The most recommended books about courtesans

Who picked these books? Meet our 14 experts.

14 authors created a book list connected to courtesans, and here are their favorite courtesan books.
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Book cover of And What Can We Offer You Tonight

M. Darusha Wehm Author Of Self Made

From my list on science fiction detectives.

Who am I?

I’m primarily a science fiction writer and reader, but mystery is my first literary love, and I was the editor-in-chief of the mystery magazine, Plan B. So, I doubly love it when a mystery story takes place in a science fictional world. In my own work, certain themes keep showing up even when I don’t intend them to because I love them as much as I love a juicy mystery: using technology to change our bodies and environments, the struggle that wealth and corporate greed create, how we can learn to understand someone who is radically different from ourselves. These five books hit all those marks for me. 

M. Darusha's book list on science fiction detectives

M. Darusha Wehm Why did M. Darusha love this book?

This book treads ground common to books I love to read and write—vivid characters living in a world that is bisected by wealth—in a lushly atmospheric, but emotionally brutal, short read. Jewel is not a detective by trade—she is a courtesan working in one of the high-end houses. When her friend Winfield is murdered by a rich and powerful client, but mysteriously comes back to life—only different—Jewel needs answers. I loved the complex relationships between the characters and their society, and especially loved how the feeling of the world is prioritized, making the setting and its inhabitants richer.

By Premee Mohamed,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked And What Can We Offer You Tonight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a far future city, where you can fall to a government cull for a single mistake, And What Can We Offer You Tonight tells the story of Jewel, established courtesan in a luxurious House. Jewel's world is shaken when her friend is murdered by a client, but somehow comes back to life. To get revenge, they will both have to confront the limits of loyalty, guilt, and justice.

Book cover of Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

Andrew Chugg Author Of Alexander's Lovers

From my list on sexual relationships in Greek and Roman antiquity.

Who am I?

When I voyaged into the ancient world in the readings of my youth, it led me to realize that the gay-straight divide in modern perceptions of sexuality and relationships is an artifice. It was constructed by the conceit of the ascetic religions that the only legitimate purpose of sex is the production of children within a sanctified marital relationship. In Antiquity, the divide followed a more natural course between the groups who were the sexually active partners (mainly adult men) and those who were sexually passive (mainly women, youths, and eunuchs). My hope is to disperse some of the confusion that the obscuration of this historical reality has caused.

Andrew's book list on sexual relationships in Greek and Roman antiquity

Andrew Chugg Why did Andrew love this book?

Davidson demonstrates that sexual relationships with courtesans and youths in ancient Athens paralleled the markets in other luxuries such as fish and wine rather more than resembling the modern ideal of romantic love. In a society where marriages were mainly business arrangements made between families to ensure the production of legitimate heirs to their estates, such formal relationships were frequently loveless. This led the male partners and those as yet unmarried to resort to employing mistresses, courtesans, and youths as luxurious distractions from the mundane matter of marital maintenance of the bloodline.

By James Davidson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Courtesans and Fishcakes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliantly entertaining and innovative history of the ancient Athenians' consuming passions for food, wine and sex.

Sex, shopping and fish-madness, Athenian style.

This fascinating book reveals that the ancient Athenians were supreme hedonists. Their society was driven by an insatiable lust for culinary delights - especially fish - fine wine and pleasures of the flesh. Indeed, great fortunes were squandered and politicians' careers ruined through ritual drinking at the symposium, or the wooing of highly-coveted, costly prostitutes.

James Davidson brings an incisive eye and an urbane wit to this refreshingly accessible and different history of the people who invented…

Book cover of The Rossetti Letter

Alyssa Palombo Author Of The Borgia Confessions

From my list on historical fiction set in Italy.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by history my whole life, and have been reading historical fiction for as long as I can remember. I have a particular passion for the history of Italy, in all its complicated, bloody, and dazzling glory, from the politics to the music to the art to, of course, the food and wine. There is so much within Italian history that captivates, and as a woman of Italian descent it holds a special interest for me. I try to capture the drama, beauty, and complexity of Italy in my own historical novels, and the books on this list all do that in the most compelling way.

Alyssa's book list on historical fiction set in Italy

Alyssa Palombo Why did Alyssa love this book?

The Rossetti Letter is absolutely my favorite book of all time. This dual-timeline novel tells the story of Alessandra Rossetti, a 17th-century Venetian courtesan who becomes embroiled in dangerous political intrigue. In the present, PhD candidate Claire Donovan is writing her dissertation on Alessandra and the letter she wrote to warn the leaders of the Venetian Republic about what is known as the Spanish Conspiracy of 1618, and tries to uncover the courtesan’s role in the plot. I’ve never read a book that better describes my favorite city, Venice, more perfectly, both past and present. I reread this book about once a year, and am planning to do so again soon!

By Christi Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rossetti Letter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alessandra Rossetti, a courtesan, becomes entangled in a conspiracy that threatens to destroy seventeenth century Venice. She alone has the power to reveal a Spanish plot. Centuries later, Claire Donovan is writing her dissertation on the young courtesan. She knows that Alessandra wrote a secret letter exposing the Spanish conspiracy. But how Alessandra learnt of it, or what happened to her afterwards is still a mystery. Claire hopes to uncover the secrets of the courtesan's life within Venice's ancient libraries and prove Alessandra deserves her place in history. But upon arrival in Venice, Claire learns that Cambridge professor Andrew Kent…

Book cover of My Blue Notebooks: The Intimate Journal of Paris's Most Beautiful and Notorious Courtesan

Sarah Horowitz Author Of The Red Widow: The Scandal that Shook Paris and the Woman Behind it All

From my list on scandalous women you’ve never heard of.

Who am I?

I’ve always loved reading about women who lived in earlier eras, whether that was through nonfiction or historical fiction. Books gave me access to worlds beyond my own and I loved thinking about what I would do in a particular situation, whether I would have made the same choices as the women I was reading about. I suppose it’s no surprise that I have a Ph.D. in history and teach European history. I love sharing my passion for the past and I hope you love the books I recommended as much as I do!

Sarah's book list on scandalous women you’ve never heard of

Sarah Horowitz Why did Sarah love this book?

I love reading about women who had messy, complicated lives and Liane de Pougy certainly fits the bill.

Born in 1869, she was a chaos agent like no other. Soon after she got married as a teenager, she left her husband after he shot her when she was in bed with a lover. Then she went to Paris to become an actress and courtesan and became famous for her affairs with both men and women.

She was so captivating and so toxic that she inspired one lover to write multiple novels about her! After she made a fortune from her affairs, she married a prince and then, to top it all off, became a nun in the last years of her life.

Her diary is an intimate portrait of a woman who faced violence, exclusion, disappointment, but always with great bravery and an incredible zest for love, life, and adventure.

By Liane de Pougy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My Blue Notebooks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fascinating and provocative glimpse into the life of the legendary early twentieth-century courtesan--a Folies-BergFre dancer who became a princess and died a nun, details her many acquaintances including poet Max Jacob, Colette, and Marcel Proust, and vividly discusses her numerous sexual encounters with both men and women. Original.

Book cover of The Lotus Palace

Mary Sisson Author Of The Weirld

From my list on to help you stop doomscrolling.

Who am I?

I’m Mary Sisson, award-winning writer blah-blah-blah, and when I need to pry myself off the feeds before my head explodes, I reach for a particular sort of book: story-driven with a lot of adventure, a dash of humor, another of romance, and set in a well-developed, immersive fictional world. While all of these titles can be read alone (I hate books that were clearly written to sell a sequel—600 pages of filler ending with a cliffhanger? No thank you!) they all also form parts of series, because when my head is about to shoot right off my neck, it helps me to know that I have the remedy at hand. Enjoy!

Mary's book list on to help you stop doomscrolling

Mary Sisson Why did Mary love this book?

Lin is well-known among romance aficionados for her groundbreaking Tang Dynasty historical romances. With The Lotus Palace, the first novel in her Pingkang Li Mysteries series, she expands into crime and political intrigue. This is the only non-fantasy or science fiction title on this list, and it’s here because Lin not only crafts an engaging story of murder and romance, she also handles the historical setting like an absolute master. The world of the 9th century Tang capital Changan—from the seedy gambling dens and bars of the Pingkang Li red-light district to the luxurious family compounds of the exclusive northeast quarter—feels familiar and lived-in, rich and complete, fully detailed without reading like a history textbook.

By Jeannie Lin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lotus Palace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An unlikely pair of heroes find themselves caught in a star-crossed relationship in this rich tale of history, mystery and forbidden love!

At the Lotus Palace, the best of society comes to drink and enjoy the company of beautiful and talented courtesans. Street-smart and practical Yue-ying is not part of this elite class but is content to live in the shadow of her mistress, Mingyu, only serving as her silent attendant at the lavish and exquisite palace.

Running into notorious flirt Bai Huang changes everything.

Bai Huang, an eternal student at the palace, is different from Yue-ying in every way.…

Book cover of In the Company of the Courtesan: A Novel

Kathleen Ann Gonzalez Author Of A Beautiful Woman in Venice

From my list on undaunted Italian women to inspire you.

Who am I?

Since 1996 when my first trip to Venice rearranged my interior life, I have been visiting the city and learning everything I can about it. Most of my reading led me to men’s history, but with some digging, I uncovered the stories of Venice’s inspired, undaunted, hardworking women. Their proto-feminism motivated me to share their stories with others in an attempt to redefine beauty. I’ve also created videos showing sites connected to these women’s lives, and I’ve written four books about Venetians, including extensive research into Giacomo Casanova and two anthologies celebrating Venetian life. Reading and writing about Venice helps me connect more deeply with my favorite city.

Kathleen's book list on undaunted Italian women to inspire you

Kathleen Ann Gonzalez Why did Kathleen love this book?

In prose that is engrossing and rich in color, culture, and voice, Dunant’s historical fiction novel incorporates stories of two of the women that I included in my own book.

The courtesan Fiammetta, loosely based on the life of Veronica Franco, and her healer La Draga, inspired by Elena Crusichi, pulled me into eighteenth-century Venice and its opportunities and dangers for enterprising women. Paired with reading Franco’s actual poems and letters, edited and translated by Ann Rosalind Jones and Margaret F. Rosenthal, I developed a deep admiration and compassion for Franco and Crusichi during Venice’s heyday.

Dunant has again written a page turner that I read more than once.

By Sarah Dunant,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked In the Company of the Courtesan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

My lady, Fiammetta Bianchini, was plucking her eyebrows and biting color into her lips when the unthinkable happened and the Holy Roman Emperor’s army blew a hole in the wall of God’s eternal city, letting in a flood of half-starved, half-crazed troops bent on pillage and punishment.

Thus begins In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant’s epic novel of life in Renaissance Italy. Escaping the sack of Rome in 1527, with their stomachs churning on the jewels they have swallowed, the courtesan Fiammetta and her dwarf companion, Bucino, head for Venice, the shimmering city born out of water to…

Book cover of The Search for Delicious

Rebecca Gomez Farrell Author Of Wings Unfurled

From my list on speculative fiction with lyrical prose.

Who am I?

Born to three generations of poets, I’ve always appreciated a certain quality in the prose I read: lyricism. I want to catch my breath at a beautiful turn of phrase or gasp when I figure out a metaphor’s double meaning. My own writing seeks to reproduce that joy of discovery while preserving the plot-forward conventions of good speculative fiction. The books in this list balance literary style and genre expectations. Snatches of song, poetic prophesies, the perfect comparison—I hope these jewels delight my readers as much as they’ve delighted me in these works.

Rebecca's book list on speculative fiction with lyrical prose

Rebecca Gomez Farrell Why did Rebecca love this book?

This classic middle grade fantasy tale is what first taught me an appreciation of figurative language and lyricism in writing. It revolves around a young courtesan tasked to provide a definitive definition of delicious to resolve a court dispute. He asks many people throughout the land, which yields answers such as “a cold leg of chicken eaten in an orchard early in the morning in April when you have a friend to share it” or “a drink of cool water when you’re very, very thirsty.” At an early age, those descriptions made clear to me the power of making comparisons that evoke memory and mood. It also heavily influences my food and drink reviews to this day!

By Natalie Babbitt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Search for Delicious as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Natalie Babbit's memorable first novel, The Search for Delicious, about a boy who nearly causes a civil war in the kingdom all because of his work on the royal dictionary.

Gaylen, the King's messenger, a skinny boy of twelve, is off to poll the kingdom, traveling from town to farmstead to town on his horse, Marrow. At first it is merely a question of disagreement at the royal castle over which food should stand for Delicious in the new dictionary. But soon it seems that the search for Delicious had better succeed if civil war is to be avoided.


Book cover of Winterlong

Brent Hayward Author Of Filaria

From my list on sci-fi able to stand toe to toe with any genre.

Who am I?

I’m a Canadian science fiction writer who writes very, very slowly. I’m interested in experimental fiction and books that are unique, both thematically and stylistically. I’d like to think my books fall into this category, or at least that’s what I aspire to. I used to read science fiction exclusively, and the five books I’ve listed here were all read during those formative years; they were fundamental stepping-stones for me, as a writer, and each of them left a profound mark on my idea of how good, or effective, novels can be.

Brent's book list on sci-fi able to stand toe to toe with any genre

Brent Hayward Why did Brent love this book?

Hand’s sentences are always beautiful, and this novel, her first, is dense with new ideas and original imagery. She evokes a bizarre future in a post-apocalyptic city where twins go on a hallucinogenic quest. Reads like a somewhat disturbing mythology. Gods and talking animals, autistic prophets, feral children, and death is personified. Unforgettable.

By Elizabeth Hand,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Winterlong as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The “sensuous and evocative” debut of the Nebula Award–winning author of Waking the Moon: A dystopian journey through a world unburdened by moral taboos (Library Journal).
 Set in the surreal, post-apocalyptic City of Trees, Winterlong centers on Wendy Wanders, a girl who can tap into the dreams and emotions of the people around her, and her long-lost twin brother, Raphael, a seductive, sacred courtesan to the City’s decadent elite. During their voyage, they encounter man-made and godlike monstrosities—both hideous and gorgeous—in their effort to stop an ancient power from consuming all. Blending science fiction and fantasy, Winterlong is a dark…

Book cover of The Lady of the Camellias

Astrid Carlen-Helmer Author Of The Demon King’s Interpreter

From my list on capturing France's most epic love stories.

Who am I?

I am a French-American writer with a passion for young adult stories and flawed female characters. Born and raised in France in a household without a TV, I spent my entire childhood reading avidly, which in turn led me to study Literature and Film. In fact, most of my life, I have been inspired by novels that offer windows into new worlds that open up possibilities. Some of the novels from the list below feature some of my favorite characters, and provide insights into other worlds and other times. 

Astrid's book list on capturing France's most epic love stories

Astrid Carlen-Helmer Why did Astrid love this book?

Set in the mid-19th century, in Paris, this novel follows Armand Duval, a young bourgeois, as he recounts his passion for the beautiful Marguerite Gautier, a “demi-mondaine” and courtesan. Rebelling against the social conventions of the time, Armand pursues his "unseemly" love affair, and unsurprisingly, pays the price for his defiance.

I love this novel for how richly it describes France’s society at the time. Inspired by the love affairs of Alexandre Dumas fils, with Marie Duplessis, a courtesan, The Lady of the Camellias also serves as the basis for Baz Luhrman’s film Moulin Rouge. 

By Alexandre Dumas fils, Liesl Schillinger (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lady of the Camellias as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The landmark novel that inspired both Verdi's opera La Traviata and the Oscar-winning musical Moulin Rouge!, in a sparkling new translation.

One of the greatest love stories of all time, The Lady of the Camellias recounts the history of Marguerite Gautier, the most beautiful, brazen, and expensive courtesan in all of Paris. Known to all as 'the Lady of the Camellias' because she is never seen without her favourite flowers, she leads a glittering life of endless parties and aristocratic balls, with the richest men in France flocking to her boudoir to lay their fortunes at her feet. But despite…