The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewitt

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The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewitt

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: An account of a life that proves to be eye opening, engaging, and surprisingly emotional, The Mistress of Paris is a tale of a woman who tried to make the most of herself in dangerous times, rising through a volatile world of politics, sex and intrigue, and positioning herself as one of the truly influential people of her day.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Icon Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1848319264

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Born into poverty, no-one could have guessed that the girl who would one day be known as Valtesse de la Bigne would achieve greatness. This is the tale of her rise to wealth and power – starting in a dress shop as a thirteen year old, but fast becoming a courtesan who would be fought over by some of the greatest men of her time. Whilst Valtesse was a woman who kept an air of mystery about many details of her life, Catherine Hewitt nevertheless paints an incredible story around the gaps, and this proves to be both a full and intriguing biography, and a fascinating portrait of the time period.

19th Century Paris was a dangerous place – especially for a young girl born into poverty. But Valtesse de la Bigne was no ordinary girl. Using her intelligence and beauty, she fast rose through the ranks of the gentry, going from dress shop girl to actress, actress to courtesan, and courtesan to a woman who possessed a small fortune, three mansions, countless carriages, and countless suitors. Fawned over by the composer Offenbach, immortalised in Emilie Zola's Nana, and rumoured to have affairs with both Napoleon III and Edward VII – there is no doubt that this is the tale of an extraordinary woman.

You may be thinking that this is the tale of a cold hearted society climber, but it's quite the opposite – this is the story of a woman who loved hard and fiercely, and had her heart broken more than a few times. Whilst there's no doubt that she had to scheme and plan in order to get what she wanted, Valtesse never becomes an unlikeable character – at some points I was very moved by the constant hurdles she faced, and the ingenious ways in which she learned to climb up, over, and sometimes around them. It also illuminates the life of a courtesan far better for me – I'll admit that prior to this, my only experiences with them had been reading a few articles on Madame Du Pompadour, and watching Moulin Rouge a fair few times.

The Mistress of Paris is not just a biography of a fascinating woman, but an in depth look at the France of the 19th century, and of the hugely different levels of society in place, from desperate poverty to lavish wealth. Whilst there are some gaps in the story of Valtesse de la Bigne, the shifting political and social winds that are constantly in the background of her story serve as more than successful diversion until the main strands can be resumed.

A skilfully woven tapestry of a fascinating life, this is a hugely interesting and surprisingly involving read – many thanks to the publishers for the copy. For further reading I would recommend Dirty Bertie: An English King Made in France by Stephen Clarke – a rather more lighthearted look at the King who many believe the Valtesse captivated…

Buy The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewitt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewitt at

Buy The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewitt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewitt at


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