Sunday, November 28, 2010

From Courtesan to Countess

Celeste de Chabrillan led a long and amazing life. She rose from the bottom - a poor, working-class district of Paris - to marry a nobleman. During her youth she suffered abuse at the hands of her mother's boyfriends, became a prostitute, and even spent time in prison. In spite of all this, she managed to educate herself and write novels, memoirs, and plays. She even spent time in Australia because her husband became the French Consul here.

Celeste, the illegitimate daughter of milliners, endured her father's death at only 6 years old. Born in Paris in 1824, she grew up in a very poor area of Paris. Her mother's new lover beat both of them and the mother ended up in hospital at one stage. Advised to flee, she and Celeste walked to Lyon! The boyfriend unfortunately followed them, but he was killed in an attempted robbery.

They returned to Paris and formed a close bond. Young Celeste became apprenticed as a seamstress at 11 and an embroiderer at 14. Unfortunately, her mother couldn't resist bad men and the mother's second boyfriend attempted to rape Celeste. She fled and was given refuge in a brothel. This was raided and Celeste went to prison.

Her mother eventually rescued her but she didn't believe Celeste's story. The relationship became fraught. Celeste wanted to become a prostitute at 16 and register herself as one. The mother refused at first but she eventually relented, which is very odd.

Poor Celeste had a terrible time and found it difficult to leave. The madams of the brothels indebted the girls to keep them in line. Celeste left but life on the streets was, of course, worse.

Celeste and the Count

The beautiful Celeste pulled herself off the streets and became a dancer at La Mobille dance hall. She also learned to be an equestrienne and worked at the Hippodrome. She must have had quite a way with men because she attracted a Dutch baron and a Russian prince.

Unfortunately, she was badly injured at the Hippodrome and feared for her future. She relates that the Count 'rescued' her. She met the handsome playboy at the Cafe des Anglais, a restaurant frequented by the 'demi-monde'. Lacking money, the young courtesan decided to write her memoirs but she was to bitterly regret this.

Count Alexander de Chabrillan was a heavy gambler and needed to 'marry a dowry'. He couldn't find one, however, and fell more and more in love with Celeste. She refused to marry him. His family sent him to Australia to distance him from this unsuitable woman. He wrote loving letters and Celeste relented when he returned. This put his family into a rage so the couple fled to London where they married.

Life in Melbourne

Celeste didn't have a good time in Australia and longed to go back to Paris. She had attempted to have the publication of her memoirs stopped but word had even reached Australia. She found herself ostracised by snobbish colonial ladies who regarded her as a harlot.

The start of her stay here was ominous. After travelling out on the Croesus, she had to walk for two hours, her feet ankle-deep in mud, to reach their wooden hut in St.Kilda. She had to pay a fortune for a simple meal of ham and eggs on the way.

Her husband involved himself in the life of the colony. The couple held balls, attended social events, and Chabrillan presented books to the Public Library. He was well-liked here, but got into trouble for protecting a Frenchman involved in a duel. Celeste turned to writing further memoirs and novels, and educated herself with the help of a dictionary.

Celeste eventually returned but her husband died here. He was given a notable funeral. She bought a country property near Paris and held a Salon attended by such people as Garibaldi and Gambetta. She also acted and even managed a theatre. She even founded a home for poor girls. She also wrote more novels during the 1870's and 1880's. Unfortunately, she fell into poverty again but she was eventually granted a pension. Celeste de Chabrillan died at 85.

1 comment:

Kittie Howard said...

What an incredible rags to riches to rags story! I'm never quite sure how women like Celeste manage to survive a brothel and go on to become, well, sorta like society ladies, then, knowing what awaits them, fall down the laddar again. It all makes for an intriguing read, however. Thank you!

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