THE BOOK OF THE COURTESANS: A Catalogue of Their Virtues

Susan Griffin, Author . Broadway $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7679-0450-6

Hard on the heels of the film Moulin Rouge comes this idiosyncratic meditation on that 18th- and 19th-century curiosity, the courtesan, the woman who, though usually from limited means, parlayed her beauty, sexuality and talent into a position of luxury and celebrity as the mistress of one or several men of means. Readers looking for a sober social history of the world portrayed in the film will not find it here, for Griffin's approach is almost as kaleidoscopic as the movie's. In a series of brief chapters, each devoted to a particular "virtue," that is, a talent central to the courtesan's success (such as "Gaiety," "Charm," "Cheek"), feminist critic, playwright and poet Griffin (What Her Body Thought; Women and Nature; etc.) mines the memoirs of her subjects for stories illustrating their ability to vault beyond the constraints of their age and gender. Some of her courtesans have slipped into obscurity; some are remembered chiefly for their associations with artists and eminent men; a few, like Colette and Chanel, achieved fame in a different endeavor. At least one, Nijinsky, was not a woman at all. What they all share, however, and what Griffin admires in them, is the daring to transgress the boundaries of a rigid code of prudery and hypocrisy and so exchange the poverty and toil they were condemned to at birth for champagne, diamonds and extraordinary lingerie. Griffin's writing is lively, and her stories are engaging. Agent, Katinka Matson.(Sept. 11)

Forecast:An acclaimed writer— A Chorus of Stones was a Pulitzer Prize finalist—Griffin should garner respectable review coverage for this subject of timeless interest.

Reviewed on: 07/30/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-7679-0451-3
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!