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Writing with a Vengeance

Writing with a Vengeance: The Countess de Chabrillan's Rise from Prostitution

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
  • Book Info
    Writing with a Vengeance
    Book Description:

    Writing with a Vengeanceexamines the life and works of a nineteenth-century French courtesan, Céleste Vénard, later the Countess de Chabrillan.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9777-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    The scene is nineteenth-century Paris in a working-class district near the boulevard du Temple on the Right Bank. Céleste Vénard, a young woman (a teenager really), has been fighting with her mother day in day out. Usually the disputes revolve around her motherʹs companion, Vincent, who has attempted to rape Céleste, although her mother refuses to believe this. Finally, a domestic crisis erupts. Céleste has just turned sixteen and she asks her mother to accompany her to the police prefecture to give the written permission which would allow her daughter to register as a prostitute in the city of Paris....


    • 1 The Wages of Shame
      (pp. 21-42)

      From the standpoint of the twenty-first century, it is difficult to imagine the level of social opprobrium which adhered to the fallen woman of nineteenth-century France. Despite the shame, however, few personal transactions were as common as those of venal love. Clients, then as now, spanned the social spectrum and could purchase love legally inmaisons closes, illegally on the street, and alfresco in some of thebals publics(public dance halls) which often boasted gardens. In his 1864 ʹtreatise,ʹLes cythères parisiennes: histoire anecdotique des bals de Paris, Alfred Delvau, bard ofbohème, fondly recalls his mating seasons of...

    • 2 Worlds Apart: Mapping Prostitution and the Demi-monde
      (pp. 43-71)

      To this day we delight in narratives like ZolaʹsNanaand revel in the operatic beauties of VerdiʹsLa traviataor PucciniʹsLa bohème. We are, to be sure, aware that the reality presented in these stories is a distorted one but remain enthralled by the sumptuous mantle which the music casts over them. However haunting these narratives may be, authentic they are not. In her memoirs, Mogador vehemently insisted on providing authentic depictions of the prostitute because she realized that the straitjacketing of these women into the stereotypical roles they occupied in music and literature was, in fact, tantamount...

    • 3 Fictions of Prostitution
      (pp. 72-98)

      This chapter will demonstrate the extent to which the persona of the prostitute and the institutions defining and confining her stand at the heart of the literary imagination of post-Revolutionary France. Whether it be as the structural foil to feminine respectability, as the quintessence of the Body feminine in contrast to the Mind consistently coded as masculine or, finally, as the incarnation of the dangers of cross-class contamination, the prostitute anchors several binary systems which constitute the ideological underpinnings of the new order. Small wonder, then, that the cultural production of the period between 1840 and 1900 should be obsessed...


    • 4 La Sapho, or Staging Vengeance
      (pp. 101-118)

      Stifling the voice of the venal woman, declining to hear it when – against all odds – it did break through the sound barrier, or, finally, discrediting its message when the latter demanded social justice: all these silencing strategies were at work in nineteenth-century French culture and literature. The time has now come to reverse the perspective: to view the world from the point of view of the prostitute. By the end of her long life, Céleste de Chabrillan had composed two series of memoirs, ten novels, and twenty-six plays. Given the prevailing attitudes toward fallen women, the fact that...

    • 5 Plotting Exoneration
      (pp. 119-139)

      La Saphois a key work in Chabrillanʹs literary production, and it is no accident that it occurs early on in her writing itinerary. Although the Countess would shy away from using the demi-monde in her other novels, it is easy to see why she spotlighted it inLa Sapho. This is the novel which afforded her the full expression of her rage: rage at what had happened to her personally and, beyond that, at the social realities which propelled young women into lives of sexual servitude. Equally attractive for her, no doubt, was the prospect of vicarious vengeance, which...

    • 6 Chabrillanʹs Final Novels, or The Uses of Fiction
      (pp. 140-155)

      In the long newspaper article published inLa Réaction, Céleste de Chabrillan has publicly announced that her literary achievements have eclipsed her ignominious self, now dead. And in truth, the list of her accomplishments by this time is considerable. With five novels and a set of memoirs to her credit, she has also contributed to the war effort by successfully organizing Les Soeurs de France under official state patronage. She has composed, produced, and performed at least nine plays at six different Parisian theatres and has acted as director of the Folies-Marigny theatre in 1865.

      Even so, the above obituary...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 156-158)

    So ends the story of the Countess de Chabrillan, born Céleste Vénard and baptized into infamy under the name of Mogador. The three identities of this remarkable woman constitute in and of themselves a narrative with its beginning in the working classes, a lengthy middle episode of notoriety, and an ending of a personal reincarnation of sorts.

    The real narrative, of course, is not quite so simple. Célesteʹs fall from grace occurred when she was barely sixteen years of age. Not for forty-five long years would she at last lay down the pen, her anger assuaged, enemies punished, hypocritical society...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 159-166)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 167-176)
  12. Index
    (pp. 177-195)