In the middle of the 1800s, Cora Pearl served herself nude at dinner parties in Paris. As a sought-after courtesan, her shocking behavior shocked society and became a symbol of the French Second Empire’s debauchery. The belle of the demimonde, on the other hand, came from humble English ancestry. Cora Pearl was probably born around 1835 in Portsmouth, England, as Emma Elizabeth Crouch. However, in her memoir, she claimed to have been born in 1842, claiming to have been seven years younger.
Frederick Nicholas Crouch, her father, was a well-known songwriter who left the family and moved to the United States. He would later marry multiple times and reportedly had 20 children. In the meantime, Emma’s mother got married to a man she didn’t get along with. She and her siblings were sent to a boarding school in France, where she learned the language and manners of the country. In the wake of tutoring, she moved in with her grandma in London and accepted a position as a milliner’s colleague, which wore her out. Young Emma met a random man after work and was taken advantage of, according to a story that may be apocryphal. This was the turning point in her life.
In this story, Emma expected to see a woman when she left the workshop. All things being equal, she met a man who proposed to get her cakes. She was seduced by the man, who took her to a gin palace, gave her drinks, and left her a 5 pound note on her bedside table, which she later discovered. While it sounds doubtful, it wasn’t unimaginable in nineteenth century London. It’s also possible that the boyfriend of Emma’s mother had acted very inappropriately with the child.
Regardless, Emma experienced a turning point. She believed she was unable to go back to her grandmother’s house. Instead, she moved into a room in Covent Garden and began chatting with gentleman callers, one of whom was Robert Bignell, who owned the notorious Argyll Rooms brothel. She moved into Argyll and went to Paris several times with Bignell. She changed her name to Cora Pearl after falling in love with the City of Light and deciding to remain there.
Midway through the 19th century, Second Empire Paris was the cultural capital of the world, a melting pot of aspiring poets, artists, musicians, and other eccentrics.
Cora Pearl was a sensation as a courtesan, captivating patrons with her small waist and abundant bosom. She was eager, ecstatic, and unafraid to express her passion. Victor Massena, Duke of Rivoli, was the first of her “protectors,” as they were known. He bought her her first horse, lavished her with money and gifts, and financed her trips to gambling dens. The Prince of Orange, heir to the Dutch throne, was one of her many influential lovers; The Duke of Morny, half-brother of Napoleon III; and his cousin Napoleon Joseph Charles Paul, also referred to as Prince Jerome Napoleon, with whom she dated for the longest time and dated for the most money.
Due to her love of horses, Cora rose to fame. She had as many as sixty of them and a fleet of carriages at one point. It is said that she was the model for courtesans in the Bois de Boulogne to ride in carriages. She had two homes in Paris and a chateau in the country when she was most famous.
Due to her scandalously sexy behavior, Cora Pearl rose to prominence as one of the most well-known Parisian courtesans of her time. She would bathe in champagne or dance in her birthday suit in front of her guests. She reportedly served extravagant meals, one of which she allegedly served naked on a silver platter. The best tailors in the country made her extravagant lingerie and haute couture dresses. She used expensive perfume and the best jewelry. She was an avid gambler. Ka-ching!
Wearing nothing but strategically placed diamonds, she made a brief foray into theater, but neither were her efforts taken seriously nor were they applauded.
However, the end of an era was getting closer. Frivolous gatherings were curtailed by the Franco-Prussian War. Cora returned momentarily to Britain with Sovereign Jerome Napoleon, yet she was gotten some distance from Grosvenor Inn, given her standing. She returned to Paris to discover that the once-effervescent city had been taken over by conservative austerity. She had fewer wealthy callers to pay her bills, and her extravagant behavior was now viewed as gauche.
Alexandre Duval, a wealthy but erratic young man ten years her junior, became obsessed with Cora Pearl. Because she needed his money, she put up with him for a while, but when he became too irrational, she dumped him. Duval, who had been cheated on, showed up at her door with a gun, tried to break into her house, and in the fight that ensued, he was able to kill himself.
Gossips claimed that Cora shut the door and left him bleeding outside. According to the New York Times, she actually brought him in and treated his injuries. Cora Pearl’s already fragile reputation was shattered, but Duval fully recovered.
Her life began to spiral downward once she turned 40. She was cut off by Prince Jerome Napoleon, who had been paying her bills. Throughout the following ten years, she gradually auctions off resources step by step — the houses, the horses, the jewelry. She was living in a boarding house and had nothing left by 1885.
Cora Pearl was very close to passing away. She published her memoir in 1886, but it was deemed dull and quickly disappeared due to the fact that she downplayed her raunchy activities and hid the names of her patrons. She had intestinal cancer, which she didn’t know about but would kill her in a year. On July 8, 1886, she died. The cost of her burial and funeral was anonymously covered by one of her former lovers. She was covered in Batignolles Burial ground in Paris, however there is no grave marker. She was 51.