extremly readable, inciteful and engrossing..
From Publishers Weekly:
Nothing quite catches the eye like the promise of sex. This tease of a book (a pleasing companion to Virginia Rounding's more scholarly Les Grandes Horizontales, published earlier this year) follows five prominent "fallen" Englishwomen across the long 19th century, tracing individual lives and changing societal attitudes. Patterns emerge of how women entered and left the profession, along with insight into the comparative public lives of men and women, the legal status of many long-term relationships, and the interesting habit of "kept" women taking the name of their first major client, oddly like slaves of the American South taking their masters' names. All through, Hickman (Daughters of Britannia: The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives) seems as interested in the finances of the demimonde as many of her subjects are, but it's unclear whether she intends this as a measure of courtesans' value in a market or whether she has simply become as fascinated as contemporary observers were with dinners, jewels and fashions. Her chatty footnotes catch the reader up on the gossip and personalities of the time and elaborately link characters across the different narratives. Occasionally, her central figures get lost in the discussion of their associates, rivals, clients, cooks and dressmakers. Her account of Elizabeth Armistead, in particular, lingers as much on Armistead's famed protector and later husband, the Whig politician Charles Fox, as on the woman herself. Hickman addresses issues of attraction and sex appeal as best she can from her sources, but frankly, one is left wondering what happened in the bedroom. Was all of the courtesan's charm in the seduction? 16 pages of color photos not seen by PW.
I have long been curious about Courtesans; this book is a great one for anyone else who has the same curiousness. Katie Hickman does a fantastic job of showing you the powerful world of being a Courtesan; it is not an unknown adage that the most powerful woman in a kingdom was not the Queen but the Kings Mistress.
Much is the same about the most powerful Courtesans in the land. They had money and power and all sorts of other things that made them societies most wanted. All of this for essentially working in the oldest profession in the world.
But these women weren't the kind of ladies you would see walking on the street. They were well educated, witty, beautiful and used to the finest things in life. This book was a fantastic read for anyone who is interested in the topic. And even for someone who may not know that much about it. Pick this one up and delve into the steamy underside of Sex, Money and Power.
Ms Hickmans book focuses on the lives of five English courtesans: Sophia Baddeley (1745-1786), Eliabeth Armistead (1750-1842), Harriette Wilson (1786-1845), Cora Pearl (1835-1886) and Catherine Walters (1839-1920.) During each of these stories she does spend some time on other courtesans of some name during the existing time frame, but the main focus of each section is the five courtesans she researched and the story of each ones life as a woman of the demi-monde.
The stories of each woman are well told and very interesting. Each ended up as a courtesan for a different reason but found the life of a courtesan one that gave them the independence that they desired. An independent life was one that a respectable woman couldnt have but as a courtesan, it was one that was allowed, although with some restrictions.
A few things were a bit annoying. Like terminology she would refer to the brothels as nunneries with no notes that this was a colloquial term for a brothel at the time. And, along the same lines, the madam of the brothel would be referred to as the abbess. There were some other terminology pieces and cultural norms that could have been better explained.
The thing the author did that I found the most annoying was to present entire conversations or descriptions in French with the English translation following in parenthesis. At one point, she wrote that the English translation was nowhere near as beautiful at the French. Well, I dont speak French and the authors apparent expectation that the readers of this book would speak French was annoying. The untranslatable part was obviously translatable and I understood the translation and found it to be beautifully written. In fact, I didnt read any of the French passages as I dont speak, read or understand French beyond please and thank you. Personally, I would have preferred she do footnotes with the original French for those who would desire to read the passages in their original form. The book is already filled with footnotes and couple more for the original French wouldnt have hurt.
I also think you could skip reading most of the introduction it didnt really add any valuable information to the stories and most of the information was just repeated once you started reading the stories of the courtesans.
Despite all my negatives, I really did enjoy the stories of the woman and what their lives were like.