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Word Count: 871
Spice girls without the moralsCourtesansSusan GriffinMacmillan 1899 pp320As a term of endearment les biches is not quite as So Solid Crew as it sounds None the less it is one of many memorable mostly French slang terms and euphemisms for courtesans to be gleaned from the glossary in Susan Griffins Courtesans subtitled A Catalogue of Their Virtues Other particular favourites include camlias cocottes consignia demi-castor femmes lgres tendresses grandes horizontales mangeuses dhommes literally maneaters and best of all Les Agenouilles - the kneeling ones And yes of course I cheated with consignia which everybody knows its really Latin for Post Office - but I almost got away with it nonThough chock-full of shimmering facts about a particularly captivating breed of early celebrity in terms of their fame were talking two parts Victoria Beckham to one part Naomi Campbell with a soupon of Madonna thrown in for good measure Griffin goes out of her way to scupper the readers interest in these wildly glamorous and wily women with the morals of alley cats and the wardrobes of princesses plus all the slavering souls who fell under their spells by adopting a style so wince-makingly arch it beggars beliefInstead of straightforwardly telling the stories of such fabled mistresses as Madame du Barry La Pompadour Marion Davies and Sarah Bernhardt Griffin devotes each chapter to the perceived virtues of a generic courtesan Thus we kick off with Timing and end up with Charm skipping merrily via Beauty Cheek Brilliance Gaiety and GraceShe then further divides these into sub-chapterlets with titles like An Outrageous Proposal What Lanthlme demanded from Misia Sert or How Alice Ozy Made the Nights Last Pleasure Seem Like a Beginning This is clearly meant to be cute but swiftly turns Courtesans from a potentially entertaining historical study into a flibbertigibbet of a book moistly pouting with fans a-flutter and eyelashes a-batterStill if youre prepared to wade through paragraphs such as Just as Venus emerged from
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