Maud Heighton has come to Paris from England to study art at Academie Lafonds women-only studio. For twice the price charged men, the Academie appeals to those middle class females who wish to prepare for a career in art. Mauds first exciting adventures in Paris, including a visit to Gertrude Steins salon and various denizens of the art world, soon fade as her limited funds disappear. "Paris ate money. Paint and canvas ate money. Mauds training ate money."
Mauds savior comes in the person of a fellow art student, a wealthy Russian princess, Tonya, who helps set her up in a good household as a part time companion for Morel Prideuxs opium addicted sister. All goes well until disaster strikes and Maud is plunged into a world of deceit and fraud. Finding her reputation and life at stake, simple Maud now begins to plot her revenge.
Both the lovely and seedy side of Belle Epoque Paris are described via the authors 1910 travel guide approach. An apache dance hall, an opium den, the dirty streets and cold apartments of the poor are set against the pampered world of the rich. Some history is thrown in with reference to the Prussian siege of Paris and the 1871 Paris Commune. A major plot point is the disastrous 1910 flooding of Paris.
Good Historical Notes with suggested books for background reading.