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Proust's Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-De-Siecle Paris

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From the author of the acclaimed Queen of Fashion--a brilliant look at the glittering world of turn-of-the-century Paris through the first in-depth study of the three women Proust used to create his supreme fictional character, the Duchesse de Guermantes. Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus; Laure de Sade, Comtesse de Adheaume de Chevigne; and Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chima From the author of the acclaimed Queen of Fashion--a brilliant look at the glittering world of turn-of-the-century Paris through the first in-depth study of the three women Proust used to create his supreme fictional character, the Duchesse de Guermantes. Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus; Laure de Sade, Comtesse de Adheaume de Chevigne; and Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay, the Comtesse Greffuhle--these were the three superstars of fin-de-siecle Parisian high society who, as Caroline Weber says, "transformed themselves, and were transformed by those around them, into living legends: paragons of elegance, nobility, and style." All well but unhappily married, these women sought freedom and fulfillment by reinventing themselves, between the 1870s and 1890s, as icons. At their fabled salons, they inspired the creativity of several generations of writers, visual artists, composers, designers, and journalists. Against a rich historical backdrop, Weber takes the reader into these women's daily lives of masked balls, hunts, dinners, court visits, nights at the opera or theater. But we see as well the loneliness, rigid social rules, and loveless, arranged marriages that constricted these women's lives. Proust, as a twenty-year-old law student in 1892, would worship them from afar, and later meet them and create his celebrated composite character for The Remembrance of Things Past.


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From the author of the acclaimed Queen of Fashion--a brilliant look at the glittering world of turn-of-the-century Paris through the first in-depth study of the three women Proust used to create his supreme fictional character, the Duchesse de Guermantes. Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus; Laure de Sade, Comtesse de Adheaume de Chevigne; and Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chima From the author of the acclaimed Queen of Fashion--a brilliant look at the glittering world of turn-of-the-century Paris through the first in-depth study of the three women Proust used to create his supreme fictional character, the Duchesse de Guermantes. Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus; Laure de Sade, Comtesse de Adheaume de Chevigne; and Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay, the Comtesse Greffuhle--these were the three superstars of fin-de-siecle Parisian high society who, as Caroline Weber says, "transformed themselves, and were transformed by those around them, into living legends: paragons of elegance, nobility, and style." All well but unhappily married, these women sought freedom and fulfillment by reinventing themselves, between the 1870s and 1890s, as icons. At their fabled salons, they inspired the creativity of several generations of writers, visual artists, composers, designers, and journalists. Against a rich historical backdrop, Weber takes the reader into these women's daily lives of masked balls, hunts, dinners, court visits, nights at the opera or theater. But we see as well the loneliness, rigid social rules, and loveless, arranged marriages that constricted these women's lives. Proust, as a twenty-year-old law student in 1892, would worship them from afar, and later meet them and create his celebrated composite character for The Remembrance of Things Past.

30 review for Proust's Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-De-Siecle Paris

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    A must for everyone interested in either the Fin-de-Siecle, or in Marcel Proust's "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" ! This big book is meticulously researched, lovingly written, and painstakingly annotated. A real work of literary detective work, in the very best sense of the word : driven by a book lover's desire to understand the genesis and background of a great work of literary fiction. If this is not a labor of (literary) love, then I don't know what is. When I started this book, I knew that E A must for everyone interested in either the Fin-de-Siecle, or in Marcel Proust's "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" ! This big book is meticulously researched, lovingly written, and painstakingly annotated. A real work of literary detective work, in the very best sense of the word : driven by a book lover's desire to understand the genesis and background of a great work of literary fiction. If this is not a labor of (literary) love, then I don't know what is. When I started this book, I knew that Elizabeth Greffulhe had been one of the models of the Duchesse de Guermantes in ALRDTP, and that Mme Straus, Veuve Bizet, had been the mother of one of Marcel Proust's high school friends. I was not aware of Laure de Chevigne as the third member of a trio of females whose society the young Marcel Proust assiduously sought to cultivate. This book goes well beyond the confines of literary anecdote : it is a both a detailed dissection of the lives, loves, parties, visits and daily interactions of the socialites and artists who inspired the characters of ALRDTP in the decades of the 1870s-1890s, and a work of thoughtful literary analysis. I had never before appreciated just how vast the chasm between an impoverished but noble-born woman and a rich heiress who had married into the aristocracy was in those days. How immutable one's social position was, and how only marriage (for women) and incredible talent or charm (for men) could nudge one up a notch or two. I had not appreciated just how fascinated, even obsessed, the young Marcel Proust was with the world of the French aristocracy, and what a tightrope those people who moved between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, had to walk. This helped me, because when I read (parts of) ALRDTP, I was often bored by the author's obsession with the minutiae of aristocratic discourse and interaction. I had thought this had been an affectation of the author; now I understand that he lived and moved in a milieu where those things really mattered. The wrong hat at the wrong social function could set one's social ascent back by years. The wrong form of address of an aristocrat whose title had recently changed due to a death in the family and the handing-down of an ancestral title, tainted one forever with the stigma of an unbcouth bourgeois. So, as far as I am concerned, this book is a very valuable aide in understanding the universe of ALRDTP. And even if you are not a Proustian, the book is enjoyable as a piece of social history. And if even social history is not your cup of tea, then the book is just very fun as a long drawn-out gossip about people whose elegant public lives belie much rougher personal lives. Genevieve Strauss cultivated a bohemian air, as the widow of Bizet, but expected her admirers to be unquestioningly in thrall. Laure de Chevigne had spent years in the protocol-ridden court of the pretender to the French throne, and found an outlet in taking lovers and using an earthy, inelegant form of French. Elizabeth Greffulhe found solace from a difficult marriage in literary and musical pretensions, and telling herself that her beauty and elegance would provide enough interest in a series of platonic relations, of which, unsurprisingly, the male partners usually tired before she did. (This is, by the way, a very different Elizabeth Greffulhe than the one described in Anne de Comte-Brissac's biography!). All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Miller

    If you enjoyed the author's Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, be sure not to miss her next book: Proust's Duchess is a fascinating social/cultural history of fin-de-siecle Paris' exclusive, aristocratic circles and salons focusing on three women who inspired Proust's character the Duchesse de Guermantes in his great work, In Search of Lost Time (aka Remembrance of Things Past). Weber describes a lost world of rigid conventions that nevertheless accepted certain type If you enjoyed the author's Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, be sure not to miss her next book: Proust's Duchess is a fascinating social/cultural history of fin-de-siecle Paris' exclusive, aristocratic circles and salons focusing on three women who inspired Proust's character the Duchesse de Guermantes in his great work, In Search of Lost Time (aka Remembrance of Things Past). Weber describes a lost world of rigid conventions that nevertheless accepted certain types of eccentricities provided they ultimately reinforced what was permissible to the "born" (i.e., those of aristocratic descent). A fascinating study by an extremely insightful writer and a must read for anyone with a serious interest in Proust or late 19th century France.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Adiyah

    I really despise this book. The description made it seem as though it would be the kind of interesting upper-class woman-centered biography/non-fiction history book that I so thoroughly enjoy, but instead it conveys the misery of the upper classes in 19th century Europe as no other book I've read has ever done. (This is why my time limit for biographies and social history typically ends at the beginning of the Victorian Age, though usually I'm willing to give French history a bit of leeway.) The I really despise this book. The description made it seem as though it would be the kind of interesting upper-class woman-centered biography/non-fiction history book that I so thoroughly enjoy, but instead it conveys the misery of the upper classes in 19th century Europe as no other book I've read has ever done. (This is why my time limit for biographies and social history typically ends at the beginning of the Victorian Age, though usually I'm willing to give French history a bit of leeway.) The three women from whom Proust drew his "inspiration" for a character (whom I will admit I've never even heard of before) famous in literature lived miserable lives. Their misery was principally because they were all women who married, tried to live morally and had no actual rights. (Courtesans of the same period had much greater freedom - and a lot more fun.) One woman was the grand-daughter of the infamous Marquis de Sade and was PROUD of this heritage, along with being a royalist snob and actually quite poor; one woman was a poor but intelligent, very well bred woman, called the most beautiful woman in France, who was despised by her wealthy but arrogant, ignorant husband; and one was a Jewish woman who held sway in intellectual circles yet was socially slighted due to the massive anti-Semitism present in French culture. I did not finish this book, and I do not plan to do so. I read primarily for enjoyment and I did not enjoy the 1/3 of the book I read. This was reality, but I don't have to drown in it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    William Dury

    7/28-“For better or worse, these women are always ciphers, never people,” p. 16. Uh oh, we’re getting off to a bad start here. Ms. Weber sees the Mme de Guermantes as a cipher? A cipher? Does she mean like the place holder zero or as unfathomable code? Oh my. I may not make the whole 500 pages. Oh my. Love this Edmund White blurb on the back cover: “...Caroline Weber knows more about the three real women Proust modeled the Duchesse de Guermantes on than the mythologizing Proust himself did.” Sure 7/28-“For better or worse, these women are always ciphers, never people,” p. 16. Uh oh, we’re getting off to a bad start here. Ms. Weber sees the Mme de Guermantes as a cipher? A cipher? Does she mean like the place holder zero or as unfathomable code? Oh my. I may not make the whole 500 pages. Oh my. Love this Edmund White blurb on the back cover: “...Caroline Weber knows more about the three real women Proust modeled the Duchesse de Guermantes on than the mythologizing Proust himself did.” Sure, stands to reason that someone who lived a hundred years later and read a bunch of stuff would know these women better than someone actually, you know, knew them. You know, when they were alive and talked and stuff. Isn’t she doing what “Marcel” did? Admiring from afar? So, like “Marcel,” she sits down to dinner with the her heroine and realizes, “OMG, what a shallow empty headed bore.” Well, she won’t and we’re fortunate that Ms. Weber is here to set the record straight. Sorry, too much caffeine. P. 17-Real world challenge? Ignoring your children is a real world challenge? Is this satire? This could be the longest review I’ve done and I may not make twenty five pages IN THE ACTUAL BOOK. P.18- “Had he really known them...”. Seriously, this stuff just writes itself. 7/29-Okay, okay, enough snark. Much of the attraction of Proust is the world he lived in. As it seems I’m no longer capable of reading him, I’ve grown fond of biographies, like this one, that depict his world. After a disastrous beginning I am worn down by Weber’s scholarship. Dear God, what commitment. Very impressive work. Seriously, you gotta be pretty smart to write something like this. 7/31-I’m at page 169, great book. Just noticed this blurb on the inside front cover slip: “Better than Proust,” Cecile David-Weil, author of “The Suitors.” Sigh. Can’t even bring myself to respond. P. 213 Foot note relates Aimery de La Rochefoucauld dilemma of dying relative and not wanting to miss a costume ball. With the exception of the ball not being costume the anecdote is identical to the the dilemma faced by the Duke de Guermantes in “The Red Shoes.” While not necessarily the source of Proust’s story, it is curious that Ms. Weber does not point out the similarity of the incidents. Perhaps being a story that could likely be told regarding any number of gentlemen, or simply so obvious, she felt there was no need to do so. 8/3 P. 420- Lovely description of physical contents of Genevieve’s salon ends with the finest, and most unexpected, Bob Dylan homage I have ever come across.* 8/7- In the end, the pettiness of the lives of these folk is depressing. This is what we do with ourselves given unlimited leisure and wealth? The “affair” between Elisabeth and Lord Lytton is particularly tedious. Small wonder Proust retreated to his cork lined room. P. 506-Even the editor went to sleep: “Whether Elisabeth conveyed these feelings to Lord Lytton is also impossible to say, although the searing pain in his urinary tract could not have been conducive to physical love.” Uh, probably not. P. 545- Weber takes Proust to task for not being political. (I know, I know.) Does not make similar political consciousness demand on the duchess models. Sexist? Hmmm. No, not if one takes art as leftist resistance. (See “Glittering Images” review). In that case M. Proust is subject to censure, being an artist, but not the duchess models, as they are not artists, at least in the traditional sense. Oh, tea’s ready, where’d I put the damn cookies? —— *7/31/2019-Just saw the runner-up. Second season of “Cheers,” a drunken Diane gets off an abbreviated verse of “Just Like A Woman.” Close, oh, very close.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    Overall this was a fascinating and well-researched dive into the glittering world of French high society in the second half of the 19th century. When I tried to read Proust about 25 years ago I ended up baffled and put off, but now that I know more about this period I might do better. The three specific women that Proust was most inspired by when creating his society figures are the focus of the book, but her canvas is broad and takes in the whole world in which they lived. The insight Weber had Overall this was a fascinating and well-researched dive into the glittering world of French high society in the second half of the 19th century. When I tried to read Proust about 25 years ago I ended up baffled and put off, but now that I know more about this period I might do better. The three specific women that Proust was most inspired by when creating his society figures are the focus of the book, but her canvas is broad and takes in the whole world in which they lived. The insight Weber had that stuck with me was: In their real lives, these women and their peers were already fictions before Proust got to them. They created images out of appearances and half-truths, and were play-acting all the time. Having said that - I didn't give five stars because of a couple of very specific things that bothered me. First - when writing about three subjects, your chronology is going to be challenging, and so I found my head spinning sometimes when one chapter followed a given character up to a certain point, and then looped back to pick up another one. Also, I think there were some gaps in the stories - although she referred multiple times to Laure de Chevigné's affairs, for example, she never actually told us about them, she only alluded to them when discussing how Élisabeth Greffuhle didn't have any. I wonder if this can be put down to editing. Second - in the introduction Weber says that previous biographers of these women confined themselves to a list of which attributes of theirs ended up in the Duchesse de Guermantes in Proust. However, then she herself goes on to basically abandon them when they moved out of Proust's life. These women were all between 35 and 45 when she ends her story, and they lived to be old ladies in a world drastically changed. I really wanted to know what became of them once their fin-de-siècle universe no longer existed except in a gigantic novel. Of course the book would have been twice as large, but that would have been fine with me! although maybe not with a publisher. Third - the index is terrible. There was a point late in the book when I wanted to go back and verify something that had happened between two of the characters much earlier, and the index was no help - I found the pages I wanted by flipping around, and they were not included in the index. Whoever made the index should have done a lot better. Now to try again to read Proust...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I'm not really sure how to review this, as I'm not the target audience. Maybe 3.5 stars? I think you need to be really into 19th century French nobility and "le monde" to enjoy this book in its entirety. I did find the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the book fascinating; it introduces us to each of the "duchesses", and I was interested to learn more about their lives. Unfortunately, at that point the book veers away from its title, in my opinion. It zooms out from the I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I'm not really sure how to review this, as I'm not the target audience. Maybe 3.5 stars? I think you need to be really into 19th century French nobility and "le monde" to enjoy this book in its entirety. I did find the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the book fascinating; it introduces us to each of the "duchesses", and I was interested to learn more about their lives. Unfortunately, at that point the book veers away from its title, in my opinion. It zooms out from the women to discuss the broader Fin-de-siecle society, especially the men connected with the "duchesses". I found these men almost uniformly boring and/or odious, and while a few paragraphs about each was necessary for context, what I got was whole chapters of excruciating detail. This book is well written, and if excruciating detail (almost 600 pages!) about this time period is what you want, you'd enjoy it. I would still say there should have been more about the duchesses and less about self-important men. (The duchesses are self-important too - but I thought they were more interesting. Also, they're who the book is supposed to be about?)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I was interested in reading about the three socialite "it" girls of turn of the century France, but much of this book focuses more on the patrons of their salons. We end up hearing more about the men in their lives, their accomplishments and eccentricities. I would have liked to hear more about the women and their relationships with their children and more personal corespondence with close family. I would recommend this to those into French nobility and turn of the century high society. This one I was interested in reading about the three socialite "it" girls of turn of the century France, but much of this book focuses more on the patrons of their salons. We end up hearing more about the men in their lives, their accomplishments and eccentricities. I would have liked to hear more about the women and their relationships with their children and more personal corespondence with close family. I would recommend this to those into French nobility and turn of the century high society. This one was a tough one for me to get into and felt like reading a textbook at times. Since it's Summer now it's time for a trashy beach read!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Audra (Unabridged Chick)

    Review to come in Historical Novel Review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ann Otto

    Caroline Weber has written about three women whose salons were the center of aristocratic Parisian society in the 1890s and early 1900s-Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus; Laure de Sade, Comtesse Adheaume de Chevigne; and Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay, Comtesse Greffulhe. More importantly to the literary world, they are the inspiration for the character of the Duchesse de Guermantes in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Fortunately, Weber provides an appendix on the timeline of French po Caroline Weber has written about three women whose salons were the center of aristocratic Parisian society in the 1890s and early 1900s-Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus; Laure de Sade, Comtesse Adheaume de Chevigne; and Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay, Comtesse Greffulhe. More importantly to the literary world, they are the inspiration for the character of the Duchesse de Guermantes in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Fortunately, Weber provides an appendix on the timeline of French political regime changes from 1792 to 1870 for those of us unfamiliar with some of the politics discussed here and in Proust which are of importance to the social class which Proust navigates during this period. Proust had a fascination with aristocratic Parisian society. At first, he was impressed, nearly obsessed, with the individuals he met, but later found that what enticed him was the image, not the person. We see them at their worst including numerous affairs and attempts to hide Jewish heritage. As Lord Lytton said toward his end, Paris had become "...a loathsome place where well-dressed women and witty men all do and say the same thing exceedingly well, but with a fatiguing repetition of ever the same type and note--brilliantly superficial." The return of the monarchy that they desired never came.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ann Olszewski

    Elegantly and beautifully written and immaculately researched, the book was both fascinating and a joy to read. If you have any interest in Proust and/or Paris in the 50 years or so before WWI, put this on your list. The book is like a triple biography of the three women who inspired the character of the Duchesse de Guermantes in Proust's In Search of Lost Time, all quite different and unique figures of their time. Elisabeth, Comtesse Greffulhe, was perhaps the grandest - beautiful, intelligent, Elegantly and beautifully written and immaculately researched, the book was both fascinating and a joy to read. If you have any interest in Proust and/or Paris in the 50 years or so before WWI, put this on your list. The book is like a triple biography of the three women who inspired the character of the Duchesse de Guermantes in Proust's In Search of Lost Time, all quite different and unique figures of their time. Elisabeth, Comtesse Greffulhe, was perhaps the grandest - beautiful, intelligent, cultured and incredibly rich, but nearly asexual except for her extreme romantic obsession for one man (who was gay, unfortunately for her). I found her story the most compelling. Laure de Sade had the eccentricity of her more famous forbearer, and essentially created her own "brand" by carefully cultivating her image and backstory. Finally, there is Genevieve Bizet Straus, widow of the famous composer, and daughter of a artistically gifted family. She lacked the nobility of the other two women (and was also Jewish - frequently a social liability of that time), but had far more bohemian credibility than them. Her salon gathered the notable men of her generation, making her a bit of a cult figure. Weber weaves their stories together seamlessly, along with their interactions with the young Proust, just coming into his literary gifts . The ending felt a bit abrupt to me, but I noted in the author's notes that she mentioned a sequel, which I hope will be written and published soon! There's much more to tell about these engaging women, as well as Proust's creative process. Easily one of the best books of 2019.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ulrich Baer

    A riveting account of the three women who served as inspiration and model for the women in Proust's great novel, In Search of Lost Time. Proust's Duchess is fast-paced yet packed with fascinating and often surprising details about three women who won a degree of independence and agency via their status as socialites. It's an absolutely (and strangely) riveting account of the women who today would rule over media and our attention spans , and who ruled the imagination of Parisians and Proust, who A riveting account of the three women who served as inspiration and model for the women in Proust's great novel, In Search of Lost Time. Proust's Duchess is fast-paced yet packed with fascinating and often surprising details about three women who won a degree of independence and agency via their status as socialites. It's an absolutely (and strangely) riveting account of the women who today would rule over media and our attention spans , and who ruled the imagination of Parisians and Proust, who immortalized them in his great book. It's a fantastic read, with astounding erudition and a natural sense for pacing, plot, and character development. Reads like a novel, but it's a non-fiction book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Hawkins-Pierot

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Beyond "just" a triple-biography of the inspirations for the Duchess de Guermantes, this is a deeply researched, beautifully written, and intelligently structured portrait of the society Proust described so well. It's easy to forget that the original readers of The Search were themselves familiar with this world - if not members of it. By providing that context, Weber provides clarity and backstory to almost every aspect of the books. I can see how this book might I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Beyond "just" a triple-biography of the inspirations for the Duchess de Guermantes, this is a deeply researched, beautifully written, and intelligently structured portrait of the society Proust described so well. It's easy to forget that the original readers of The Search were themselves familiar with this world - if not members of it. By providing that context, Weber provides clarity and backstory to almost every aspect of the books. I can see how this book might be of limited interest to those who haven't read Proust, but it's indespensible to fans.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Weber's superb research skills will inspire a look at her acknowledgements. And yes, getting access to the papers and memoribilia from the three women featured in the book clearly allowed her a window into the lives of these three ambitious models for a famous Proust character. You don't have to know about the Madeleine to find the lives of Proust's muses a fascinating look into how ambitious women excerted their personalities through the bars of their guilded cages.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    4 stars... until I did not care any more. But that is not the fault of Ms Weber but of the time and place etc. I was impressed, in fact, by how very readable this was....

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jan Daulton

    I loved this book. It is a wonderful look at 3 women in Royal circles and the "it" girls...French history that you may not know anything about. I can only imagine what it would have been like to know these women.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda

    Not sure why I should read further ... so I didn’t.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    Dense.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    If you wish to time travel back to the fin-de-siècle Paris and be submerged into the world of the "mondain", Caroline Weber's "Proust's Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-De-Siecle Paris" is one you will not want to miss. Weber's meticulous research and careful analysis brings to life the women that Proust used as his models for his character, Duchesse de Guermantes: Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus; Laure de Sade, Comtesse de Adheaume de Chevigne; and Elisabeth de If you wish to time travel back to the fin-de-siècle Paris and be submerged into the world of the "mondain", Caroline Weber's "Proust's Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-De-Siecle Paris" is one you will not want to miss. Weber's meticulous research and careful analysis brings to life the women that Proust used as his models for his character, Duchesse de Guermantes: Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus; Laure de Sade, Comtesse de Adheaume de Chevigne; and Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay, the Comtesse Greffuhle. Weber takes us through their lives, their glamour, and their unhappy marriages, in addition to their writing and letters. These women were the epitome of le creme de le creme. Each of these women were carefully targeted by Marcel Proust, who even with his family's wealth, remained an outsider looking in. Through careful skill and cultivation, he managed to enter this world and immortalize it in "In Search of Lost Time". Weber's dedication and care in researching her subjects is impressive; she includes copious journal entries, letters, writings, and poems that gives the reader much personal insight into the players. This book is incredible to read-- I felt like I was there it was so detailed, and it is a place and time where I wish I could time travel. However, once there, I was very sad. The "mondain" only cared for superficiality, the image, money, and nothing real and substantive. Their purpose in life was to perpetuate their order, shunning the recent republicanism of their nation and plotting for monarchical comebacks to keep themselves relevant. French women did not receive the right to vote until 1946, and all three of these women became the property of their husbands, and their husbands had complete control. Under such restraints, each, who had great spirit, had to find her own way to stand out and have a voice. They each vied for love and control that was denied them in their marriage, and each pushed their own personal boundaries to get the attention they craved. This way of life took them from women, who in another life could have had real potential, and made them into terribly shallow, self-absorbed people and none found real happiness. As self-important as they were and as much poetry they wrote or was written about them, none left a lasting legacy on the world beyond their scope. They are known to us today as a composite in Proust's books (which I have yet to read). Being immersed in this time period and learning about the lives of these women and Proust was very interesting, but it is not a world where I would want to stay.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    This is an entertaining, if long, triple biography of three women who inspired Proust's Duchesse of Guermantes (among others), and who provided him with opportunities to observe the French upper crust which eventually became one of the core subjects of his masterpiece, IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. As I am fascinated by most things French, I enjoyed this gossipy, impeccably researched examination of the quirks and morés of French high society. The women themselves are distinct: an unhappily married ar This is an entertaining, if long, triple biography of three women who inspired Proust's Duchesse of Guermantes (among others), and who provided him with opportunities to observe the French upper crust which eventually became one of the core subjects of his masterpiece, IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. As I am fascinated by most things French, I enjoyed this gossipy, impeccably researched examination of the quirks and morés of French high society. The women themselves are distinct: an unhappily married aristocrat, richer than God and afraid of sex, who becomes addicted to fashion and romantically obsessed with a gay Italian; the charming and shallow widow of George Bizet, remarried to a jealous offshoot of the Rothchild family; and the wife of a diplomat who mostly intrigues a circle of admirers through her wit. (Weber sort of loses track of her as the book progresses.) Proust himself hovers around the edges of this world, as do some of the other interesting figures of the time like Guy Maupassant and Lord Lytton. The book works as a good read and as insight into the making of a masterpiece.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ana Rmz

    Remarkable work of research, it goes deep in it's endeavor of revealing the secrets of the socialites who posed as models for Proust. This is a book of detailed portraits of complicated women and their social and historical context. The style is light and fun, the characters fascinating, It contains photographs of almost every important "name" or work of art mentioned in the text. The book is thoroughly annotated, and the notes are extremely enjoyable to read as well. This work denotates pure lov Remarkable work of research, it goes deep in it's endeavor of revealing the secrets of the socialites who posed as models for Proust. This is a book of detailed portraits of complicated women and their social and historical context. The style is light and fun, the characters fascinating, It contains photographs of almost every important "name" or work of art mentioned in the text. The book is thoroughly annotated, and the notes are extremely enjoyable to read as well. This work denotates pure love and craftsmanship in it's writing and groundwork. I just wanted more after I finished, I would've liked to know the details of their entire lives but that would probably have extended the book to infinity. If you're looking for a window into the Fin de siècle gratin, this is it. This is the book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This book intimated and fascinated me in equal measure. I would start only to stop because I wasn't sure I was ready to invest the time it would take to read this tome. Finally, I was sick of wimping out so I determined to read it once and for all. While I would not recommend this to the casual reader, as there is a lot in here, I am glad I stuck it out. Albeit there were plenty of captivating and frustrating parts, especially in regards to the shallowness and oftentimes emptiness that came acro This book intimated and fascinated me in equal measure. I would start only to stop because I wasn't sure I was ready to invest the time it would take to read this tome. Finally, I was sick of wimping out so I determined to read it once and for all. While I would not recommend this to the casual reader, as there is a lot in here, I am glad I stuck it out. Albeit there were plenty of captivating and frustrating parts, especially in regards to the shallowness and oftentimes emptiness that came across concerning the women's lives, the author did a fantastic job leading the reader into the rich and vivid cultural background that was the centerpiece of their lives.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hvp2

    An incredible amount of research went into this book. The insights it provides into the lives of the upper class at turn of the 19th century Paris is astounding. The book weaves history and culture together and provides a glimpse into the lives of three women who Proust studied to create one of the key characters in his work, the Duchess of Guermantes. The insights into the authors, painters and composers of the time is brings added depth to this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Micebyliz

    What a book. Just when you think you knew what actually happened at that ball you attended :) you find out that no! the carriage you rode home in did not belong to a duc :) it was some smarmy baron. oh horrors!! :) I can't even begin to review this. it's what we used to call "chucky jam full" of information you can't find in one place anywhere else. The lives these people led. holy cats. The things they did! the connections that were made that still reverberate today. it's unbelievable.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ameya Warde

    I've never actually read Proust, but I do like reading about women of that era, and this book didn't disappoint. I listened to it as an audiobook so I don't know how to spell anything since French is ridiculous, but all three women who this book followed were quite interesting in their own ways and I think the author did a good job contextualizing their lives and their attitudes within their own pasts as well as their society at large.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah Franklin

    Three stars because it is about Proust. Overwhelmed by the social details though. 600 ish pages of intrigues and clothes. Though, I wonder, 200 years from now, how writers will be combing email archives to investigate the life and times of people of interest 🧐

  26. 4 out of 5

    Milkman3367

    An eminently readable work of outstanding scholarship. The author proves on every page her facility with storytelling and makes her thesis come alive by employing vivid detail, clever phrasing and the skillful placement of the occasional mot juste.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michelle S.

    Tried this book in both audio and book formats. If you’re not familiar with 19th century French aristocratic social mores/people—you will have difficulty connecting with much of the story. Also, didn’t do a great job of showing Proust as the consummate social novelist he was. Pass on this book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Miss Antelope

    A thousand stars. Pure pleasure.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lectorem

    "Odi et amo", that would be the best description of my feelings right now. Excellent book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sharen

    Outstanding research...over 300 unabridged pages of endnotes, 29 pages of bibliography, and still, Weber's writing style is described as "playful" by reviewer Simon Sebag Montefiore. And he's right!

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