The Red Widow is the true story of Marguerite (“Meg”) Steinheil, a real-life femme fatale who left a trail of death and destruction in her wake. It’s a tale of sex, ambition, deception, and murder — and of an unforgettable woman who got ahead by breaking all the rules.

In 1890, Meg Steinheil was living in Paris, married to a mediocre artist with little ambition. Determined to enter high society, she launches into a series of lucrative affairs with wealthy men (and maybe some women). In 1897, she lands the greatest coup of all: a relationship with Félix Faure, the French president, who is more than happy to pay her price.

Meg seems to have it all: money, power, and access. But in 1899, Faure has a fatal stroke during one of their assignations. Even as his death threatens to become a scandal and transforms French politics, she continues to forge ahead.

Nine years later, Meg dramatically re-enters the spotlight when her husband and mother are found murdered in their home. Meg is the sole survivor and witness to the attack. Although she tells a series of outlandish and shifting lies about what she saw, the authorities, though, go along with her story … at least for a while.



Praise for The Red Widow

“Horowitz …  delivers a colorful biography of Marguerite Steinheil (1869–1954)…. This hits the sweet spot between true crime and women’s history.” — Publishers Weekly


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 Professor of History, University of Virginia


“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, award-winning author of Vénus Noire: Black Women and Colonial Fantasies in Nineteenth-Century France


“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

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