When Céleste Mogador's memoirs were first published in 1854 and again in 1858, they were immediately seized and condemned as immoral and unsuitable for public consumption. For a reader in our more forgiving times, this extraordinary document offers not only a portrait of the early life of an intelligent, courageous, and infinitely intriguing Frenchwoman but also an exceedingly rare inside look at the world of the courtesans and prostitutes of nineteenth-century France.
Writing to conciliate judges and creditors, Mogador (born Céleste Venard in 1824) explains how with tenacity, wit, and audacity, she managed to escape a difficult childhood and subsequent life of prostitution to become, successively, a darling of the dance halls, a circus rider, and an actress, all the while attracting wealthy young men who vied for her favor. Although her account gives readers a peek into the rakish demimonde made famous by Verdi's opera La Traviata, its greatest value lies in its candid picture of a spunky, self-educated woman who doggedly transformed herself into an esteemed and prolific novelist and playwright, who fell in love with a count and married him, and who made her name synonymous with the bohemian life of the 1840s and 1850s in Paris.
Monique Fleury Nagem is a professor of modern languages at McNeese State University. She is the translator of Chantal Chawaf's Mother Love, Mother Earth and Redemption, as well as of Dominique Rolin's The Garden of Delights.
"From the first page, [Mogador] declares her intention to tell the real story of a courtesan's experiences. . . . Céleste's telegraphic, mostly unadorned, literary style supports her claim to authenticity—she was almost entirely uneducated, and at 15 could barely read. But it is the palpable pleasure she takes in seeing people and events clearly, even recognizing her own flaws and those of the people she loves and wishes to think well of, that gives her book the complexity of truth—the kind of complex truth we often look for in modern fiction."—New York Times Book Review
"Mogador (born Céleste Venard in 1824) was the queen of the Bal Mabille and gained her fame in Parisian dance halls and as an equestrienne, a daring circus rider, at the Hippodrome. Her life, exemplary of bohemian Paris in the 1840s and 1850s, bridges the periods of the Second Republic and the Third Empire. . . . [Mogador's memoirs] contribute to our understanding of how desire was presented and consumed in 19th-century Paris. . . . Refreshing details of daily life are everywhere in these pages, as [Mogador] tells us what was in a bouquet and what she and others wore. She recounts the feints, slights, and homage experienced at a ball, the fevers of the gambling tables, the drama of a boar hunt in the countryside on a nobleman's estate. . . . The settings of social life, high and low, in 19th-century Paris are etched in many memorable passages."—Los Angeles Times