BIROn - Birkbeck Institutional Research Online

    Classifying the prostitute in eighteenth-century France

    Lewis, Ann (2012) Classifying the prostitute in eighteenth-century France. In: Lewis, Ann and Ellis, M. (eds.) Prostitution and Eighteenth-Century Culture: Sex, Commerce and Morality. The Body, Gender and Culture 7. London: Pickering & Chatto, pp. 17-32. ISBN 9781848931343.

    Full text not available from this repository.

    Abstract

    In his proposal for the reform of prostitution, 'Le Pornographe' (1769), Rétif de la Bretonne classifies twelve different types of prostitute to be found in eighteenth-century Paris – a schema which is reworked in later editions of this text. Louis-Sébastien Mercier provides a similar ‘haut gradin pyramidal’ in his 'Tableau de Paris' (1782-1788), although using a different set of terms. These texts interestingly suggest that the ‘prostitute’ could be perceived as a category notwithstanding the gulf separating the ‘fille entretenue’, ‘courtisane’ or actress from the common streetwalker (‘gouines’, ‘barboteuses’, etc.), or the fact that legally speaking, the crime (or definition) of prostitution was notoriously vague. These taxonomies also bring out the hierarchy – or ‘class structure’ – subtending the activity of prostitution. In this article, focusing on a selection of texts by Rétif and Mercier, I explore the shifting, and at times contradictory, ways in which these different ‘classes’ of prostitute are defined. I also examine the complex ways in which the representation of the prostitute is used to articulate anxieties relating to the structuring of society more generally: the terminology of ‘rang’, ‘classe’, ‘condition’ being used in both cases. In this respect, the figure of the prostitute functions symbolically at many levels. The rapidity with which she ascends/descends the ranks, and her cult of ‘appearance’ and ‘luxe’, evoke the spectre of social disorder, and of female ‘emancipation’. The recurring comparison between the low-class prostitute (who works as a necessity rather than by choice) with aristocratic ladies, whose ‘libertine’ behaviour is described as indistinguishable from that of prostitutes, functions polemically as a form of moral and social critique. These representations cannot, of course, be seen as direct reflections of social reality. But their mediation of a range of cultural anxieties relating to social order, family values, and the position of women in society, brings the question of class into sharp relief.

    Metadata

    Item Type: Book Section
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Rétif de la Bretonne, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, 'Le Pornographe', 'Le Tableau de Paris', prostitution, gender studies, eighteenth-century France
    School: Birkbeck Schools and Departments > School of Arts > Cultures and Languages
    Research Centre: Gender and Sexuality, Birkbeck (BiGS), Social Research, Birkbeck Institute for (BISR), Aesthetics of Kinship and Community, Birkbeck Research in (BRAKC)
    Depositing User: Ann Lewis
    Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2013 09:41
    Last Modified: 12 Dec 2016 11:52
    URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/6007

    Statistics

    Downloads
    Activity Overview
    0Downloads
    216Hits

    Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.

    Archive Staff Only (login required)

    Edit/View Item Edit/View Item