Erotic Exchanges

Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Paris

Nina Kushner
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Erotic Exchanges
    Book Description:

    In Erotic Exchanges, Nina Kushner reveals the complex world of elite prostitution in eighteenth-century Paris by focusing on the professional mistresses who dominated it. In this demimonde, these dames entretenues exchanged sex, company, and sometimes even love for being "kept." Most of these women entered the profession unwillingly, either because they were desperate and could find no other means of support or because they were sold by family members to brothels or to particular men. A small but significant percentage of kept women, however, came from a theater subculture that actively supported elite prostitution. Kushner shows that in its business conventions, its moral codes, and even its sexual practices, the demimonde was an integral part of contemporary Parisian culture.

    Kushner's primary sources include thousands of folio pages of dossiers and other documents generated by the Paris police as they tracked the lives and careers of professional mistresses, reporting in meticulous, often lascivious, detail what these women and their clients did. Rather than reduce the history of sex work to the history of its regulation, Kushner interprets these materials in a way that unlocks these women's own experiences. Kushner analyzes prostitution as a form of work, examines the contracts that governed relationships among patrons, mistresses, and madams, and explores the roles played by money, gifts, and, on occasion, love in making and breaking the bonds between women and men. This vivid and engaging book explores elite prostitution not only as a form of labor and as a kind of business but also as a chapter in the history of emotions, marriage, and the family.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7069-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    In February 1762, Paris police inspector Louis Marais returned to the dossier of Demoiselle Varenne after a six- year hiatus. Varenne had been a popular subject with Marais’s predecessor, Inspector Jean-Baptiste Meusnier, who in his capacity as head of the Département des femmes galantes, wrote more than twenty reports on thedame entretenue(kept woman) in the space of four years.¹ Between the inspectors’ dry coverage of the various details of Varenne’s work life and their sarcastic rendering of her character, a story emerges from their reports, one of misfortune and desperation, hard work and manipulation, love and, above all,...

  5. Chapter 1 The Police and the Demimonde
    (pp. 14-45)

    On Thursday, March 20, 1755, Paris police inspector Jean-Baptiste Meusnier sat down to write abulletin(report) at his hotel on the rue des Canettes, in the faubourg St. Germain. The subject was Demoiselle St. Hylaire, a twenty-year-old woman who was a singer in the Opéra and was working as a dame entretenue. She had been under surveillance for four years.

    Meusnier wrote:

    The constant attention of Monsieur Moreau, Officer of the Guard, towards Demoiselle Hugault—he eats and sleeps at her place, refusing to leave—has made it impossible for Monsieur Amelot de Chaillou to continue his relationship with...

  6. Chapter 2 Leaving Home
    (pp. 46-71)

    In 1744, when she was fourteen years old, Anne Michelet traveled to Paris from the village of Nesle-en-Brie to find work.¹ If she walked, the journey might have taken her a week. If she went byposte,perhaps she could have covered the seventy-five miles within several days, depending on the roads. In other ways, the journey was even farther. Anne left the small town where she had grown up. She left her father, the local school teacher, with whom she lived alone; her mother had died some years before. She left her friends, her family, and the way of...

  7. Chapter 3 Being Sold into the Demimonde
    (pp. 72-96)

    One June evening in 1753, Inspector Meusnier was urgently called to the house of a woman named Fleurance, a madam, to settle a dispute that fell within his unique purview. Fleurance was sheltering twenty-one-year-old Louise de la Tour (née Devaux), who had run away from her patron, Captain Dargent, Fleurance’s neighbor. From this hideout, Louise had complained of the abusive behavior of both Dargent and her own father. Exactly what Louise hoped to accomplish is not clear. That she ran away to a brothel, however, suggests a certain level of desperation. Madams were often the only resources available to runaway...

  8. Chapter 4 Madams and Their Networks
    (pp. 97-128)

    Let us return to the case of Marie Boujard. In the fall of 1758, Mère Boujard had engaged Madam Varenne to find a buyer for her thirteen-year-old daughter’s virginity. After failing to please the marquis de Bandol, who thought the girl was not a virgin, Marie was examined by a doctor and found to have some genital anatomical problem that made her unfit to be brokered into a patron-mistress relationship. Her mother left her in the brothel under “pecuniary conditions.” The exact meaning of this is unclear. Perhaps Marie was to earn back the money spent on the doctor. Alternatively,...

  9. Chapter 5 Contracts and Elite Prostitution as Work
    (pp. 129-162)

    By the spring of 1754, Monsieur Dumas de Corbeville,fermier général des postes,had been supporting his mistress, nineteen-year-old Demoiselle Gautier, for two years.¹ He was, by contemporary standards, an extremely generous patron and spent so much on his mistress that he had to mortgage his carriage and rent a cheaper one to get around Paris. Dumas established Gautier in a Paris apartment leased for six hundred livres a year, which he furnished. She had on the outskirts of town a secondary residence, a petite maison that he rented and also furnished. He paid the wages of her three servants,...

  10. Chapter 6 Male Experiences of Galanterie
    (pp. 163-190)

    On January 16, 1750, Demoiselle Dallière, a dancer in the Opéra ballet, was rumored to be leaving her patron of longstanding, Pierre Henri de Tourmont, président de la cour des aides (president of the coinage court). He had failed to cough up the twelve thousand livres in rente viagère he had promised. This fight was just another episode in the long stormy history of the couple. The man for whom Dallière was leaving Tourmont was Alexandre Jean Joseph Le Riche de La Poupelinière. Poupelinière, an extremely wealthy fermier général, is quite well known for his patronage of the performing arts...

  11. Chapter 7 Sexual Capital and the Private Lives of Mistresses
    (pp. 191-218)

    According to police reports, Marie Lemaignon, known professionally as Demoiselle Brillant, had a spectacular debut in the demimonde. In 1742—Brillant was sixteen or thereabouts—she managed to ruin her very first patron, something usually accomplished by dames entretenues only when they were older and had a better sense of their own sexual worth. The patron, François Roblastre de Beaulieu, intendant (steward) of the maréchal de Belle-Isle, spent apparently all he had on singing lessons for his young mistress and bribes to ensure her entry into the Opéra-Comique. That Beaulieu’s family subsequently had him incarcerated at Saint Lazare for doing...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 219-224)

    In the spring of 2012, after the elections that swept the Socialists to power, France’s women’s rights minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, proposed abolishing prostitution in France and across Europe. Selling sex in France is legal, although solicitation, which includes standing in revealing clothing in a place known for prostitution, was banned in 2003 in a law introduced by then interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy. Brothels were outlawed in 1946. Vallaud-Belkacem’s proposal, which criminalizes the purchase of sex, quickly reopened a debate over the status of prostitutes. The “prostitute problem” has a long history. The question of whether prostitutes were criminals or victims,...

  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 225-226)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-272)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 273-286)
  16. Index
    (pp. 287-296)