During the course of the nineteenth century, a small group of women rose from impoverished obscurity to positions of great power, independence, and wealth. In doing so they took control of their lives -- and those of other people -- and made the world do their will.
Extremely accomplished, well-educated, and unusually literate, courtesans exerted an incredible influence as leaders of society. They were not received at court, but inhabited their own parallel world -- the demimonde -- complete with its own hierarchies, etiquette, and protocol. They were queens of fashion, linguists, musicians, accomplished at political intrigue, and, of course, possessors of great erotic gifts. Even to be seen in public with one of the great courtesans was a much-envied achievement.