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Prostitution in 18th Century England

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Prostitution in 18th Century England

"Miss B____rn. No. l 8 Old Compton Street, Soho Close in the arms she languishingly lies
With dying looks, short breath, and wishing eyes.

This accomplished nymph has just attained her eighteenth year, and fraught with every perfection, enters a volunteer in the field of Venus. She plays on the pianofort, sings, dances, and is mistress of every Maneuver in the amorous contest that can enhance the coming pleasure; is of the middle stature, fine auburn hair, dark eyes and very inviting countenance, which ever seems to beam delight and love. In bed she is all the heart can wish, or eyes admires every limb is symmetry, every action under cover truly amorous; her price two pounds." (Maccubbin 63)

The above is an excerpt from Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies, a listing of prostitutes published annually, and primarily aimed at the wealthy, as one might suppose from the rather exorbitant fee charged by the above Miss B___ rn. This particular biography is from the 1788 edition. Not all prostitutes were this expensive though. Some of the more "common" tarts available in London could be had for a shilling or two (Maccubbin).

Prostitution, in the eighteenth century, was perhaps as close as it has ever been to being an acceptable livelihood. The crusading, abolishing Puritans had been hushed up, at least a little, and the emphasis shifted to the economic reality of trying, as a woman, to support oneself in the harsh climate of London. London's primary industry was wealthy people (Maccubbin 61), and the best, and sometimes only, way to make money was to entice said wealthy people to spend their money. Being a prostitute was really the most economically viable option. Working as a seamstre...

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... up on the subject for this paper, and Goodness gracious, hidden amongst ridiculous numbers of capital letters is some rather graphic stuffy which I, in my naivete? was shocked had been written so far before the 20th century. History is not so prudish as many would have one think.

Anyway, my overall point is simply that prostitution was an acceptable, and often recorded way of life in the 18th century, though things got, of course, more restrained as the century wore on and the spectre of Queen Victoria began to loom large and repressed in the age to come. Also, at this time, there was not as much medical data regarding just what venereal diseases could do to someone, and once people began to realize the effects, they began to exercise a little restraint. But, for most of the century, the ladies of the evening enjoyed a profitable and almost respectable business.

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