"A brilliant look at the glittering, decadent world of turn-of-the-century Paris through the first in-depth study of the three women who inspired the character of the Duchesse de Guermantes, the epitome of high-born glamour, in Marcel Proust's great novel, In Search of Lost Time. Geneviève Halévy Bizet Straus; Laure de Sade, Comtesse Adhéaume de Chevigné; and Elisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay, Comtesse Greffulhe, were the three superstars of fin-de-siècle Parisian high society who, as Caroline Weber writes, 'transformed themselves, and were transformed by those around them, into living legends: paragons of elegance, nobility, and style.' All of them were stifled in loveless marriages and, between the 1870s and 1890s, sought freedom and fulfillment by reinventing themselves as icons. Weber offers a stunningly intimate look at the illicit passion, secret heartbreak, and fierce, indomitable ambition that lay behind her heroines' exquisite public facades. At their fabled salons, they inspired and championed the creativity of several generations of well-known writers, artists, composers, designers, and journalists who regarded them with boundless fascination and longing. Against a rich and vivid cultural and historical backdrop--the collapse of the Second Empire in 1870, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Henri V's court in exile, and the first stirrings of anti-Semitism before the Dreyfus affair--Weber takes the reader into the daily lives of these three seductive women as they attend the ritualized masked balls, formal dinners, nights at the opera and theater, hunts, and royal fêtes. Proust would worship them from afar as a young man in the 1890s and would later meet them, gathering material to create his famous composite character. Drawing extensively on private family archives, Weber has discovered new material as well as two unknown articles by Proust. A beautifully written tour de force of storytelling and scholarship, Proust's Duchess is a sweeping and enthralling narrative, an unforgettable saga of the end of an era: the epic decline and fall of a rarefied aristocratic ideal and the last gasp of the pageantry and privilege of an elite society soon to be lost forever in the trenches of World War I."--Dust jacket.