Art, opera, literature, writing, history of dress, interiors, travel, Paris . . . and more. By Susie Ralph.

Behind the Bright Façade

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Behind the Bright Façade: a novel of Belle Époque Paris, written under the pen name Édita Elphick.

I am currently working on a historical novel: Behind the Bright Façade. It draws on research undertaken for an MA which investigates the Paris couturier Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix, 1867-1930.

Lily is a ‘woman with a past’ – a past that contains a secret which she decides to reveal as she nears the end of her life.

Set against a background of the French couture industry it tells her story: the bright, beautiful but rebellious younger daughter of successful publisher Charles Marchant, she forms the ambition of becoming a couturier like the great Madame Paquin. Lily has been raised by her mother Adeline to regard marriage as the pinnacle of a girl’s achievement, but Adeline despairs of ever making a ‘young lady’ out of her high-spirited daughter,

whose independent nature is encouraged by her father. Charles is a man with secrets of his own, and Lily, much like her father in temperament, is his spoilt and indulged child. In many ways he treats her as the son he longed for.

Fate estranges Lily from her family, but her own ambition, coupled with a streak of recklessness, carries her to Paris – on the arm of a wealthy older man. Out of her usual milieu, working in a couture house with young women from a very different culture and social background, she finds herself questioning the attitudes ingrained in her by her privileged upbringing. At the dawn of a new century, life for women is beginning to offer new career opportunities, but in Paris it is taken for granted that a beautiful woman will trade upon her looks in order to further her ambitions. Lily is not above capitalising on her natural gifts – until, in a coup de foudre, she falls in love with Lucien, a volatile young artist.

As the Belle Époque draws to a close, Paris the city of light shines brilliant as ever, but shadows lurk – behind the bright façade.

The character of Lily is loosely based upon my own grandmother, who worked as a model in London before the First World War. The novel draws upon the body of research collected for my MA dissertation on Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix.

The background to Behind the Bright Façade is explored here:

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