They were the femmes galantes. The demi-mondaines of 19th century Paris. Exquisite, hungry courtesans who electrified the forbidden middle space between high society and low, between the emperor’s court and the brothels that thrived in the shadows of Paris’s grand new façades.
They were a glittering, frivolous capital’s best defense against the ennui of so much luxe. In an age when, as one chronicler of the period wrote, “Celebrities sprang up like mushrooms and shriveled even before the sun went down,” they had a lock on fame. Legends arose around them — and remain there still. The masses adored them, but only the very rich could afford them. Remembering the grandes horizontales of 19th century Paris.
Virginia Rounding, author of “Grandes Horizontales: The Lives and Legends of Four Nineteenth-Century Courtesans”