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  • 26 May 2010

The Pretty Women of Paris

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As the online edition of our Sex issue draws to a close, we look back to something of an eighteenth-century equivalent… Book artist Kate Rochester was browsing her boyfriend’s library when she came across a battered Wordsworth edition of The Pretty Women of Paris: a directory of courtesans for the visiting English gentleman. Anonymously authored and first published in 1883 by the Préfecture de Police, the volume was clearly for the curious traveller. It is painstaking in its descriptions of the sexual specialities and preferences of each featured lady, and comprehensive in the background detail it provides. The décor of the courtesans’ homes, the pets they kept and the jewellery they wore were all fit to be included. The courtesans were arranged by district, for optimal triangulation in the post-prandial stroll.

Rochester decided to give the courtesans new life in her hand-bound, limited-edition collection. She collaborated with artist Lindsay Brunnock, who produced original illustrations based on the text. Below are two of the entries, which show this nameless, bold author at his – or her – discerning best.

~

A gutter wench of Belleville; low, cheeky, and rough; she used to be the idol of Eldorado Concert-Hall many years ago. Hervé was leader of the band; he wrote her songs, drummed them into her, and turned her up on the piano whenever it suited him. For the last fifteen years she has been richly kept by a Russian prince, who revels in her brutality, viciousness, extravagance and love of brandy. Mathilde cares not for her rich master, but scatters his roubles broadcast, sleeping occasionally with the first counter-jumper, hairdresser or corn-cutter who takes her mad fancy. ‘Mathilde cares not for her rich master, but scatters his roubles broadcast...’ Indeed, Mathilde says herself that if the prince was to leave her, there is not a man in Paris who would give her a sou to save her from starvation. She has always got her low relations around her draggle-tailed dressing-gown, and she swears and fights with them, but finally makes it up over a bottle, and slips a note in their democratic paws, that have never been known to earn an honest penny. If her temperament is not over warm, her imagination is depraved and deranged, and she is celebrated for the leches and whims that she has had, has got, and means to have. She keeps an open house, and her dining-room is always full of lords, dukes, swell-mobsmen, third-rate actors, comic singers down on their luck, lousy artists, sculptors out of collar and three-card men on the lookout for a cheap meal. She is continually changing her residence, and has resided in every quarter of Paris in turn.

In the Place Vendôme, the neighbours still remember the fire she once had, when dead drunk and clad only in her chemise she insisted upon helping the men at the engine, and pumped away for dear life.

Madly eccentric in the choice of her lodgings, of her furniture, and in her tastes and passions, she once had the mania to scour the low halls, in company with Leonide Leblanc, in search of big soldiers, and rumour says that they dried up every major of the garrison of Paris. Then she found the money for a theatre which failed, and going to Russia gave way to lesbianism, and stabbed one of her victims in a fit of jealousy. Mathilde does not make the slightest difficulty when her admirers turn her round, and show her how Socrates loved his pupils. This pederastic passion made her very ill, but she has not given it up, nor any other of her vices either. She is now about thirty-eight, and is a tall, fair woman with large blue eyes that seem to start out of her head, a straight, big nose and a silly look generally. Her walk is that of a big, unwieldy camel, but her careless Bohemian style has great charms for such palates that are blasé upon women who still know how to blush, and possess some vestige of womanly grace and shame. Lasseny has a large barrel-organ behind her bed, in the room adjoining, and she makes her maid turn the handle while she is enjoying her grind on the big couch, where she is often sprawled out in a drunken fit, flooding the lace-edged sheets with urine and vomiting over her lovers, of whom perhaps she has a brace together, performing the delicious sandwich feat, which is practised in the highest circles. Mathilde is mad.

~

This dear, finely moulded beauty is only twenty, and she sings charmingly, besides being a pianiste of no mean order. She first appeared at the Brussels music-hall, the Renaissance, in 1881, so that her adventures up to the present have not been very extraordinary. Her tastes are simple; she adores her work, her piano, flowers and birds, and the continual society of a vigilant mother. A rich lover in search of a tit-bit that has scarcely been nibbled at had better apply to the stern parent at once, as there are packs of wolves going about Paris to gobble up the little Red Riding Hoods, and Berthe is sure to be in great demand shortly.

(Georgina, Berthe, Ellen and Nina)

All illustrations © Lindsay Brunnock

This edition of the Pretty Women of Paris is published by Hanbury Press

Comments (34)

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  1. Sinibaldi

    Thu May 27 16:18:40 BST 2010

    On a purpose.

    The light
    of a sunshine
    invents in a
    moment a
    luminous care:
    inside my
    heart, in a little
    desire, with
    simplicity....

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  2. Sinibaldi

    Thu Jul 15 16:40:07 BST 2010

    Quelquefois dans mon coeur....

    Cette lumière
    m'appelle, dans
    le coeur de
    la nuit, comme
    un son perpétuel
    qui souffle dans
    le rêve la chanson
    de la vie: c'est
    la délicate neige,
    la naturelle voix
    qui rappelle la
    jeunesse....

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  3. Sinibaldi

    Thu Jul 15 16:40:45 BST 2010

    After the sound.

    In the air,
    with the voice
    of a clarinet,
    I hear a luminous
    sound that tries
    to discover a
    little emotion,
    a charming behaviour
    and the tender
    delight....

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  4. Sinibaldi

    Thu Jul 15 16:41:10 BST 2010

    Il sole appare ridente.

    Quel sole
    appar ridente
    nel passar
    d'un pensiero,
    e quel canto,
    innevato d'amor,
    ridona l'eterno
    e una candida
    rima.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  5. Sinibaldi

    Mon Aug 09 17:05:40 BST 2010

    Afin sensacion.

    Con la fuerza
    de la rima esa
    nube de viento
    regresa, en el
    dulzor de la
    mañana; siento
    el sabor de
    la noche encantada
    que lucida viene
    regalando la luz.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  6. Sinibaldi

    Wed Sep 08 17:00:48 BST 2010

    A place to be seen...

    In a promise
    there's the
    light that
    always remains
    like a delicate
    leaf in the
    dark of a forest,
    and there, in
    your eyes, I
    see beautiful
    skies and a tender
    relief.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  7. Sinibaldi

    Sat Oct 09 14:17:54 BST 2010


    Douceur.

    Marcher avec
    toi est le
    tendre cadeu
    qui rappelle,
    dans le son
    du soleil, le
    naturel chant
    et la docile
    doctrine.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  8. Sinibaldi

    Mon Nov 08 17:36:47 GMT 2010

    En el abismo.

    El sonido del
    universo aparece
    constante, cuando
    el canto del
    sol me llama
    dichoso: siento
    el fervor pasar
    suavemente
    donde muere
    la noche regalando
    el amor....

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  9. Sinibaldi

    Wed Dec 08 15:22:36 GMT 2010

    Touch of harmony.

    With white
    colours recalling
    sounds and a
    sweet sensibility
    you touch my
    desire, the inner
    relief and a
    delicate sadness
    that covers
    the sun.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  10. Sinibaldi

    Sat Jan 08 14:16:05 GMT 2011

    La nieve delicada en primavera.
    ( other version )

    Como una
    sonrisa que brilla
    en la ternura
    de un niño triste
    y desolado, como
    la muerte de
    un sol silente
    y lleno de pasión,
    como la nieve
    en el invierno
    umbroso y fugitivo...

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  11. Sinibaldi

    Wed Feb 09 17:13:13 GMT 2011

    Harmonie.

    Doucement,
    comme un son
    fugitif dans l'aube
    de mes rêves,
    comme un chant
    qui revient en
    donnant la lumière
    et un souffle
    de soleil.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  12. Sinibaldi

    Wed Mar 09 17:01:29 GMT 2011

    Comme créer une poésie....

    La nature
    engageante est
    comme le soleil
    qui souffle
    dans le chant
    du matin et
    cette harmonie,
    en donnant
    une lumière,
    devient perpétuelle
    comme la voix
    des sourires.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  13. Sinibaldi

    Sun Apr 10 14:36:11 BST 2011

    A canticle and the romance.
    ( other version )

    When the sunshine
    returns in the
    light of a gentle
    delight, remember
    the sound of a
    luminous candle,
    discover the silence
    in the care of a
    beautiful darkness
    and so, in the sky,
    that delicate dream
    will touch your
    profile....

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  14. Sinibaldi

    Sun May 08 14:22:23 BST 2011

    Los ojos benditos del canto.

    Ésta es una
    dulce canción
    que viene
    silente donde
    el soplo del
    mar reposa
    infinito.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

    #
  15. plemutpinma

    Mon Oct 10 10:30:00 BST 2011

    This comment has been removed by the moderators.

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