Cover image for La Grande Thérèse : the greatest scandal of the century
La Grande Thérèse : the greatest scandal of the century
Spurling, Hilary.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.
Physical Description:
ix, 132 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm
Personal Subject:
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CT9981.H86 S68 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
CT9981.H86 S68 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"La Grande Th'r'se is the true story of a scandal that nearly destroyed the French Third Republic.

A hundred years ago Th'r'se Humbert was one of the most powerful women in France; her salon was the center of Parisian life, and her wealth--as the assumed illegitimate daughter of an American billionaire--was fabled. She lived life on a grand scale and was the toast of Paris. But Th'r'se was not who she claimed to be. Her lifestyle, her history, and, most important, her fortune--all were an elaborate hoax. When her con was finally exposed, thousands of small investors and creditors, including the in-laws of the artist Henri Matisse, were completely ruined. Th'r'se was tried and sentenced to five years' hard labor. When she was released from prison, she vanished, and the fantastic story of her life was mostly hushed up, because it has disgraced so many wealthy and important people.

Hilary Spurling has done meticulous research into the life of Th'r'se Humbert. "La Grand Th'r'se is the remarkable story of the spectacular rise and fall of a French peasant girl with an extraordinary imagination and irresistible powers of persuasion.

Author Notes

Hilary Spurling was born in 1940 in Stockport England. She attended Somerville College in Oxford. She bacame the arts and theater critic for The Spectator during the 1960's. She was also the reviewer for The Observer and The Daily Telegraph. She has written several biographies including Pearl Buck in China and Matisse the Master: The Conquest of Colour 1909-1954, which won the 2005 Whitebread Book of the Year Award and the Los Angeles Book Prize for Biography in 2006.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This true story supports the theory that truth can be stranger than fiction. Spurling, the author of The Unknown Matisse (1998), among numerous other books, delves into the history of a financial scandal that rocked French society at the turn of the twentieth century, even threatening the very underpinnings of the French government. The main character in this saga was Therese Humbert, born in 1856 into poverty in a humble village but whose imagination was to prove incredible. The scrounging she did to raise her siblings, as well as her talent for embroidering the truth, stood her in good stead in later life, when she pulled off an unbelievable hoax that brought her, her husband, and her family a fortune and a high standing in Paris society. "She was staging the performance of her life," Spurling reveals, but the curtain finally came down and her charade was finally exposed. The whole story is told here simply yet dramatically. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

This small bookÄin essence, an extended essayÄserves up with wit and a novelist's delight the story of a scandal that almost toppled France's Third Republic. A century ago, Th‚rŠse Humbert held a seemingly impregnable position in French society. Doyenne of the Parisian social scene, intimately connected to French political life through her father-in-law, who was minister of justice, Humbert embodied the people's dreams like a modern Hollywood star. But it was all a charade: Th‚rŠse had spread the notion that she was heiress to an immense fortuneÄand on that basis she borrowed large sums of moneyÄbut she was in fact the daughter of a poor family from a small town in Languedoc. Through a psychologically astute portrait, Spurling grants her readers entry into this fin-de-siŠcle world of French society and this truly odd tale of one woman's rise from rags to riches. We first meet young Th‚rŠse through the eyes of her Languedoc neighbors, who attest to her wily fabulist skills from an early age. Her invention of wealthy relations and her swindling of businessmen and neighbors were, to some extent, acts of necessity, but Th‚rŠse's dreams of castles and riches lay deep in her psyche. When Humbert's scam was finally exposed in 1902, fortunes were ruined (including that of Henri Matisse's in-lawsÄSpurling came on the tale while researching The Unknown Matisse) and bankers committed suicide. Journalists lavished attention on the case, while popular songs and toys took on the Humbert theme. Spurling beautifully captures both the political interest of Humbert's grand scandal (the embodiment of latent contradictions in French society, which esteemed both riches and republicanism) and the sheer, exhilarating daring of one woman's imagination. Illus. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Spurling (The Unknown Matisse) recounts the story of Thrse Humbert, one of the most powerful women in France until her exposure for fraud in 1902. Spurling became interested in Thrse during her research on Matisse and decided that she deserved her own book. Thrse was born in 1856 in southwest France to a poor family whose situation grew worse after the death of her mother. She began weaving a web of lies that gave her imaginary wealth and status, and soon people believed her. Eventually, her salon became the center of Parisian life, and her wealth was believed immeasurable. Actually an imposter with no money, she was exposed and put in prison for fraudulent business dealings involving the claim of an inheritance from an American billionaire. Thousands of creditors were ruined. No one knows what happened to Thrse after her release in 1908. Spurling provides a carefully researched biography, thoroughly examining Thrse's life and her importance in French society. A very readable book; recommended for biography and history collections.DMary Salony, West Virginia Northern Community Coll., Wheeling (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.