The true story of the Countess Céleste de Chabrillan is a rich and tempestuous tale of an extraordinary woman.
Born in the gutters of Paris in 1824, Céleste made her name as a dancer in the Parisian dance halls, where it is said she invented the can-can. Then, as an equestrienne at the Paris hippodrome, her daring feats on horseback thrilled the crowds. However, it was as the city’s most celebrated courtesan that the young Parisian found genuine fame and fortune. Strikingly beautiful and charismatic, her lovers included famous novelists, artists and composers, not least Georges Bizet, whom, many believe, based his free and fearless Carmen on Céleste.
But when Céleste married the Count de Chabrillan, a prominent member of the French aristocracy, Parisian society was scandalised. And when the pair turned up in far off Australia, where the count served as the first French consul, Melbourne society was scandalised in turn.
Later a bestselling memoirist, novelist, playwright and librettist, the remarkable Countess Céleste de Chabrillan was, indeed, a woman far ahead of her time.
About the Author
Roland Perry OAM is one of Australia's best-known authors. His books include The Don, the definitive biography of Sir Donald Bradman, Bradman's Invincibles, The Changi Brownlow, The Australian Light Horse, Horrie The War Dog and Bill The Bastard. Celeste is his 30th book.
Review by Caroline Baum
When I started reading this biography of Countess Céleste de Chabrillan I kept doing a double-take, thinking I was reading fiction as it was so full of improbable episodes of scandal, audacity and melodrama. This is a juicy account of the life of a woman whose appetites and daring led her to become one of France’s most celebrated courtesans, when such women wielded tremendous power and were the celebrities du jour.
Along the way she may have invented the can-can. The darling of the dance halls also takes part in death-defying chariot races, has an affair with one of France’s most celebrated writers, and when she’s shocked the seemingly unshockable Parisian society, she does it all again in Melbourne of all places. A riotous romp.