Carole DeSanti's epic novel The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. tells the story of a woman’s coming-of-age and into consciousness during France’s Second Empire.
The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R.
A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS’ CHOICE
The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. tells the story of a woman’s coming-of-age and coming to consciousness during a time of wide social upheaval, France’s Second Empire, the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune era. Eugénie R., born in the rural south, foie gras country, accompanies her lover to Paris but soon finds herself marooned. An outcast, she takes to the streets, navigating her way through the treacherous waters of sexual commerce. Paris is a gleaming center of art and culture and a sea of corruption, with a vast gulf between the lives of the privileged and the poor — a place both soulless and ripe with possibility.
This novel came about as I was trying to understand my own life, in our own era. But I had to step back in time to see the weave of history, to examine remnants of the past that have been passed down to us. The great voices of the period — Balzac, Zola, even Flaubert and George Sand — overlooked qualities I wanted to explore in Eugénie, especially the ways in which such a woman might move from a crisis of doubt and betrayal to self-knowledge and self-creation.
— Carole DeSanti
A TRANSPORTING DEBUT SET IN THE BACKSTREETS AND BORDELLOS OF 19TH CENTURY PARIS
Eugénie's story draws from the records of actual women of the period like the sculptor Camille Claudel; courtesan and memoirist Célèste Mogador; teacher and revolutionary Louise Michel and lesser-known figures. Diaries, court records, artifacts and photographs, paintings and textiles, the work of historians and legal scholars then and now inform the world of the novel.
For Eugénie, as for us, growth and understanding come both from outside and within, from her own past and living fully in the unfolding present.