Chabrillan, Céleste de (1824–1909)

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Chabrillan, Céleste de (1824–1909)

Parisian-born dancer, courtesan, novelist and autobiographer whose five volumes of memoirs scandalized France. Name variations: Comtesse de Moreton de Chabrillan; Celeste or Céleste Mogador, Mme Mogador, La Mogador. Born Céleste Vénard in Paris, France, on December 27, 1824; died in 1909; married Lionel, Comte de Chabrillan, around 1853.

Born in Paris in 1824, Céleste de Chabrillan was the daughter of working-class parents. Her father died when she was young, and she was raped in adolescence by one of her mother's suitors. When her mother remarried, Céleste was "rescued" from a miserable life by a Parisian prostitute. "On Sept 26 at 9 pm," according to her own account, she assumed that profession, taking the name Madame Mogador. Though a large woman with a pockmarked face, Céleste was known for her charm and had great success as a courtesan. By 1846, now known as the Queen of the Prado, she was also working as an actress at the Variétés and as an equestrian at the Hippodrome circus.

Around 1853, Céleste married the Comte de Chabrillan who had made his fortune in the gold fields of Australia in 1852. In 1853–54, her memoirs titled Adieux au Monde (Goodbye World) appeared in France. The five volumes, describing her life as a courtesan, caused a sensation. Despite her intentions to portray the world of prostitution as a condemnation of vice, the volumes were considered scandalous and were at first banned. This only added to the mystique, and Adieux au Monde became a bestseller, bringing her notoriety.

Around 1854, the count was made a semi-official at the French Consulate in Melbourne, and the couple moved to Australia to start life anew. Melbourne society, however, was aware of her writings and spurned the pair. Miserable, Céleste returned to Paris alone in 1856. Her memoirs were reissued in 1858 against her will (she wanted to spare her husband further embarrassment) and seized once more.

Following a serious illness, and in desperate need of money, Céleste tried her hand at novels. Les Voleurs d'Or (1857) concerned the gold-rush days in Victoria. (Translated by Lucy and Caroline Moorehead , it would be published in Australia in 1970 as The Gold Robbers.) Céleste followed this with Sapho (1858) and Miss Pewel (1859). In 1863, she took over the directorship of the Folies Marigny theater and produced one of her own plays, but the venture failed within a year. Céleste de Chabrillan died in poverty in 1909.

suggested reading:

Haldane, Charlotte. Daughter of Paris: The Life Story of Céleste Mogador, 1961.