I read this author's book Magnificent Obsession and have it five stars. Before that I had read her book on Ekaterinburg, also garnering five stars, and now I am reading something completely different. The story of Madame Rachel, a con woman and a fraudster who set herself up as a cosmetician and perfumier and acquired a long client list of wealthy women in Victorian society who were eager to find the promise of eternal beauty.

'Madame Rachel' was a poor fish fryer, by name Sarah Levison, who lived in poverty and squalor in Victorian London. By a combination of determination and slippery dealings she ended up with a shop on New Bond Street where she advertised such wares as Magnetic Rock Dew Water for Removing Wrinkles; Circassian Golden Hair wash; Royal Arabian Face Cream and Honey of Mount Hymettus Soap and a whole range of oils, gums, scents and perfumes and herbs. Her main treatment on offer was 'The Royal Arabian Toilet of Beauty as Arranged by Madame Rachel for the Sultana of Turkey'. This could cost anything from 100 to 1,000 guineas and this at a time when most working class families had to get by on about £1.12s a week and when housemaids were paid about £11 a year.

The first thing that struck me when reading this was how on earth could these stupid women believe these claims? It beggars belief, but then it does not take a minute or two to remember the status of women in society at that time; their status depended on a husband, a home and remaining desirable Rapfor their men, those men who had all their money once they were married and became another piece of matrimonial property.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By isabel in the kitchen on 23 April 2010
Format: Hardcover
Truly nothing is ever new. The premise of all beauty products is the harping on the perennial female anxiety about aging and losing one's looks. Madame Rachel was a past mistress of this art and her saturation advertising and persuasive sales patter cornered the market in Victorian England as she peddled her exotic "Middle-Eastern" beauty products. She advocated a form of detox and face peeling(very modern) and cleanliness but most of all her clientele went to her to achieve the perfect lily-white complexion so desired by high-society women.

So far, so lucrative. But much more was on offer than Madame's Arabian Baths: bored society women could also discreetly avail themselves of the services of a handsome young stable-boy or out-of work footman. Plenty of opportunities for blackmail here.

But then Madame met her nemesis in the form of the widowed Mary Tucker Borradaile who was foolish enough to believe Madame Rachel's claims that at 50 and with a "chin that had fallen in" Lord Ranelagh had fallen passionately in love with her juvenile ringlets and tiny feet. Instead she exhausted all her fortune in pursuit of this fantasy, ended up in debtor's prison and sued Madame Rachel. Rachel's life and business never recovered.

Notorious though she was in her day, indeed the public was sick of the sound of her name, the story of Madame Rachel has long been totally forgotten until Helen Rappaport painstakingly teased out the threads of her story from the news reports and trials of the day( fortunately there was no shortage of the latter as Rachel was a bit of a vexatious litigant).

But there is nothing dry-and-dusty legal about this book - the narrative proceeds at a cracking pace, since there was never a dull moment in the subject's life.
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