Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fenella-Jane's post regarding the value of second-hand books was spot on. I'm currently reading The Covent Garden Ladies which, as the title implies, describes the lives of ladies engaged in the world's 'oldest profession' during the Regency era.

I was intrigued to learn how some of the women ended up selling their bodies in order to survive. Many were country girls, lured to London by the prospect of honest employment. Many of the prettier ones were befriended by pimps or bawds, and their fates were effectively sealed. One such creature is recorded as having earned a massive five pounds ten shillings in her first week in her new job: only to find that when her 'mother' had taken her cut, plus board and lodging dues settled, and loans for the clothing she'd been given repaid, she was left with the princely sum of sixpence to show for her endeavours!

One enterprising bawd lurked about the Register Office, posing as a wife of a decent tradesman who required a healthful-looking woman, about twenty, to act as a lady's maid for an infirm old woman. She took the girl to a respectable lodging in a different part of town from her brothel, and fed her with a dram of alcohol. She was then be set upon by her assailant, her cries bringing no one to her relief. Solaced in the morning with a few guineas, the prospect of a new gown and a pair of silver buckles, she yielded to her fate and was most likely passed off several times more by the bawd as a fresh young virgin.

I was astonished to discover that many a respectable tradsman, finding himself with too many daughters to support, was not above selling one or more of them into the industry, consoling himself with the mistaken belief that if his daugthter entered one of the 'good' houses of disrepute, her future would be secured.

I didn't realise, times being as hard as they were, that even girls respectably apprenticed weren't above supplementing their incomes through the deployment of their charms. It would seem that the milliner's trade was well known for attracting girls willing to persuade their gentlemen clients to part with more than the price of a new bonnet for their wives.

It's sad, but hardly anything new.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've just stumbled across your blog - and thank you for your comments. I'm really quite pleased that the research I did for Covent Garden Ladies is helping to overturn old stereotypes about women's lives during 'the long eighteenth century'. We often view the past as being universally 'stuffy' and prudish. This certainly wasn't the case. It might even be said that only women of the 'comfortable' classes - the upper middle class and above had the luxury to choose to remain chaste. For the majority of the population, lower middle class and labouring class women, this wasn't always the case. Jane Austen and her characters are the exception, not the norm during the Regency period. And not every run-away was as fortunate as Lydia Bennett. She would have made an excellent mistress in Mayfair if Wickham had abandoned her in London!