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The Mistress of Paris

The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret

Author: Catherine Hewitt

The Mistress of Paris

The Mistress of Paris


About This Book

Catherine Hewitt's The Mistress of Paris is a fantastically readable biography of a nineteenth-century Parisian courtesan who harbored an incredible secret.


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Book Details

Catherine Hewitt's The Mistress of Paris is a fantastically readable biography of a nineteenth-century Parisian courtesan who harbored an incredible secret.

“A gorgeous, smart, ambitious, hard-working, steely autodidact and businesswoman whose product was herself, Valtesse would be totally at home in our self-branding society.”The New York Times Book Review

Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne was painted by Édouard Manet and inspired Émile Zola, who immortalized her in his scandalous novel Nana. Her rumored affairs with Napoleon III and the future King Edward VII kept gossip columns full. But her glamorous existence hid a dark secret: she was no comtesse.

Valtesse was born into abject poverty, raised on a squalid backstreet among the dregs of Parisian society. Yet she transformed herself into an enchantress who possessed a small fortune, three mansions, fabulous carriages, and art the envy of connoisseurs across Europe. A consummate show-woman, she ensured that her life—and even her death—remained shrouded in just enough mystery to keep her audience hungry for more.

Spectacularly evoking the sights and sounds of mid- to late nineteenth-century Paris in all its hedonistic glory, Catherine Hewitt’s biography tells, for the first time ever in English, the forgotten story of a remarkable woman who, though her roots were lowly, never stopped aiming high.

Imprint Publisher

St. Martin's Press



In The News

“Hewitt’s fascinating biography reads like a novel and paints a vivid portrait of a woman who reinvented herself and carved out a successful and lucrative career in one of the only realms available to women in her time, place, and circumstances.” —Booklist

"[A]stonishing.... A thoroughly researched and clearly written account of a determined and talented woman and of an era." —Kirkus Reviews

“Reading like a novel with enticing cliff-hangers, Hewitt’s work marries the life of Valtesse with the fascinating history of Paris,imbuing both with vivacity.” —Library Journal

“An enthralling story, told with both conviction and sympathy.” —The Observer (UK)

“Hewitt is a diligent researcher and her handsomely illustrated debut biography is crammed with period detail. . . . she offers an intriguing insight into the precarious glamour of life as a nineteenth-century courtesan.” —The Daily Telegraph (UK)

“Riveting.” —The Bookseller (UK)

“A fascinating biography . . . Full of detail and astute observation, the book is a remarkable tale of a woman who never stopped aiming high, but whose personal life was shrouded in mystery.” —France magazine

“Her lovers included painters and politicians, and she caused plenty of scandal that will have you curled up with this book for hours.” —Living France

“Well researched . . . she has written a truly handsome boudoir book.” —Irish Examiner

“It is incredibly readable. The story itself is innately fascinating . . . Hewitt has a great deal of knowledge on the time period of nineteenth-century Paris . . . much to enjoy in this engaging account of Parisian culture.” —All About History (UK)

“This proves to be both a full and intriguing biography, and a fascinating portrait of the time period. . . .The Mistress of Paris is not just a biography of a fascinating woman, but an in-depth look at the France of the nineteenth century . . . A skillfully woven tapestry of a fascinating life, this is a hugely interesting and surprisingly involving read.” —The Bookbag

About the Creators

The Mistress of Paris

The Mistress of Paris