|Born Emma Elizabeth Crouch either in Plymouth in 1842 or in London in 1835, her father was a cellist and composer. She began her life of prostitution in London but soon settled in Paris, where she adopted the name Cora Pearl.
Of all the grandes horizontales, she was arguably the most famous. During her lifetime she was the acknowledged Queen of the Paris courtesans. Her lovers, all wealthy noblemen, she called her ‘chain of gold.’ By the late 1860s, she owned several houses, stables, the finest wardrobe and extravagant jewellery. A British report stated that her bill for lingerie from one Parisian supplier came to more than £18,000. During her career she made and spent literally millions of francs. Her lovers included, but were by no means confined to, Prince Willem, son of the King of the Netherlands; Prince Achille Murat, grandson of Joachim Murat; the duc de Morny, the Emperor’s half-brother; and Prince Napoléon, the Emperor’s cousin. The last mentioned of these bought her two homes in Paris and maintained her financially until 1874. During the Siege of Paris she turned her sumptuous town house into a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Her career came to an abrupt end when one of her more ardent suitors shot himself on her doorstep. Although seriously injured, he survived and the incident would only have enhanced her reputation, but it became known that rather than summon help, Cora had shut the front door and gone to bed. Reports of her callousness spread quickly, after which no man of wealth wanted anything to do with her.
In 1982 her memoirs were discovered in the hands of a German collector and were published the following year under the title The Memoirs of Cora Pearl: The Erotic Reminiscences of a Flamboyant 19th Century Courtesan. This salacious and titillating document discussed – in the most graphic detail – the sexual prowess and tastes of her lovers, both famous and humble. One of the most memorable scenes describes her presentation at dinner on a dish, naked and adorned with whipped cream.
By 1886, desperately ill with intestinal cancer, she was forced to move into a shabby boarding house. She died there on 8 July 1886.
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