Mademoiselle Victorine by Debra Finerman

July 31, 2007
Written by

 

Mademoiselle Victorine
Debra Finerman

Crown
7/31/07
Trade Paperback/293 pages
ISBN: 978-0-307-35283-5
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"Simply wonderful. . . . engaging and intriguing."

Mademoiselle Victorine is simply wonderful. The book is engaging and intriguing and helps the reader escape into the period of the 1860’s, a tumultuous era of politics, revolutionary concepts, and the emerging world of impressionist artists.

Mademoiselle Victorine Laurent joins the chorus of the grand Paris Opera ballet at a young age where she hopes one day to become noticed by a wealthy man who will offer her the opportunity to become his mistress. She has had a few protectors and becomes schooled in surviving. For the uninitiated in the “City of Light” there are three “classes” of prostitutes – the lowest being the streetwalker; the middle class being a lorette, and the epitome being the courtesan. It is not an easy climb from one to the other and requires the sponsorship of a wealthy man or an aristocrat, as well as the finesse and coquetry of a woman well schooled in the art of pleasing a man. If she is fortunate, she will have acquired notoriety that will catapult her to the attention of the Parisian elite world of decadence and light morals. Victorine’s ambition is to become a mistress of a famous and wealthy man. She has no time for romance or love and will not deviate from her goal.

When Victorine is introduced to the impressionist painter, Edouard Manet her life changes dramatically. She becomes his muse and model, and the first exhibition of his work shocks the Paris elite. Almost overnight, she becomes the most sought after courtesan of the time. She becomes the favorite of one of the banking Rothschilds and then the powerful Duke de Lyon who encourages her to have liaisons with the Emperor Louis-Napoleon as well as other political and powerful men. She also makes equally powerful enemies of the wives and court ladies of the Empress. After she is used as a pawn to exchange political secrets with Prussia she finds that her whole world has fallen down on her head. Her powerful protector, the Duke, has left her to fend for herself, but the one person she could always count on, Edouard Manet, comes to her rescue. Her attorney is able to get the charges of high treason withdrawn through cunning and intrigue—as well as documents that the Emperor has written to her.

During this trial, once orphaned Victorine finds out that her mother is still alive although not sane. She also discovers who her birth father is, and she realizes that she possesses the blood of aristocrats.

The Duke de Lyon resumes his relationship with her, but when she becomes pregnant with his child, he insists she terminate the pregnancy. She refuses and raises their son on her own, vowing that the boy will not have to endure the hardships that she did as an unwanted charge. Upon the Duke’s death, she is surprised at the reading of his will.

Victorine discovers that she can love. Through the tumultuous revolution and exile of the Emperor, the invasion of Prussian troops, the civil war that tears Paris apart, and the loss of loved friends, she learns there is hope for her and her child and the man she has always wanted—and now loves.

The author’s lush descriptions of the times, the streets of Paris, the politics of the era and the art of the times are impressive. Manet was the forerunner of the impressionist period and names like Degas, Monet, Bizet and in others in that school of artists are introduced freely. The reader appreciates these kindred spirits with their bohemian embracing of this art form that was rejected by the established artists of the time.

The author writes from a expert’s point of view when speaking of the art and fashion of the times, as well as the furnishings of the mansions, the palaces and the caprice of the nobility. The plot has many twists, and it is difficult to put the book down until the ending.

Reviewer: Sandra McCart

 

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