“I had the idea of having a ring engraved with the name of my destroyer, and wearing it on my big toe.”

From the memoirs of Cora Pearl, one of the most famous courtesans of 2nd Empire France. Her memoirs are more interesting than most of what you can read about her.

She was also, it should be said, an inveterate hater of men. The destroyer she speaks of is a man who got her drunk at 15 and had his way with her while she was passed out. She woke up in a room he’d taken for his purpose and never went home. She simply vanished once she’d been raped. She instead got a room with what her destroyer paid her, and began a lifetime of taking money for men’s favors, hating them all the while.

She is in my new novel. I do love her, and I’ve tried to do her justice, and make her at least as interesting as the above quote. Below, a few more quotes from the episode.

She was the inspiration for Zola’s Nana, which is a terrific novel if you can stomach Zola’s misogyny (the effect is mostly like eating food you like with MSG–much of it is delicious but parts of it make your blood boil). Nana’s character has about as much to do with the real Cora Pearl as one of her shoes did, I think, but I love them both.

Zola’s novel chronicles a time in Cora Pearl’s life when she was the toast of Paris. His Nana is wonderfully frank, funny woman, vain, naive. Cora at the same time Zola satirized her (let’s call it that?) was a clear-eyed and wealthy businesswoman as regards the sale of her favors, and while she did die in poverty, decades later, in the 1860s she maintained a sumptuous lifestyle and several homes. She was an elegant horsewoman, also, with a stable of 60 horses, and her livery and coachmen were the envy of people who thought they were her betters. I’ve found her name on the listing of horses bred and sold at the time.

She reminds me a little of the myth of the Mongolian princess who vowed never to marry a man who was a poorer rider than she was, and won every race. One of her nicknames was La Centauresse.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s