08. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross , 336 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/30/2013

Maude Pichon ran away from her home in Northern France to avoid a miserable marriage. She had hoped things would be better in Paris. After searching for work endlessly, Maude stumbles upon an ad seeking women for easy work with “propriety guaranteed”. When she arrives at her potential employers, she is thrown into a lineup with no indication of what her job will entail. She is completely shocked when she realizes that this job is not one that involves any sort of labor. It is a job where she must play the role of an ugly sidekick to a wealthy socialite and Maude is immediately singled out to work with a countess’s daughter. She later discovers that she has been hired as a “repoussoir”; a “foil” to beauty. M. Durandeau has made an exceptional living by hiring out unattractive women to wealthy families to make the women in said families appear more attractive to their equally wealthy peers. Maude has been hired to accompany a young debutante named Isabelle, but her employment has the unusual catch of not being able to tell Isabelle what she really is. Isabelle is led to believe that Maude is a distant cousin from Normandy, hence her lack of refinement and Parisian fashion sense. As time goes on, Maude realizes that keeping this particular secret from Isabelle is going to be harder than she thought as the two become friends. How long can Maude continue to maintain the charade?
I truly enjoyed immersing myself in the Belle Epoque age of Paris. Elizabeth Ross certainly has an eye for period detail, which makes this story stand out. The idea of the “repoussior” evidently came from an Emile Zola short story, but works exceptionally well in this novel even if “repoussoirs” didn’t really exist. It definitely makes for an interesting premise and easily leads to contemplation about the nature of beauty and privilege.

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