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Writing with a Vengeance examines the life and works of a nineteenth-century French courtesan, Céleste Vénard, later the Countess de Chabrillan. A notorious Paris courtesan, Chabrillan married into the nobility, taught herself to write (penning two series of memoirs) and, upon being widowed, wrote novels to support herself - ten, between 1857 and 1885. These novels and memoirs constitute exceptional literary and historical documents, particularly as very few sex workers before the twentieth century have left written records of their lives.
Writing with a Vengeance intertwines the courtesan's autobiographical account of the horrors of her life on the streets with that era's political, medical, and cultural discourses surrounding prostitution. Though French society both silenced and refused to pardon the prostitute, Carol Mossman's literary analysis of Chabrillan's novels contends that it is through the process of writing itself that she arrived at self-forgiveness and ultimately refashioned for her damaged self a new identity and narrative.