Chéri – Inspiration for the Scarlet Salon

I’m a huge movie buff, and have no qualms in admitting that I can be inspired by scenes created on-screen, as well as, those found between the pages of a book. Inspiration can come from anywhere really, and interestingly enough it was a movie I watched starring the very beautiful and talented Michelle Pfeiffer that initially put the idea of the Scarlet Salon in my head.

Chéri tells the story of a retired courtesan, Lea and her love affair with a much younger man who happens to be the son of a former colleague. The story takes place in Paris in the early 1900s, not exactly Regency England but I was intrigued by the courtesans more than the romance itself.

There’s this one scene between the two courtesans, Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates (whom I think is brilliant by the way) where they pit their wits against each other, making sarcastic jabs and comparing their business investments… and that is what inspired the idea of The Scarlet Salon.

Courtesans who are retired but live comfortably and fashionably, and are smart enough to invest their money in profitable ventures…I really liked that idea. The character of Madam Sophie was inspired by Lea, and the resourcefulness and smart business sense of the courtesans I try to incorporate into my female characters. The commercial side of a courtesan’s life will be discussed more in Book 2 of the Scarlet Salon, which is Isabelle’s story.

Financial independence and having control over one’s destiny was a somewhat foreign concept for women in the early 1800s. There was a lot of pressure on women to marry, and once they did, they and all their monetary assets became their husband’s property. A courtesan was self-employed but needed to pay board to the madam of the establishment she worked in. She had to build a loyal and preferably wealthy client base, and she had to be smart with the way she managed her money and gifts received from patrons.

I like to imagine that most of the girls in the Scarlet Salon would end up like Lea, financially independent with their own establishment, and the freedom to pursue any love affairs they chose to.

The movie Chéri received mixed reviews and wasn’t exactly a blockbuster but I thought Pfeiffer did a very good job as Lea. She always tried to appear worldly and blasé but she was a woman who wasted the last six years of her prime and beauty on a man much younger than herself, only to find herself old and alone. The pain is there just beneath the surface and you can catch glimpses of it.

The romance in the movie was certainly not for everyone but I think most people would appreciate the skill and wit of the courtesans, and the interesting relationship between them.

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