Read Courtesans: Money, Sex and Fame in the Nineteenth Century by Katie Hickman Online


During the course of the nineteenth century, a small group of women rose from impoverished obscurity to positions of great power, independence, and wealth. In doing so they took control of their lives -- and those of other people -- and made the world do their will.Extremely accomplished, well-educated, and unusually literate, courtesans exerted an incredible influence asDuring the course of the nineteenth century, a small group of women rose from impoverished obscurity to positions of great power, independence, and wealth. In doing so they took control of their lives -- and those of other people -- and made the world do their will.Extremely accomplished, well-educated, and unusually literate, courtesans exerted an incredible influence as leaders of society. They were not received at court, but inhabited their own parallel world -- the demimonde -- complete with its own hierarchies, etiquette, and protocol. They were queens of fashion, linguists, musicians, accomplished at political intrigue, and, of course, possessors of great erotic gifts. Even to be seen in public with one of the great courtesans was a much-envied achievement....

Title : Courtesans: Money, Sex and Fame in the Nineteenth Century
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780060935146
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Courtesans: Money, Sex and Fame in the Nineteenth Century Reviews

  • Caroline
    2019-05-19 15:55

    .My candle burns at both its endsIt will not last the nightBut ah my friends and oh my foesIt casts a lovely lightYes indeed, these were the ultimate party girls of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.... Beautiful, intelligent,witty and charismatic. Out for a good time and spending money like water...... they were the epitome of femme fatale desirability, and the darlings of the (male) aristocratic world. ”In just two weeks her household expenses topped thirty thousand francs (£56,000). But it was her own extravagance, her extraordinary byzantine taste for luxurious display, that was the most crippling. In the winter months she had fruit brought to the table embedded not in moss, as was the fashion at that time, but in Parma violets, which had cost her a ruinous 1500 francs (nearly £3000). It was not merely empty extravagance which guided Cora; her instincts were the finest ones of the born hostess. Once one of her guests broke a liqueur glass, one of an extremely expensive set of which Cora was particularly proud, whereupon his hostess ‘accidentally’ broke another four, simply to put him at his ease.”The high and mighty of the realm fell over themselves to earn the companionship of these women”An actual introduction to Hariette, undreamed of all but the most daring, was the very pinnacle of social success.... While Hariette could request a meeting with any man she chose protocol strictly forbade men from taking a similar liberty. An introduction to her, especially in a place as public as an opera box, was not a favour to be lightly granted. It was usually arranged in advance, and supplicants were strictly vetted.””The morning after the masquerade....the door-knocker of the house in Grafton Street rapped from morning till evening.. (Sophia) gave orders for the servants to say they were not at home, but had the names of their callers read out ‘Among the many that called to pay their respects were, the Dukes of Northumberland, Ancaster, the Marquis of Queensberry; Lords Harrington, Lincoln, Clanbrazil, Winchilsea, Falmouth, Pigot, Mr R. Conway etc”The book centres on the lives of five courtesans – Sophia Baddeley (1745-1786), Elizabeth Armistead (1750-1842), Hariette Wilson (1786-1845), Cora Pearl (1835-1866) and Catherine Walters “Skittles” (1839-1920).There were differences between them. In the eighteenth century courtesans had huge cult followings throughout society, and in many ways they were de rigour companions for rich and aristocratic men. At a time when most marriages were arranged for political and financial reasons, the courtesans were the ultimate in desirability, arousing huge passion and loyalty in their followers.In the nineteenth century attitudes changed. Wives began to be chosen on the basis of love and friendship, and began to morally get the upper hand. It was no longer considered fun and fashionable to be seen around town with one’s mistress, and the newspapers stopped reporting their activities. This didn’t mean they weren’t still outstandingly sought after, but their public presence was less dramatic.The above photo is of Catherine Walters, a famous courtesan and horsewoman. She was also famous for her riding habit - it was so tight that she had to be sewn into it.Of the five women discussed, my favourite was Elizabeth Armistead. She was a successful courtesan, but slowly, over the years, she and one of her admirers – the politician Charles James Fox - fell in love..... In the end they got married, and in spite of the cold rejection of courtesans by society women, and their exclusion from polite society, they had many friends and lived happily ever after.Boring old me perhaps, but I found Elizabeth's story infinitely more moving than the wild and extravagant stories of her counterparts.This book was an interesting read.... I knew nothing about courtesans before reading it, and it was fascinating to learn about their status in Georgian and Regency society.*Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

  • Caidyn (BW Book Reviews; he/him/his)
    2019-05-29 19:57

    2.5I don't even know how to rate or review this book, but here I go with an attempt.I'm one of those weird people who absolutely finds prostitution fascinating. I'm completely for legalizing it and all of that. Reading about it is so fascinating to me, from the early days and especially to current times. How it's changed with society and the views of it. Completely fascinating. One subject I'm woefully less knowledgeable about is courtesans. In this time, they're a step up from escorts/callgirls (the terms are interchangeable, really) and the top of the top. Have only a few clients -- I think 3-5 is the most common -- and are very expensive. It's a mix between a sugardaddy relationship and one of a girlfriend, really. Very, very odd, but so interesting.So, I went into this wanting to know a lot about how courtesans were in the past to compare with what I know about now.This book was more a meandering mix of specific biographies of famous courtesans of that time and random talk about how prostitution was back then, along with more focus on the clients than the women. Really, it was an odd mix that didn't completely work for me. On one hand, I learned a lot, but on the other I learned a lot about things I didn't quite want to.Courtesans are really interesting, but I'm sure there are better books out there than this one.

  • Vivienne
    2019-05-16 18:16

    Hickman has written a lively collective biography of the lives of five English courtesans spanning the 'long nineteenth century' from the 1770s through to the end of the nineteenth century. These women inhabited the demi-monde, the invisible world that existed outside of polite social circles. Hickman takes pains to point out that her book is not meant as a definitive biography for any of these five women but is intended to serve as an overview of their lives and of the society of their times. I found it a fascinating work of cultural history written in a chatty and accessible style yet also backed up with notes, sources and bibliography.

  • Margaret
    2019-05-24 22:15

    This is a rattling good read. It's quite a gossipy account of the lives and times of five of the better-known courtesans living and working in England and France from the 18th to the 20th centuries. To say it's 'gossipy' is to underrate it, however. Hickman's style is tremendously readable, but she's resesarched her subject matter exhaustively. The courtesans themselves, and the wide social spehere in which they mixed is described in detail and sympathetically. I came to the last page reluctantly, feeling I'd learnt a lt about the social history of the times, and of the lives of women in particular.

  • ✘✘ Sarah ✘✘ (former Nefarious Breeder of Murderous Crustaceans)
    2019-06-02 19:52

    A very entertaining and well-written book, part biography and part social history. My only regret here is that Hickman didn't write about late 19th/early 20th century courtesans, which would have given an interesting perspective to the book.

  • Ting
    2019-06-03 18:55

    I was interested in this book mainly to research the English Regency courtesan for a paper I am planning to write. I was particularly taken by some of the reasons why these women would seek such a position in life. Many were lead to such a life by their seduction by a predatory male thus losing any worth in society and had no choice but to seek a livelihood in the many bawdy houses in London. It was surprising that other women often chose the lifestyle despite being deemed of the "half world". They were never admitted into true society but still were able to influence fashion and taste among the ladies of society. Many chose this lifestyle for the freedom. These women did not play by the rules of their times, many shunning marriage while having an open and modern outlook towards sex. These ladies demonstrated self-reliance at a time when "women were expected to be passive, modest, and dependent". The smart ones managed to arrange financial security from their rich and often aristocratic lovers. The exceptional ones would go on to marry their lovers and make the leap from courtesanry to society.

  • Cynda
    2019-05-19 21:47

    2 1/2 ☆Not particularly enlightening.Boring read about English courtesans of a long 19th century.Hickman says that there are few connections between the 5 biographies contained in this book, only the time period combines. Yet themes arise. At the beginning of the long 19th century, courtesans largely remained in their accommodations, houses or apartments. By the end of the long 19th century, the courtesans while still barred from the entertainments of the affluent, aristocratic, and noble, the courtesans dod enter publice places. Eventually young may-yet-be courtesans walked and demonstrated horses to ladies in Hyde Park. And by the end of the period discissed, courtesans were riding and airing in Hyde Park. Even though the courtesans were barred from polite society among ladies, ladies were highly interested in the styles and houses of the courtesans. When courtesans died and their houses and household goods sold, ladies often were anxious to take a look in a bawdy house :-)

  • Jill Hutchinson
    2019-05-26 00:01

    Every society has its level of acceptance and the prostitute was found to be unacceptable.....or maybe not. This book tells the tale of the courtesans of the 18th-19th century and where they fell in the social order. They were not considered prostitutes but more akin to the "kept woman" or "mistress". The French have the most vivid description of courtesan....les grandes horizontales. These women were the favorites of the aristocracy and moneyed class and a few even married into that class. These were women, who although shunned by "society ladies", were leaders of fashion and set the tone for dress and hair styles. They were the demi-monde who everyone copied but wouldn't admit that they did.This a the story of five of the world's most famous courtesans from their humble beginnings to the world of jewels and riches. Unfortunately some of them spent themselves into poverty in the end while others either married well or kept their fortunes intact. The book is a little slow at times but generally a good read about a class of ladies who were famous regardless of their perceived position in the social ladder.

  • Beth
    2019-06-16 20:01

    Courtesans starts by giving us an overview of the courtesan over time, showing us that people like her have been around in many times and places, from ancient Greece to Renaissance Italy and on to the time frame of this book, the "long 19th century" in London where these five extraordinary women made their way. A courtesan, along with her more obvious role, had to have a lot more going for her. She must be a good conversationalist, engaging and friendly, socially apt, a good hostess, elegant and up-to-date in her fashion and the furnishings of her home. Some had vivid intellectual lives and ran salons.From this introduction the book moves on to give us portraits, in both text and picture form, of: Sophia Baddeley, Elizabeth Armistead, Harriette Wilson, Cora Pearl, and Catherine Walters. Interspersed along with the origins and anecdotes are side paths discussing various cultural aspects of English society of the time, such as: the compartmentalization of social and sexual life that allowed the demimonde to thrive; the double standard of sexual behavior that sent many young women into prostitution; women's changing legal status, which included being able to initiate a divorce; birth control and abortion; horses and carriages; jewelry and fashion, including the rise and fall of the crinoline.I appreciated the quotes that showed these women's humor and desire for independence. There's a push and pull here. Being a courtesan meant that they weren't subject to many of the strictures that women in the monde were. However, their way of life was entirely dependent on keeping men's attention and money flowing their way.This book could so easily have focused on accounts that were salacious or judgmental. I think Hickman, to the extent that it's possible given the available source material, tried to see these women's lives from their own points of view, to present them as actors and decision-makers in their own lives--for better and for worse--and as movers in a world where other women were important to them as long-time friends and companions. Tidbits about Sophia Baddeley's relationship with duenna and biographer Mrs Steele, and Harriette Wilson's with her sisters who were also courtesans, were welcome parts of their sections.However, Elizabeth Armistead's section places a lot of emphasis on her long-time partner (and then husband) the orator Charles Fox, and Catherine Walters's on her friend Wilfred Blunt, whose diary and collected correspondence form a good portion of the source material available about her. Almost more emphasis than on the women themselves. Also, aside from talking about the salon that Catherine ran in late middle age, and her declining health as she aged, there isn't much discussion that goes beyond days of youthful glory and glamour. At least two of the courtesans lived well past middle age, and I would have liked to see more about what their lives were like when "courtesan" was no longer their job description.I suspect that a hardcore historian wouldn't get a lot out of Courtesans and it feels better suited for a general, less historically knowledgeable reader such as myself. I enjoyed it from cover to cover and it's sparked an interest in reading more about its time period. (view spoiler)[I really have no idea how to rate it. So I didn't! (hide spoiler)]

  • Lolly's Library
    2019-05-16 23:09

    The book focuses on five specific courtesans who lived during the "long nineteenth century," the 150 years encompassing the heyday of the courtesan in England and Europe. It explores the culture of the demi-monde, the "half-world" inhabited by courtesans, and the monde, the high society in which the aristocracy lived, and the attraction-repulsion between the two worlds: The men of the monde who loved and supported their chosen courtesan and their wives who despised and villified these "fallen women," yet, at the same time, emulated their fashions and habits. It's a story of concepts--independence, control over one's own destiny, sexual freedom--which today seem impossible to deny to any free woman, yet caused the women in this book to be pushed aside, forced to live at the boundaries of respectable society; essentially punished for having these "unnatural" desires.My only quibble with the book concerns the final biography, that of Catherine "Skittles" Walters. The author seemed to focus more on the story of her most ardent admirer, Wilfred Scawen Blunt, than on Catherine herself, with a great chunk of her middle years devoted instead to the telling of his actions at the time, leaving her at the periphery. Perhaps the data to fully tell her story was missing. It's hard to know. Otherwise, the rest of the book does an excellent job.

  • Elizabeth Moreau Nicolai
    2019-06-09 23:02

    I found this book on the library shelves and picked it up on a whim. It is a portray of the "long 19th century" (mid 1700s to late 1800s) in England, the demi-monde, and five of the most famous courtesans. The courtesans overlap each other but not my much. The demi-monde was the "half-world" filled with courtesans, prostitutes, mistresses and other less-than-respectable women. In a time and a society that offered few options to women, these women owned their own property, made their own choices, and were independant in a way that could not be said of the majority of their gender. In addition to the detailed portrayals of the five courtesans, there was a great deal of information on the sex trade, courtesans, mistresses, and sexuality in general. Hickman did an excellent job of conveying history and rich detail to keep the reader interested and the material from being dry. I was completely engrossed in this book and highly recommend it to history fans, women's studies or history fans.For a fun pairing, watch the movie The Duchess (starring Keira Knightly) immediately after reading this. I did so and found it interesting to see the same time period (even some of the same people) portrayed from the other side of teh coin.

  • Hat of Nikitich
    2019-05-18 22:49

    This was a fascinating overview of the society and lifestyle surrounding the "long" 19th century's demimonde, and one of the best books about the courtesan that I have yet run across. It is also an amazing jumping off point for further research, the bibliography alone makes me swoon!The author spent a lot of effort in setting the scene around each of the discussed ladies, and it was much appreciated. Tangents on items of fashion (behaviors and social inclinations, as well as clothing) and their inceptions were as enlightening as the footnotes on the political historical figures and events surrounding the demimondaines. The book had a few stumblings — a marked tendency to conjecture, some strange turns of prose — but these were by and large drowned out by the wealth of information and the vibrancy with which it was presented.Hickman emphasized the independence that all the featured women struggled for (and often achieved), and she obliquely touches on how this informs feminism and its appeal to the ladies of the untouchable (but ultimately repressed) monde of the time. Engrossing and thought provoking.

  • Doreen
    2019-06-10 22:48

    I liked this book, for the most part. It's always interesting to read about how women lived in other places and times, and the author does a great job in evoking the age. I think that what annoyed me most about this book, though, is the almost apologetic attitude the author takes with how the women spend their earnings. None of the women could manage their finances, despite their otherwise level-headed attitudes towards their independence, with the sole exception of Elizabeth Armistead, who was also exceptional in being the only one of the five to end up married to a suitable (emotionally and financially) man. It's also hard to sympathize with women such as Cora Pearl, who refuse to get along with other women on principle alone. Otherwise, an interesting look at sexual attitudes among the better-off of mid-19th century to 1920s England and France.

  • Susan
    2019-05-22 20:14

    Technically, two of the courtesans lived and loved in the eighteenth century, so the subtitle is a bit misleading as to the scope of the book.Very interesting. It was a bit disconcerting to keep reading about how dreadfully incestuous the English aristocracy was. Although at one point Hickman points out that the court of men that surrounded the courtesans of the Second Empire totaled about 100, so I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that the same names turn up again and again. It must have been a similar situation in England.

  • Adrienne Kiser
    2019-05-28 18:04

    I greatly enjoyed the portraits of the courtesans presented here; I was quite unfamiliar with all of their stories and each certainly seems interesting enough to warrant a book of her own.The author often strays from the lives of her primary subjects, which can be a little difficult to follow (Oh, we're talking about Lady Whatsername instead of the main character now? okay! Oh wait... now we're back to the focus of this chapter? okay!). Given the rich subject matter, though, I am quite willing to forgive her.

  • MAP
    2019-06-15 20:00

    Nominally follows the lives of 5 renowned courtesans starting in the late 18th century through the beginning of the 20th century.But for a book about courtesans, and with a subtitle like Money, Sex and Fame in the Nineteenth Century, this is a remarkably dry book. I knew I was in trouble when somewhere within Harriet Wilson's biography we took a sharp left turn onto the history of underwear.

  • Deodand
    2019-05-27 20:51

    Not gonna lie, the lives of 19th century courtesans sound fun as hell. They were covered in diamonds and threw epic parties. Certainly more fun than the "nice" women were having at the time.

  • Sara Giacalone
    2019-06-11 22:48

    Juicy book full of fascinating scandals and details of the demi-monde in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Fun and a quick read.

  • Marguerite Kaye
    2019-05-23 17:09

    3.5 stars. This was a second read for me, but to be honest I read it so long ago I didn't remember much. Courtesans tells the story of four women in the 'long' 19th Century, who were famed and feted, superstars of their time - though of course, only in certain sets. What I found fascinating was not so much the stories of the women themselves (I'll get to that) but the changing attitudes in society to them. High class prostitution, for this is what it was, was much more acceptable in the Georgian period than it was by the time we got to the story of Skittles in the mid-Victorian period. When Sophia Baddely plied her trade, she was a trend setter, not exactly mixing with women in society, but admired by them and revered by them. While Skittles, the most famous perhaps, could hang out with lots of men, including the Prince of Wales (so what's new there!) she was spurned by women, and reviled in the ultra conservative press. By this time, women were being portrayed as the angel in the house of course, like shop dummies, if they were respectable, without any lady bits! So Skittles' making her living from her lady bits was shocking. Very hypocritically shocking. This is the kind of book where the history makes you angry. Its not just the hypocrisy, it's the fact that in order to obtain some sort of sexual, financial and social freedom, these women had to become courtesans. I must say, one of the aspects I didn't particularly buy into was the argument that they all liked sex - fine, but indiscriminate sex based on monetary return? For me that has a squirm factor I couldn't get over. The other thing that made me uncomfortable was the sheer consumerism of all concerned. They all spent like there was no tomorrow, they all dripped in diamonds and silk and lace, and they all amassed enormous debts. If you become a courtesan to have an independent way of life, then why put that life in danger by over-spending to the point where you have to take on a few more customers to pay the bills? Even Elizabeth Armistead, who married very happily in the end (to Charles James Fox, who was supposedly extremely lax in the personal hygiene department, so she must have loved him) even she had enormous debts and a spending habit. I didn't like these women but I admired them. I railed at the society in which they lived, and I felt a hue sympathy for them and for the women on the other side of the fence. The thing is though, this high class courtesan thing still goes on. And I couldn't help but draw the parallels. The good time girls like Christine Keiller. And the poor souls who are forced into it these days by handlers. This wasn't a comfortable book, but it was thought-provoking, extremely well-written, and even better it's given me lots of ideas for some stories of my own.

  • KathyPetersen
    2019-06-01 23:54

    Hickman manages to be quite thorough in her exploration of the demi-monde of the "long century" wherein that parallel universe was thriving. She also avoids salacious material which was surely close at hand as she chronicles the lives and loves of these five (plus a few others) career women of that period. Although the writing was good and the subjects interesting, it took me an unusual while to finish. Too much detail? Too many similarities in the courtesans' stories? Too many interruptions on my part??

  • Victoria
    2019-05-16 17:50

    If I could give this book more than 5 stars I definitely would! What a fascinating story of some really intelligent and thoroughly captivating ladies. While reading, I found immensely many parallels to the way I live - but I must have done something wrong, as I didn't get money or jewellery or a house or even fame... I found this book very interesting from a female point of view. I would have finished it quicker, but someone actually stole the book from me, so I had to get another copy which slowed me down a week.

  • Stephanie
    2019-06-10 18:50

    Enjoyable read, although a bit dry at times. It varies between a very gossipy light read & a more scholarly paper. Still a good read for an interesting subject.

  • Sarah
    2019-06-03 18:12

    My rating is perhaps 4.5 stars rather than 5, but in many ways this book is wonderful; it's an incredibly detailed, well-researched, thoughtful and intelligent piece of social history, which makes a great point about the freedom and independence allowed to courtesans compared to those women who made good and dutiful marriages. Courtesans were the precursors of modern women in their ability to control who they saw, what they said to them, what they spent their money on, who they slept with and whether they had children -- and ironically enough, it's because of the limits imposed on "good" women in terms of intellectual and sexual self-expression that courtesans were able to flourish. (it's small wonder that the golden age of courtesanry ended after the Great War, when assumptions about women's capabilities had changed irrevocably.)The book beautifully conveys the personalities of the 5 women it follows; my favourites were Harriette Wilson, who made the gloriously unapologetic decision to live according to the dictates of her heart rather than society, and who seems to have been such wonderfully wicked fun, and the endearingly warm-hearted and tender Sophia Baddeley. I also liked Cora Pearl, for her intelligence, kindness and wild daring, and the sheer lavish opulence of the Second Empire she inhabited; that Bloody Chamber world of cigars, hothouse flowers, marrons glaces and truly fabulous lingerie. Elizabeth Armistead comes across as gentle and sweet-natured (her journal entries when Charles James Fox is dying are so incredibly sad) -- the only one I disliked was Catherine Walters. She struck me as a user who strung Wilfrid Scaven Blunt along and only turned to him when she had no-one else. On some level he seemed to know it, too, but was unable to ever break free of her thrall entirely.But nonetheless, I'm taking off half a star because I feel like it could have gone a tiny bit further than it did. While I applaud Katie Hickman's determination not to make this The Harlot's Progress x5, to show that the loss of a woman's virtue wasn't the fast track to disease, addiction, pregnancy and ruin, I think she does gloss slightly over the bad things that happened to these women. Sophia's story in particular is heart-wrenching; she comes off as the victim of her own astonishing erotic allure and men's expectations that any actress was for sale, when what she truly wanted was to be securely loved rather than sexually adored. However she experienced so little of the quiet domestic happiness she was after, and was treated incredibly badly at times, by Sayer in particular. The amazing amounts she spent suggest real unhappiness to me, sublimating her needs into the need for new things, and yet Hickman doesn't quite spell all this out. Similarly, Cora Pearl's rape clearly left its mark on her, in her comment about how all the men of London reminded her of diamond merchants and possibly in the poor way she treated many of her patrons, but Hickman doesn't really go into that. I think she's being incredibly scrupulous about not guessing and speculating at things we can't know, but when it's so clear it seems odd to leave it out, even if it would be psychological guesswork.She also never answers the question she sets out at the beginning, about why the long nineteenth century was the golden age of British courtesanry. If I had to guess, I would say it was the influence of the Grand Tour (it's notable that courtesans were spoken of in classical terms, e.g. the Cyprian corps), the fact that it was an age of seduction, and an age of sentiment--yet women were still prevented from being the full partners in love and marriage that were increasingly desired, because of the restrictions on what they were allowed to know and do. So men had to look elsewhere for the intellectual/sexual companions they were after. However, I'd be interested to know Hickman's view.On the whole, though, it's a fantastic book, and much recommended if you're at all interested in women's history or the long nineteenth century.

  • Theresa
    2019-06-10 15:56

    Ms Hickman’s 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 one’s 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 couldn’t 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 don’t speak French and the author’s 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 didn’t read any of the French passages as I don’t 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 wouldn’t have hurt.I also think you could skip reading most of the introduction – it didn’t 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.

  • Ape
    2019-06-07 23:47

    My 2007 bookcrossing review:This was an absolutely fantastic read. A look into a side of history from this period that you sometimes could forget existed (getting lost in Jane Austen world).The book is like a collection of biographies on five of the most well-known British courtesans from the 17 and 1800s, all from different backgrounds, getting into prostitution for different reasons and having different experiences.1. Sophia Baddeley - going from actress to courtesan, and having a very serious spending problem. And an interesting relationship with Mrs Steele who lived with her for a long time almost like a paid companion - also jealous and a bit of a control-freak. And ended up publishing her memoirs on Sophia's life. Something reminiscent there of the relationship in Notes on a Scandal2. Elizabeth Armistead - actually a really sweet story of her relationship with the politician Mr Fox - so genuine it could restore your faith in the fact that there are decent people out there.3. Harriette Wilson - Having seen her parents' miserable marriage together, she went into this trade out of choice in order to be an independant woman.4. Cora Pearl - extravagant, flamboyant and to be honest, a bit of an exhibitionist - brit living in Paris, not the most attractive woman ever, but very successful at what she did.5. Catherine Walters - very keen on her horses and hunting, successful... bit dull out of the five to be honest.The double standards are frustrating - the fact that women were either in one land (good, righteous wife - or timid chaste girl - never having any sexual desires) or the prostitute on whatever level - and women from either side could never have anything to do with one another and could never go to the places where one type of woman went. And yet men, from all levels of society could hop from one land to the other as and when and this was perfectly acceptable!You could get a little bit of a rose tinted view of the sex trade from this book I think though. Because despite these "success" stories, imagine the hundreds and thousands of women working as prostitutes who would have been used and abused and lived in poverty all their lives.

  • H. Anne Stoj
    2019-06-15 23:03

    Ah, I must look into Hickman's other book which is escaping my mind. Daughters of Britain, or something like that. She certainly hooked me with Courtesans.I couldn't say when my interest in this subculture of women began or why it evolved. Partly research, I imagine, for things written at various points, and just a kind of wonder at the lives that women have lead throughout history. For while we're modern, looking back at the five women Hickmen presents it wasn't that long ago that what we take for granted was considered brash and bold and more than a little daring and usually a lot wicked. Goodness, the idea of being independent and carving a niche for oneself indeed. The very thought.The five presented are all remarkable in their own way. Some have similar backgrounds (such as coming from the theatre), some have shared interests in why they climbed as high as they could England's demi-monde as well as France's. Some hoped and found love, others found it lacking, but they all shared, I think, a streak for determined independence, a desire to rise above station and constantly toe the line of court and courtesan. I can't imagine how dualistic their lives must have been. To be queens in a shadowy realm lit brilliantly at night, kept from "proper" women and genteel thought and to be forever found lacking despite their intelligence, their money and their connections to some of the most powerful men in the realm. Hickman shows through the letters of the women and their patrons how difficult the balance was. Also the desperation that they went through to keep their chins above water.It's an intriguing read and well worth the time for anyone interested in gender studies, in the 19th century, or anything of that sort. Fantastic for research as well, I should think.

  • Roman Clodia
    2019-05-30 00:16

    I enjoyed this book as an excellent read, but am not sure that I really agree with the author's opinion that these women were independent, 'proto-feminists' who could be role models for us today. For all their beauty, glamour, money etc. these women were, at heart, prostitutes, utterly dependent on men to whom they sold their bodies for money. Yes, they maintained a kind of freedom in avoiding the patriarchal power of marriage, but they weren't any less defined by men, or any more able to construct their own lifestyles or self-identities, other than in what would be sexually-enticing for the men they needed to survive.Most of them weren't married, not because they chose to be 'single', but because they weren't accepted in 'polite' society, an alienation which is played down quite a lot in the book. Similarly there's a lot of talk about their sexual independence, but while they were women who valued themselves, can someone be said to be independent when actually they are socially-ostracised, and have to sleep with men because that's their 'career' and only source of income?It seems to me to be a little disturbing that there is a bit of trend for glamourising prostitution (Belle du Jour, for example, as a modern take on the same story), when beneath the money and the allure lies what appears to me to be a sad story of female victims dressing up their own dependency as freedom.Despite that (!), I did enjoy this book, and there's undoubtedly a sense of survival about these women that is admirable. The shopping too is mouth-watering, but for all the women who raved about this for the 'independence' of the protagonists: be honest, is this really what we would want for our daughters?

  • Michael
    2019-06-16 17:08

    I don't think I would have read "Courtesans" if it had been written by a man. I think a male author would have concentrated on the sexual behavior of courtesans and they were about much more than that. They were trailblazers in style, they affected history by their influence on powerful men and they were renegades in that they ignored certain rules of society (but not all of them). As a fan of history, I had run across courtesans in several historical works but they were only mentioned in passing. Katie Hickman did an excellent job of covering all the aspects of the subject in "Courtesans." The five women covered, Sophia Baddeley, Elizabeth Armistead, Harriette Wilson, Cora Pearl and Catherine Walters. Each had a different story with a few things in common. All had started with nothing and rose to be successful centers of male attention while operating outside of the rules of society. These women were not unintelligent, far from it. During a time when men "retired to the study to discuss world affairs and politics" while the women "saw to the children" part of the allure of courtesans was their ability to discuss such things in normal conversation. Most courtesans came from nowhere, exploded onto the public scene and soon disappeared into obscurity. Few of their stories had happy endings as that was not what they were after. There are still pseudo-courtesans around who hold the attention of the public for a time, the Kardasians come to mind, but the thing that is missing today is class. All of the courtesans in Hickman's book had class. Each of the five stories is different. Some read as tragedies, some read as romances but all are worth a read.

  • Katherine
    2019-06-01 20:49

    Well, for a history book about courtesans, it wasn't very scandalous. I suppose I'm a victim of an oversexualised society -- if it's not perverse, I'm not even going to blink. I want salacious details, damn it! Sadly, details were the one thing this book went a bit funny about. There were five chapters, each purporting to tell the life story of one of Britain's most famous courtesans. Except 60 pages isn't very long, and when half of those 60 pages are given over to tidbits of information about still OTHER contemporary courtesans, the result is a bit of a muddle. The author epilogues that she never intended the book to be a definitive biography of any of the women, which made me nod and go, "Yeah, well, that would have been nice to know at the start." Still, she paints a vibrant picture of a hidden society, and there are lots of details about clothes and fashion, which I like. There's also some truly bizarre information about nineteenth-century birth control methods. I'll give it three stars but I want it reissued with more photos, more sex, and a better editor as the chronology was a bit of a mess throughout.

  • Kathleen
    2019-06-15 16:15

    So I legit saw this on the Inter-Library Loan shelf at work and decided I wanted to read it, so submitted my own request. I am happy to report that it was worth the wait!Courtesans is an overview of nineteenth-century courtesans with a minor focus on five specific women, Sophia Baddeley, Elizabeth Armistead, Harriette Wilson, Cora Pearl, and Catherine "Skittles" Walters. Hickman uses each woman as a sort of window into the demimonde of her time, detailing brief life stories, lovers, general societal attitude, what sent the women into, their various money woes, how and where they lived. It's really quite a fantastic look at a specific world that arguably no longer exists. Bonus points to Hickman for not sexualizing the women any more than their professions had already done. The book is not scandalous and does not describe any sexual acts. As I've said, this is more a look at a world than it is at any one courtesan, but I greatly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone looking at that same world (or who is interested in women's history, or the history of sex work).