After quitting her job, Holdforth travels to Paris and spends three weeks seeking out the haunts and houses of some of its most famous women. And Holdforth doesn’t restrict herself to French women. She starts with Nancy Mitford, who left England (and her husband) for Paris.
Throughout the book, Holdforth focuses on women who sought their own pleasure, whether pleasure of the mind or flesh or spirit. She discusses famous courtesans, such as Madame de Pompadour (mistress of Louis XV) and Pamela Harriman (US ambassador to France, although Holdforth argues that she was also a courtesan). There is a chapter devoted to salonnieres, such as Gertrude Stein, Madame du Deffand and Germaine deStael, whose salons expected both men and women to discuss art, literature and politics with “wit and intelligence.” Other women who make an appearance in the book include Coco Chanel, Josephine Bonaparte, Colette, George Sand and Edith Wharton.
Holdforth obviously holds these women in high esteem for acting on their desires. She argues that French women have always been powerful, and very adult. The older French women become, the more they are respected. In fact, she is quite dismissive of American women, whom she calls childlike. While I wasn’t quite sold on some of her arguments (occasionally, it seems as if sexual power is being equated with feminism, although that might just be me), the book is fascinating as it features women who (for the most part) led their lives as they wanted to. Also, these women were smart and accomplished. It was certainly fascinating to read about their accomplishments. Therefore, I’m counting this one towards the Women Unbound Reading Challenge.
I saw this book on Book Bath’s blog, so I owe her a thank you for the introduction!
And if there are any FTC spies out there, I bought the book with my very own money.