Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture (Paperback)Laura J. Rosenthal (author)
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In Infamous Commerce, Laura J. Rosenthal uses literary and historical sources to explore the meaning of prostitution from the Restoration through the eighteenth century, showing how both reformers and libertines constructed the modern meaning of sex work during this period. From Grub Street's lurid "whore biographies" to the period's most acclaimed novels, the prostitute was depicted as facing a choice between abject poverty and some form of sex work.Prostitution, in Rosenthal's view, confronted the core controversies of eighteenth-century capitalism: luxury, desire, global trade, commodification, social mobility, gender identity, imperialism, self-ownership, alienation, and even the nature of work itself. In the context of extensive research into printed accounts of both male and female prostitution-among them sermons, popular prostitute biographies, satire, pornography, brothel guides, reformist writing, and travel narratives-Rosenthal offers in-depth readings of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa and Pamela and the responses to the latter novel (including Eliza Haywood's Anti-Pamela), Bernard Mandeville's defenses of prostitution, Daniel Defoe's Roxana, Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, and travel journals about the voyages of Captain Cook to the South Seas. Throughout, Rosenthal considers representations of the prostitute's own sexuality (desire, revulsion, etc.) to be key parts of the changing meaning of "the oldest profession."
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 288
Weight: 454 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 16 mm
"Rosenthal offers an intriguing account of the changing figure of the prostitute in Restoration and 18th-century British culture. Tracing the transition from 'prostitution as the embrace of pleasure' to 'prostitution as the sacrifice of pleasure to business,' she argues that early in the period prostitutes were represented as 'desiring women,' longing for sexual fulfillment and receiving payment only incidentally, but that over time they came to be depicted as enterprising capitalists who engaged in sex only incidentally, in the process becoming alienated from their labor. The author pursues this thesis through a satisfying mix of texts, some firmly canonical (Clarissa, Tom Jones), some quasi-canonical (Roxana, Fanny Hill), and some obscure (prostitute biographies, South Sea narratives). Rosenthal discovers new points of contact between gender studies and labor history, and along the way touches on industrialization, contractual relations, consumerism, societies for the reformation of manners, Jewish identity, and the history of the novel. Her close readings are sensitive and well informed; the book is also pleasingly readable and therefore accessible even to nonspecialists."* Choice *
"What is most surprising about Laura Rosenthal's wonderfully textured cultural history of prostitution in eighteenth-century Britain is that it was not written earlier. Given the predominance of the whore's story in the period and 'the copious, even obsessive, writing about prostitution in the eighteenth century,' as Rosenthal rightly attests, the fact that no comprehensive survey of this literature had been published to date seems like a critical aberration that Infamous Commerce finally corrects.... Her book overflows with convincing and persuasive readings of individual texts because of the analytical simplicity and critical complexity of its historical thesis.... Infamous Commerce opens a flood of so many new possibilities (new texts, new readings, new histories) that it has immediately become an ur-text in the field. Every future scholar of eighteenth-century prostitution and prostitute narratives will cite this work."* Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature *
"Infamous Commerce offers a rich and interesting discussion of how the meaning and function of prostitution altered during the Restoration and eighteenth century. Rosenthal's argument is fascinating: while Restoration prostitutes were imagined as 'desiring women' who were only incidentally paid for sex, this construction of the prostitute gradually changed. By the end of the period, prostitution had become a sign for alienated labor, a focal point for all of the anxieties that industrialization, capitalism, and imperialism were visiting on the culture at large."-- Kathryn Temple, Georgetown University, author of Scandal Nation: Law and Authorship in Britain, 1750-1832
"In this wonderful book about the representation of prostitution in eighteenth-century English literature, Laura J. Rosenthal unravels dominant British attitudes toward commercialism, contractual relations, consumerism, desire, and gender identity. In a series of astute and revelatory readings, she shows how the prostitute figures cultural responses to the alienating effects of capitalism from London to the countryside, and from the East and West Indies to the South Seas."-- Ruth Perry, MIT
"Laura J. Rosenthal's Infamous Commerce is a groundbreaking book; it is both an exemplary cultural history and a first-rate work of literary analysis. It is a must-read for teachers and students in eighteenth-century studies, women's history, gender studies, the history of sexuality, and labor history."-- Robert Markley, Romano Professorial Scholar, University of Illinois
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