Review – City of Sin: London and its Vices
From the first unfortunate shivering Roman slaves on the banks of the Thames two thousand years ago to modern vice this book covers the history of vice and the sex industry. Discussing the rise and fall of bawdy houses, the city’s attempts to regulate brothels and prostitution, the differing classes of sex workers throughout the time period, and how they were seen. There are comparisons of royal mistresses such as Nell Gwyn and the Countess of Castlemaine, to the sad, short and dangerous lives of street whores. And to cover the more modern cases – the Profumo affair and the repercussions thereof. When men (mostly) of power get their friskies beyond the marriage bed the women concerned can have influence, blackmail the men, and bring government and even monarchy into disrepute. But prostitution and adultery are hardly new.
Not all the accounts are tales of woe – some tell of successful women (mostly women), who left ‘the oldest profession in the world’ rich, and lived to old age; there are some accounts of women who voluntarily became courtesans – having more freedom than their married sisters (although less security). Of course, there were many (and some were young) forced into ‘the trade’ and who died in poverty, shame, riddled with disease and often took their own lives. Male brothels or ‘molly houses’ and homosexual encounters are discussed, with an interesting account of the Cleveland Street scandal and the trial of Oscar Wilder.
Overall the book is interesting and contains a varied set of accounts – but is a little flippant in places.
A useful summary of the times and lives of women (and men) of the street and houses of ‘ill-fame’ from the tragic to the darkly amusing. Not for the prudish!