I have never deceived anybody for I have never belonged to anybody. My independence was all my fortune, and I have known no other happiness; and it is still what attaches me to life. – Cora Pearl
Cora Pearl was a famous French demimonde or courtesan in 19th Century France during the Second French Empire under the rule of Napoléon III.(1) A demi-monde is known for their hedonistic and flagrant lifestyle, as well as their sexual promiscuity – a life that was characterised by its rejection of the 19th century Victorian bourgeois values.(2) Cora enjoyed great notoriety, but it was the very things that she was well known for (mainly her ostentatious wealth) that led to her downfall after the Second French Empire.
What you may or may not know is that “Cora Pearl” is also a popular Covent Garden eatery in London that opened in 2018. The Cora Pearl Suite at the Grosvenor Hotel (also in London) aptly named the courtesan’s boudoir was also recently opened. Cora Pearl was turned away from the Grosvenor Hotel because of her scandalous reputation. This social slight was the beginning of the end for Cora Pearl who ended up dying penniless after amassing an enormous fortune which she spent on clothes, gambling and several houses.(3)
There are many entries on Cora Pearl by reputable sources, but all have difficulty discerning the facts about her life. Like many courtesans who were born in the 19th Century, she was a master of marketing and PR spin. “The date and place of her birth are uncertain…her birth name to is uncertain.”(4) What we do know is that her father was a cellist and composer, Frederick Nicholas Crouch. Plagued by debt, he deserted his family and made his way to America in 1849.(5) Around this time Cora was sent to boarding school in France where she was taught etiquette and French and engaged in numerous lesbian affairs.(6) In 1855, Cora returned to England where she lived with her maternal grandmother and got a job as a milliner’s assistant selling hats.(7)
How Cora entered prostitution and later became a courtesan is also a matter of conjecture. At the peak of her power and wealth, she was the “Queen of Parisian Courtesans” and was a master of theatrics and performance. She is well known for her antics at lavish parties where she would usually perform naked. One story is that Cora served herself naked on a silver platter. Her homes, jewellery, horse and clothes were worth millions of pounds.(8)
She ended up destitute and living in a boarding house after selling off the last of her houses before her forties. She tried to rejuvenate her finances by writing her memoirs, but her book was not a success as she had discretely disguised essential names. She died young of intestinal cancer on July 8th, 1886. Her funeral was paid for by former suitors.(9)
(3),(4),(7) Wikipedia contributors, “Cora Pearl,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cora_Pearl&oldid=854629657 (accessed October 6, 2018).
(2) Wikipedia contributors, “Demimonde,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Demimonde&oldid=863996610 (accessed October 18, 2018).
(6) McNeill, Maggie, “The Honest Courtesan” https://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/cora-pearl/ (accessed October 6th, 2018)
(1), “Cora Pearl 1860’s” Costume Cocktail,
https://www.costumecocktail.com/2015/12/14/cora-pearl-1860s/ (accessed October 17th, 2018)
(5),(8),(9)Conliffe, Ciaran, “Cora Pearl Parisian Courtesan,” Headstuff,
https://www.headstuff.org/culture/history/cora-pearl-parisian-courtesan/ (accessed October 18th, 2018)