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Cora Pearl was born Emma Elizabeth Crouch in Plymouth, England; the exact year is uncertain. Her father deserted the family when she was young, and her mother took a lover to help support the family. Emma and her sisters were sent to a convent school in Boulogne, France. After leaving school, she lived with her maternal grandmother in London, and went to work in a milliner's shop, a job she found boring. At some point between ages 15 and 20, she had an encounter with a man who paid her for sex. She rented a room and set herself up as a prostitute. A client took her to visit Paris, and she fell in love with the city, then in its Second Empire heyday, and stayed on. She adopted the pseudonym Cora Pearl and progressed on a career as a celebrity courtesan, or "grande horizontale." Her wealthy and influential lovers included Prince Napoleon, cousin of the Emperor Napoleon III. Covered in diamonds, she played Cupid in Jacques Offenbach’s operetta Orpheus in the Underworld. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, she offered her homes as hospitals for wounded soldiers and paid for their care out of her own pocket. At the end of the war, Prince Napoleon fled to England, and life in the French capital changed for Cora. Her glory days were over, and her appeal waned even further after another lover shot himself on her doorstep. Her extravagance sank her into debt. She became ill and died at age 51. Her discreet memoirs were published shortly before her death; but the unexpurgated version was found and published in 1983 under the title Grand Horizontal: The Erotic Memoirs of a Passionate Lady.
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