Finally something juicy…

Yup, in a short, sharp change of direction, I thought a talk that dealt with sex, 19th-century Parisian social mores, sex, art, sex and Zola (in that order) might prove a valuable distraction from all the ‘worthy’ events I’ve so far attended.

And I wasn’t wrong… for two reasons -

The subject matter of the event was factual, historical and deliciously delectable, concerning as it did the forgotten story of Valtesse de la Bigne, a Parisian courtesan who, from humble beginnings, went on to inspire a painting by Manet, a novel by Zola, and a family tree plucked entirely out her own imagination (complete with specially commissioned family portraits I might add).

Plus, I t introduced first-time writer Catherine Hewitt who, based both on the book and her own self-assured presence at the event, is almost certain to become a familiar name.

Interviewed by the inimitably superb Paul Blezard, it made for a cracking end to the day, dealing as it did with the 19th-century equivalent of a Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian (as in a self-made woman who turned herself through sheer force of will and other people’s money into one of history’s great cause celebres)

A story in fact - and this is meant in no derogatory way but quite the opposite - that would easily pass muster as a Richard and Judy beach read.

As it teases in the Festival’s brochure: ‘De la Bigne (Valtesse) was born into poverty and raised in the squalid backstreets of Paris. So, how did she rise to own a small fortune, three mansions, fabulous carriages and art that was the envy of connoisseurs across Europe?’


But it would spoil your fun if I were to tell you anymore.

Suffice to say, it was a perfect event to set the stage for a few Proseccos afterwards…