La Grande Therese : The Greatest Scandal of the Century

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9780060196226: La Grande Therese : The Greatest Scandal of the Century

La Grande Thérèse is the true story of a scandal that nearly destroyed the French Third Republic.

A hundred years ago Thérèse Humbert was one of the most powerful women in France; her salon was the center of Parisian life, and her wealth--as the assumed illegitimate daughter of an American billionaire--was fabled. She lived life on a grand scale and was the toast of Paris. But Thérèse was not who she claimed to be. Her lifestyle, her history, and, most important, her fortune--all were an elaborate hoax. When her con was finally exposed, thousands of small investors and creditors, including the in-laws of the artist Henri Matisse, were completely ruined. Thérèse was tried and sentenced to five years' hard labor. When she was released from prison, she vanished, and the fantastic story of her life was mostly hushed up, because it has disgraced so many wealthy and important people.

Hilary Spurling has done meticulous research into the life of Thérèse Humbert. La Grand Thérèse is the remarkable story of the spectacular rise and fall of a French peasant girl with an extraordinary imagination and irresistible powers of persuasion.

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Review:

Hilary Spurling's masterful biography The Unknown Matisse mentioned the little-known story of Thérèse Humbert, the woman who brought financial disgrace on the great artist's family. In La Grande Thérèse, she devotes an entire book--slim though it is--to this fascinating subject. A hundred years ago the fabulously wealthy Thérèse Humbert and her husband lived like royalty on a fashionable street in Paris, where they employed Matisse's parents-in-law as servants. Thérèse let it be known that she had had an even wealthier American lover, and she paid for her extravagant lifestyle by borrowing money against the legacy he'd left her. But his children disputed the will, she claimed, and the subsequent lawsuits dragged on for years. Meanwhile the Humberts lived it up, socializing with the great and the good and running up debts all the while. In this wittily piquant morality tale, Spurling describes the spectacular rise and fall of a cunning French peasant girl with a wicked imagination and irresistible powers of persuasion. Thérèse died in disgrace and without a penny, but her hoax had fooled an entire society. As told by Spurling, her story is as rich and entertaining as anything by Dickens or Zola. --Lilian Pizzichini

About the Author:

Hilary Spurling was born in England, was educated at Somerville College, Oxford, and lives in London. She is also the author of The Unknown Matisse, which was published to universal acclaim and selected in 1998 by the New York Times as one of the Notable Books of the Year.

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