In 1936 the author Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, whose pen name was Céline, would attend ballet classes in the Pigalle neighbourhood of Paris each week. Not to take part, but to spectate, hoping to find some solace in the grace on display after the commercial failure of his second novel, Death on Credit.

Among the students he observed was Lucette Almansor. The 41-year-old author, who had found fame with his debut novel, Journey to the End of the Night, and the 23-year-old dancer, who seldom read, noticed one another. Soon he was discreetly paying the cost of her lessons, which she could barely afford, and inviting her to the Luxembourg Gardens. There they would spend hours eyeing each other up, often in silence.

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