Edmond Valentin About was born in 1828 in Lorraine. His background was lower middle-class, his father being a shopkeeper, who died while about was a child. Like Isabel, Germaine is manoeuvred into an altogether irregular marriage. Germaine is the only child of the Due and Duchesse de la Tour d'Embleuse, scions of the ancien regime finding them stranded, out of their element in the Second Empire, living on in reduced financial circumstances in the Paris of the early 1850s. By February 1876, after he had taken up residence in Paris and met the Turgenev and Flaubert circles, James was levelling the charge of 'cleverness' against about, and indeed all the other Second Empire writers except Droz one at least of the tales of M Droz ought to stand. During his previous stays there as an adult, James had lingered only briefly, and had made no inroads into Parisian society's literary circles, confining himself to the expatriate salons.