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Exploring the Lives of Victorian England's Prostitutes (Hardback)

P&S History > British History > Victorian History P&S History > By Century > 19th Century P&S History > By Century > 20th Century P&S History > Social History Women of History World History > Europe

By Claire Richardson
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 176
Illustrations: 25 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399044646
Published: 9th July 2024
This Week's Best Sellers Rank: #20

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“As dangerous as if she stood on the corner of the street exploding gunpowder.”

This was the view of ‘Miles’, a correspondent in the Bedfordshire Mercury, writing about the dangerousness of prostitutes in 1874. They were considered a scourge by the Victorians; a menace to society and a threat to the moral and physical wellbeing of a nation. Carrying disease, committing crime, corrupting others; prostitutes were the most feared ‘social evil’. These women were the focus of controlling and invasive legislation, designed to clear the streets. They were imprisoned and removed from their friends and family. They were scorned and shamed and deemed worthless by much of society.

The contemporary view of prostitution in the nineteenth century is coloured by years of Ripperology, a grim fascination with the lives of a few mutilated women living in London. However, prostitutes were far more than caricatures of sinners or inevitable victims and lived in every other part of England too. Searching through the plethora of newspaper, census, police, and local history records it is now possible to uncover the lives of prostitutes in greater detail than ever before and discover the real women behind the stereotypes. Piecing together these women’s movements from cradle to grave and from one side of the country to another builds a rich picture of what it meant to be a prostitute, including the lives of prostitutes living in small towns, villages, and islands that have all been previously over-looked.

This book explores the lives of the women who were omitted from the genteel history books of the past, aiming to identify what they looked like, what life was like for them, and who the important people in their lives were. It also looks in depth at the lives of a select few prostitutes, examining what drew them into prostitution and what happened to them afterwards. From Whitehaven to North Shields, from Peterborough to Bloomsbury (via Paris), these women led extraordinary, richly textured lives that are still relevant today, and that we can continue to learn so much from.

The perfect introduction to Victorian prostitutes for family and local historians, genealogists, and students of the Victorian era.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is not a book about sex. This is a book about poor Victorian women living on the very edge of society’.

This really surprised me, I was filled with many emotion’s while reading this, many of which were sad and angry.

How women were treated to begin with was awful, for many they had no choice but to choose this profession which then led to constant stigma.

‘Once names a prostitute, it could be very difficult for a woman to cut the label from her neck’.

A must read for history readers.

NetGalley, Georgi Lvs Books

I enjoyed this book. It's a very straightforward telling of the lives of prostitutes in the victorian era.
The information shared is done so in a factually but non judgmental way.

I'm fascinated by the lives of prostitutes throughout the ages and how different cultures viewed them differently. So I found this book had some good information about them in the victorian times. It was backed up nicely with links to source material which is always good if like me you like to dig a little deeper.

All in all a good book in my opinion

NetGalley, Helen Macneil

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

These poor ladies, most of them led such terrible lives. This was a sometimes hard to read book but at the same time engaging and well written!

NetGalley, Heather Bennett

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an exceptional book. It’s one which I strongly believe should be on every school curriculum because it’s real social history, not ‘truth’ as perceived and shaped by myth and misogyny. It’s grossly unfair that everyone remembers the Ripper, either Jack or Yorkshire, but few are able to name a single victim. The unfortunate victims have largely been written out of history because they were prostitutes ( and in fact not all were involved in prostitution).

Claire Richardson has done an incredible job of giving life and substance to women whose voice would not otherwise be heard. This book is their story and it deserves to be told because it speaks volumes for the way women were (and continue to be) dismissed as irrelevant. Each of their lives had value, but because they were involved with prostitution, they were condemned to a life of distress and poverty. Few were able to change the course of their life. The research in piecing together the background to each of the ladies depicted appears to be meticulous and there’s much food for thought. Their stories are often heartbreaking and raise interesting questions about how our society is structured and make dominated. This is a powerful read, well written and of interest to anyone keen on social history.

NetGalley, Anita Wallas

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I absolutely loved reading this book, even as someone who is rather new to nonfiction. Originally I found myself a bit intimidated by the research heavy nature of the beginning, but as the novel took off it became riveting. The depth of the research conducted melds effortlessly with the stories of hearty, badass women, to create something unique and incredible. I would recommend this book to anyone with even the slightest interest in the subject matter, as it's enlightening and empowering.

I can't wait to read more books by this author and this publisher!

NetGalley, Jaden Jones

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Before reading this I didn't know much about prostitutes during the Victorian era but this book went into so much detail about why and how. Very informative read overall.

NetGalley, A D

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

"Exploring the Lives of Victorian England Prostitutes" by Claire Richardson is a meticulously researched and insightful look into the lives of women in the sex trade during the Victorian era. The book is packed with fascinating stories and historical details, and Richardson's writing is clear, engaging, and accessible.

I was particularly impressed by the author's sensitive and non-judgmental approach to the subject. She presents the women's stories with compassion and empathy, without sensationalism or moralizing. Instead, she highlights the social and economic factors that shaped their lives, such as poverty, lack of education, and gender inequality.

The book also explores the broader historical context, including the social and political changes that affected the sex trade during the Victorian era. Richardson's analysis is nuanced and thoughtful, and she raises important questions about the nature of prostitution, the role of women in society, and the impact of social and economic policies on marginalized communities.

It's a great resource for historians, scholars, and anyone interested in gender studies, social justice, and the history of sexuality. Richardson's book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the past and its ongoing impact on our present and future.

NetGalley, Aliya Miah

Provides a fascinating look at the lives of sex workers in Victorian England. I love it that this book made it clear that it wasn’t about sex, but rather about the women and girls behind the profession. It also made it clear yet again that sex workers should NOT be held legally responsible for their “crimes.” Instead, we must work as a society to dismantle the systems in place that can make sex work seem like the only viable option.

NetGalley, April A. Taylor

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Incredible research and a boots-on-the-ground of the lives of sex workers in Victorian England. If you've got even a passing interest in what day-to-day life was like for these gals, this book will keep you glued to the pages at any spare moment.

NetGalley, Haley Zapal

About Claire Richardson

Claire Richardson is a historian, researcher, and writer with a specialism in women’s history. She completed her MRes at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and has had articles featured in family tree magazines and blogs. Claire has been a tour guide for many years, regularly presents talks and lectures, and is also an inaugural member of the Peterborough Women’s History Group.

Perfect Partner

The Victorian Guide to Sex Desire and Deviance in the 19th Century (Paperback)

An exciting factual romp through sexual desire, practises and deviance in the Victorian era. The Victorian Guide to Sex will reveal advice and ideas on sexuality from the Victorian period. Drawing on both satirical and real life events from the period, it explores every facet of sexuality that the Victorians encountered. Reproducing original advertisements and letters, with extracts taken from memoirs, legal cases, newspaper advice columns, and collections held in the Museum of London and the British Museum, this book lifts the veil from historical sexual attitudes.

By Fern Riddell

Click here to buy both titles for £25.09
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