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- Published on Amazon.com
Victorine Laurent falls into a particular class of Parisian women, at least at the beginning of her association with Impressionist Edouard Manet in 1862, who make their living from the generosity of gentlemen protectors. Of a superior class than streetwalker, but not as elevated as a courtesan, Victorine is a lorette, her training ground the corps de ballet, where women are chosen for their beauty and suitability as paramours, rather than dancing skills. Penuriously raised by cruel and indifferent aunts, Victorine learns early that beauty is her only weapon; she has a limited time to take advantage of her physical gifts. Drawn to the inherent elegance of well-appointed gentlemen, ever on the lookout for a suitable protector, Victorine first meets the artist Degas, then Manet, for whom she agrees to pose.
As Manet's nude model for "Olympia", Victorine will make her fortune, the doors of society thrown open for her, but at the beginning of her quest for security, she is guided by pragmatism, self-interest and the obvious rewards offered by gentlemen of means. Manet and his disciples are the new face of Parisian art, upsetting the status quo with their vision; as the artist's protégé, Victorine attains cache, and with it, unexpected opportunity. At first, genteel society is shocked by Manet's depictions of his muse, but soon Victorine is the object of much speculation, including offers for patronage. Keeping her distance from Manet, Victorine refuses to be his lover, although she has no such qualms with those who would woo her, accepting finally a grand home from Baron Rothschild. Eventually, Victorine meets the one man who will refuse to tolerate her relationship as Manet's model; Philippe de Lyon, close advisor to Emperor Louis Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I and vice-president of the legislative body, Philippe demands exclusivity, nurturing grand schemes with Victorine as his unwitting pawn.
Her notoriety grows, as does Philippe's influence, Victorine introduced to court and seduced by men of great repute, basking in "ambition and rivalry, the blood sport of imperial Paris". Yet Victorine fails to find comfort in financial security or the glamour of her position, the court rife with intrigue and the whispers of war with Prussia. Drawn to Manet as butterfly to flame, Victorine cannot deny the attraction they have so skillfully avoided, each pursuing their goals as the country turns against the monarchy once again. By 1870, Paris is caught in the onslaught of Prussian might and superior arms. France, defeated, sues for peace. Betrayed and unjustly imprisoned, Victorine learns the harsh lessons of power and greed, surviving only by her wits and Manet's assistance.
Creating her heroine from a combination of historical characters during the era, Finerman recreates a believable Paris, displaying the beauty that so captured the imagination of Parisians, the elegant salons, the extravagance and decadence of the court of Louis Napoleon and his empress, Eugenie, wealthy men who parade their mistresses in society, the rising ire of the working class toward a ruling class that ignores their struggles and the enlightened artists and writers inspired to make their mark on the world stage. The real actors all but lost to history, Manet's gorgeous nude, "Olympia", survives, a gift to future generations. Luan Gaines/2007.