Member Review

Cover Image: Memoirs of a French Courtesan

Memoirs of a French Courtesan

Pub Date:

Review by

Christy H, Reviewer

'I don't want to make a novel of my life; I'm not trying to clear my name or pose as a heroine. In talking about what I suffered, of what I did - for better or worse - I will tell you everything I did without reservation, and you will see that it required great courage for me to face up the past'.

Celeste Mogador's memoirs, first published in 1858, were condemned with outrage as immoral. This latest translation of volume one details Celeste's childhood up until the age of sixteen, when she signed up with her first madam. After her father died, life became harder for Celeste and her mother, however, a series of events, exacerbated by Celeste's fiery temper and spoiled nature, compounded this hardship. 'Joy, sadness, affection, resentment, laziness, busyness - I exaggerate them all'. Erroneously perceiving she can gain independence and control over her life by registering as a prostitute, she has her mother sign her consent at the age of sixteen. The quagmire of misery deepens but the same fiery temper that was often the downfall of her childhood is the same fire that makes her strive to do something better, something more with her life and circumstances.

You may feel, from the title and topic of this book that it would be full of lurid, scandalous details. It is not. I found it fascinating to read the words of not only a 'common' woman, from a time when we typically only read from well-educated men, but also to read of circumstances that aren't pretty. Life was dismal and tough for many back then. And rather than reading it out of a Dickens novel, we get the layman's terms of a young woman's life. Some of the finesse may have been lost in translation at times but it is a fascinating first story for women's history aficionados. I'm keen to see where Celeste's life goes from here!
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