Infamous Commerce

Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Infamous Commerce
    Book Description:

    InInfamous Commerce, Laura J. Rosenthal uses literary and historical sources to explore the meaning of prostitution from the Restoration through the eighteenth century, showing how both reformers and libertines constructed the modern meaning of sex work during this period. From Grub Street's lurid "whore biographies" to the period's most acclaimed novels, the prostitute was depicted as facing a choice between abject poverty and some form of sex work.

    Prostitution, in Rosenthal's view, confronted the core controversies of eighteenth-century capitalism: luxury, desire, global trade, commodification, social mobility, gender identity, imperialism, self-ownership, alienation, and even the nature of work itself. In the context of extensive research into printed accounts of both male and female prostitution-among them sermons, popular prostitute biographies, satire, pornography, brothel guides, reformist writing, and travel narratives-Rosenthal offers in-depth readings of Samuel Richardson'sClarissaandPamelaand the responses to the latter novel (including Eliza Haywood'sAnti-Pamela), Bernard Mandeville's defenses of prostitution, Daniel Defoe'sRoxana, Henry Fielding'sTom Jones, and travel journals about the voyages of Captain Cook to the South Seas. Throughout, Rosenthal considers representations of the prostitute's own sexuality (desire, revulsion, etc.) to be key parts of the changing meaning of "the oldest profession."

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5435-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Pursued by the businessman-criminal Peachum for his neck, Captain Macheath inThe Beggar’s Opera(1728) takes refuge with his whores. Women seem unable to resist Macheath, and these ladies welcome their patron as warmly as do his lovers Polly and Lucy in other scenes. One, however, stands apart: As she sidles up to the Captain, flirtatiously pulls out his pistols, and draws him toward her by the neck for a kiss, Jenny Diver signals to Peachum and the constables to capture their disarmed quarry. Her betrayal surprises even the other prostitutes, who nevertheless had previously recognized Jenny as different: “though...

  5. 1 A “Cool State of Indifference”: Mother Creswell’s Academy
    (pp. 17-41)

    The most famous literary prostitute of the Restoration—Aphra Behn’s Angellica Bianca fromThe Rover—possesses beauty, wit, and nerve, but in the end she does not get what she wants. Angellica looks down from her window with a confidence and power that the other female characters lack; she hangs out her sign and names her own price, but at the end of the play she becomes so outraged by her treatment by the impoverished cavalier Willmore that she holds a gun to his heart. Before the other characters can happily pair off, a dispirited and disarmed Angellica must be...

  6. 2 The “Deluge of Depravity”: Bernard Mandeville and the Reform Societies
    (pp. 42-69)

    As Jonathan Swift’s nymph Corinna prepares for bed after trolling Drury Lane, she removes her artificial hair, her crystal eye, a set of false teeth, and eyebrows made from mouse pelt, revealing the hideousness beneath her simulated beauty. She applies plasters to her running sores and wipes off the last of her makeup. Nightmares bring beatings in Bridewell or transportation to Jamaica “Alone, and by no planter courted.” She wakes to discover her false body parts mangled, scattered, and infested by vermin; she must “every morn her limbs unite” before vending her beauty again.¹ In this poem, Corinna embodies the...

  7. 3 Whore, Turk, and Jew: Defoe’s Roxana
    (pp. 70-96)

    At the end of the nineteenth century, Jack the Ripper terrorized London, murdering and dismembering prostitutes. One postmortem description explains how a prostitute’s

    body had been completely disembowelled and the entrails flung carelessly in a heap on the table…. Lumps of flesh, cut from the thighs and elsewhere, lay strewn about the room, so that the bones were exposed. And in some of the other cases, certain organs had been extracted, and, as they were missing, had doubtless been carried away.¹

    Police never discovered the murderer’s true identity, but his public image, Sander Gilman has argued, evoked the Eastern Jew....

  8. 4 Fanny’s Sisters: The Prostitute Narrative
    (pp. 97-128)

    Just as Daniel Defoe’s crime stories complicate a genre familiar from popular culture,¹ so his story ofThe Fortunate Mistressalso engages a recognizable kind of tale: the prostitute narrative.Roxana, in fact, appeared one year after the publication of two biographies of Sally Salisbury, a prostitute launched into fame through her trial for stabbing one of her clients. Eighteenth-century prostitute narratives range from morally instructive works, such asThe Magdalen; or, The Dying Penitent, The Life and Adventures of a Reformed Magdalen, and Histories of Some of the Penitents in the Magdalen-House;to biographies of glamorous public figures, such...

  9. 5 Clarissa among the Whores
    (pp. 129-153)

    In Samuel Richardson’s novelClarissa, the absent but defining moment of the narrative—the heroine’s rape—takes place in a whorehouse surrounded by observing prostitutes. As Lovelace complains, these prostitutes had been constantly urging him to this action and mocking his delays. It is the prostitutes who, disguised as ladies, trick Clarissa into going back to the bawd Mrs. Sinclair’s house, where they drug her and possibly even hold her down for Lovelace. Before the rape, they can’t imagine why Lovelace takes so long to act; they wonder aloud why he should “make so long a harvest of so little...

  10. 6 Tom Jones and the “New Vice”
    (pp. 154-178)

    Most stories about prostitution from the eighteenth century explore predicaments facing women. I have also suggested, however, that not only would a wide range of readers have found some uncomfortable common ground with prostitute figures, but that gender did not consistently form an insurmountable barrier of difference in this process.¹ Even more than the female prostitute’s androgyny as a “man-woman” or the general appeal to emergent forms of subjectivity in Clarissa, popular stories of “stallions,” “fortune hunters,” and “rogues” who rely on their sexuality for survival suggest masculine vulnerability to and exploitation of sexual commodification as well. As with their...

  11. 7 Risky Business in the South Seas and Back
    (pp. 179-198)

    Expelled from Paradise Hall, Tom Jones’s first thoughts turn to the sea, reminding us of the importance of global traffic as both an alternative for the dispossessed and a crucial element in the eighteenth-century economy and imagination. Voyages to remote lands, like Tom’s voyage to London, commonly involved both commercial and sexual transactions. Nowhere in eighteenth-century writing, however, do we find such interest in the intersection of these two forms of contact than in literary representations of travel to the South Seas.¹ The British came to associate the South Sea Islands with both disturbing and wondrous sexual possibilities, ranging from...

  12. Conclusion: Usury of the Heart
    (pp. 199-212)

    Despite impulses to universalize prostitution through time and space, eighteenth-century travelers to the Pacific Islands disagreed about the meaning of the sexual contact they witnessed. Midcentury reformers, however, consistently represented streetwalking as a novel historical problem: the distressing fallout of family ambitions in an era offering new possibilities of mobility, an allegory for the transition from a rural to an urban commercial economy, the symbolic outcome of failing to maintain a middle-class identity, and, somewhat contradictorily, both an immoral avoidance of labor and simultaneously the outer limits of labor alienation. Through activism, legislation, charity, and stories of individual plights and...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-238)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-264)
  15. Index
    (pp. 265-270)