Maybe it’s all those postcards of the Eiffel Tower, maybe it comes of watching Gigi at a susceptible age, but there’s just something about Belle Epoque Paris.
Even though The English Wife is set largely in New York and London, I couldn’t resist sending my characters on a little excursion to Paris, where they got to picnic in the Jardin des Tuileries and visit the first ever exhibition of the brand new Photo-Club de Paris.
Do you also like to vacation in late 19th century Paris?
If you like books set in Belle Epoque Paris, you’ll probably like…
— Guy de Maupassant’s Bel-Ami, a dark story of social ambition about a personable man who sleeps and marries his way up in fin de siecle Paris (now also a movie with Kristin Scott Thomas, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, and that guy from Twilight);
— Proust’s Swann’s Way— because, really, how can we talk about the Belle Epoque without including Proust?
— Edith Wharton’s Madame De Treymes, an American eye’s view of the gratin (or upper class) of Belle Epoque Paris, told through the lens of the unhappy marriage of a New Yorker to a French aristocrat;
— M.J. Rose’s The Witch of Painted Sorrows, in which a young woman flees an unhappy marriage in New York to seek refuge with her grandmother, once a notable Paris courtesan, and to take classes with Moreau at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. But as she explores her artistic talent and family history, she finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into supernatural forces beyond her control;
— Alyson Richman’s The Velvet Hours. Remember that Paris apartment that was closed up during World War II and rediscovered, untouched, in 2016? The Velvet Hours goes back and forth between the life of the original owner of the apartment, Marthe de Florian, a Belle Epoque courtesan, and her granddaughter’s experiences on the eve of World War II;
— Michelle Gable’s A Paris Apartment, also inspired by that same apartment, but going back and forth between Marthe de Florian in the late 19th century and a Sotheby’s employee in the present day;
— Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Painted Girls, inspired by Degas’s painting, “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen”, about two sisters struggling to survive in 1880s Paris;
— Carole Nelson Douglas’s Chapel Noir. This is several books along in Carole Nelson Douglas’s amazing Irene Adler series (which began with Good Night Mr. Holmes, later reissued as The Adventuress), but you can certainly read it by itself. Irene Adler and her companion, Nell, now living in the suburbs of Paris, are called in to examine a grisly murder at a brothel patronized by the Prince of Wales, leading them into an investigation that takes them to the darkest corners of Paris;
— Madeleine Brent’s A Heritage of Shadows, which takes place in both Paris and London in the 1890s, involving Paris’s seedy underworld and one young woman caught up in it (very much a 1980s period piece!);
— Claude Izner’s Victor Legris mysteries in which a young bookseller finds himself drawn into solving murders in 1890s Paris;
— and, of course, that gem among made-for-TV Barbara Cartland movies, The Flame is Love, which manages to combine every possible cliche about fin de siecle Paris, including a spot of diabolism.
I have a feeling I’ve missed several very obvious books– and many that aren’t obvious at all. Help! What are your favorite novels set in Belle Epoque Paris?