cover image The Red Widow: The Scandal That Shook Paris and the Woman Behind it All

The Red Widow: The Scandal That Shook Paris and the Woman Behind it All

Sarah Horowitz. Sourcebooks, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-72822-632-3

Horowitz (Friendship and Politics in Post-Revolutionary France), a professor of French history at Washington & Lee University, delivers a colorful biography of Marguerite Steinheil (1869–1954). Trapped in a frustrating marriage to a “passive” and “easily discouraged” artist, Steinheil helped sell her husband’s paintings by having sex with his patrons. She also formed connections through sexual affairs with diplomats, bankers, and even French president Félix Faure, who “had a fatal stroke in the middle of an assignation with [her].” Famous for her beauty and her rule-breaking behavior, Steinheil was the toast of Belle Époque Paris until one night in May 1908, when her husband and mother were killed. Steinheil, who was found tied to her bed, claimed that a group of robe-wearing robbers had broken into the home and committed the murders. Though her attempts to frame multiple people for the crime fell apart, Steinheil was protected by law enforcement officials and journalists who “did more to uphold the social hierarchy than pursue justice,” according to Horowitz. She was acquitted at trial and moved to London, where she married an English baron. Horowitz skillfully contextualizes this lurid tale with details about the Dreyfus affair and other contemporaneous events, and draws a nuanced portrait of Steinheil. This hits the sweet spot between true crime and women’s history. Photos. (Sept.)