Memoirs of a French Courtesan

Volume 1: Rebellion

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Pub Date 16 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 16 Feb 2024
Practical Fox LLC, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members' Titles

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“When I wrote these memoirs in 1852, I was ignorant of the future awaiting me; who could have known? It was not my willful brazenness that dictated I write these memoirs; it was not for provocation or moral outrage, as some of those who were quick to take offense said. Before you sentence the guilty, at least listen through to the end of the story.”

So begins the memoirs of Céleste Mogador. The four volumes of the infamous courtesan and Hippodrome performer, Mémoires de Célèste Mogador, were published to scandalous acclaim in Paris in 1858. At the urging of her lawyer, Mogador wrote about her troubled childhood, her ascent to the heights of the glamorous Parisian courtesan society, her transition to respectable life, and falling in love with a nobleman.

In this new English translation, Memoirs of a French Courtesan Volume 1: Rebellion introduces the young Céleste. In her first sixteen years, she has plenty to rebel against: an abusive stepfather, her mother’s groping new boyfriend, her jailers, her first madame, and her first client. Not to mention the actual rebellion that engulfed the streets of Lyon in flames when she was a child.

Mogador lays out her childhood and her choices—or lack of them—in this first volume of her memoirs, setting the stage for the glittering life to come. 

“When I wrote these memoirs in 1852, I was ignorant of the future awaiting me; who could have known? It was not my willful brazenness that dictated I write these memoirs; it was not for provocation...

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ebook 9781732060395

ebook 9781732060395

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Featured Reviews

This story is unfortunately one that many women are familiar with; a life of abuse, running, and neglect. I felt a whirlwind of emotions reading this book. I started off angered and saddened by the treatment of Celeste and her mother. Midway through I was frustrated by her naivety and again angered by the treatment she received. And at the end I excited by her new found empowerment. I enjoyed how rich the character development and felt that I really understood and knew everyone intimately. I wish the next volume were out so that I could continue learning more about Celeste’s journey.

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'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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The Memoirs of a French Courtesan was a very enthralling read. It felt like a very authentic view of a woman’s life in the 1800’s. Mogador’s unwavering personality shone through the adversity she faced in her childhood. It was heartbreaking to see the dwindling of her relationship with her mother. The sorrow and distress she felt as time and time again her mother prioritized her abusive lovers over her own daughter was deeply felt. But it was refreshing to see her try to live her best despite the childhood she was given. I loved seeing her interactions with Therese and Denise. I was also excited for her when she met M. L and her first love. Furthermore, her memoirs also shed light on how sex work was viewed and how sex workers were treated. It was not something that was well tolerated, nor something you could come back from easily if so chosen. It was not something which she enjoyed doing and not something that society agreed with, but it was something she had to do in order to survive. So it was interesting seeing how she felt about this juxtaposition, how it affected her relationships with others, and the opportunities/ lack thereof that she was presented with in life.

Overall, it was wild ride and an interesting read. I would preface any potential readers that though this is a memoir that recounts the life of a courtesan, it is written in the 1800’s. So it is not very explicit by our standards. With this in mind, I would highly recommend reading it especially to those who are interested in learning about the day-to-day life and what it truly meant to be a courtesan in this time period.

Thank you to Net Galley who provided an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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