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The Book of the Courtesans: A Catalogue of Their Virtues

3.62  ·  Rating Details  ·  425 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
From Pulitzer-Prize-nominated author Susan Griffin comes an unprecedented, provocative look at the dazzling world of the West’s first independent women, whose lively liaisons brought them unspoken influence, wealth, and freedom.

While they charmed some of Europe’s most illustrious men honing their social skills as well as their sexual ones, the great courtesans gained rich
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Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 6th 2002 by Broadway (first published 2001)
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Cari
Dec 01, 2013 Cari rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, naughty, paris, 2013
There are four major problems with The Book of the Courtesans:

1) Histories should contain more history than assumptions and fictional storytelling, and this one does not. Even though Griffin does state 'one can imagine' quite a few times before wandering off into fantasy land, that doesn't excuse the fact that this is more romanticized conjecture than actual history.

2) There was no logical progression and threatened at times to get bogged down in its own confusing narrative. The way the author j
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Miriam
Jul 03, 2009 Miriam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a very interesting and well-written consideration, through case studies, of the qualities that made courtesans successful.

Not to be confused with the Susan Dunant novel published a few years later with the same cover and almost the same title.
Kathleen
Jul 23, 2010 Kathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Susan Griffin presents a fascinating and in depth look of the lives of some of the most independent, fiery and well-educated women, from times when such qualities were generally frowned upon in "respectable" females.

Though she references priestess/courtesans from greek and Roman days, and touches on personalities of the early 20th century, Griffin turns her gaze mostly to the courtesans of France from 1700 -1900. She also includes the dancer Nijinsky. . . a male courtesan, by her accounts.

Her st
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Susan
Jun 14, 2009 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Griffin focuses nearly exclusively on European, particularly French, courtesans and their world. She makes few references to the courtesans of Venice or Greece, although she highlights two American women she believes are part of the tradition: Marion Davies and Klondike Kate. The bibliography is also heavily weighted towards France.

Griffin's style is light and enchanting, almost as if she is imparting delicious gossip or advice. These are women who lived fascinating lives in great contrast to th
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Kris Larson
Way too many abstract passages on the nature of joy, or how the very atoms in a woman's body can be charming, etc. Worth reading for the snippets about the lives of actual courtesans, but she seems to have gleaned these from questionable sources, such as the autobiographies of said courtesans, without bothering to authenticate her details. I'd rather read the actual autobiographies and skip the rhetoric.
Avery Grey
Oct 11, 2014 Avery Grey rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Griffin has an impressive resume and I wonder if this book was thrown together quickly to fulfill some contractual obligation. Other than the inane "virtues" categories, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to this. The author swings wildly between decades and centuries, trying to fit the courtesans into the categories, without actually delving into who they were as women. She includes women who weren't actually courtesans (Coco Chanel, Marion Davies) without expanding on why, and is almost clin ...more
Susan
Jan 08, 2010 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fun book that felt weightier than it was. I really loved the bios of some fascinating women I wouldn't have otherwise met, along with the juicy anecdotes that will be fun at parties (if I end up at the right parties). I was not enamored with the book's organization, however. It too often felt like a stretch to match each profiled character to a particular virtue, just to keep the structure intact. If you're a not-too-serious history buff who enjoys salacious content, this will be a jo ...more
Nina Singhapakdi
I struggled with how to rate this because I went back and forth between enjoying this and finding it very taxing. The author's writing style is very flowery, but in a way that reminds me of those times the night before a paper's due and I'm trying to get up to a certain word count as quickly as possible. The book was also about 50% history and the rest of it was flowery narrative speculation. That on its own is not a horrible thing because flowery narrative speculation can still be pleasant. How ...more
Molly
Dec 29, 2012 Molly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: she-study
I hadn't expected to want to keep this book; I figured it was another read-and-give-away sort, but I was drawn into the vignettes, the quick glimpses of women Griffin deemed "courtesans," from centuries previous to the 1930s. I'm drawn to Klondike Kate and think I might do some research on her for a poem. I appreciated how well-researched the book was, without showing its cards--the writing is clean enough to feel smooth, just enough. Her organization--by "virtues," as opposed by chronology or s ...more
Kate Lowell
May 25, 2013 Kate Lowell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research
I enjoyed this. It wasn't an indepth treatment of the lives of these women, but more of an overview of how they integrated in society and how society dealt with their prescence. There were some fun stories. The idea of presenting them under the categories of the different personality characteristcs was interesting, though it inevitably lead to breaking off the discussion of a courtesan just as the topic started to become a little more deep. I found that detracted somewhat from my enjoyment of th ...more
Nathalie
Dec 28, 2007 Nathalie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition






"I was fascinated by these women who when I wrote this book were hardly known in America. And though of course I don’t recommend this choice today, I came to recognize what they did was a brilliant strategy for survival over several centuries during which the only other work open for women was prostitution or employment with so little pay and such grueling hours that it dictated an early death. I also wanted to probe the seductive skills that women have, skills that have been either trivialized
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Aphie
Mar 13, 2015 Aphie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm fascinatedby the lives of women denoted "courtesans" but this was less a series of short biographies than a chance for the author to waffle on about what she perceived as their "virtues". Which is a cute conceit and all, but was actually in credibly dull for the main part. Susan Griffin, I really don't give a rat's fart what goes on in your head; why should I? Tell me the juicy details about these women's lives!
Sarah
Apr 22, 2015 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining, albiet not very focused writing. Jumps between "virtues" but some are very historical, others more narrative. Still an entertaining read of famous "courtesans."
Jennifer Hsiao
Mar 20, 2016 Jennifer Hsiao rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Got through the first chapter and lost interest
Ee'ah
Mar 11, 2009 Ee'ah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I generally find lofty words questionable. But the method in which this book is written; granted lofty, romantically digs into the nature of the subject which is entirely a pleasure principle applied by the most basic need of the survival of women. Cunning are women indeed. Beautifully written. I love the idea of fashion being a religion & courtesans the life of the party. Though the era of courtesans has ceased to exists, their legacy is apparent and a foundation for powerful women is unden ...more
Colleen Wu
This book was only okay. I've read better books on the topic. I get what the author was trying to do with going through the virtues of the courtesans and giving examples, but it came off disjointed and felt like she was skipping all over the place. The ending just felt tacked on..."oh by the way, here's a list of what happened to everyone." The authors writing style was not bad, she just needed better organizational skills. The book just did not flow well.
Amalauna Brock
It's not surprising this book took me almost a year to read. The writing of this book is unnecessarily florid and flowery. I think the author meant it to be romantic, but it was grating.

The information in the book is interesting and perhaps in different hands could have been outstanding.

Until I looked it up, I was sure this book was written by a grad student trying to impress the professor.

At any rate! The material is interesting.
Andrea
I read this book around the same time I read Sex with Kings. While that work was good and fairly well researched, it just doesn't hold a candle to the lovely prose and witty storytelling of this work. This is an amazing history of the ways women have found to trade what for centuries was their most valued asset for money, security and power. This was an extremely enjoyable read and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Chantay
Jul 11, 2015 Chantay rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Anyone tired of the Pin-up Girl craze.
I was hoping I was getting a book describing and telling about the different courtesans of history. You get a few stories about them, but detailing the traits that described a courtesan and not exactly what was so great about them individually. At times the telling of the different women in one format and then jumping to another woman in that same paragraph left me confused. I really wanted to like this, but I just didn't.
Corinne Tr
The author tried to imply some of the qualities that the courtesans might of had. But honestly I felt that her arguments and examples,although interesting and true, were not particularly showing these qualities. Like she could of chosen any other attributes and give the same examples. Also I was kind of getting lost between the stories she was telling going back and foreword between them. Nevertheless an interesting read.
Cinnamingirl
This was somewhat intriguing, but not enough for me to bother finishing it. For one, the author likes to give really lengthy/poetic attempts at describing paintings or other images that are not actually shown in the book - or not identified enough for the reader to know which she is talking about. I feel like it would have been more readable and interesting enough to finish if there wasn't so much high-handedness.
Reader
Dec 15, 2007 Reader rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I didn't finish it. While the information here is fascinating and her premise is right up my alley, I couldn't get into this book at the time.

Possibly I was put off by the affected, flowery language, which wasn't entirely bad, as it was suited for the subject and the author's approach.

Even with a partial read, there is plenty of history I never knew. I'll take another crack at it for that reason.
Claudia
Jul 30, 2008 Claudia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
I was little disappointed in this one. I bought it because I just finished a women's study class and there were some awesome literature on courtesans. I was looking for more empowering courtesans who used their wit or intelligence to achieve. This was literally about popular courtesans; more general. Not sure if I'd read it again
Marilyn
I enjoyed the history of the Courtesans and women in general. It was slower reading for me towards the end of the book. The recap at the end of what happened to the different courtesans was interesting but only in that many died in those eras of tuberculosis and other diseases.
Marlobo
1.5 stars

Aburrido, escrito en un lenguaje denso, falto de equilibrio en los casos que aborda, lo cual hace pensar en desidia y comodidad en ka investigación. Además trabaja una peculiarísima, y confusa concepción de qué o quiénes fueron cortesanas.
Sammi
To say this book was a disappointment is an understatement . I wanted so badly to like this book when it's a topic I am so entertained by however it just fell short. The information presented was good but the writing was dull and all over the place.
Moseydotes
Aug 20, 2007 Moseydotes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While focusing on the virtues common to the courtesans, it delivers just enough information about a few specific women to make it a fulfilling read without being a full-on biography. Left me wanting to know more, exactly as a good courtesan should.
Katy
Jun 25, 2008 Katy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An alternative women's history and culture that spans the age of the Roman Empire to Coco Chanel! I read this ages ago, but love to peek in again every once in a while. It's on my shelf here in DC if you want to visit!
Stargazer
Jun 08, 2011 Stargazer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-ancestors
Although there was very little on Cora Pearl, I enjoyed this book, and it gave me more of a flavour of the Grande Boulevards than I've had previously. I didn't feel Cora was well researched, but enjoyed it all the same.
Kim
Sep 15, 2009 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
intestering perspectives
but super dry language
Griffin loves the topic and language so much she loses sight of the reader. good to skim to understand the virtues
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Susan Griffin is an award winning poet, writer, essayist and playwright who has written nineteen books, including A Chorus of Stones, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Named by Utne reader as one of the top hundred visionaries of the new millenium, she is the recipient of an Emmy for her play Voices, an NEA grant and a MacArthur Grant for Peace and Inter ...more
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