Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Review: Courtesans: Money, Sex, and Fame in the Nineteenth Century


Back in December I was finishing up reading Flapper and was thinking that I should read more nonfiction books just for the sake of reading something different. A few days later one of my friends posted on facebook that she had just read a really good nonfiction book entitled Courtesans and I thought it sounded fairly interesting myself. My local library didn’t have it so I couldn't read it over the break but my school library did so I slowly worked my way through it over about a month and I’m rather happy I did.

Courtesans: Money, Sex, and Fame in the Nineteenth Century by Katie Hickman
Can't really comment on the cover since my copy of the book didn't have a cover but I do like it, bit too much text though.

Summary: An account on the lives of five different courtesans (Sophia Baddeley, Elizabeth Armistead, Harriette Wilson, Cora Pearl, and Catherine Walters) which explores their lives and the time and place they lived in.

The Good: One complaint I had about Flapper was that the later bits of the book weren’t as structured as the first half (it would start off talking about one girl and then switch to another girl, and then another and pretty soon there would be no connection to the previous girls at all) and Courtesans didn’t have this problem. Each chapter focuses on one girl and, while it doesn’t hesitate to go into the backstory of their lovers or the people around them, the writing works its way back to them and then continues with the girl’s life. I was also hoping for this to be a feminist book and it was, discussing how it wasn’t necessarily the fact that these girls performed favors for money that shocked their lovers but the fact that they were women who were independent from men that did. The book managed to show this instead of having to explicitly come out and say this so I thought it was a very well written book.

The Bad: A time line would have been a nice bonus with the book since, by the end, I was starting to get confused with what happened when or even what time period the events were in. Not a necessity but I would have liked the book to mention dates more often so I could ground myself a bit better. Other than that, each courtesan’s story seemed to build on the one before it and all were different enough to make the book feel like five connected stories, not one story told five ways, and I’m impressed it pulled that off, it’s a very well written book.


Tomorrow and Sunday I'll be doing something a little different, instead of regular reviews I'll do a two part summary on the spring anime I've tried so far, partially because it's exam week for me right now and I'm hoping these reviews will be easier to write than my regular ones. Then I'm going to take Monday and Tuesday off for my last exams/moving back home and I'll start posting again on Wednesday hopefully. I probably won't be posting everyday this summer (mostly because I've gotten through most of my buffer now and don't have a lot of reviews yet) but I'll still try to get up four a week, I'll figure out my schedule once the summer really gets going for me. 

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