"An unforgettable portrait of a woman who became one of the most notorious figures of her day and whose scandalous story sheds fascinating light not only on her own tumultuous time but ours as well." — Harold Schechter, author of Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Guinness, Butcher of Men
Sex, corruption, and power: the rise and fall of the Red Widow of Paris
Paris, 1889: Margeurite Steinheil is a woman with ambition. But having been born into a middle-class family and trapped in a marriage to a failed artist twenty years her senior, she knows her options are limited.
Determined to fashion herself into a new woman, Meg orchestrates a scandalous plan with her most powerful resource: her body. Amid the dazzling glamor, art, and romance of bourgeois Paris, she takes elite men as her lovers, charming her way into the good graces of the rich and powerful. Her ambitions, though, go far beyond becoming the most desirable woman in Paris; at her core, she is a woman determined to conquer French high society. But the game she plays is a perilous one: navigating misogynistic double-standards, public scrutiny, and political intrigue, she is soon vaulted into infamy in the most dangerous way possible.
A real-life femme fatale, Meg influences government positions and resorts to blackmail—and maybe even poisoning—to get her way. Leaving a trail of death and disaster in her wake, she earns the name the "Red Widow" for mysteriously surviving a home invasion that leaves both her husband and mother dead. With the police baffled and the public enraged, Meg breaks every rule in the bourgeois handbook and becomes the most notorious woman in Paris.
An unforgettable true account of sex, scandal, and murder, The Red Widow is the story of a woman determined to rise—at any cost.
"Dr. Sarah Horowitz’s The Red Widow offers the gripping story of a fascinating and flawed woman, Meg Steinheil, mistress to a French president and implicated in the murder of her own husband. The reader will learn much about the political and cultural history of France and the murder and sex scandals that rocked Parisian high society in the early twentieth-century, centered on one mesmerizing individual. This well-written account is not only nuanced and deeply sourced; it is also a terrific read. Horowitz proves that we should encourage more academic historians to write for a popular audience." — Christine Adams, Professor of History, St. Mary’s College of Maryland
"The preface of this unputdownable book promises a gripping murder mystery, and that promise is more than fulfilled. But The Red Widow is much more than a page-turning true crime narrative. It is a deeply researched social history that brings to rich and complex life the much mythicized world of Belle Epoque Paris. Most of all, it is an unforgettable portrait of a woman who became one of the most notorious figures of her day and whose scandalous story sheds fascinating light not only on her own tumultuous time but ours as well." — Harold Schechter, author of Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Guinness, Butcher of Men
"In this tawdry little tale, Horowitz recounts the fascinating life of Marguerite ‘Meg’ Steinhell, the unhappily married seductress who slept her way to the top of Parisian high society. Sex, lies, murder – Meg was willing to use everything at her disposal to amass fame and fortune. Reveling in every lurid detail, Horowitz takes readers on a rollicking ride through the depraved world of the Parisian elite. Wonderfully researched and exquisitely written, Horowitz’s book is a reminder that truth really is stranger than fiction." — Nimisha Barton, award-winning author of Reproductive Citizens: Gender, Immigration, and the State in Modern France, 1880-1945
"Deeply researched and beautifully written, we hear and see Meg in all her maddening glory: sometimes vain and defiant, sometimes perplexing and ridiculous, but always profoundly human...Settle in, because once you pick up Horowitz’s book, you won’t be able to put it down." — Robin Mitchell, author of Vénus Noire: Black Women and Colonial Fantasies in Nineteenth-Century France
"The Red Widow is a thrilling window into a scandal that rocked the French establishment at the turn of the twentieth century. Sarah Horowitz reconstructs the twists and turns of Marguerite ‘Meg’ Steinheil’s rise and fall through the highest echelons of French society, as she struggled against an unhappy marriage and her own thwarted ambitions, a struggle which ultimately landed her in prison as the suspect in the murder of her own husband and mother. Horowitz not only presents a gripping tale of an individual woman, but also shows how sex and sexuality was used by and against elite women as they wrestled with a patriarchal social and political system that sought to constrain them and their desires." — Andrew Israel Ross, Associate Professor of History, Loyola University Maryland
"Sarah Horowitz’s account of society courtesan Meg Steinheil and the double murder of her husband and mother in Belle Époque Paris is gripping, but never sensationalizing. Meg’s is a story of sex and scandal, politics and power, misogyny and race-baiting conspiracies that poisoned French democracy. But in Horowitz’s hands, it is also a story of ambition and bravado, charisma and deceit, weakness and loss, and a society revealed to itself. Deeply researched and beautifully written, The Red Widow paints a thoroughly human portrait of a complex, exceptional woman and her complicated, exceptional life.”" — Jennifer Sessions, Associate Profess of History, University of Virginia
"This hits the sweet spot between true crime and women’s history." — Publishers Weekly
Horowitz has pieced together a fascinating story of a woman who ‘lied all her life’ and died in 1954 at the age of 86 in a Hove nursing home, taking her secrets with her.
"A dazzling yet nuanced portrait of femme fatale Marguerite Steinheil... Fans of true crime and women’s history will find this a page-turning read." — Booklist
"More than a century before Anna Delvey conned her first socialite, Marguerite ‘Meg’ Steinheil orchestrated her rise into French society's upper echelons… [a] true-crime page-turner." — The Washington Post
"[Marguerite Steinheil is] a fascinating woman, a figure at once seductive, hysterical, adulterous, mendacious, captivating and cultured... Steinheil's life continues even now to inspire." — The New York Times
"A page-turning true crime thriller... Readers will be captivated by Meg’s story and Horowitz’s clever crafting of her tale." — Library Journal
"A thrilling true story of crime and debauchery... The Red Widow tells the truth about Meg: a woman determined to rise—no matter the cost" — The Lineup
"Plenty of salacious tidbits make The Red Widow fun to read, but Ms. Horowitz... delivers more than a lurid tale of murder. She examines the moral attitude of a society in which women like Steinheil had little independence and were forced to rely on men for their survival." — The Wall Street Journal
"Meg was a middle-class woman whose era severely limited her options, yet she managed to outsmart her station in life... Meg hatched a plan to access Paris’ social stratosphere and triumphed." — The Kansas City Star
"It’s like a modern celebrity media circus and crime thriller... One can imagine the drama and suspense if this were a film, so well has the author captured this facet of her life." — Historical Novel Society