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The Book of the Courtesans


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About the Author

The author of more than twenty books, Susan Griffin has won dozens of awards for her work as a feminist, poet, writer, essayist, playwright, and filmmaker. Her book A Chorus of Stones was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The recipient of an Emmy, a MacArthur Grant, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, she is a frequent contributor to Ms. magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and numerous other publications. She lives in Berkeley, California.


Scholars and general readers alike will welcome this fascinating and highly original book by a prolific and award-winning feminist author. Using the insights of women's history, Griffin (What Her Body Thought) creatively demonstrates the interplay between sex and power as she traces the tradition of the courtesan from ancient Greece to its demise early in the 20th century. Rather than adhere to a standard chronological narrative, however, she organizes her tale around key virtues displayed by the famed courtesans of the past beauty, charm, wit, grace, and brilliance among them. She demonstrates how courtesans used their talents to gain more power and independence than women of any class until well into the 20th century. Included here are engrossing biographical details and vignettes about figures well known (Madame de Pompadour, Madame du Barry, Lola Montez) and not so well known (Celeste Venard, Harriet Wilson, Tullia D'Aragona, Ninon de Lenclos). Griffin's tone is one of admiration and respect. Highly recommended. Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Provocative and compelling, filled with Susan Griffin's typically wise and beautiful writing, The Book of The Courtesans rescues from near oblivian some of history's most outrageous and audacious women."
--Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple

Hard on the heels of the film Moulin Rouge comes this idiosyncratic meditation on that 18th- and 19th-century curiosity, the courtesan, the woman who, though usually from limited means, parlayed her beauty, sexuality and talent into a position of luxury and celebrity as the mistress of one or several men of means. Readers looking for a sober social history of the world portrayed in the film will not find it here, for Griffin's approach is almost as kaleidoscopic as the movie's. In a series of brief chapters, each devoted to a particular "virtue," that is, a talent central to the courtesan's success (such as "Gaiety," "Charm," "Cheek"), feminist critic, playwright and poet Griffin (What Her Body Thought; Women and Nature; etc.) mines the memoirs of her subjects for stories illustrating their ability to vault beyond the constraints of their age and gender. Some of her courtesans have slipped into obscurity; some are remembered chiefly for their associations with artists and eminent men; a few, like Colette and Chanel, achieved fame in a different endeavor. At least one, Nijinsky, was not a woman at all. What they all share, however, and what Griffin admires in them, is the daring to transgress the boundaries of a rigid code of prudery and hypocrisy and so exchange the poverty and toil they were condemned to at birth for champagne, diamonds and extraordinary lingerie. Griffin's writing is lively, and her stories are engaging. Agent, Katinka Matson. (Sept. 11) Forecast: An acclaimed writer A Chorus of Stones was a Pulitzer Prize finalist Griffin should garner respectable review coverage for this subject of timeless interest. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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