Writing with a Vengeance: The Countess de Chabrillan's Rise from Prostitution
Published: October 2009© 2009
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 224 Pages
Dimensions: 6.18 x 9.32
224 Pages, 6.18 x 9.32 x 0.82 in
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Writing with a Vengeance examines the life and works of a nineteenth-century French courtesan, Céleste Vénard, later the Countess de Chabrillan. A notorious Paris courtesan, Chabrillan married into the nobility, taught herself to write (penning two series of memoirs) and, upon being widowed, wrote novels to support herself - ten, between 1857 and 1885. These novels and memoirs constitute exceptional literary and historical documents, particularly as very few sex workers before the twentieth century have left written records of their lives.
Writing with a Vengeance intertwines the courtesan's autobiographical account of the horrors of her life on the streets with that era's political, medical, and cultural discourses surrounding prostitution. Though French society both silenced and refused to pardon the prostitute, Carol Mossman's literary analysis of Chabrillan's novels contends that it is through the process of writing itself that she arrived at self-forgiveness and ultimately refashioned for her damaged self a new identity and narrative.
Fascinating study of the life and times of the Countess de Chabrillan Mossman is to be applauded for writing an account of a woman who was not destroyed by the deviant aspects of her life. The Countess Chabrillan, rather than colluding with those forms of misogynist fiction that preferred to condemn the prostitute, was a testament to the ability of women to demonstrate their many possible realities. Mary Evans, French Studies, vol 65:04:2011
‘In this vibrantly written book, Mossman introduces readers to both a fascinating historical figure and an unexplored female author who offers an important vantage point through which to consider key questions in nineteenth-century French history and literature… In recounting Chabriillan’s unfamiliar story, Mossman succeeds in introducing readers to a fascinating character whose life offers myriad windows into crucial axes of nineteenth-century culture.’
Rachel Mesch, H-France Review March 2011
‘The biographical, historical, and literary contexts Mossman provides not only create a rich backdrop for her main subject of study, but they also serve as a broader introduction to the period, such that Writing with Vengeance is supremely accessible, suitable even for undergraduates or others with little prior familiarity with the period.’ Briana Lewis, Nineteenth-Century French Studies, vol 41:1-2:2012-2013