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The Courtesan and the Gigolo: The Murders in the Rue Montaigne and the Dark Side of Empire in Nineteenth-Century Paris

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The intrigue began with a triple homicide in a luxury apartment building just steps from the Champs-Elyseés, in March 1887. A high-class prostitute and two others, one of them a child, had been stabbed to death—the latest in a string of unsolved murders targeting women of the Parisian demimonde. Newspapers eagerly reported the lurid details, and when the police arrested En The intrigue began with a triple homicide in a luxury apartment building just steps from the Champs-Elyseés, in March 1887. A high-class prostitute and two others, one of them a child, had been stabbed to death—the latest in a string of unsolved murders targeting women of the Parisian demimonde. Newspapers eagerly reported the lurid details, and when the police arrested Enrico Pranzini, a charismatic and handsome Egyptian migrant, the story became an international sensation. As the case descended into scandal and papers fanned the flames of anti-immigrant politics, the investigation became thoroughly enmeshed with the crisis-driven political climate of the French Third Republic and the rise of xenophobic right-wing movements. Aaron Freundschuh's account of the "Pranzini Affair" recreates not just the intricacies of the investigation and the raucous courtroom trial, but also the jockeying for status among rival players—reporters, police detectives, doctors, and magistrates—who all stood to gain professional advantage and prestige. Freundschuh deftly weaves together the sensational details of the case with the social and political undercurrents of the time, arguing that the racially charged portrayal of Pranzini reflects a mounting anxiety about the colonial "Other" within France's own borders. Pranzini's case provides a window into a transformational decade for the history of immigration, nationalism, and empire in France.


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The intrigue began with a triple homicide in a luxury apartment building just steps from the Champs-Elyseés, in March 1887. A high-class prostitute and two others, one of them a child, had been stabbed to death—the latest in a string of unsolved murders targeting women of the Parisian demimonde. Newspapers eagerly reported the lurid details, and when the police arrested En The intrigue began with a triple homicide in a luxury apartment building just steps from the Champs-Elyseés, in March 1887. A high-class prostitute and two others, one of them a child, had been stabbed to death—the latest in a string of unsolved murders targeting women of the Parisian demimonde. Newspapers eagerly reported the lurid details, and when the police arrested Enrico Pranzini, a charismatic and handsome Egyptian migrant, the story became an international sensation. As the case descended into scandal and papers fanned the flames of anti-immigrant politics, the investigation became thoroughly enmeshed with the crisis-driven political climate of the French Third Republic and the rise of xenophobic right-wing movements. Aaron Freundschuh's account of the "Pranzini Affair" recreates not just the intricacies of the investigation and the raucous courtroom trial, but also the jockeying for status among rival players—reporters, police detectives, doctors, and magistrates—who all stood to gain professional advantage and prestige. Freundschuh deftly weaves together the sensational details of the case with the social and political undercurrents of the time, arguing that the racially charged portrayal of Pranzini reflects a mounting anxiety about the colonial "Other" within France's own borders. Pranzini's case provides a window into a transformational decade for the history of immigration, nationalism, and empire in France.

30 review for The Courtesan and the Gigolo: The Murders in the Rue Montaigne and the Dark Side of Empire in Nineteenth-Century Paris

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    Scholarly but readable account of the murder of a high-class courtesan and the trial of her accused murderer, Enrico Pranzani. Paris society, lurid newspaper reporting, descriptions of detectives, judges, doctors all competing for power.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Missy

    In this work, the Pranzini Affair is covered with attention paid to the ambitious reporters of the time, the precarious life of a courtesan, the background of the detectives, the background of the accused, and the use of the accused body as trophies. Throughout Freundschuh argues that much of the case was affected by social and political factors as well as an anxiety about the effects of colonialism. The result is an academic, but readable microhistory. Still, most true crime readers wont have t In this work, the Pranzini Affair is covered with attention paid to the ambitious reporters of the time, the precarious life of a courtesan, the background of the detectives, the background of the accused, and the use of the accused body as trophies. Throughout Freundschuh argues that much of the case was affected by social and political factors as well as an anxiety about the effects of colonialism. The result is an academic, but readable microhistory. Still, most true crime readers wont have the staying power to stick with the academic arguments. However, a budding scholar will find much to learn about French history and will be able to follow the author's arguments. Recommended for large academic libraries, especially those with strong French history programs.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    Once I started reading, I realized I had seen a piece on this murder on Mysteries at the Museum. This author spent a great deal of effort with background information on all characters involved. I read the lengthy introduction which pretty much told the basic story, waded through the next couple of chapters, then jumped to the conclusion. I was more interested in how the police followed clues to find Pranzini, the accused killer, than how the reporter climbed the ladder of fame.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Monica Bond-Lamberty

    To be clear, it didn't take me that long to read this book. I started in the doctor's office in September and then didn't pick it up again until summer. This was a very interesting in depth examination into the cultural, social and political context of a murder in Paris. There were definitely slow moving parts that could have gone faster and I wish more information was available about the actual culprit, but despite that it was very informative and in-depth. To be clear, it didn't take me that long to read this book. I started in the doctor's office in September and then didn't pick it up again until summer. This was a very interesting in depth examination into the cultural, social and political context of a murder in Paris. There were definitely slow moving parts that could have gone faster and I wish more information was available about the actual culprit, but despite that it was very informative and in-depth.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tristan Robin Blakeman

    Dry as a dust lunch with a sand beverage. Couldn't get much past page 100. I had college calculus texts which were more interesting. I gave up. Rarely happens, but I just couldn't take any more of it. Can't recommend for anyone. Dry as a dust lunch with a sand beverage. Couldn't get much past page 100. I had college calculus texts which were more interesting. I gave up. Rarely happens, but I just couldn't take any more of it. Can't recommend for anyone.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Brickman

    Interesting in a historical context and ironic for what the officials did later....

  7. 5 out of 5

    B

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joan Marie Donahue

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dana

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jodi

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nadja

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Kissane

  13. 4 out of 5

    saturnine

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  16. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Anne S.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Philip Pajakowski

  18. 4 out of 5

    Erika

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ray Cooke

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jim Jones

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Leppert

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Heartbourne

  25. 5 out of 5

    Philippe Lust-Bianchi

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cricket

  27. 5 out of 5

    Harrison

  28. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

  29. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

  30. 5 out of 5

    Frieda Gomez-Allgrove

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