Anka Muhlstein was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1996 for her biography of Astolphe de Custine, and has twice received the History Prize of the French Academy. Her books include Balzac’s Omelette and, most recently, Monsieur Proust’s Library.
There are figures in French history who tower like monuments. Saint Louis, the Capetian king, a symbol of justice, Joan of Arc, warrior and martyr, and Henry IV, the great peacemaker, are three unmistakable paragons who personified a certain idea of French greatness. Oddly enough, Henry IV’s first wife, Marguerite …
This fog that envelops people and places explains a lack of depth and individuality in Modiano’s characters. The author, and therefore the reader, are left on the outside, giving rise to the feeling that one is always rereading the same book. This is doubtless the reason why Modiano, in spite of his remarkable talent, and a success that has never flagged in the past forty years, has not acquired the indisputable stature of very great novelists.
“I…am an odious person,” Coco Chanel declared. Not many would have begged to differ. Chanel’s tongue was quite as sharp as her shears and she treated everyone who worked for her harshly, playing one against the other. No one escaped her malice.
On February 23, 1942, Stefan Zweig and his young wife committed suicide together in Petrópolis, Brazil. The following day, the Brazilian government held a state funeral, attended by President Getulio Vargas. The news spread rapidly around the world, and the couple’s deaths were reported on the front page of The New York Times. Zweig had been one of the most renowned authors of his time, and his work had been translated into almost fifty languages. In the eyes of one of his friends, the novelist Irmgard Keun, “he belonged to those that suffered but who would not and could not hate.”
In the pecking order of the demimonde of nineteenth-century Paris, the courtesans ranked highest. Merchants of love though they were, they stood apart from the prostitutes who walked the streets, from the grisettes who only took money from their lovers, if at all, to round out their salaries as seamstresses …
To walk into the first few rooms of the exhibition “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity,” now at the Metropolitan Museum, is to allow oneself to be immersed in the sweetness of life in the Belle Époque.