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Les Grandes Horizontales [Paperback]

Virginia Rounding
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 8.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

19 July 2004
The lives and legends of four women are examined in this fascinating book, 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 in La dame aux Camellas. Apollonie Sabatier put men of letters at ease amidst the bawdy talk of her salon. The Russian Jew La Paiva appeared intent to prey on rich young men of Paris. The English beauty who called herself Cora Pearl was another 'foreign threat', with her athletic physique, sixty horses and ability 'to make bored men laugh'. Virginia Rounding disentangles myth from reality in her lively, thought-provoking study. Nineteenth-century Paris comes to life and so do its most distinguished and declasse inhabitants.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (19 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747568596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747568599
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 151,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Virginia Rounding is an author and book critic, specialising in history and biography. Her most recent book, published in the USA and the UK this year, is a fresh examination of the lives of the last Emperor and Empress of Russia: Alix and Nicky: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina. A reviewer commented in the Washington Times: 'she has brought them to life in flesh and blood perhaps better than any previous writer on the subject. This is partly a result of her skill in rooting out and quoting commentary on them by those who knew them well and put their impressions down in letters and diaries. But she has a knack for building on these insights with her own, and so has produced a more rounded portrait than we have ever had before.'

Virginia's previous book was a biography of the Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great: Love, Sex and Power, 2006, described in the Daily Telegraph as 'a thumping great triumph of a book'), and she recently presented a programme for BBC Radio 3 about music and musicians at Catherine's court. Catherine the Great was preceded by a study of French courtesans (Grandes Horizontales, 2003, in the Independent as 'impeccably researched, a flirt of a book, enjoyable and sexy').

Virginia is also the joint author, with Martin Dudley, of a series of books on church administration, and she reviews widely for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including the Daily Telegraph, FT Magazine, Independent, Daily Mail and Moscow Times. She lives in the Hoxton area of London and is an elected councillor (known as a Common Councilman) for the Ward of Farringdon Within in the City of London.

In addition to being a writer, Virginia has had a variety of jobs in order to keep body and soul together. She is currently part-time Clerk to the Guild of Public Relations Practitioners, and was for many years administrator of The Consort of Musicke, a vocal and instrument ensemble specialising in English and Italian music of the Renaissance. She has recently set up a writing consultancy, specialising in assisting post-graduate students with their writing of dissertations and theses, having enormously enjoyed her time doing precisely this as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at The Courtauld Institute of Art from 2008 to 2011.

She was educated at Merchant Taylors' School for Girls, Great Crosby, and at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London.

Product Description

Review

Rounding's history of four courtesans does much to separate the gloss from the fascinating realities. -- Independent

Women behaving badly in Second Empire Paris; entertaining and full of saucy anecdotes. -- Sunday Times

From the Author

The woman who was to call herself Cora Pearl was born in Plymouth, probably in 1835, the second daughter of Frederick William Nicholls Crouch, a cellist and composer, and his wife Lydia. Much of what we know – or think we know – about Cora comes from her own memoirs, which were published in French shortly before her death and translated into English in the same year. The memoirs begin with an explanation of the author’s intent; she puts herself forward as a sort of social historian: ‘I publish these memoirs because I think they will be interesting, and because they will put once more before the eyes of the world the society of the Second Empire.’

Cora arrived in Paris, brought there by a lover whom she subsequently cast off, in the mid-1850s where she soon began to acquire the kind of lovers she wanted, men with sufficient wealth to make her wealthy too. She attracted them not only by her sexual prowess and striking appearance (her naturally red or dyed yellow hair and athletic physique seemed to fascinate the French, attracting and repelling in equal measure) but by her intelligence, her wit and her humour. As her 1930s’ biographer, Baroness von Hutten, put it: ‘She knew how to make bored men laugh.’

Cora’s name came to be associated with two of the most significant figures of the Second Empire. The first of these was the Duke de Morny, the illegitimate half-brother of the Emperor. The second was the Emperor’s cousin, Prince Napoleon. At one time Cora appears to have been conducting simultaneous affairs with Prince Napoleon (while attempting to convince him that she was faithful to him), Paul Demidov (the nephew of Princess Mathilde’s estranged husband Anatole) and Demidov’s compatriot Narischkin. She was expert at playing them off one against the other, ratcheting up the value of the presents that each would give her. She also had a liaison with Khalil Bey, an imposing blue-spectacled Turkish gentleman, the former Ottoman ambassador in St Petersburg. He was one of the wealthiest and most lavish of her lovers; arriving in Paris in the late 1860s, he startled even the jaundiced Parisians with his oriental magnificence and enormous expenditure.

Cora’s extraordinary reputation was summed up by the pseudonymous ‘Zed’ in his book about the ‘demi-mondaines’ of the Second Empire, published in 1892. His sense of bewilderment – precisely what was it about this woman which ensnared so many rich and powerful men? – was shared by many, particularly among the French, whose bewilderment included the fact that Cora was an Englishwoman and hence, almost by definition to a fashionable Parisian, deficient in matters of style and taste: ‘I humbly admit that hers was a success I never understood, that it must be noted, as it did exist, but there is no justification for it. To me, she represents a stain on what was, taken all in all, a scintillating group, refined and aristocratic, of the gallant women of her epoque and from whom she differed absolutely in every respect. She was a personality apart, a specimen of another race, a bizarre and astonishing phenomenon.’

Cora Pearl is one of the women featured in "Grandes Horizontales: the lives and legends of four 19th-century courtesans". The others are Apollonie Sabatier, also known as La Présidente, and a muse of the poet Charles Baudelaire; Thérèse Lachmann, also known as La Païva; and Marie Duplessis, the prototype of Alexandre Dumas the younger’s Lady of the Camellias. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Business Of Doing Pleasure 3 Sep 2003
Format:Hardcover
This is the first book written by Virginia Rounding, and it is a very impressive debut. She tells the story of four 19th century Parisian courtesans, but also manages to work in a fair bit of French history, covering roughly 1830-1871. She weaves a seamless blend of the cultural and political, and also the comic and the serious. (As an example of the comic, Ms. Rounding mentions that 19th century prostitutes were fond of wearing very large hats in public. Doctors came up with a special reclining chair, to replace the traditional table, so that when the ladies of easy virtue came in for their regular examinations they would be able to keep their hats on throughout the process.) The author selected the four courtesans that she did so that she could demonstrate all the possibilities of living that life. Some of the women were abused when young, some weren't. Some were native born, some were foreigners. Some, when they lost their looks, lost their money. Others remained well-off even after their "prime earning years" were over. The book provides a fascinating look at a world that is certainly strange to the modern (and non-European) reader. The courtesan and her "protector" had a symbiotic relationship. The wealthy man provided money so that the courtesan could live an ostentatious lifestyle- with a beautiful home, expensive clothes and jewelry, servants, etc. Indeed, she was expected to "live it up" to show everyone what a generous lover she had. In return, the man could show the world how special he was- after all, he had not only vast amounts of money but he must also be extraordinary to win the favors of such a desirable and selective woman. The courtesan was certainly predatory. A man could become totally infatuated and could lose all his money supporting such a woman. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars review 19 Sep 2012
By chloe
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
arrived nice and quick and made the double bus journey to work a lot more bearable- interesting background about the social situation in 19th century France and how these women made a luxurious living out of upper class gentlemen :)xx
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging topic, shallow execution 7 Oct 2003
By bensmomma - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Grand Horizontales is a very readable but careless non-fiction account of the lives of four famous courtesans of 19-th century Paris. Author Virginia Rounding has relied almost exclusively on secondary sources (in other words, she has read books by other people but has not read the letters, newspapers, financial records, etc. that these books are based on). What's more, these secondary sources, she admits, are not reliable. So the reader doesn't know what, if anything, to believe.
There is a lot of bizarre speculation on the author's part: the courtesan La Paiva, born to a Jewish family in Russia, may or may not have been baptized at age seven. Rounding doubts the baptism because the book she read it in is not a very accurate one. Nevertheless, she continues on, speculating about the REASON for this possible event, but offers no hard evidence for her speculation. Apollonie Sabatier may or may not have slept with Baudelaire; Rounding speculates on why the "possible" affair ended. At this I threw up my hands: the book is full of such idle speculations about the reasons behind events that only possibly occured.
To me, the real fascination behind these women was "why these women and not others;" what was the magnetic attraction that held men spellbound? Rounding has made a very readable book, but we are still waiting for a more energetic scholar to write one that really answers this question.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emancipated Woman in Glittery 19th Century France 15 July 2003
By A. Tissot Demidoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
'Grandes Horizontales' traces the lives and legends of four French 'courtesans': Marie Duplessis, La Paiva, Appolonie Sabatier, and Cora Pearl. The account of their childhood and teenage years shows that each of them overcame impoverished and often cruel childhoods to attain independence and financial gain as adults. They applied single-minded determination, high intelligence, combined with 'magical' allure to ensnare wealthy and politically important male protectors. They, of course, completed the package with naughty and steamy love in the bedroom, or in the carriage, for that matter. Appolonie, for example, was scandalously depicted in the throes of orgasm in the sculpture that can now be seen in Musee d'Orsay, 'La femme piquee para un serpent'. Cora Pearl was once served as 'dessert' at a private dinner party at Paris's finest restaurant, Cafe Anglais.
The courtesans targets were the wealthy princely and aristocratic men of high society that valued a beautiful mistress on the arm as adding a new Old Master painting to the collection or finishing an elegant dinner with a cognac and cigar. These constituted the requisite luxuries for an aristocratic gentlemen when money was no object in glittery and superficial 19th Century Paris. For the courtesan, the circle of clients was amused and nurtured but only so long as the money flowed unabated. Once the money failed so would the relationship. The courtesan had no interest in assuming a wifely role to raise children in the heavily male dominated family arrangement. The courtesan 'broke' from her old life by adopting 'new' names to demarcate once existence from the other. The sole exception to these arrangements was for the 'true love'. These were usually younger and less well-off admirers that loved these women for who they were and not as fashion accessories. The relationship with the true love continued but so long as the young man understood his place, long term expectations, and tolerated to be 'squeezed' into a busy schedule.
The downfall for the courtesan was a complete lack of control over spending. Once exquisite taste was acquired in furnishings, dresses, carriages, horses, food and living conditions, the money was spent as fast as it came in. Marie Duplessis had her goods sold at auction to pay off the debtors after she died very young from tuberculosis at 23. Her true love, Alexandre Dumas 'fils', preserved her legend with his play entitled, 'La Dame aux Camelias'. At the other extreme, Cora Pearl lived a long life and wrote her memoirs to raise her own legend for posterity.
In the end, each of the courtesans shared an audacious appetite for life and a strong thirst for independence that led them to build lives unshackled by the traditional male dominated family. Virgina Rounding has written a highly entertaining, digestible, and informative book on some of the most colorful personalities of glittery 19th Century France during the decadance of Napoleon III.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vertical Challengers...or...The Business Of Doing Pleasure 16 July 2003
By Bruce Loveitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the first book written by Virginia Rounding, and it is a very impressive debut. She tells the story of four 19th century Parisian courtesans, but also manages to work in a fair bit of French history, covering roughly 1830-1871. She manages to weave together a seamless blend of the cultural and political, and also the comic and the serious. (As an example of the comic, Ms. Rounding mentions that 19th century prostitutes were fond of wearing very large hats in public. Doctors came up with a special reclining chair, to replace the traditional table, so that when the ladies of easy virtue came in for their regular examinations they would be able to keep their hats on throughout the process.) The author selected the four courtesans that she did so that she could demonstrate all the possibilities of living that life. Some of the women were abused when young, some weren't. Some were native born, some were foreigners. Some, when they lost their looks, lost their money. Others remained well-off even after their "prime earning years" were over. The book provides a fascinating look at a world that is certainly strange to the modern (and non-European) reader. The courtesan and her "protector" had a symbiotic relationship. The wealthy man provided money so that the courtesan could live an ostentatious lifestyle- with a beautiful home, expensive clothes and jewelry, servants, etc. Indeed, she was expected to "live it up" to show everyone what a generous lover she had. In return, the man could show the world how "special" he was- after all, he had not only vast amounts of money but he must also be pretty special to win the favors of such a desirable and selective woman. The courtesan was certainly predatory. A man could become totally infatuated and could lose all of his money supporting such a woman. Once the money ran dry, she would move on to greener pastures. On the other hand, the courtesan was totally dependent on the protector. If the man tired of the relationship and found someone new, the courtesan would very quickly have to find a new "sugar daddy" to maintain her extravagant lifestyle. Besides learning about the four courtesans selected for the book, we also learn about some of the men- such as Alexandre Dumas (fils) and Charles Baudelaire, as well as the Goncourt brothers (all of these men, by the way, were sources-through their fiction, poetry, and journals- for myths and legitimate information regarding the world of the courtesan). The author did a tremendous amount of research on the period in question, and she put it all together to create a fascinating look at a world that existed only for a brief time. If, like me, you are interested in 19th century France, I am sure you will get much pleasure from reading this book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but missing something 6 April 2006
By S. Bu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The writing is dry like reading an academic text, and yet it isn't as through and detailed and footnoted as most academic texts. As an academic text it's not trying to answer a very complicated question; it doesn't really do a compare and contrast between the courtesans or between the courtesans' lives and the legends surrounding them, instead its sole point is to give a brief overview of the lives of the 4 women it covers. (Perhaps if you are already familiar with the legends surrounding these women, you might perceive more dialogue between the true life and legend, but I had never heard of any of them before picking up the book so that aspect (if any) was lost on me.) As a popularization of history it also falls short -- I didn't feel like I got a real understanding of the character or personality of any of the 4 women portrayed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gaqy Paree 4 Mar 2014
By Laurence - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good description on the oh-la-la side of the Deuxieme Empire. It is always wise never to be cheap when you decide to sell your body.
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