This is a book about the lives and legends of four courtesans who flourished during the 19th century in Paris. One was Marie Duplessis, La Paiva, Apollonie Sabatier and Cora Pearl. Marie became the prototype of the 'prostitute with a golden heart' and portrayed in the play, La Dame Aux Camélia. La Paiva, who was of Russian/Jewish origins, graduated from being a common prostitute to being one of the most wealthy and ostentatious courtesans of the age; Apollonie was surrounded by a circle of literary and artistic admirers and became the muse of the poet Charles Baudelaire; and Cora, 'the English Beauty of the French Empire' had affairs with, among (many) others, two relatives of the Emperor Napoleon III.
These women were all representatives of the 'demi-monde', that is, of that half-world midway between respectable high society and the low life of the common prostitute. 'Demi-monde' is a term suggestive of twilight, of a world of shifting appearances and shadow, where nothing is quite what it seems, a world between worlds.
This report prepared by Virginia Rounding